Fully Yourself

clasped hand for help



When it really comes down to it, the only thing that matters is the quality of your relationships.

Young, old. Male, female. Pale, dark. Whatever you are – doesn’t matter.

Also doesn’t matter whether these relationships are at home, or at work, or on the playing field, or at Starbucks.

What I know down in the marrow of my bones about what matters and makes people feel happily fulfilled is this:

That you know someone fully, and allow yourself to be fully known.

The only antidote to all the anxious striving we seem to do in this world of ours is to have a truly safe and secure place to just be yourself. Which is, in my estimation, the best idea of love. The writer Henri Nouwen summed it up when he said, “Love is making a safe place for another person to be fully himself.”

So say what you want about having a flashy car or that fabulous house in the best neighborhood or Kardashian-esque heels, it doesn’t match having a friend who remembers when you both ate ramen seated on the floor because no one had any money for chairs – and loves you as much now as he did then.

Or when you absolutely, truly and thoroughly make a horse’s ass out of yourself – it’s your true friends who wince right along with you and then support you as you pull yourself out of your mess.

Or who stand by you when you have to make a tough set of choices.

Those are moments when the quality and nature of your relationships make a real difference in how it all plays out. On how you get through. Without taking the risk of allowing yourself to be fully known, and accepted, you wouldn’t bounce back as quickly – or maybe at all.

Some folks think so poorly of themselves, though, that they fear that allowing themselves to be fully known would end up…really badly. You know, if other people saw just how stupid, coarse, corrupt, and just plain wrong they are, there is no way they could be accepted let alone “loved”.

They’re sure that there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening.

So they keep their self-perceived flawed true selves bottled up and hidden away like a crazy aunt in the attic, and the snowball really never does have a chance. And, as a result, these folks never feel the thing they want the most – a real gift of total acceptance.

The real crux of it is that they can’t accept, let alone love, their flawed little old selves. So there’s no room for anyone to return the favor. Which has got to be the first step – if love is making a safe place for another person to be fully himself then surely self-love is making a safe place for me to be fully myself, too.

And it sure is funny how when we start to make a little space, suddenly it turns into a large space with plenty more room than we ever imagined.

Enough space to let love in.

If you’re in that place – and who hasn’t been there at one time or another? – where you’re feeling rather alone… rather unloved… kind of unaccepted…sort of lone wolfish…and it feels…bad…

Create a little space for self-love. Treat yourself the way you’d treat your dearest darling or your closest friend, even if  you don’t have one presently.

Be that which you seek to find.

And, the space you make will soon be filled.

With true, real, loving friends. Who totally dig you.


Always You

I have a theory. It’s that we are pretty much who we’re going to be at an early age. That’s not to say that life experiences don’t change us, or that we can’t undertake change on our own. Stuff happens, our perspectives shift and we change.

But if you’re born left-handed, you’re probably going to stay left-handed for life.

The Internet is an unparalleled way to reconnect. I got this in my Classmates.com in-box:

“I don’t know if you remember me from elementary [school], but I’ll never forget you. I remember nervously walking into the school for the first time after I moved there at the beginning of the 3rd grade. Mrs. W (who scared me to death!) was showing me where the classroom was located — it was early and hardly any kids had arrived yet. You walked up to me from the other end of the hall and struck up a conversation, and made me feel like I wasn’t an outsider. I don’t know if I ever thanked you, but I always appreciated that. You made my transition to a new school much easier.”

I have to tell you, this email rocked me. Families tell stories of our youth, but they usually involve — in my case — where I made a complete and total fool of myself by saying or doing something incredibly dopey.

To hear a tale of my past, from an outside, objective observer is like watching a documentary of my life. No spin, no role-playing — just a glimpse of who I was in third grade. Priceless.

And know what? I don’t remember the woman who wrote me (I do remember the evil and wicked Mrs. W, our teacher. Still get the shivers mentioning her name). But a year or so after the incident my correspondent described, my family moved two thousand miles away and I haven’t been back to that little town since. So in writing me she had no relationship to mend, heal or promote — she just had an open, grateful heart and a place to share. What a gift to me.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently working with clients — and myself — on discovering strengths. I ask questions like: What do you do best? What do you really like? How can you play to your strengths? Because when you play to your strengths, whatever you do feels…easy. Not at all like work. Even, dare I say, fun?

Can you imagine what life would be like if you played to the inherent strengths you’ve had your whole life? Since you were in, oh, third grade? How effortless would that be?

So, what parts of your childhood personality remain? Who were you then — and who are you now? Understanding who you were — to others, to yourself — can illuminate and inspire your life today. Turn the light on, and uncover your own, innate, wonderful strengths. Then put those natural strengths to use, and craft a meaningful, purpose-filled… easy life.

Investing In Friendships

We’re all so busy, aren’t we? Seems we’re constantly rushing from here to there — gotta get home, to the office, to the kids’ soccer game, gotta take the elderly parents to all their appointments. The dog needs to go to the vet, then there are groceries, laundry, doctors, commitments, obligations, this, that, the other zillion things — and a ton of stress.

Some people tell me that they’re so busy doing all this stuff that they can’t make time for their friends. And making new friends? Forget about it. “No one makes new friends after 40,” said one woman.

Yet, who’s happiest? Research has shown that it’s people with the largest social networks. How’s your friend factor? Have all you need? All you want? Are you making time to invest in your friendships, and insure your own happiness?

If not, don’t worry. There are four things you can do right now to grow your social network.

Make contact: Email is a great tool for nurturing friendships. Though your great-grandmother might be appalled that you’re not penning brilliant little missives on tasteful monogrammed stationery using a fountain pen with blue-black ink… contact is contact. Let your friends know what you’re up to with a quick email. Or, a simple “I’m thinking of you” can brighten a day. And, if you receive a message from a friend, take the time to respond, even it’s just a few lines. Of course, a phone call is swell and a “date” is even better. Read on.

Make time: Regardless of where you work — The White House or your house — schedule something with at least one friend at least once a week. Coffee, lunch, cocktails, cow-tipping, or whatever you enjoy doing together. I sense quite a few spit-takes at that suggestion. Wipe off your computer monitor and keep reading. Sure you’re busy. Are you so busy, then, that you have no time to be happy? When you make time for a friend, you grow and nurture that relationship. Ignore the care and feeding of friendships until you need them — and they may not be there.

Be yourself: The best friends are those who accept and enjoy you despite your flaws and shortcomings. Postponing friendships until you lose weight, or have a partner, or that nasty rash clears up — is just fear talking. Real friends will love having you around, regardless. And if you have to pretend to be someone you’re not around a person or group of people? They ain’t your friends.

Remember: Memorizing birthdays and astrological signs is not required. However, please try to remember the names of your friend’s spouse, and their children. Building a friendship means you need to know your friend’s preferences — when you continually suggest meeting for a nice juicy steak to your vegan friend… you are actually telling them that they aren’t quite important enough for you to remember who they are.

And, want to know the single best thing you can do to bring some new people into your life? Volunteer for something. Yep, volunteering — whether at your job or in your community — creates bonds with others based on shared experiences and interests. The sense of pride and accomplishment plus the satisfaction of giving back are all great side benefits.

Friendships bring joy, comfort and zest to life. Relationships are a fundamental building block of happiness. Staying too busy to have friends and human connection is simply a way of denying yourself the happiness that’s your birthright.

And where’s the joy in that?

Ya Gotta Wanna

Considering making some changes here at the end of one year and the start of a brand spanking new one? Gonna lose weight? Stick to your budget? Change jobs? Travel to Bali? Find yourself that elusive soul mate?

Sure every year you make resolutions; but this year, by golly, you’re really gonna do it.

Well, all I’m gonna say is, “Ya gotta wanna.”

How many times have you found yourself in late December writing down the New Year’s Resolution to Get Into Better Shape, and by February you find yourself couch potato sluggish — not going to the gym you paid for, or even using those getting-dusty weights in the back of the closet?

My guess? You didn’t really wanna get into shape.

Because if you did really wanna, you woulda.

The sneaky sabotage comes into play when we say one thing yet do another. We say we want to pay off our credit card debt yet we continually splurge on something we “deserve”, or that makes us “feel better”. Result? We end the year with two additional credit cards, and everything maxed out.

And we feel like a failure.

Which is, of course, why we didn’t pay off the credit card in the first place.

When you feel like a failure, you create opportunities to remind yourself that you are, indeed, a failure. What does a failure do? Why, fail! So, you fail to pay your bills on time — and the nastygrams from your creditors reinforce your idea about yourself… that you’re a loser. You fail to eat healthy food and moderately exercise, and what happens? Why, you gain weight, lose muscle tone and feel… bleah. But isn’t that how a failure is supposed to feel?

To turn this around, there is only one thing you can do. And you gotta wanna. You gotta wanna move from failure to success. Really, really wanna. Ready?

Take out a piece of paper. Oh, and a pen. Or pencil. Or fat crayon. Something handy. OK. List the following categories and leave enough space between them to write four or five things under each. The categories are: Career; Money; Health; Physical Environment (your living conditions); Family/Friends; Significant Other/Romance; Personal Growth (continuing education, spiritual growth, etc.); and, Fun & Recreation.

Focus on what you did, rather than what you didn’t. That’s a switch, huh?

When you’re finished, look at your list of accomplishments for the year. Any patterns? Anything interesting? What’s that tell you about your year?

This was a tough year for a client of mine, Susan. A year ago, she lost her senior executive position due to an industry shake-up. Then both parents got ill, and she became their legal custodian. She arranged for their care, took responsibility for finances, coordinated with the extended family. A full-time job — while she was looking for a full-time job. In the last three months, her father died and her sister unexpectedly died — and her mother remains ill.


In the last year, she rekindled friendships. She moved to her dream city. She put lovely things into her new home. She made smart financial decisions. She exercised. She traveled. She continued to expand her professional network. She sought support when she needed it. She took care of herself.

Although Susan might say, “2007 was a lost year”, her list would indicate that she actually made some important steps. Sure, she did what she had to. But the things she really, really wanted to do? She got those done, too.

When you shift your thoughts from “look at what a mess I am” to “look at what I’ve done”, you shift your perspective from perpetual loser to resilient achiever. Even if your achievements are small, they are still yours.

“Michele”, you say.”What’s the point? I only made accomplishments in areas that really don’t matter. I still don’t have (a partner, a great job, a million dollars).” I, in my most wise Yoda-like way will ask, “Why are you afraid of leaving Loserville and moving into Successville? What’s keeping you from claiming all of your power and accomplishments? What benefit do you get from believing that what you do doesn’t matter?”

Getting rid of your negative beliefs about yourself is the key to making progress on any New Year’s resolutions you may make. Shifting from a sense of limitation and lack to an awareness of opportunities and abundance completely changes your life. Things become more effortless, you become happier. Believe me, it can be done and you can get there.

But ya really gotta wanna.

When Times Are Tough

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for yours truly. I’ve faced a 3-D crisis: Death, Disease and Disappointment. A longtime friend died; a woman dear to me is ill; one of my readers has been given a scary diagnosis; and, someone didn’t do what he said he had done. All in all, a challenging time.

How do we get through crisis? How do we function when times are tough? How can we make the best of a bad situation?

Here are some tactics you can use when you face tough times:

First, don’t hurry through difficulties. I know, I know. Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? But finding a solution to a set of difficult problems may take time — and if you rush, you can find yourself applying the wrong solutions, which can completely compound the problem.

Second, accept the gifts difficulty has to offer. Another counter-intuitive thought? Not really. It’s only by fully experiencing the lows that we can fully experience the highs. I believe it’s impossible to live in bliss. Bliss is something that can be touched and savored in the moment — but it’s incredibly hard to sustain. Fully feeling sadness, hurt, vulnerability, disappointment and fear allows us to understand and learn. And to remember we’re only human.

Third, make sure you are surrounded by a team of people ready to help and support you. In my case, my team “floats” depending on what I need. Sometimes my team includes a lawyer (or two), an accountant, a teacher, a consultant or another coach. Sometimes my team consists of three wise women and two bottles of wine. The latter is infinitely more fun than the former, with no offense meant to lawyers and accountants who can be fun in their own special ways. In my “Thinking About Starting Your Own Business” and “Writing Your Own Personal Strategic Plan” workshops, I ask participants to inventory the folks they’ll need on their team to meet their objectives. It’s a good idea to identify your “crisis team” when times are good — so when times get tough, you know who to call. And, if you don’t know who to call, rely on friends, family and colleagues to give you good referrals.

Fourth, if your crisis takes you by complete surprise and you have that deer-in-the-headlights feeling — do this: think of someone you know who’s experienced your crisis before and pretend you’re her. “Carol would ask these questions,” you can tell yourself. Then proceed to ask all of Carol’s questions, which may prompt a few of your own. Our friends the mental health professionals call this “modeling” but you can also call it “surviving” — just until you have the information and strength to get going again.

Finally, remind yourself that you are a resilient person. You haven’t gotten this far without weathering a few storms, right? Reflect on other tough times you have faced– you made it through, didn’t you? You learned something. You made deeper connections with others. You grew stronger.

When times are tough, we are being challenged to our very core to dig deep and be the best people we can be in that moment. The good news is that tough times don’t last forever. And when they pass, our hearts are open to grateful living — and anticipation of the inevitable good times to come.