I’m a Coach. Don’t Roll Your Eyes.

When I began my training with International Coach Academy (ICA) at the beginning of the pandemic (and isn’t it odd how we now tell time according to COVID?) we were asked to find peer coaches with whom we would practice our developing skills. One of my peer coaches – who I’ll name Jane – was close to graduating from the sixteen-month program. I found Jane’s coaching prowess intimidating. She possessed limitless self-belief and her blinding confidence glowed like a pulsating aura. What Jane lacked was empathy. She didn’t notice that my habit of comedic self-deprecation is the tactic I use to disguise my fear of failure. It was both her loss and mine.

Before my peer coaching relationship with Jane began, I believed coaching was easy. I had no doubt that I was going to sail through ICA’s intensive program without breaking a sweat. But the opposite was proving true. Coaching is a skill that takes practice and dedication to master and I was struggling. Jane was blind to my struggle. When she told me that 80% of the individuals who graduate from a coaching program never become professional coaches, she didn’t see the movie reel of my life as a coach burst into flames. She couldn’t know that the committee in my head, my little saboteurs that run around with needles to poke holes in my hopes and dreams, never once thought to tell me I could be in the 20% who succeed. And so, when I graduated from ICA I didn’t shout my achievement from the rooftops. It was more of a whisper. And these days, despite my excellent training, I use my coaching skills on the sly. No one even notices. What a shame.

Newly minted coaches are encouraged to practice with peer coaches. I have two that I see on a regular basis. We use our time together to refine our skills and to share experiences. Most recently we’ve been trying to determine why, as bright and well trained individuals, we find it so difficult to ‘sell’ our services.

Part of our struggle is found in the knowledge that, like yoga, life coaching is an unregulated industry. And although coaches have a strong governing body – the International Coaching Federation – for there is no incentive to jump over the many rigorous hoops required to earn accreditation through the ICF when the truth is that anyone who attends a weekend long ‘coach training’ workshop can then hang out a shingle. For that reason, if you are interested in finding a coach, it’s important to review their qualifications in the same way that you might want to know how long your yoga instructor has been practicing and where she did her teacher training.

Another industry problem is the myth that working with a life coach is a luxury only the self-indulgent can afford. While it’s true that some coaches bill at a rate per hour that is so high as to be offensive, others offer their services on a sliding scale or are willing to negotiate payment options. 

Some parts of the health and wellness industry view the coaching industry as nothing more than an interloper riding the coattails of licensed mental health professionals. But coaching is not therapy. Coaching does not examine the past. It begins in the present moment and builds a scaffolding of accountability and action to support the client’s journey forward. It is a grounding, effective technique with which we can navigate and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals and living by values that, for us, carry heart and meaning. Coaching shifts perspective. It helps us to become ‘unstuck’. 

As a coach, I facilitate your journey toward the clarity required to find all the possible paths that will lead you to the future you envision. I create space for you to uncover and to shift the long held limiting beliefs that prevent you from bringing your best self fully into focus.

Coaching is client led. The relationship can be thought of like this: 

Imagine you and I are on a road trip together. I’m your coach, sitting in the passenger seat. You are behind the wheel. You are choosing the destination and the road we’ll take to get there. Along the way you might discover a different road and maybe even a different destination. My job is to help you find your way around roadblocks and to navigate detours. I help you determine for yourself if the choices you are making and the journey you are creating are coming from a place of authenticity aligned with who you are and who you hope to be.

There was a time when I reacted to the words ‘life coach’ with a Pavlovian eye roll – even when becoming a coach was tickling my intuitive heart. Now I understand how coaching works. I understand the skill and the techniques involved. I’ve experienced coaching’s magic. The way it can bring lost ambitions, goals and values back into focus.

Have you lost focus? Do you feel stuck? If you have an important decision to make or a habit you would either like to break or create – let a coach climb into the passenger seat. You’ll be happy you did.

International Coaching Week is happening soon. What better time to try coaching?


Growing Freer

I’ve been thinking about balance.

At the start of the pandemic, which now feels a lifetime ago, I decided that my new found spare time offered me room to begin running again. It didn’t matter that over the previous two decades I moved no faster than a brisk walk. In college I ran to relieve the stress of studies and an unhappy marriage. After college and well into my thirties I ran because when I ran I felt strong and invincible. I wanted to feel that way again. And so I made my preparations. I researched the best shoes for my finicky feet and purchased what I could afford. I found websites and apps with titles like Running for Women, Running for Seniors and Running for Senior Women. I downloaded training schedules and created a list of routes to run and calculated the distances. It didn’t take long for me to graduate from brisk walk to shuffle to an actual jog and in those first weeks I looked forward to a healthy body, a clear mind and the lean, organized structure to my life that I craved.

And then a broken side walk came between my toe and my hopes. While my knees and my thumbs healed I considered giving up. A few months later, when I had a second hard fall, I did give up. 

Falling down was not a rare occurrence when I was a child. My mom would tease, You can trip over thin air, she’d say. When I was in sixth grade one of our teachers who was fresh out of college watched me stumble my way through a tangle of classroom chairs and then, dripping sarcasm, joked about my ‘grace’. It’s funny how we remember these things and not our moments of actual grace. To be fair, it’s true that my knees were skinned more often than not throughout my childhood. But I don’t believe it was because I was clumsy or awkward. I was too busy thinking about the next adventure to notice where I was going. My head was always a million miles ahead of my feet.

And I didn’t think too much about having skinned knees when I was a kid. I always bounced back up, brushed myself off, stuck a bandaid on my scrapes and moved on with life.

But last year the cracks in the sidewalk that sent me flying caught me by surprise. I didn’t bounce back like I did when I was a girl. Something was different. For the first time the trust I had in my body, that all would be well, was questioned. For the first time I found myself afraid of the future and the changes my body would continue to go through as I aged. 

When I stopped catastrophizing about a future that is a mystery to me and began to think clearly I realized that there was plenty I could do now to improve my strength and my balance. How I take care of my body now will inform how my body thrives in the future. I can eat more vegetables. Especially cruciferous ones. I can take Vitamin D. I can add more weight bearing exercises to my routine to keep my bones strong. I can remember that physical balance can be practiced. And then I can make sure to include standing balance poses to my yoga practice.

I don’t really have a formal game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not working toward my healthy future. It means I’m letting go of some of the anxiety I hold about the future. Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that a balanced body goes hand-in-hand with a balanced mind. And to keep a healthy, balanced mind I need to remain present with what is rather than focused on what might be. I can smile more. I can reach out to friends more often. I can immerse myself in the things that I love like art and reading and cooking. 

And I can remember that sometimes we sing the body electric’. Sometimes we fall down. 

This Pablo Neruda poem appeared in my Facebook feed this morning along with this advice: we are growing freer…not older.

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colors

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.”

– Pablo Neruda


Truffles, Baseball Caps & Judgement

During the pandemic a friend of mine eschewed the sourdough bandwagon and instead  mastered chocolate truffle making. His truffles are exquisite. Velvety smooth, they’re indulgent but somehow never ‘too much’. Some of the truffles he makes are elegant and traditional – little spheres of creamy chocolate rolled in cocoa or hazelnut. Others are playful and wear coats of chocolate sprinkles or crystalized ginger. All are simply perfect. 

Sunflowers

I’m thinking about truffles, COVID and politics this morning. Is it just me or does it feel like we’ve figured out how to live with COVID? At least in the the San Francisco Bay Area where vaccination rates are high, infection rates are low and people lean toward wearing masks indoors. New variants don’t hold Omicron’s power to terrorize and we’ve figured out how to enjoy social occasions with groups larger than two again. We’ve even mastered Zoom.

But I’m still baffled by anti-vaxxers. Early on, when vaccines first became available, a friend explained why she would remain un-vaxed: “I take vitamins, I exercise and I’m in good health. And I did my own research.” In hindsight I wish I’d replied, “I bet a lot of people said that before they ended up on a ventilator” but I was too flummoxed. More recently – during the peak of Omicron – a friend invited me to lunch. They excused their lack of vaccination this way, “I’m not going to catch COVID and even if I did, I’m going to die anyway.” Sigh. 

This, believe it or not, brings me back to truffles. 

My truffle making buddy and I meet – vaxed, boosted and, now that mandates have softened, carrying a mask just in case – every few weeks for coffee. If his ganache hasn’t broken I’m presented with an elegant box purchased from Etsy and filled with little yummy bites of joy. 

Today’s truffle was rolled in finely crushed Oreo biscuit and black salt.  The addition of salt added an unexpected and nuanced sophistication to the cookie crumble.  I enjoyed it with a cup of Earl Grey. The morning was pretty much like the truffle – delightful. The sun was shining and people were happily filling bags with produce from the nearby farmer’s market or standing in a long, chatty queue at the dim sum market stall across the street. Even the cafe’s usually grumpy owner was wearing his frown upside down. A few tables away sat a group of four middle-aged friends and a dog. One of the men – slightly older with a thick, grey beard – was wearing a light brown baseball cap with the message ‘Biden Failed Us’ embroidered in gold on the crown.  

To say I found it triggering is an understatement. But not for the reasons you think. Free speech, after all, is a human right.

But in today’s political atmosphere wearing a hat that is guaranteed to provoke feels unnecessary to me. It feels ugly. Selfish in the same way that, unless you are exempt for health or religious reasons, not being vaccinated is selfish. It’s an easy way to be loud without opening your mouth. To look like you are well informed when really you’re more like the Great Oz when he’s revealed to be less of a wizard and more of a fraud. 

I know nothing about the man with the hat and maybe, if I’d asked him, he would have explained with clarity his position. Yet I let his silly hat drag me kicking toward a mental space I find myself locked in more often than I would like. 

Judgement. 

It’s been a messy two years. An exhausting two years. And just when we thought we could see daylight again the world has fallen into a frightening state of chaos. 

I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna and the accusations are true. I am a card carrying, dyed-in-the-wool Pollyanna. But I believe with all my heart that we have a light within us and this is the time to shine. We shine our light by thinking about how our decisions impact the lives of others. We need to consider how our choices – down to the hat we choose to wear – should lift people up rather than tear them down.  We need to speak with care. We need to own our beliefs but share them with compassion, not vitriol. 

We need to stop being mean.

And above all else, we need more truffles.


New Guided Autobiography Series

I never know where to begin when it’s time to write about Guided Autobiography. I always want to let you know that it’s not a writing class – even though each week you’ll be writing. And I always want to describe the impact Guided Autobiography has on those who join – but it’s difficult to find the words. 

Guided Autobiography, I guess, is about processing. It’s about looking at the events of our lives. It’s about finding again those lost experiences that may have been the catalyst for profound change in our lives. 

And it’s about sharing those moments. Which is the best thing about Guided Autobiography – the friendships that are deepened and made all the more rich as we learn from one another’s stories.

Our Guided Autobiography meetings follow the same format each week: 

  • We begin with a check-in – a casual chat about the successes and the struggles we endured or celebrated during our writing week. This typically involves howls of laughter.
  • As our check-in winds down I introduce the writing theme for the following week. James Birrin developed his Guided Autobiography program around twelve life themes and the questions that accompany each theme as a means to stimulate our memory. When I was a fledgling GAB facilitator I followed those themes and questions to the letter. But as I gained confidence I did what most GAB facilitators do and developed my own themes and questions. Themes can run the gamut from how we developed trust in ourself or others, moments in our lives that became turning points, or the experiences we’ve had around failure or loss.
  • After the theme is introduced I offer a five minute break but no one ever wants to take a break so we jump right into reading.
  • The essays we write are about 800 words – two pages. And it’s important that we try our best to keep to this limit. Once read, as a group we don’t offer a critique of the writing. What we offer instead is encouragement and support. We might ask questions to know more details in the story. On more than one occasion tears have been shed by all of us.
  • When we have finished our readings we close the class with a final discussion about the following week’s theme.

And that, for the curious, is Guided Autobiography in a nutshell.

Our next 6-week Guided Autobiography session begins Thursday, March 31st at 2:00 PM.

Tuition is on a sliding scale from $60-$120, payable through PayPal.

To register, a simple email will do.

Once I receive payment you’ll receive our Zoom invite.

Class size is small – no fewer than four, no more than eight.


The Intentional Human

Have you ever met someone with whom there’s an instant connection? That’s what happened when I met my friend Evan. We became peer coaches for one another while completing our sixteen-month training with ICA, the International Coaching Academy based in Australia. That was two years ago. And now, every Monday morning, we meet for an hour ostensibly to keep our coaching skills ‘laser focused’. But no coaching takes place until we catch up with one another’s lives and more often than not laugh ourselves silly.

Evan talks a lot about intentionality. I like that about him. He’s curious about his purpose in life and how he might better live with intention. So keen is he on the idea of living with intention his company is named Intentional Human Group.

But it’s challenging, this whole ‘intentional life’ business. Where’s the user’s guide? There is none. It’s as if we’re handed something that looks like a map but it’s nothing but an empty white void with a red ‘you are here’ in one corner and ‘your purpose’ in the other. The only way to show the path that will lead us to the life intended for us is to take one well-thought step at a time.

In short, you better pay attention to your intention. 

Forty years ago Joseph Campbell urged us to ‘follow our bliss’. Like so many others I took the idea to heart. The problem is that the full quote – the idea Joseph Campbell was trying to share – doesn’t fit on the front of a tee shirt.  Why is it a problem? Because the notion of following our bliss has no foundation on which to ground. It’s as light and airy as a flatulent unicorn’s rainbow fart. Taking the concept of following our bliss to its extreme – which is far removed from Campbell’s intent – removes accountability for our actions and disregards the affect those actions have on the people around us. It gives us permission to see self-centeredness as a virtue.

Here is the full quote:

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

Just for fun, change the word ‘bliss’ to ‘intent’. The word ‘intent’ creates a foundation on which we can build. It has edges, boundaries. It has form. Ask yourself, ‘What is my intent? What are my intentions? How are my actions and the choices I make intentional?’ 

It’s easier to live with intention than it is to follow bliss. Living with intention is a powerful choice.  

Let’s be intentional humans.


Guided Autobiography: Not a Writing Class

Our next six-week Guided Autobiography session begins Thursday, January 6th, 2022 from 2:00-3:30 PM/PST. Tuition is on a sliding scale of $60-$120.

Curious? Ready to dive in? Contact me for details.

Guided Autobiography is a powerful catalyst for improved self-esteem, self-confidence and communication within our communities and our families. 

Guided Autobiography is not a writing class and no previous writing experience is necessary. Guided Autobiography is a class that will make you laugh and cry. It will break you open in the most wonderful way. It’s an exhausting, exhilarating and soothing balm for the soul.

Since the mid-1970’s Guided Autobiography (GAB) has been a method for helping people document their life stories. Researched and developed by Dr. James Birrin, GAB leads us through themes and priming questions that evoke memories of events once known but filed away and forgotten. A new theme is introduced each week. We have seven days to ponder, remember and write two pages inspired by that theme. When we meet again we share our story. The sharing process forges a deep connection within the group. We gain a greater appreciation not only for our own lives but for the lives of other. Writing and sharing our life stories with one another in a safe space is an ideal way to find new meaning in life and to put life events into perspective.

Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to begin the New Year?


I Resolve

Scroll through the last ten years of Practically Twisted posts and you’ll discover a pattern. Every few years, around the middle of December, I write about the long list of promises that I resolve to keep in the fast approaching new year. And then I’ll confess to feeling the deep disappointment of personal failure when those promises are broken by February. In other years I write about how I’ve learned my lesson about resolutions. I decide to throw caution to the wind and to swear resolutions off for good. I give myself carte blanche to do whatever I darn well please.

But throwing caution to the wind is not in my character. It doesn’t sit right, this going rogue. There has to be a place for everything and everything has to (more or less) be in its place. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.

I think that’s why I love this time of year. It’s the time of year that asks for introspection and reflection. It’s the time of year when I can look back and see that I’ve survived another circle around the sun more or less intact. It’s the time of year when I’m giddy with the anticipation of making a game plan for the next twelve months. Of figuring out how I can reach the heights to which I aspire.

I guess that’s why I like to make New Year’s Resolutions. Even when I try to convince myself that it’s a fool’s errand. Taking time to make a resolution suggests we’ve taken time to contemplate, to imagine ‘what if’, to ponder. And it helps me create order out of chaos. Resolutions are a road map. There’s plenty of opportunity for me to take side trips and short cuts, but resolutions point me in the right direction.

What about you? Do you set resolutions? 


On Purpose

I have a morning ritual. Bruce the Cat wakes me up at 5AM. While the kettle boils he and I go outside for a breath of fresh pre-dawn air. When he completes his ‘check of the perimeter’ (and after he is thwarted in his attempt to munch on a nasturtium leaf) we come back in, I make a cup of coffee or tea and sit down at my desk to begin my day. I write a few words in my journal and then open all the emails that arrived while I was sleeping.

Last Friday, in between taking the New York Time’s Weekly Quiz (I scored 10.67!) and watching Seth Meyers’s Closer Look (his impersonation of Mike Lindell the Pillow Guy is hilarious!) I opened my newsletter from Medium and scanned the page with my finger ready to ‘delete’ until I saw this quote from the actor Wil Wheaton: “Whenever possible be the person you need(ed) in your life. Do it on purpose.”  

On the surface it reads like one of those sickly sweet pseudo-inspirational phrases that show up on our Facebook feed. The ones written in a graceful, italicized font over a soft focused image of a field of flowers or the sun setting over the ocean.

It’s the second part of Wheaton’s message that struck home for me: do it on purpose

What the little guy from Stand by Me is talking about, I think, is intentionality. 

Back in the day I was in an acting class taught by Ed Hooks in the basement of a local church. Each week we’d perform a short scene with a partner which would be followed by critique. I can’t act my way out of a paper bag (I’m way too self-conscious) but I remember the question Ed posed to us again and again about our acting choices we made for our character: What is your intention? 

In the pre-pandemic Before Times, when I found myself contemplating something new, I often asked myself the same question: What is my intention? Knowing why my choices mattered to me helped me commit more fully to the process.

But the shut down changed all that. My spirit grew as soft as this new roll around my middle. I lost sight of my purpose. I forgot how to live on purpose. I forgot how to choose with intention. Did you?

As we begin to stretch our legs and make our way out of the den after a long COVID winter we might remember Wil Wheaton’s words: Be the person you need in your life. Do it on purpose

Live with intention. 


The Little Things

I’ve begun packing. Our new life on the East coast is still eight months away but I’ve begun to bundle in bubble wrap those things I don’t use but don’t want to lose. It would be far easier to send these silly tchotchkes to Goodwill – after all, they’re just ‘things’ – but I can’t seem to find the resolve. The attachment I have to them is visceral and giving them away at this point is like giving a part of myself away. I did not feel this way when I was younger, when I moved across an ocean and back again. Then, I gave most of what I had away to friends with ease. At the time it was like a cleansing but I realize now that I knew so very little about myself. I had no connection to my own history and thus no connection to the things I kept around me.

But now I do. And it’s these things I’ve packed away – my grandmother’s vase from Germany, the desktop magnifying glass my grandfather used to examine the coins he collected, the wooden puzzle boxes with inlaid images of Mount Fuji my sister and I were given as children, the Bible my mother carried with her through three marriages –  these things connect me to my past and to the blood flowing through my veins. They tell the story of who I am and how I came to be. 

These stories are important. And yet, if a calamity occurred and everything was lost the energetic imprint of these things I hold in my hand would still be held in my heart. 

With the image still fresh of Afghan families huddled by the perimeter walls of the Kabul airport desperate to board a flight that will take them to an unknown destination far away from where they are, and as Haitians emerge newly baptized by the waters of the Rio Grande to gather under a bridge in the sweltering heat of our southern border I am more than aware that the circumstances of my life are sweet blessings.

With that in mind, it’s healthier for me to see the task of deciding what to bring and what to leave behind as a joy rather than a burden. And in the process I can refine the vision I have of the life I want to live with my beloved human and beloved feline in rural Virginia. I can refine the vision of how I want to walk through a world that is so beautiful and fragile.


Your Creative Heart

When I was a child I loved September. I loved school shopping. I loved the smell of a new lunchbox, fresh new clothes, breaking in new shoes and the sharp graphite tip of a bright yellow number two pencil whose perfect pink eraser was still intact and whose pristine finish had yet to be marred by my biting incisors.

But that was then. This is now. And as we enter the second September of the pandemic, it’s a struggle sometimes to hold on to my optimism, my hope and my motivation. I know I’m not alone. Let’s face it. The past year and a half has been one heck of an endless slog.

What do you do when you know you’re reaching critical mass? When you know the stress of all we’ve been through and all we’re bearing witness to weighs too heavily on the heart?

Inspired by a friend whose journey as an artist has been so much fun to watch, I pulled out my own art supplies. The creative process, whether it’s at an easel with a fresh gessoed canvas, in your kitchen whisking a roux or with pen in hand and a story to tell, is the distraction we need. It offers us room to breathe. The creative process slows down time and provides space for honest reflection. It provides the clarity we need to be honest with ourselves about how we are experiencing life in this New Normal.

Where is your creative heart? Music? Visual arts? Cooking? Writing? Is it time to get your creative heart beating again?

Lately I’ve been seduced by the practice of ‘slow stitching’. Letting time pass one slow stitch at a time. My Aunt Mimmie taught me how to embroider when I was young and slow stitching has nudged awake a joy I’d forgotten. I’ve also been working on a series of mixed media pieces called ‘Family Album’. This collage is from that series. The man on the left is my great uncle William Harrison Barber, known as ‘Henry’ to his friends and family. The text on the right is from the last postcard he sent to his brother Robert. From the moment I found his postcard in my mother’s collection of family ephemera I felt a connection  to this man. I can’t explain it. I just did.

Henry wrote the postcard in 1903 from the Oakes Home for the Consumptive in Denver, Colorado. He tells his brother, “I don’t look like a sick man but appearances are very deceptive with lung trouble.” His doctors tell him he is not improving and advise that he head to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Henry knows that if his health doesn’t improve when he is in New York, he will never see Colorado again. He’s only twenty-three. And he never makes it to Saranac Lake.

His story has given me pause to reflect on what we do to survive and the connection between good health and creativity. 

Throughout the pandemic it’s been my adventures with basket making and needle felting and wet felting and eco-dying and collage that have brought me comfort. They’ve kept me sane and quite possibly alive.

William Harrison Barber was a musician. He left his studies in Boulder to pursue a career in music and found some success with his ditty ‘Dainty Flo from Idaho’. I’m sad that music didn’t save his life but I bet it brought him comfort. 

Can exploring your creative nature be a comfort to you?