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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
December 2003

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Living Your Ideal Life
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
1. Living Your Ideal Life

In last month's newsletter, we began building a strong foundation for your ideal life. We started at the bottom of a pyramid with the first level called purpose followed by the next level, mission, and the next, vision. This month we will see how to approach the top layer at the pinnacle of the pyramid, goals. Most people race from the image of their ideal life to setting up goals and then are surprised that the plan falls apart. Before working on your year-end review and goal setting for the New Year, let's examine why resolutions are broken in the first three weeks after January 1 and what you can do to prevent that from happening as you work on living your ideal life.

So Close and Yet So Far
Remember the last motivational workshop you attended? You walked out all charged up and motivated about how great your life will be. You were dreaming big dreams, dreams about bringing your product or service to more people, dreams about enjoying your family and friends more, or dreams about making a difference in the world. But on the way home that feeling started, the small one that in the pit of your stomach, that gets bigger and bigger, until it stops you in your tracks before you even get on the path to your ideal life. That feeling is fear. You're scared because you know what will happen. Nothing. A week later nothing will have changed and you will feel just as lazy and depressed as you did before the workshop, well worse than normal, because now you have the secret shame about being a workshop failure. What you don't know is that you are not the only workshop failure. The same feeling happens to everyone because workshops don't work. They raise your expectations to wanting something better and the wanting hurts because what you want seems so far away. The more passionate you are, the more clear the vision, and the more you want it, the more you will hurt.

So now it should not surprise you that the word "passion" comes from "passio," a Greek word meaning "to suffer." Cultural anthropologist, Joseph Campbell, is often quoted on living an ideal life, "Follow your bliss," a recommendation that sounds great until you learn that bliss comes from "bleusure" a French verb that means "to suffer." All this suffering comes from our ability to dream. Dreaming itself is not so bad; it's the discrepancy between the dream and current reality. Dreams get you so close to heaven that it hurts to wake up and find out you are still on earth. People sometimes even say: "I want it so much it hurts." Creating something out of nothing hurts. Ever wonder why writers and artists drink too much? They are trying to numb the anxiety that comes from staring at blank pages or canvasses. If you dare to dream you are an artist creating an ideal life that doesn't exist. Who would blame you for taking up drinking?

The River Runs Through It
The anxiety you feel about not reaching your dreams is called discomfort anxiety, caused by the discomfort of wanting something so badly it hurts. It comes from what a uthor Robert Fritz calls structural conflict. It happens when the structure of our current life is in conflict with the structure of your ideal life - mostly because the new structure is not in place yet. Fritz says that no matter how clear our vision is we will revert to our old behaviors because the structures of our lives force us there. He describes "the path of least resistance" as why a river flows along its banks. It follows its structures and cannot jump the banks and go elsewhere unless the banks are restructured by floods or rock slides.

We all have river banks keeping us stuck in the river bed. You start a diet but buy donuts "in case company comes for tea." Only no one comes so you eat the donuts because you hate to waste food. You plan to finish college but never sign up for a course. The old structures always lead you back to the same place until you construct the new ones. Like being pulled by a giant rubber band you make an attempt to get closer to the goal but you don't get there fast enough so you lose your grip on the dream and the end anchored in the old reality snaps the rubber band back. Your anxiety temporarily drops but then you feel lazy and depressed that your life isn't going anywhere. Then your desire for something better pulls the rubber band but your dream is so far away you can't stretch the rubber band far enough to reach it.

One way to get rid of the anxiety is to stop dreaming, give up on your ideal life, and keep doing what you have been doing. Numb out with drugs, alcohol, food, dead end relationships, and mindless work. Avoid thinking about or doing anything about that new life. Keep doing your old boring life; at least it is familiar - the path of least resistance. It's too scary to create something out of nothing. Stop dreaming. You won't feel anxious- but you won't get your dream either.

Embrace the Pain
Or... if you really want a better life you have to learn to tolerate the anxiety. Stop trying to escape the pain. Sit still. Don't try to reduce the pain. In fact exaggerate it. Make it bigger by journaling about all the reasons why you can't get your ideal life and how you wouldn't really enjoy it even if you did.

Joan (a modern fairy tale princess who may or may not exist) came to me for coaching because she was stuck in not being able to complete her dissertation. In fact, she hadn't even started on her dissertation. Everyday, she tried positive thinking, how great it would be to get finished. She could enter the career of her dreams. She would make more money. She would get famous in her field. She could move into a great house. Her mother would stop nagging her. She would present her research at a conference and met the man of her dreams. They would live happily ever after.

Still, no dissertation. Joan got better and better about dreaming. She not only dared to dream, she perfected it. She designed the perfect dissertation and the perfect life, but everyday she also got more anxious. Time was running out. Her dissertation director had stopped calling to ask about her progress. She hated her dead end job more and more. She did not do anything about the dissertation, though. She didn't have any structures in place to allow the river of dissertation writing to flow. There was no writing time, no meetings with her long-lost dissertation director, no structures that match the life of a dissertation writer.

Joan was caught in the rubber band of structural conflict, dreaming and feeling great, recognizing reality and feeling depressed. She needed to break the cycle. Before she could do so we talked about the pain that goes with dreaming. We talked about how normal it is to want so badly it hurts. I asked her to keep a simple log whenever she got anxious and felt like the dream was too far away. Exaggerating the pain made it seem silly and easier to tolerate until we could break the cycle. Why didn't we just break the cycle? Because the pain will keep coming back and you need to welcome it as an old annoying friend who visits you whenever you are on the path to your ideal life. Paradoxically, once you learn to expect it, knowing it is normal, and living with it, the anxiety will lessen. It will also lessen when you start carrying out some steps toward your ideal life. Just remember, though, the anxiety will return.

The Principle of Gradualism: Don't Overwhelm Yourself
Now Joan was ready to start on goals. Before we started on the dissertation goals we reviewed her mission, vision and goals of her ideal life. We also measured how close she already was to her ideal life. I used the following list reprinted from last month's newsletter for your convenience to use as the basis for an end of the year review.

  • Work: Are you doing work that is satisfying and that meets your economic needs?
  • Relationships: Are you giving and receiving the support and love that you want from friends and family?
  • Environment: Are you living and working in environments that support you and your goals?
  • Financial: Are you making what you should for your training and experience? Are you managing your finances in ways consistent with your values?
  • Community: Do you have connection and involvement in your community consistent with your stage of life, i.e. school-aged children often need your support with school volunteer activities, scouts, sports, etc.?
  • Spirituality/inner life: Do you take time to reflect on how your life is going? Do you have worship or practices that are meaningful to you?
  • Intimacy: Do you have an intimate partnership or a few intimate friends? How are these relationships going?
  • Health: Are your health habits supporting your present life and helping to promote your long term well-being?
  • Recreation: Do you have hobbies that refresh you? Do you spend some regular time pursuing them?
  • What are some aspects of your life that are important to you even though they are not listed above?
You can't work on all of the above areas simultaneously. Women who get closer to their ideal life usually do not suddenly quit their jobs, leave their marriages and move to San Diego. Well, a few do but most do not. Here some steps for getting closer to your ideal life.
  • In each of the above areas, measure the gap between the description of your ideal and what reality is at the moment. Give yourself a measurement of the gap. Ideal might be a 9.5 on a 10 point scale and present reality might be a 3. You can be completely subjective about this rating. After all, it is your life.
  • Write a verbal description of what it would take to reach a 9 or 10. Example, a 10 in your "environment" would be a clean house or it might be an a desk that you keep clear except for a current project you are working on. It might be equipment in good order.
  • To keep from overwhelming yourself, pick one or two areas to focus on and describe some steps to move closer to your ideal. To experience some quick success to sustain the effort for the harder ones, might pick ones where your present reality score is closest to 10. For example, Joan liked a clean house and spent four hours a week keeping it clean. There's four hours for the dissertation. She agreed to hire a cleaning service to come once a week with the agreement that the cleaning time be converted to writing time. We added the structure of accountability by having Joan send me an email at the start and finish of each writing session to document her time. By changing the structures, she got closer to the dream.
  • What are the steps towards those dreams? List your goals with time frames.
  • Make each subgoal so small that it is hard not to do. Think in 15 minute increments.
  • What support do you need to make those dreams come true? Tell those you know who can support you in attaining those goals. Consider using a coach to keep you accountable and to act like an auxiliary brain to give you ideas about how to reach your goals. Get an accountability buddy or group.
Be Patient, I'm Not Done With Me Yet
You probably think I'm going to tell you that Joan finished her dissertation anxiety free. If so, you haven't been paying attention. Joan did finish her dissertation. It took her a year, about the average it takes anyone who is willing to work about 20 hours a week on the project. She was anxious the whole way except when she was working on the dissertation. Her new structure forced her to work. If she had an urge to clean her house, she sent me an email and got to work. For a few precious hours she was free of discomfort anxiety. After she finished a writing session, she rewarded herself with watching a tape of her favorite TV show.

In a few weeks, she noticed that the freedom from anxiety lasted a whole day. The anxiety came back when she skipped one of her scheduled writing days and when it did, she got to work again. She used the anxiety to signal her to get to work. Anxiety tells you to keep moving forward. The trick is to hold the present reality and the dream in your mind at the same time - a hard task but not an impossible one.

Joan got her new job, more money, the new house. She felt great but then the old anxiety returned because her new job required her to do research. She loved research but doing it made her anxious. Facing that blank computer screen with nothing to say was terrifying so she wanted to avoid it altogether. This time when she got anxious, she knew what to do: get the structures in place to make the current reality get closer to the ideal. Joan learned to tolerate the anxiety. She learned to dream big, put her structures in place, and get her ideal life. Her research made her famous. She presented it at a world conference where she met her ideal man. And of course they lived happily ever after, because this is a fairy tale..... or is it?

In the New Year, get dreaming, get anxious, get help, and get busy.

Happy Holidays,
Susan Robison

Reference: Robert Fritz "The Path of Least Resistance."

2. BossWoman Coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don't work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

Susan is scheduling keynotes, workshops and training for 2004. She is getting more anxious each minute about how to get all the work done and still have time for play. She is forging forward anyway. She'll announce those workshops that are open to the public in the January newsletter.

Subscribe to BossWoman e-Newsletter by sending an email with in the Subject to: susan@bosswoman.org

BossWomen e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

Copyright 2003 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without my permission.

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