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Four Lessons: the ARC of Life and Work

This week I recalled a long ago horse show in surprising detail. Several of us volunteered to help and were given tee shirts as a reward. One woman never got hers and for weeks she complained non-stop, but never spoke to the stable owner who gave out the shirts. Micki taught us a Lesson: When there’s a problem, instead of complaining to everyone you know, go to the person who can do something about it.

Have you ever had to work with someone you disliked? I have, and it’s an embarrassing story. My coworker Sharon and I were total opposites; the only thing we had in common was mutual loathing. Working in a library, we sometimes ended up in the same aisle between shelves and I blush to admit some shoving and jabbing went on. Had Roller Derby been popular at the time, we both could have been candidates for the sport. On opposite sides, of course.

Many years and jobs passed before I pondered: “What were Sharon and I being paid to do?” Were we paid to “like” each other or to “work” with each other?” To be honest, in those days, I wasn’t a team player, but after some trial and error I learned my Lesson: Cooperate instead of judge or criticize. Ha, I can excel in both with little effort! But it’s amazing how things go so much better when I work with and not against others, in all kinds of situations (even as a customer). And the best part—I feel better about myself for “making nice.” Voila!

A few years after launching my business I gave a speech for Secretaries Day and spotted a familiar face in the audience. During break I happily approached Sharon, handing her a free copy of my first book. Her face screwed up and she spat out, “What qualifies YOU to do this?” Poor Sharon was still stuck in the library days. She taught me the Lesson: If you’re unable to free yourself from negatives there won’t be room for what’s positive in your life.

We all have a history. Our pasts hold both Lessons to be learned so we can move on with life, or Lesions that will fester and weep. We can be like Micki or Sharon, sore and stuck in our own “stuff” or we can lighten up and free ourselves so we are more able to “stick our landings.” Which person would you rather be?

In my early years I was angry, envious, and insecure. It took years to radically alter the course of my life and it began with a Big three-fold Lesson. I call it the ARC. My first step (admittedly, the hardest one) was ownership. I had to reluctantly and grudgingly embrace Accountability and it stung. Blaming had been so much more fun!

Being Accountable meant taking Responsibility for everything I thought, said, and did. Whew! This too, was a stretch. Changing my thought patterns was difficult and threatening, but somehow felt right. Fortunately, Choice seemed to slide into place after working my tail off on the first two. Truth be told, we always have a choice, even if we don’t like the one we have to make. It helps to be conscious of the Choices we make, big or small, because we are Accountable and Responsible for them. As a friend of mind once said, “Right now we’re choosing to be a little unhappy about that situation but we’ll get over it.”

Author Erica Jong says: Take your life in your own hands and what happens?
A terrible thing: no one to blame.

The ARC is about being Accountable and Responsible for our Choices: what and how we think (attitude), and what we say and do (actions). Work on this and you’ll end up more objective and relaxed, and less reactive. You’ll have more fun instead of feeling bitter or begrudged. Your relationships will improve, maybe even your health. You’ll spend more time concentrating on what’s right in your world instead of complaining about what’s wrong.

What Big Lessons have changed your life and is there anything in this article you might want to ponder?

HOMTV Interview with Leslie Charles on Women’s Month

Leslie Charles, author of seven books including the critically acclaimed book titled “Why is Everyone So Cranky”, joins us for our March is Women’s Month Interview Series to discuss her career and vast experience of training, facilitating and keynote speaking.

Lessons my Horse Taught Me

My childhood dream was to someday own a horse and it was a privilege to make that dream come true. I was a horse owner for thirty years and after hacking around for the first ten, I began pursuing the art of dressage. Here are a few of the many lessons I learned during those hundreds of hours in the saddle and taking lessons.

1. Just as with life and work, dressage is an exercise in continuous improvement. If you want to learn, enhance your skills, and enrich your existence, you have to focus on what you want, be willing to change, and make a long-term commitment to keep on learning and improving.

2. What feels “natural” isn’t always correct. Use your brain to get the results you want whenever you’re outmuscled or overpowered. For example, when leading a horse, if it rears up or jerks its head back, instead of following your instinct to pull, move toward the horse and then give the lead line a jerk. In relationships, it’s a good rule to remember that what you really want to say might not get you the results you’re looking for. If you really want to resolve things, move “toward” the person or situation instead of away or against.

3. Ask for what you want in a manner that it can be easily understood by the other party. I used to laugh while riding when what I was asking for wasn’t getting through and I’d say to my horse, “Do what I’m thinking—not what I’m asking! A lot of times we want or hope someone will read our mind or we expect they should know what we want by now, but our lack of clarity often sets us up for disappointment.

4. Accept constructive feedback and adjust your behavior accordingly so you can be more effective. Learning to ride correctly meant receiving a lot of instruction and criticism. I didn’t argue with my trainers, they knew more than me. Sometimes you may be tempted to push back or get defensive when criticized, but instead, listen carefully, keep your mouth shut, and consider the merits of what you are being told. The One Minute Manager states “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” It’s true. World-class athletes pay strict attention to feedback. So should we, in our everyday lives.

5. Most creatures (people and horses, for sure) are quite inclined to take the easy way out. In life and work (as in riding), the most effective strategy is often the hardest one. Don’t cheat yourself by only trying half way. Suck it up and put forth whatever effort it takes so you can learn to do things right. Once you internalize the skill it’ll be yours for as long as you live.

6. We are all driven by our own agendas. Like life (and work), dressage is challenging and complex. Just as the rider needs to do what’s difficult, so does the horse, and sometimes the pair will be working at cross-purposes. This also happens in personal and work relationships. Reread items 1 through 5 for inspiration on this point. And practice items 1 – 4 so you can improve.

7. Instead of wishing for miracles, take the initiative. Change is difficult but it’s also necessary if you want to be more effective. Create your own transformations, within yourself and others—by your willingness to alter what you’re doing. I’m talking about the things that aren’t working as well as you would like. You can’t expect another person (or animal, or situation) to change for the better till you do.

Thank you for considering these ideas! —Leslie Charles,

Action Step: While you might never find yourself on the back of a horse, every day you metaphorically ride out to meet your day. Which of above lessons I learned in the saddle most “speak” to you and how will you let them enrich your existence?

About the photo:
Her name was First Lady and I nicknamed her Ladiebug because she was the color of a ladybug. This photo was taken at our first show in Waterloo (MI). We competed in four classes and won four blue ribbons. Ladiebug enjoyed the show ring. She was the last horse I owned, was such a dear; I still miss her. She passed away ten years ago.

No More New Year’s Resolutions

So how are those Resolutions working for you? By now have you fumbled, forgotten, or forsaken that 2018 miracle makeover? I’m all for self-improvement but after years of my own failed attempts I renounced the “R word,” replacing it with an Annual Theme practice that has changed my life.

Having a theme keeps me connected to the big picture while bringing purpose to my daily routines, influencing decisions and actions in almost mystical ways. Halfway through my second theme (Year of Celebration), while indulging in a whiny moment, I realized that complaining was inconsistent with celebration. It dawned on me there was something special about this practice but had no idea how right I was.

Each Winter Solstice I review the year (only good things) in my journal. By New Year’s Eve I’ve created my poster and made notes about what my theme means. This year, for the first time, I assembled a Vision Board for the intentions I usually write out.

Since 1995, each year’s theme has unfolded in its own surprising ways:
During my Year of Exploration (1997) I attended the Maui Writers Conference to explore my potential as a writer. One of the top agents in the country chose me as her client.

In 1998’s Year of Adventure I was back in Maui, named the Nonfiction Success Story of the Year after my agent garnered a huge advance for “Why Is Everyone So Cranky?”

2003, my Year of Reinvention brought change. After 30 years of owning, riding, and showing horses, I traded that lifestyle for the sport of disc golf. Quite by accident I added a new income stream (manuscript doctoring) that continues to this day.
2010, my Year of Finesse marked the end of a 35-year relationship. Getting dumped was tough and I renamed 2010 as the “Year of Fine Mess.” To my surprise I soon discovered (and am now living) the blissful, bountiful life I didn’t know I wanted.
2012, my Year of Radiance brought two dream trips of a lifetime, three weeks in Greece and Turkey and eight days of canoeing and camping on Isle Royale with my son. It was uncanny how many people told me I looked “radiant” that year, or that I “glowed.”

In case you’re wondering, I’ve documented every year’s unwinding, unexpected story. Are you intrigued? I still am! This practice is working for many of my friends and clients, too. By having a theme, an overreaching idea that influences your entire year, for once, time is on your side. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Firm Up With Affirmations

Following the two worst things that have happened to me (the death of my son Robbie Kuripla in 1984, and my partner Rob Carr recently ending our 35-year relationship), positive affirmations helped me recover from my grief, accept the New Normal and move on. You’d smile at my apartment walls; they’re littered with affirming posters and reminders.

If affirmations aren’t part of your life I encourage you to embrace the practice so you can reprogram yourself and steel your resilience, trading the stress of self-sacrifice for self-support. Here are some guidelines:

1. Use positive words. Envision what you’re working toward; write a positive one-sentence statement that reflects how you want to feel and behave. Example: “I choose happiness.”

2. Use present tense. Write your affirmations as if they’ve already been accomplished. Example: “I accept reality as it is.” Future tense keeps you “in the future” while present tense influences your “now.”

3. Create positive images. Hold these pictures firmly in your mind; vividly imagine yourself engaging in the new behavior(s).

4. Write down your affirmations. Record them on your business card or small pieces of paper; carry them with you. Post them on your bathroom mirror, car dashboard, or walls. Make posters as I do (it’s fun) so you’re surrounded with attractive reminders.

5. Memorize and repeat. Read or recite your affirmations constantly. Visualize your images. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Say it, see it, and you will be it.

Affirmations work because your brain absorbs what you think, say, and even imagine, accepting everything you tell it as The Truth. An affirmation may sound like a lie but that’s only because you haven’t accomplished it yet. You will; be consistent, be patient. World class athletes and astronauts use this process to improve their performance; it’s called simulation.

If this idea is new to you, start small. Keep it private at first so no one discourages or teases you. As results unfold you’ll gain confidence. Affirmations and visualizations have not only helped me survive my two biggest traumas, they’ve empowered and enabled me to heal and grow, reclaim my life, recreate myself, and thrive (even flourish) once again.

Simple Action: If you need a mental kick start, a change of direction, or to recover from a hurt or trauma, begin affirming your life and yourself today. Reach for the stars and soar to new heights; you never know until you try.

Source: WordPress

Five Secrets to Loving Life

There are days we wake up bright eyed and bursting with positive energy but there are other times we’d rather just turn over and do a day of “sheet therapy.” Here are five ways to stay in love with your life and yourself.

1. Be Grateful. It’s easy to notice what’s wrong, broken, or boring, but instead, consciously focus on what’s right and what’s working. Each night, review the good things that happened that day and smile. On a small card, write down the 5 most important things in your life. Carry your Gratitude List with you at all times and if you have a “moment” haul out your card and read it for instant perspective.

2. Be Kind. Be nice to yourself and others. Say “please” and “thank you,” even to your family. Be patient with people who appear rushed or pressured. If you start feeling stressed, breathe in relaxation and send it out to the world with your exhale. Do one good deed every day. Things get better when you keep the “kind” in humankind.

3. If You Make a Change, Start Small. If you made such a lengthy list of New Years resolutions that you’ve already abandoned them, simplify the process. Don’t go for a miracle makeover, simply pick one behavior to work on for the rest of the year and keep at it. For once, time will be on your side. This “annual practice” has changed my life.

4. Fake it Till You Make It. You’ve heard this a gazillion times but it’s true. Want to be happier? Act happy! Use the body language of a happy person: smile more, laugh, be friendly. Your brain treats whatever you think or say as “the truth” and interprets your body language as “how you are.” Act “as if” and that’s what you’ll become.

5. Treat Yourself With Loving Kindness. Flight briefings remind us to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others if cabin pressure is lost during a flight; this is a good rule to generalize. Nurture, care for, and indulge yourself in healthy ways, especially during difficult times. Give yourself the gift of living each day as fully as you can, even if things suck because sometimes they will (I hope that made you smile).

Simple Action: Several times a day remind yourself that living and loving start on the inside and work their way to the outside. It all begins within, and why would you want to be without?

Source: WordPress

The Power of Words

Last year, my friend Janelle Barlow, author of “A Complaint is a Gift”, ended her e-mail with the words, “May your day sparkle.” I thought it was the coolest way of closing a note I’d ever seen. Months later, I still can’t get her words out of my mind. Aren’t we lucky when a friend sends us a message that sticks?

Even though my days weren’t so sparkly at the time (serious relationship issues had surfaced), I clung to Janelle’s words. They reminded me to look for the good even when things felt so bad, when I felt so bad.

Well, my days are getting brighter again, with moments of gleams and glimmer; the sparkle is coming back into my life. The season helps. Winter in Michigan brings mornings where ice on the trees turns the world into crystal, where falling snowflakes look like diamonds in the sunlight, and a blanket of white glistens in the angled rays of winter’s cold sun.

I found more helpful words last year: “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.” ~Marie Beynon Ray. These words, capable of bringing tears to my eyes, are on my computer desktop and I read them every day.

If you’re going through tough times I encourage you to find the words and the people that will encourage you and bolster your spirit. I encourage you to rediscover the wise, knowing part of you; trust that it will tell you the truth, even if it hurts. These external and internal resources will help you revive your true self and renew your faith in who you are so you can rebuild your existence.

Life is dynamic, unpredictable, and filled with hills and valleys. The latter is where the truth and our life lessons lie. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” and facing our “adventures” forces us to be in the moment. Living in the “now” keeps us from dreading the future or clinging to the past. It’s not easy but the present is the only place where we find the words, the sparkling insights that bring us courage, strength, and clarity.

Simple Action: If you have issues that have forced you into the shade, address them now so you can once again find the sparkle in your day, and in yourself.

Source: WordPress

Shake it Up, Baby

For many of us the new year rides in on a shiny, glimmering wave of hope and determination. In my last post I welcomed the new year (anew) and I’d like to take this theme out for one more spin before it goes back in the garage or wherever ideas go when we lay them to rest.

The word “anew” appeals to me, suggesting change, evolution, self-improvement. While a whole year, 365 days, may feel a bit daunting, we can bring it down to a manageable portion: think one day at a time, each day anew. Can you get your head around keeping a sparkle on each new day?

You can do this by shaking things up, revising your routine (perhaps radically), and finding new ways of doing old things. It doesn’t have to be huge. For example, try sleeping on the other side of the bed.

Rearrange the furniture. Try new restaurants, new cuisines, new recipes. Try doing everyday tasks with your non-dominant hand and see what happens. Sign up for a class: something you’ve never done before. Though I’m not a dancer I took up Zumba in November (very fun!) and discovered that my left foot takes longer to learn dance steps than my right. Who woulda thunk it?

‎”The best cure for a sluggish mind is to disturb its routine.” ~ William H. Danforth

Years ago, I started switching my turbo mouse from right hand to left to see if I could do it (I can). Last summer I was forced into playing disc golf left-handed, thanks to an injured right shoulder and the results are quite impressive. I now vacuum and occasionally brush my teeth with my left hand. The latter is still a challenge, but switching hands is good for the brain.

Back to disc golf for a moment: I took up the sport in 2005, despite my lack of coordination and infirmities. I totally sucked when I began, but I now play tournaments and hold a world distance record in my age category. So what’s the point? Shake yourself up. Try something new, unfamiliar, and maybe a bit intimidating. And stick to it for awhile, even if you suck.

Simple Action: If you feel wedged in by routine, free yourself. If you yearn for a change, do it and enjoy the results. Break the mold before you harden. Try something new—the sky’s the limit.

Source: WordPress

Time to Renew You

As 2010 rolls to a close, like an unhospitable guest or milk that’s spoiled, I’m happy to see it go. If I may be candid, 2010 was a rough ride. Like a turbulent, trouble-laden flight where you end up feeling frosted, accosted, and exhausted, that describes my year.

But like you, I am an ever-changing, continually evolving human being. Yes, I have my moments of regression, recalcitrance, and resistance. Yet somehow these times of truancy pass and I shrug off my petulance and plunge forward. These things are on my mind because I’m in the midst of my annual ritual of reviewing the old year and planning for the new.

My company logo is that of a butterfly because nothing else on earth experiences such a radical transformation. In transitioning from caterpillar to butterfly, there’s a period when these creatures are “nothing.” They’re a mash and mess of protoplasm that has no shape or form, yet bearing promise and potential as they shift into the next stage of their life cycle.

You’re no stranger to transitions; you’ve had times where you felt so mashed and messed up it felt as if you’d lost yourself. Things felt so bad you weren’t sure you’d ever recover but you did. You picked yourself up, absorbed the experience, learned your lessons, made new plans and promises, and got back on the path. Good for you!

Let’s face it. We are imperfect creatures trying to make our way in an imperfect world. We try to do our best but we screw up. We make mistakes. We get hurt, we hurt others and even ourselves from time to time. We sometimes find ourselves in the middle of a mess, yet at some point we hose ourselves down, forgive our transgressions (or transgressors) and move on.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions but I do create a theme for each year and there will be more on that in the near future. For now, I’m wiggling my way out of a mess, sorting through my lessons learned, and drying my wings so I can fly again. If you’ve had a tough year, I hope you’ll do the same. Indeed, there are kinder, gentler days ahead.

Simple Action: Renew you, from mess to mastery. Like the butterfly, you can reinvent yourself, transform hardship into happiness, and let your spirit once again soar as you shift into the next stage of your life cycle.

Source: WordPress

Handling Holiday Loss

The holiday season conjures images of connection, celebration, and endless cheer but that’s not how it is for everyone. The season can be very sad if you’re facing loss, grief, or other challenges. If your holidays won’t be picture perfect this year, or you know someone in that situation, here are some ways to cope.

1. Anticipate ups and downs. For a start, those stirring Christmas songs can trigger feelings of sadness, reverie or loneliness, even in good times! Avoid that dripping sentimentality when you can, and opt for upbeat music or silence.

2. Put you on your “gift” list. Do what works for you. Take one day at a time and don’t over schedule yourself. Create a positive affirmation such as, “I can handle this,” repeat as needed. Don’t feel obligated to celebrate; too much “merriment” may not fit this year. Set aside time for yourself, not to be lonely, but to be solitary.

3. Accept reality. Things will feel different because they are, so don’t try to make life feel “normal.” Instead of asking “why” help yourself adjust to your new circumstances. We human beings are remarkably adaptable and resilient, even in the toughest of times. It helps to realize that you can accept “what is” without having to approve of it.

4. Focus on gratitude. Create a gratitude list and add to it as new realizations come. Keep your list handy, review it often. Read an inspirational book or buoy your spirit by volunteering; helping others can boost your gratitude.

5. If you need to, give yourself some grieving time. Keep it healthy. If you’re missing a loved one, write a letter to him or her and save or dispose of it as you see fit. Or put down in words what a loved one might say to encourage or comfort you. These are ways of tapping into your innate wisdom.

6. Attend to your mental, physical and spiritual needs. Get adequate sleep and some moderate exercise. Nurture yourself. Avoid unhealthy self-indulgences such as binge eating, drinking, or grudge shopping.

7. Try a healing ritual. Some families light a candle for their loved one in the military or one who’s deceased to signify their presence. Others buy or make a special holiday ornament or symbol. Do what works for you and yours.

Simple Action: Maintain your faith. It sounds like a cliche but time is a powerful salve. Be kind to yourself through the holidays and beyond; let time do its work.

Source: WordPress

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Leslie Charles, CSP

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