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?

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.