Stories from the book of carols

a carol on Crossroads

Karl had that khaki-and-polo shirt look of success. Tan and blond with only a slight post-50 paunch, he seemed to be going places. Today it was Denver.

“So, what do you do?” he asked me from across the aisle.

“I’m The Discovery Coach,” I replied in a burst of self-promotionaI zeal. Karl looked at me blankly. “It’s probably easier to show you than to tell you,” I said. “Got a minute?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ve got the whole flight.”

“Terrific. So, it’s Karl, right? Let me ask what you do for a living, Karl.”

“Great question,” he laughed. “I just sold my company — a confectionery business — and now I’m trying to figure out what to do next.” He put his right elbow on the tray table and leaned into the aisle. “I can’t decide if I should stay in the same field or go off in a completely new direction. I guess I’m at a crossroads.”

“Many of us are,” I assured him. “So tell me, what’s this new direction look like?”

“Believe it or not,” Karl answered, “I’ve been thinking about doing career coaching!. That’s probably why I looked so surprised when you said you’re a coach.” We both smiled.

“Anyway,” he continued,  “my younger brother John—who used to run the business with me—always complained that I was more concerned about our employees than I was about the bottom line. I never really cared about the numbers. What I really enjoyed,” he beamed, “was helping people figure out what they love to do and empowering them to do it.”

I found myself wishing I’d worked for Karl.m”That’s wonderful,” I said. “It sounds like you’ve been a career coach all along.”

Karl looked startled for half a second, then resumed his script. “Well anyway, I’m torn about which direction to take.”

I thought this over. “I’m curious about something, Karl. What makes the choice between career coaching and the confectionery business look like a crossroads to you? Is it possible that your natural ability to empower people is what made the company successful?”

This time my words landed like a 747. “Absolutely!” he exclaimed. “You know, I never ever saw it that way before.”

“And might there be other companies out there in the confectionery business that could profit from your type of leadership?”

Karl nearly jumped out of his seat this time. “This is tremendous! I can think of half a dozen companies I could talk to about this! Hey, I really appreciate this, Carol. You’re a natural coach.”

“Thank you,” I said. “It’s what I discovered when I came to a crossroads myself.”

Are you or someone you know at a crossroads now? If you’re uncertain of where to go next, it may be time to revisit where you’ve already been. Think of all the areas where you’re a natural leader, both in your personal and professional life. What do you most enjoy doing? What kinds of things do people routinely come to you for? Ask your friends, family, and former colleagues for feedback. As  you consider your natural abilities, notice the recurring patterns and themes. What are you seeing that you might have missed?

Success leaves clues as we travel through life. Discovering the path that you’ve always been on can lead you in the right direction.



a carol on Enlightenment

It is said that the Buddha attained Enlightenment after meditating under the bodhi tree for three days and nights. Me, I don’t have that kind of time. Or a bodhi tree.

I’m lucky to squeeze out 20 minutes a day for meditation. It’s hard to just sit and let my mind go as blank as my laptop screen when I’ve got so much to do. I need to finish this project now!

Yes, I admit it. I get attached… attached to the notion that something has to happen in a certain time and fashion that I control. But isn’t attaching what the Buddha said not to do?

When I meditate, my attachment dissolves. Even in the midst of anxiety, anger, fear, disappointment, or some other gripping emotion, I find that if I can relax just long enough to notice and name the emotion, then I usually break its spell.

“Ah, Disappointment,” I say to the emotion. “Here you come again.”

I notice that Disappointment shows up as a sick, sinking feeling in my belly. When I notice the feeling, then I’m at choice. I can don Disappointment like an old velour bathrobe I’ve worn for years, or I can step back and greet it as a knock on my door.

“So, Disappointment,” I say without judgment, “what brings you here again today?”

Sometimes I ask Disappointment what it wants me to know. Other times I welcome it without any words. I know that whatever I resist persists. So instead of pushing Disappointment away, I take a deep mindful breath, slowly exhale, and gently turn my attention toward my belly. The sick, sinking feeling is still very strong. I don’t really want to go into this feeling, and yet, I know it’s the only way.

I spend some time with Disappointment, exploring the feelings that arise in my body and mind. As I do, Disappointment begins to transform. The sick, sinking feeling becomes another physical or emotional sensation…perhaps tension, anxiety, sadness, guilt. The only way I can hold onto the feeling of Disappointment is to keep replaying the experience that triggered it — over and over and over again — like a broken record of some old song.

I realize that I am not the record. I am the person playing it. I have many records in my collection. I can choose what to play in any moment…and choose how I listen to the song.

Ah, Enlightenment, here you come again.

The Buddha attained Enlightenment under the bodhi tree. You can experience a moment of Enlightenment wherever you are.

Take some meditative moments throughout the day. If you’re caught in the grip of an unwanted emotion, simply pause, close your eyes, and take a couple of deep mindful breaths. Notice the part of your body where the suffering arises, without judging or pushing the sensations away. Notice the accompanying thoughts. Then give the emotion a name.

“Ah, Suffering, here you come again.”

Notice how the sensations ebb and flow, how Suffering transforms into something else, how nothing really remains the same despite your efforts to keep holding on.

This too shall pass…

Something else will take its place…

Perhaps a moment of Enlightenment.



a carol on Stepping It Up

It’s mother-daughter day at the Reston Health Club. I’m walking on a treadmill side-by-side with my cute little 81-year-old mom. She starts out at an easy 1.5 mph. But seeing that my speed is 4.0, she decides to step it up.

“Use the arrow keys, Mom, to adjust the speed. Don’t punch the keyboard.” She punches the keyboard. Her treadmill slowly grinds to a halt.

“Mom,” I huff, “how many times do I have to tell you to use the arrow keys?” I lean over to her treadmill for the umpteenth time and punch in 1.5 mph. She moves the arrow keys up to 2.0 and gives me a sidelong, mischievous look.

That’s terrific, I smile to myself. Mom’s sure doing better than my financial planner’s dad, who fell asleep one time on the stationary bike. All the club members thought he was dead.

Yep, Mom’s pretty amazing, especially for someone who’d never set foot in a gym before age 78. And she’s pretty competitive, despite what she says.

“I don’t know what the heck I’m doing,” she insists. “Everybody’s probably looking at me and thinking, ‘What’s that old lady doing here? She ought to be using a walker instead of lifting weights.'”

Four years earlier, she was doing just that: using a walker to lift and support her emaciated, 98-pound frame. Two brain operations and one hip replacement in the span of three months had pretty well put her down for the count.

Or so we thought.

I look over to see Mom reading the electronic ticker-tape messages that scroll across the treadmill screen, asking for input on weight, age, desired incline level, etc.  “Just ignore it, Mom,” I say. Mom punches in replies to whatever the treadmill asks.

The treadmill ignores her, so I do too. Time to get my own heart rate up. I increase my speed to 5.0 and start jogging at a brisk little clip.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mom’s wrinkled index finger punching the keyboard again. Then suddenly—whooosh—her hand disappears. I look over. Mom’s running as fast as her Citrucel orange-colored sweat pants can go, her arms slicing the air like a sprinter at the Summer Olympics. I check her speedometer.

8.1 mph!!!

I look back at Mom, who’s losing ground. “Help!” she gasps.

I jump onto the side of her treadmill and hit the Stop button. Mom comes to a sudden standstill while maintaining perfect balance. Her heart is racing. So is mine.

Our personal trainer rushes over. “Are you OK?” asks Alex. Mom flushed little face nods up and down.

“How fast were you going, Helen?”

I answer while Mom tries to catch her breath. “When I looked over, she was going 8.1.”

Alex turns to my mother. “Helen, why were you going 8.1?”

Mom replies: “The machine wanted to know how old I am.”

Like I said, she’s amazing.

Of course I’m now expecting her to be embarrassed, to step off the treadmill and vow to never go to the health club again, to say that this just goes to show you that an 81-year-old woman isn’t fit to get fit.

I put my arm around her sweaty shoulders.  “Gee Mom,” I chuckle, “I didn’t know you could go that fast.”

“I didn’t intend to,” she laughs, “but I can step-up when I have to.”

Whoa! Most of us don’t realize how fast we can go, how much we can do, how great we can be until we’re put to the test. This week, take whatever goal you’ve set for yourself and increase it by at least 81 percent. Do your best, then celebrate whatever you did.

We all can live life at a higher level when we decide it’s high time to step-up.


a carol on Time Being

I hate to be late. And I usually am.

Let’s say I’ve got to leave the house at 9:30 sharp. I allow two hours to get ready (hey, I’m a girl) which is more than enough time when my hair behaves. I consult the clock. 9:20. Hmmmm, ten extra minutes. What can I get accomplished in that length of time?

I answer an email. Check my voice mail. Sweep the floor. Do some other thing that could easily wait. Why? Because there’s ten extra minutes. Maybe I can actually get ahead.

I check my wristwatch. 9:42! I nearly hit the trash can as I back up the car. Why can’t I seem to be on time?!

Time is a problem in many of our lives. Just listen to the things we say about time.

Time is short.

Time is tight.

Time’s running out.

Time is money.

Time is against me.

Time’s about up.

What are the things you say about time? Are you pressed for time? Pinched for time? Out of time? On time? Ahead of time? Is time racing, dragging, out of sync? Has time suddenly stopped? How do you measure yourself against the concept of time?

What if you actually became time instead?

I decided to try it out one weekend. For 48 hours, I paid close attention to the length of time that things actually took, instead of judging how long they “should” take. I showered, dressed, and dried my hair: 50 minutes. I did the grocery shopping: two hours, including the drive. I fixed dinner: an hour and a quarter. I went to the health club, and so forth.

The whole time, I focused fully on the task at hand. If I caught myself thinking, “This is taking too long,” I’d counter, “No, it’s taking just what it’s taking.” If I felt tempted to tack on an errand or two, I’d say, “No, I’m doing just what I’m doing. Not one thing more.”

By bedtime, I’d made an important discovery. Not only did I know where the weekend had gone, I’d consciously gone along with it.

Now instead of guesstimating tasks (and guessing wrong) I can make a more informed decision. I can look at the clock and say, “Nope. That usually takes me 20 minutes and I’ve just got 10.”  With that awareness, I’m allowing myself to be present “in” time.

You can be too. For the next week, pay close attention to how much time things actually take, instead of what you think they “should.”  Focus on the moment and the task at hand. Resist the temptation to add one more thing. Be mindful, be present. Notice your natural rhythm and flow.

Align your internal clock with the one on the wall and allow yourself to be fully with that.

Isn’t it about time?