Why Are We Here? Our Individual and Collective Purpose

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Photo by Vikas Anand Dev on Unsplash
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Ever since I realized that the goals that came from my brain did not bring happiness  when achieved, I have been focusing on life’s meaning and purpose.  So when Chris passed away and Spirit invited me to start the Foundation, with its audacious goal of helping others (on a global scale) to create positive and rewarding relationships with themselves, each other, and Earth, I felt I had to put my money where my mouth was (literally).  I left a 26-year career in higher education and am contributing a large part of my savings to the cause.  Though at the time I wasn’t sure to what degree Spirit would be actively helping me, I decided that I would want to try to do this either way.  I figured that if I received help, all the better.

No coincidence, then, when I’m invited to share a message with someone, it’s usually about what their life’s purpose is or could be.  It’s taken my work on callings to a whole new level.

Spirit has also been sharing with me the purpose of humanity’s existence.  We’re here to learn and grow to create more light and love.  We do so through service to Earth, children and those who cannot care for themselves, and each other, in that order.  We also take care of ourselves in the process.

That’s it.

Our focus should be ecocentric and humanistic.  Our materialism and focus on money, status, power, and luxury and comfort items are far afield from what we’re supposed to be doing.   It is at odds with God’s expectation that we care for Earth.  Our unremitting, senseless consumption is draining Earth’s resources, and polluting her waters and land, and is unsustainable.  We already know that Earth is ailing, yet we continue to take and take without regard to the long-term consequences.

Our first order of business needs to be to find ways to care for Earth in the ways that will be most helpful to her.  The Foundation for Family and Community Healing (www.familyandcommunityhealing.org) was created based on guidance from Spirit so that I may deliver this message and lead the way.

As a supplement to existing environmental efforts, we should also be providing the emotional and spiritual support that Earth needs.  We are in a reciprocal, emotional and spiritual relationship with Earth, and therefore we should provide emotional and spiritual support for Earth’s healing.

To learn more about this, you should join and follow our social media campaign.  But in the meantime, simple things you can do now are to pray or meditate for Earth each day and/or be present when you step outside.  Notice how Earth and her plants, animals, and minerals look, feel, smell, taste, and sound.  It takes no extra time and will be helpful to Earth for her to know that we are paying attention to her out of love and concern for her and her wellbeing.

If our collective purpose is to care for Earth and each other, how do we know what is our individual purpose?  Our individual purpose in life has a simple formula.  You are likely meant to be helping others in areas that you struggled the most.  For example, if you struggled to have enough money in your life, your purpose might be related to helping others get by with what they have, or to find ways to make money.  If you struggled with some aspect of having a medical condition, maybe your purpose is to help others with that aspect of their medical condition. 

You may feel like you still have a long way to go to rise above the challenge you are facing.  That may be true, but it is also likely true that you’ve made a great deal of progress already, and that many are far behind where you are currently.  So in your calculation, consider the challenges you’ve faced where you’ve made the most progress.  For example, I’ve struggled with finding my authentic purpose, going down the wrong track of seeking a tenure only to find it didn’t bring me happiness, so that is my passion and my current work (I’m going to create an app, y’all!).  I’ve also struggled with growing plants, but I’ve made no progress on that so it would not be a good life’s purpose for me right now…unless I decide to change that and learn.  Which I will.   So stay tuned!

In summary, your life’s challenges are there for you to learn and grow.  You use that knowledge to serve Earth or others.  It could become a calling, your unique way to serve the world.  There’s a beautiful symmetry to it, and it belies the idea that we’re supposed to just be comfortable our whole life and never struggle.

You may recall that I did a lot of informal and formal advising for the students in the program I worked for. Many of these incredibly bright students came to me because theywere struggling academically, a scenario they had yet to experience.  It was a shock and they were having a crisis worrying that they were in the wrong place.  I would tell them that if everything were easy for you, then you’re not pushing yourself enough.  Everyone eventually will find they have to struggle if they continue to learn and grow; to do so otherwise means stagnation. 

People who are stagnant may not experience much stress, but it also means they are not thriving.  Take the analogy of a plant.  As someone who harbors a black thumb, I know all too well that a plant which is not growing is actually dying, and it’s just a matter of time before it goes to the great compost heap in the sky.

The same is true for people.  According to Carol Dweck, author of Growth Mindset, people who do not believe they can grow and improve tend to be more depressed and less successful.  Those who are always trying to learn and grow tend to be more successful and happier.  So embrace your challenges.  We are here on Earth to rise to those challenges and bring that wisdom back to others.

We are facing grand challenges socially, economically, politically, environmentally, and spiritually.  The Foundation is aiming to help us rise to the occasion, but you have to want to learn and grow to surmount these issues.  I am excited by the slate of educational programs that we will be launching in 2020 and 2021 and the scope of our social media programs and regional meetings.  Come join us.  Follow us on social media (Facebook,  Instagram, and LinkedIn) to stay apprised of our work and learn how to help Earth to heal herself.  Check out our website.  Spread the word to those who you feel might really resonate with our mission.  Donate a few dollars, I promise we’ll put it to good use!

Hope to see you there too!

Guidance Versus Intuition, and Love

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Image by Pixource from Pixabay 

How do you make decisions?  Are you analytical or intuitive, or some combination?

In the past I would usually relied on intellect and analysis to make decisions, using my brain to guide me.  The trouble with using my brain as the primary tool for decision-making is that the brain is driven by fear, and my decisions would therefore be fear-based.  Perfection and control, both demanding mistresses.

Though I’ve historically relied on my brain for most decision-making, I did use my heart for important decisions such as career trajectories, major relationship decisions, or what car or house to buy.  Somehow I knew that with the big decisions, I should rely on my heart since my heart ultimately decides how I feel about the decision.

Why I felt that was true only for big decisions is a mystery to me.  After all, don’t dozens of small decisions add up to a big one?  Somehow I think I just convinced myself that using my brain for everything was the right thing, even when that meant hurting others because I couldn’t be bothered to calculate the human element into the equation.

My change of heart (pun intended)on this topic has since resulted in a switch in my Myers-Briggs personality trait from a strong “T” (thinking) to a moderate “F” (feeling) as the primary way that I make decisions.  I’m proud of this flip flop because it means I can alternate between T and F frames, but I now erring on the side of considering the human part of the equation.  Which is where I want it to be.

Using feelings to make decisions is one step removed from using intuition.  As a person who over relied on thinking for decisions, I was pretty disconnected from my intuition.  For example, when deciding how to best handle an interpersonal situation, I used to do a calculation in my head based on the rules, and my values and principles, which did not usually include other people’s feelings.  Now I tap into my own feelings and try to ascertain how others might feel in the situation, and integrate that information into the decision.  This is called emotional intelligence.

Now, I’ve added a deeper element, which is intuition.

I’m trying here to unpack the difference between guidance and intuition.  Guidance comes in two different flavors in my experience.  First, there’s the explicit, in-my-channel conversations that I have with my guides.  But there’s also the more in-my-gut feelings that I get from my subconscious, and I believe, the divine.  I imagine it’s this latter form of communication that most people use when receiving divine guidance.

The advantage of intuition is that it provides a deeper and more holistic understanding of situations that’s not available during a conversation with my guides.  Intuition is more instantaneous compared to conversation, which is relatively linear, inefficient, and slow.  I’m also learning that as time goes by, I’m relying more on intuition than dialogue, and my connection feels more integrated in this manner.  However, I imagine there will always be instances where the specificity of dialogue with the guides is needed and cannot be replaced by intuition.

Regardless of the mode of communication, the message that comes across pervasively, and loud and clear, is that Spirit/God loves each one of us, even when we transgress into behaviors and actions that are not in alignment with his wishes for us.  This is true for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, country of origin, ability, or other aspects of our social identity.  Spirit/God loves all of us, no exceptions, and God wants us to love each other and Earth unconditionally.

To fail to do so is against Spirit/God’s will for us and karmic consequences will follow, either way.  For example, if I treat someone as unwelcome because of their age or gender, then I will feel unwelcome in my life.  If I am welcoming, then I will feel welcomed.

I believe we all have, deep down, an intuition that we should all love each other no matter whether we approve of another person’s social identity.  The Arbinger Institute has written a series of books that discusses how we unknowingly create problems for others, and it starts when we make a (usually subconscious) decision to betray our own values and do the wrong thing.  What ensues is a cascade of events where we have to blame the other for our transgression, thus escalating the insult on the other, when in fact the origination of the problem is when we decided to do the wrong thing.

For instance, in the above example where I decide not to include or welcome someone, in my subconscious I justify it by now believing that the person is scary or unworthy, then acting unfriendly towards them as a result.  They act unfriendly in response, which justifies my belief to further exclude them, not realizing that I believed they were nice enough before I decided to betray my own intuition and values, and exclude them.

We are entering into the holiday season which is about togetherness, peace, and love.  Perhaps we should all be intentional about tapping into our intuition that we are all connected, and to do even a small injustice on someone else creates injustice for us all.  Create the karma that you want for yourself, and show kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and compassion towards yourself and others every day this holiday season.

It may become your new habit for 2020.

I can’t think of a better time to start than right now.

Silver Linings Blog Relaunch

IMG_0258It has been almost 3 years since my last Silver Linings post, which ended a 4 year run that included approximately 400 blogs.  It’s time to relaunch the blog since we need it now more than ever.

The blog was created in November 2012 as I was beginning my exploration of creating a good life through intentional practices and the science of wellbeing, ie, positive psychology after my 20 year marriage ended. I was so surprised back then to discover this field after spending a lifetime experiencing challenges and struggling to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

The blog was really a way to translate my reflection into learning and sharing.  Those lessons were hard-earned, often involving sleepless nights, many tears, and sometimes at the expense of relationships, my personal self-esteem, or even the self-esteem of others.  I don’t regret having to learn any of those lessons.  We all have to learn them sometime, somewhere.  What I regret are the lessons I failed to learn at the time and the people I hurt despite my good intentions.

What has transpired since my last blog has been an incredible, wonderful, yet tragic span of my life.  About that time, I had just started a job at the University of Georgia supporting faculty success and wellbeing using all the precious life lessons and training I had cultivated over the many previous years.  I felt I was doing the work I was meant to do, and sharing my lessons so that individuals and the organization as a whole could benefit from every tear I shed and heartbreak I endured.  But it was not meant to last because I lost my beloved sister, Sabina, and husband, Christopher, to cancer in 2018, just 7 months apart.

What followed was another crash course in survival, perspective-finding, transformation, and inspiration that led me to eventually quit my job and start a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.  Because relationships have been so important to Sabina, Chris, and me, combined with what feels like a crisis in our ability to hold our families and communities together in a healthy way, the focus of FFCH is on helping others to learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with themselves and others.

Also, as I sat with the forest in my backyard, day after day, holding vigil for my sick husband or my own grief, I realized that it is not just our relationships with ourselves and each other that are in crisis, but also our relationship with Earth.  Thus, FFCH is also helping all of us to restore our healthy and balanced relationship with Earth, not just on the physical level, but also emotionally and spiritually.

We are leading a social media campaign to discuss this more emotional and spiritual side of our relationship with Earth and asking people to become more aware and intentional about their relationship practices and habits with Earth and our natural world.  Please join us as we explore humanity’s opportunity to heal this relationship and provide support for Earth as she heals, as a novel (and also ancient) climate change solution.

I am relaunching the Silver Linings blog here as well because I am in a place of acute transformation and generativity that is above and beyond where I left you in October 2016.  Just as I shared my journey, reflections, and lessons with you after my divorce during the first phase of the Silver Lining’s blog, I wish to again include you in this new phase which is so full of inspiration and hope, despite my personally tragic year 2018, since to do otherwise would feel irresponsible and selfish on my part.

I invite you to join me, anew if you were a previous reader, as I continue to learn and reflect upon the many lessons of hope, transformation, mortality, connection, spirit, our natural world, our relationships, and our purpose.

Despite much effort and attention in the self-help world, I continue to hear that people do not have time to consider such subjects.  They are busy with their goals and responsibilities, many of which are absolutely real and often important, if not critical.  However, I also encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from the 30,000 foot view, and ask yourself what really matters right now given the challenges we are facing as communities, families, and individually? When will you prioritize your own, your family’s, or your community’s wellbeing and peace of mind?  Are all the things on your list really more important than that?

At some point we have to put our proverbial feet down and refuse to continue to buy into the notion that all of our ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, and ‘musts’ are real, and to instead, consider and commit to those things that really matter.  Peace.  Hope. Compassion.  Kindness. Connection.  Care. Love.  Is your entire list of priorities really more important than cultivating these things in your life, family, community, and world?

If the answer is No, be bold, get a big, fat Sharpie, and cross things off your To Do list, remove yourself from obligations that no longer hold meaning and purpose for yourself, and commit to taking the time you need to reflect on your values and priorities given what’s going on in your life and world.  Then reallocate your time to pursue the things that are most important and urgent. Perhaps your new To Do list will include sharing your journey with us through this or our other communities.  If so, I appreciate your willingness to learn and share with me and others in this space.

As a seasoned coach, I know that we have the individual and collective wisdom to accomplish anything and solve any problem, if only we will stop running around and take a reflective and experimental approach to identifying problems and solutions.  So stop.  Now.  Tune in.  Engage.  Take action.  With us, and/or elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing you in this space going forward.  May you have peace and hope as you take action to create the world in which you wish to live in.

Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

Equity and Diversity in Name Only

 

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Justice for all; Photo credit

‘No justice, no peace’

We all understand this phrase in the context of our larger society.  If we don’t have fairness, due process, appropriate consequences, and a semblance of equal opportunity, we cannot have a harmonious society.  The most evident examples of this philosophy can be seen with events such as the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin and the many subsequent shootings of unarmed black men, all sparking outrage nationally or even internationally.  Similarly, relationships where fairness and reciprocity do not exist tend to be troubled (for example, see J. Nicholson).

The importance of equity is evident on both a macro and micro scale.  What about in between?  What is the importance of justice in a group or on an organizational level?

A 2014 report by Coffman and Neuenfeldt at Bain & Co. demonstrate that companies that provide a sense of gender equity in career opportunity and advancement tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and engagement by both men and women, which then correlates with better business outcomes.   The report then explains how women’s ambitions and confidence erode in the workplace over time, in part due to the workplace culture, too few role models, and implicit bias.   Bain then makes a broad set of recommendations for promoting equity in the workplace, primarily by having managers on the frontline and organizational leaders globally “encourage, develop and support their female employees.”  Finally, the report suggests the power of encouragement at all levels as key to fostering confidence in others.

On the other hand, there is also a risk to taking a half-hearted or poorly-managed  approach to equity efforts, which may then result in equity and diversity in name only (EDINO; I made up that term). As a double minority, I am acutely aware of the companies that have speeches, branding and policies that promote equity and diversity.  Ad campaigns, marketing materials, and programs that demonstrate commitment to diversity is terrific.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that you would find no minorities (or only negative stereotypes) in print or television, and silence on the need to create equity in the workplace.

However, if that same company that brags about their commitment to diversity still has substantial pay discrepancies or persistent underrepresentation at the higher levels or in certain units, you may have a company that has EDINO.  True, the organization may be in evolution and in the midst of creating what is, in effect, slow change and is actually living its values in word and action despite appearances. On the other hand, progress that is inordinately slow or intractable may be the result of hidden, competing values.  Those competing values may have to do with implicit bias, but other factors may also be invisibly at play.  For example, resistance to any kind of change, a desire to protect existing privilege or status, especially one’s own, ineffective leadership or management, lack of effective training to identify and overcome implicit bias, or a misguided belief that ignoring or burying diversity concerns is in the best interest of the organization may be undermining an organization’s ability to create real change.  Structural issues, such as the institution’s policies and procedures or the informal practices regarding hiring and promoting may also be making the change more difficult.

In other words, there may be bona fide issues above and beyond implicit bias that may be contributing to maintaining the status quo.  Regardless of true intent, the gap between what the organization says and does will not be lost on its employees and the community.    Not only is the organization failing to enjoy the many benefits that diversity brings to the workplace, but now they have a hypocrisy issue as well.

On an individual level, this gap between one’s stated beliefs and actions results in cognitive dissonance.   Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort that results from competing beliefs, or when we act in ways that are contradictory to our beliefs.  When I am experiencing cognitive dissonance, I use self-reflection to identify my underlying beliefs, followed by serious evaluation to resolve that conflict.  This reflective process creates the pathway where I act in ways that align with my values.  This process of reflection, analyzing, trying something new, then evaluating the outcome is how we learn about ourselves and to better navigate our world. Like individuals, organizations that take the time and effort to learn and grow will be more knowledgeable and enjoy better outcomes.

I’m not going to lie (believe me!):  this process takes effort, time and even some courage.  We have to be able and willing to look at ourselves and admit some hard truths.  I’m not always able and willing to do that since it’s easier to blindly believe in and defend my virtue. However, once I have accepted an unpleasant truth, I feel a sense of relief that I can now address a problem directly and effectively.  Forward progress is made possible by forgiveness: a realization that I’m only human and it is my destiny to struggle and fail on the path to success.

Resources:  Government Equalities Office, Department of Business Innovation & Skills, Business case for equality and diversity, January 2013; Immunity to change: How to Overcome It, Lahey & Kegan Harvard Business Press,  2009.

Part 1: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum: Our Self-Concept

Who are you?  Really?

Do you believe that you are the sum of your thoughts, knowledge and beliefs? That your identity is entirely dependent on those thoughts?  If so, what happens when you change your mind, beliefs or knowledge?  Are you the same person?

Or do you believe that you’re a feeling, emotional being who happens to have thoughts and ideas?  What happens if you don’t have an emotional reaction in a given moment or are stuck in depression? Who are you then?  What does it mean if your emotional reactions are context-dependent?  Are you still you?

One way to think about the questions above is from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator’s T (thinking) and F (feeling) personality types.  We are on a T-F spectrum in terms of how we tend to make decisions, whether using our head or our feelings. I also think about the T-F spectrum as the mechanism by which we interface with reality.   I’m guessing that T’s tend to use their head to take in information, both about themselves and others, and use that information to decide who they are.  Similarly, F’s view themselves and the world through the lens of their feelings, using that information to define themselves.  (After all, I’m a T and this theory makes sense.)

However, I don’t really like the binary nature of that scale.  We all think.  We all feel.  Trouble is, we may not be very aware of the end of the spectrum that we are unfamiliar with.  Ts are often unaware of their feelings and Fs are often unaware of the thoughts and beliefs underlying their feelings. This is where we get into trouble.

Thoughts and feelings are interactive and synergistic.  Our feelings are profoundly influencing our thoughts, and visa versa, even if we don’t realize it.  That complex dynamic then determines our behavior  (I’m feeling more F-ish today, and this feels right.)

Being in touch with both our thoughts and feelings help us to have a more complete understanding of who we are, how we feel, why we think what we think and why we feel what we feel.  Our habits of thought, feeling and behavior that define our personality, in the end, are really just habits.  We can break and change those habits, yet we’re still the same person underneath, aren’t we?

I like the person you are – that combination of your hidden and portrayed self.  It’s one of my gifts to see the best in others, including that hidden part of you.  I also hope for your growth and improvement in your life’s satisfaction, sense of authenticity and empowerment.  Changing habits that are maladaptive does not change who you are, it merely helps you be a better version of you.  You can be happier, more peaceful, have better relationships, and improved health by taking a holistic and appreciative view of yourself and your world.

All that being said,  the question of Who am I? remains unanswered especially if you acknowledge that most of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are malleable.  I am not a theologian or philosopher, so I will leave that question to those wise scholars.  As an applied positive psychology practitioner, I reflect on that T-F dynamic and how we can use that self-knowledge to create the best possible life.

But I think I’m out of space.  I feel I must finish this discussion in my next blog, Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain.  Perhaps the outcome of your thought-feeling dance will be for you to join me.

8 Tools For Thriving During Change

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Embrace change!  Photo credit

The only constant is change, yet we often fear, dread, or fight change. It’s a natural tendency since, as a species, we tend to be wary of threats to our wellbeing, and change is just as likely to bring challenge as opportunity.

In addition, we have a certain change style, where our affinity and comfort with change ranges from low to high. Conservers prefer to take a measured and incremental approach to change, whereas Originators like rapid and broad change. In the middle are Pragmatists who prefer change that is practical and effective. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages; respect for and understanding of our own and others’ change styles can help change occur more smoothly and effectively.

We do not always have the luxury of the pace and extent of change matching our change style.   Often change is faster or slower, broader or narrower, than our comfort would dictate. When change is not under our control, it will feel challenging.   As with any challenge, I use my main Go To Tools to help turn that challenge into an opportunity:

  • Be mindful and present – Plan for the future but don’t dwell on it. Worrying about the future creates anxiety. The present moment elicits neither sadness, regret, nor anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself first – Rest, exercise, a healthy diet, and time for play are good antidotes to stress.
  • Reflect – Change is scary. Acknowledge your fear, anxiety, distress, or sadness. Feel it. Put a name to it. Feel it some more. Then let it dissipate.
  • Identify and challenge your belief or schema – What is the belief that is causing your emotion? If it’s a negative emotion, then name and challenge your belief or schema.   Introduce doubt into that belief. If it’s a positive emotion, then savor and amplify your optimism.
  • Identify the downside of the status quo – What’s bad about maintaining the current situation? What opportunities will pass you by if you resist change? What damage can occur by failing to grow?
  • Find a positive perspective – Your negative feelings result from focusing on the worst-case scenario. Instead, consider what is the best possible outcome.   Imagine it in full detail. What does it look like? How does it feel? What did you learn? How did you grow? What is the pathway to this outcome?   What challenges might you encounter, and how would you surmount them? What would your future self, who is enjoying this positive outcome, say to your current self?  Say it to yourself. Repeat as necessary.
  • Identify your strengths – Given this ideal outcome, identify what strengths (either StrengthsFinders or VIA) that you can use to achieve this outcome and surmount those obstacles. Make a plan.
  • Identify your support – Who can help you on this journey? Maybe you need a sounding board, a sage, a playmate, a home team, a cheerleader. Enlist their support, and be specific about what you need from them. Continue to communicate with them so they understand what their roles are as the situation evolves.

Now, go get ‘em! You have a positive future, go create it!