Tough Love 3: You Can’t Change And Stay The Same

A typical American, I started practicing Iyengar yoga for the physical benefits and to help mend my problem hips. Little did I know that yoga would transform much more than my body. One Iyengar yoga teacher in particular, Manouso Manos (who doles out a very memorable brand of tough love), said something that stuck in my mind and drove me to examine how I was living my life: “You cannot change and stay the same at the same time.”

From The Sticky Mat …

Manouso was explaining how yoga teachers push students beyond our comfort zones, help us release our inner control freaks, and step out of the hard boxes we put ourselves in. Iyengar students learn these lessons through performing poses or asanas and observing our minds and bodies in action. Through observation and analysis, we can catch our habits of letting the strong parts (e.g., calves) do the work while the weak parts (e.g., hips) attempt to evade notice; doing things the same way over and over again (e.g., gripping my calves so my hips can release) without noticing our patterns; and avoiding certain actions (e.g., twisting standing poses) because they highlight our imbalances (e.g., weak and tight hip muscles).

Good yoga teachers help us become more self aware and show us how to do things differently in order to build strength and balance. Nothing is as transformational as having a teacher put your body in true alignment and feeling as crooked as Lombard Street to let you know that you need to change something. In order to incorporate the teacher’s corrections, yoga students need to maintain an open mind and be willing to shed old habits and adopt new methods.

… And Beyond

This approach was having positive results for my yoga practice and my hips. But Manouso’s words — “you cannot change and stay the same at the same time” – carried far beyond the sticky mat. I was unhappy with how I was leading my life. I felt the need to change. What was holding me back? My desire to maintain the same lifestyle. I wanted to change yet remain the same at the same time.

Turning to what I learned from yoga, I observed myself in action: What habits was I engaging in that were causing the misalignment? How could I break free from the box I’d put myself in and do things differently? The answers came fairly quickly. To borrow a term from Stephen Covey. I neededa paradigm shift. As Covey explains in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

“We can only achieve quantum improvements in our lives as we quit hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior and get to work on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behavior flow.”

The Paradigm Shift

When I examined my life, I realized that I had fallen into what Covey describes in The Seven Habits as a “money centered” paradigm, putting economic security at the top of my priority list:

“When my sense of personal worth comes from my net worth, I am vulnerable to anything that will affect that net worth. But work and money, per se, provide no wisdom, no guidance, and only a limited degree of power and security.”

Latching on to material things had created weaknesses and imbalances that skewed my priorities as much as my wonky hips had skewed my body.  In order to change and create the life I envisioned, I needed to let go of the pseudo-security of owning a home and being able to buy whatever shoes strike my fancy at Nordstrom’s.

Once I opened myself up to moving away from a money-centered paradigm and aligned myself with my core values, the changes began to flow. In Covey’s words, “paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another. And those shifts create powerful change.” Driven by my desire to use my talents to help others and to save money for my Reinvention Fund, I can now breeze through Nordstrom’s with no desire to buy another pair of shoes for my too-large collection. In fact, I’m amazed at how quickly that “shoe girl” disappeared.

That’s not to say that change is easy. The hard work of selling my condo and moving to a much smaller place ranks right up there with the challenge of working on my tight and weak hips. But by developing self-awareness (in my case, through yoga and Manouso’s tough love), we can identify habits that don’t serve us. No matter how deeply embedded those habits are, with persistence and the courage to change and a vision for a better life, we can replace them with more effective behaviors that strengthen and balance our bodies, minds and souls.

My “Really, Really Middle-Aged Woman” Hero

She was the keynote speaker at More magazine’s Reinvention Convention in Chicago three years ago. I vaguely knew who she was but wasn’t expecting that much from an athlete. She blew me away that day with her grace, humor, determination and character (not to mention those abs!!). She blew me away even more this past week with her performance at the U.S. Olympic trials.

At the age of 45, competing against swimmers less than half of her age, Dara Torres missed a spot on her sixth Olympic team in the 50-meter freestyle by less than a tenth of a second. Torres won a total of 12 medals in the 1984, ’88, ’92, 2000 and 2008 Summer Games. This includes three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics at the age of 41, which she started training for shortly after giving birth to her now six-year-old daughter, Tessa. Referring to herself as a “really, really middle-aged woman”, Torres had knee surgery in 2009 to combat osteoarthritis. Last year, her coach, Michael Lohberg, passed away from a rare blood disorder.

But after her last race at the Olympic trials, Torres offered no excuses. Her tweets evidence the strength of her character:

“Well, I gave it everything I’ve got & left no stones unturned. Time to cheer on all the amazing USA swimmers heading to London!”

“I guess it’s time to figure out what I wanna do when I grow up!”

Thanks to Dara Torres, when I go to the gym this morning to do my 45-minute run, I won’t let the fact that I’m surrounded by people half my age bother me. And I won’t use the surgical scars on my knee or any of life’s other hard knocks as an excuse to not work hard. Thanks to Dara Torres, us “really, really middle-aged women” know that with strength, determination and a healthy dose of humor, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

Path to Purpose Part 2: Exploration

Now that T.D. Jakes has provided inspiration, it’s time to do some exploration to find our passion and purpose and begin moving toward it. Pursuing life’s purpose may require reinventing ourselves – either a little or a lot – which can be done at any age and any stage of our careers. I’m doing it on the cusp of 50, more than 20 years into my career as a lawyer. That’s not to say it’s easy. Nothing worthwhile is. The key is to invest the time and energy necessary to develop a good reinvention plan. Pamela Mitchell can help.

In The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention, Mitchell provides strategies for exploring and navigating the full arc of career change between different fields. Mitchell developed her expertise in career reinvention through the school of hard knocks. She started working on Wall Street but quit when she realized she was bored to tears:

“The white shirts were blinding me, the cigar smoke was choking me, and the conversation was boring me. Enough with basis points. I wanted to talk about something else for a change.

(Could’ve written those sentences myself!) Mitchell transitioned to a successful, 15-year career in the entertainment industry before giving that up to become a life coach and launch The Reinvention Institute.

The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention “is about using vision and creative thinking to repurpose your skills and find new outlets for your abilities without having to depend on the job listings du jour.” The book is divided into ten lessons, with in-depth profiles of people who reinvented themselves in a new career, together with concrete advice and exercises to put each law into action. Here are three laws from Mitchell’s book that are part of the exploration stage.

Law 1: It Starts With A Vision For Your Life

Mitchell explains that you need a clear image of your desired life first, and you can then calculate backward to design career options that will deliver that life:

“Career reinvention starts with a vision for your life because careers and jobs are delivery devices for the kind of life you hope to lead. They are a conduit for becoming the kind of person you want to be, experiencing the things you want to experience, having the things you want to have. Happiness in your career is directly tied to how much your work brings richness to your world. In order to be truly happy, your career must serve your life, and not vice versa.”

I like how Stephen Covey describes the power of vision in his book, First Things First:

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us the capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.”

Creating a vision for your life is a critical step on the path to purpose. A fun online tool for creating your vision is Pinterest, a website that lets you create multiple virtual mood boards and “pin” images to them from across the Web. My vision took shape on a large white poster board from Target (after a particularly bad encounter with “Dragon Lady” at work). On side one, I wrote the elements of the kind of life I wanted to lead. On side two, I wrote action steps to take in the coming months to move toward that life. It sounds simple, but its effects have been profound. On my worst days, I tap into the vision I created and it pulls me forward.

Mitchell provides exercises to brainstorm career ideas and get your creative juices flowing, such as focusing on “flow” activities (things that make you lose track of time), “inexhaustible interests” (things that spark an unending sense of curiosity), and tasks you gravitate toward in your current career. She also emphasizes the importance of allowing yourself to change and go after your passion and purpose, giving yourself “a permission slip to pursue a different and bigger life.”

Law 3: Progress Begins When You Stop Making Excuses

People generate an endless stream of excuses to avoid the effort and risk of pursuing their life’s purpose:

“It’s simple, really. Excuses are a manifestation of fear. There are few guarantees in your reinvention journey, but this I promise you: You will come face-to-face on a regular basis with fear. …. Fear is a healthy sign that you are venturing beyond your comfort zone, which you must do repeatedly if you want to move closer to your goal.”

“Many people never muster the courage to begin a career reinvention, so deep is their terror. They continually reach for the bottle of excuses to dull the pain of their fear. But until you master this Law and break yourself of the excuse habit, progress will be intermittent, and lasting change will be elusive. The moment you move past your fear and give up your excuses, you leave the shadows of your life and swim into an ocean of opportunity.”

Mitchell supplies strategies and exercises to help us release our excuses, to feel the fear and pursue our reinvention anyway. The “excuses” I had to release center around the false belief that I should focus on provision (i.e., money) rather than purpose. It’s taken me a few years to realize that an expensive home and closets full of purses and shoes don’t mean much without a purpose-driven life..

Law 4: What You Seek Is On The Road Less Traveled

Once you’ve created your life’s vision, faced your fears and stopped making excuses, you’re ready to choose which paths to explore. As Mitchell emphasizes, it’s critical to think outside of the box and try something new, your own road less traveled:

“The old thinking was that the well-traveled path had to be ‘right’ and the alternatives were necessarily riskier. This no longer holds true. In practice, what you’ll usually find on the road less traveled is simply more opportunity. The less obvious path – in addition to possibly being a better fit – forces you to think outside the box and therefore generate new ideas.”

“Force yourself to look at and think about other careers that are far outside the ‘safe’ confines of your current box. Imagine what you might do elsewhere, in other environments or scenarios, just for the fun of it. If you’re in finance, visualize yourself running a wellness center; if you’re a lawyer, imagine yourself as a chef. The point of this mental exercise is to force you to look at connections in a new way, stimulating your creativity.”

Mitchell offers suggestions for identifying and exploring unobvious career options, and for guarding against voices (inside your own head or from friends and family) that want you to stay inside the box where they’re comfortable seeing you. For me, journaling has been another way to contemplate unique career options and to deal with the voices that whisper, “Stay in the box. It’s safe in there.” The more time we spend beyond our usual boundaries, the more new opportunities will open up to us.

Exploring Entrepreneurship

If your passion and purpose might involve having your own business, your exploration should also include The Entrepreneur Equation, by Carol Roth. This book lives up to its promises to help readers:

  • Understand what’s truly involved in running a business.
  • Define what a business is (as well as a “jobbie” and “job-business”) and the risks and benefits of each.
  • Evaluate your motivations behind your drive to start a business.
  • Assess if now is the right time to think about starting a business based on your finances, experience, obligations and other circumstances.
  • Gauge if your personality is well-suited for business ownership.
  • Measure potential risks and rewards of particular business opportunities and entrepreneurship in general.
  • Decide, based on these factors, if you should move forward with entrepreneurship or pursue a different possibility.

The Entrepreneur Equation and The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention have proven to be invaluable tools in the exploration phase of my career reinvention, and I hope they can serve that role for you as well. In Part 3 of Path to Purpose, we’ll move forward from inspiration and exploration to the execution stage of living life on purpose.