This is a time of change. Summer has given way to autumn; the foliage is coming alive with color – a last blast of vibrant warmth before we settle in for a long winter (winter always seems long, doesn’t it?). Sometimes, like the seasons, change is forced upon us and we have to live with it. Often change is something we know we need; but avoid. Comfortable and familiar feels good. Change can be stressful. But not changing can be uncomfortable too.

A good first step in making a change is contemplation. Maybe even unconscious contemplation; you sense something just isn’t right. Then you become conscious; you know something isn’t right and it needs to change. In this stage a “values clarification” can be very valuable. Assessing what is most important to us can be very helpful in making decisions and determining why something doesn’t feel quite right. Not honoring one’s values or feeling your values are being stepped on can create stress.

There are times when our values are in conflict and we need to choose what is more important to us in that moment. I have values around “community” and “family.” I also value “personal growth” and “individuality.” Right now those are in conflict. I need change. I want change. I don’t think I’ve ever been one of those people that fears change and yet I have stayed in one place virtually all of my life. No doubt because I value “community” and “family” and of course, like most, I feel comfortable around what’s familiar. And comfortable is good, right?

I’ve lived in Northern New Jersey since before I can remember. My daughter and I live in a house that is roughly only 6 miles from the one I lived in with my own parents. It was never my plan to stay. When I was my daughter’s age, I had my sights set on far away adventures. My parents had set a “DC to Boston” perimeter by which I could chose a college and I wound up only 2 hours away in Philadelphia. I came home many weekends. My friends were here – and I valued those friendships. In the early years of my marriage we talked about New England or going out west. But days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and years. There was job security, and family ties that I valued more than adventure at that moment. I was growing my career and decorating a home and planting a garden. By the time my daughter was born roots had been well established. It’s those roots – keeping my daughter safe and secure in a great school district where she’s comfortable in the presence of friends she’s known for years – that are still holding me in place. But those roots are the only ones and with her now a high school junior even their grip on the soil is loosening.

She has her learner’s permit. So we practice driving…a lot. As I’ve become accustomed to the passenger’s seat and more relaxed there, I watch the scenery go by; much the same Northern New Jersey scenery that I saw from the passenger’s seat of my parent’s car so long ago. And I see ghosts. Not just my husband’s, or my parents’, but of memories of friends and good times buried deep in my mind. I realize I’m ready to tuck those away in a special place and move on…physically move away. Here no longer holds adventure or anything new to learn; I want more perhaps to honor my value of “personal growth.”

And here lies the conflict. While I am ready to move on, my daughter is not. She still has two years left of high school. So I’m stuck? Not if I change my perspective. This time is a gift; it’s time that I need to plan. Change is so much easier when we can plan for it. It’s easier to take action when we’ve done sufficient planning. Wherever I decide to go, it can be a thoughtful move. Letting go of the comfortable and familiar can be a gradual process. And in the meantime, I continue to honor my values around family, community and accountability by honoring the commitment I have to my daughter and her future.

And in this moment, I am embracing the change of seasons.

img_2440Saddle River County Park, Ridgewood, NJ. October, 2015.

The River

The River

My favorite metaphor for life’s journey is that of being a drift on a river. Everyday the water washes us further and further along to an unknown destination. Sometimes we float along in the sun and all is calm and easy. Sometimes we ride the rapids; that may be challenging or overwhelming as we feel like we might drown. Or it may be exhilarating or fun depending on our perspective. Some days we find ourselves swimming against the current to avoid the unknown. Some days we are swept away and go over the falls. We survive because we are stronger and more flexible than we thought we were. A lot of the time we find ourselves stuck or clinging to a rock unable to move forward. We need a push.

A coach is that push.

A good coach doesn’t offer opinions or advice. A coach doesn’t have the answers. A good coach knows that you have the answers and helps you find them within yourself.  A coach doesn’t focus on the past or the future, but the right now, where you are at this very moment. While there are lessons, of course, that can be learned from that past, the past is gone. The future is yet to come. The only work that can be done is in this moment. We are called to be present at all times. A coach sees you as a whole person.You are not defined by anything that has happened to you or any of the roles you fill. You are creative, resourceful and whole, and therefore capable of growth. A coach evokes transformation by merely creating the circumstances and conditions for that growth.

In my journey to Certification as a Professional Co-Active Coach, I have to have a coach. I didn’t think I needed a coach. I feel like I’m living a fairly fulfilling life on the way to accomplishing my current goals. I spent two years in therapy following my cancer diagnosis and my husband’s death learning to manage stress and grief, and ultimately creating a plan for the next few years, of which my training  and CPCC are a big part. It was time for me to graduate from therapy, although I think even my therapist would admit that once I got past the initial shock and grief, she was acting more like a coach.

Through one of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) instructors, I was referred to a coach that specializes in working with parents of challenging kids. Whenever I found myself playing the role of the client during our classes, I always brought up some issue involving my teenage daughter (one major part of my life over which I have really no control).  So the instructor thought Elaine would be a good fit for me. I have a 45 minute coaching call with her twice a month. Through her coaching, I have found the parts of my relationship with my daughter I do have control over – mostly what I say and do and how I present myself in the relationship. I have explored why I have the concerns I do about the choices she’s making, what I fear most about her not taking a path that I consider to be “best.”

My coach has helped me change my perspective. She has helped me right-size my expectations of my daughter’s future and the role I play in it. She got me focusing my time on the things I can control – my communication style and maintaining a home environment with routine that’s free of clutter and chaos (now, as a single parent, working full-time, that’s not as easy as it used to be). While I came into coaching with some ideal that my goal was to help my daughter become a more serious student, I was reminded that I was one the one being coached. So my focal point for coaching became “embrace new expectations for (my daughter)’s future.” How will I know when I get there? When “I am satisfied with who my daughter is, and I embrace her strengths as well as her differences. I am in a good place with her journey, and feel proud that she is solidly on her path. I trust that she is capable of making good decisions for herself, and support her on that path whenever possible.”

Elaine is also coaching me on my journey as a professional coach or “deepening my understanding of coaching.” And ultimately launching my daughter out into her future and launching my career as a professional coach will get us both off the rocks and flowing down the river into a new adventure.

Coaches help us live the best life we can live. A life well-lived, in the middle of the river. All wet. Not clinging to a rock or a branch and definitely not sitting on the bank causiously watching everything float by.

img_5020Saddle River County Park, Saddle Brook, New Jersey. September 2016.

September 12th

September 12th

I woke up early yesterday to get a long training run in before the heat and humidity got too bad. Since it was the 15th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I toyed with the idea of driving down to Liberty State Park and running along the Hudson River waterfront. It has a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. With too many things to do however I couldn’t afford the extra travel time and stayed local. I ran in Saddle River County Park were I have run so many of my miles over the years. I remember running there on the first time the anniversary fell on a Sunday and thought it was odd that there were baseball games scheduled (like there was something wrong with playing baseball, but running was okay?). This year – and in recent years – I have felt more of a sense of moving on. This is good, I guess.

Living in the New York City metro area, we were all touched by it, in closer way. I have friends that were there. Several shared their stories on social media yesterday, bringing back to life everything I had heard, and saw on television, from that horrible day. I knew people that perished. A guy from my elementary school worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. One of the moms of a boy at my daughter’s daycare was there for a meeting at Windows on the World. My daughter, now a High School Junior, was only 17 months old. To her and all her fellow students at the High School level or younger, September 11th is a historical event.

My dad was born in 1921. He not only remembered the Kennedy Assassination, but the Pearl Harbor Invasion as well.  I called my parents after hearing the news. They lived on the East End of Long Island, but I was concerned nonetheless, as we all were about our loved ones that day. I remember him telling me that of all he had seen in his 80 years, that day’s events were by far the worst.

There was a sense that day of wanting to gather up everyone that was important to you and find shelter in the comfort of your home. Many businesses, even out in the suburbs where we were, closed early. I remember walking toward my boss’ office to tell him I was leaving, and as I was moving toward the door had an epiphany – which became a defining moment in my non-profit career. I was the vice president at Bergen County’s United Way. It was our mission to “help people.” We were looked at to be the convener of other non-profits throughout the county in times of crisis. When I got to my boss’ office door, instead of saying I was leaving, I said, “what do you need me to do.”

A staff meeting to discuss our response was the logical next step. While that was being organized I went out to the deli to bring back lunch for everyone. As I ventured out I saw DPW crews placing flags – usually reserved for the 4th of July or Memorial Day – along the road. The mood was somber, but understanding and loving, like I had never felt from total strangers before. No one knew what to think or say. But we glanced at one another – maybe on the verge of hug – a look that said we were united and all in this together.

There wasn’t much that could be done that day. From an organizational stand point, we didn’t know what was needed. No one knew. There was no real confirmation yet on who made it home and who didn’t; who belonged in those cars left at train stations across our communities. Counseling agencies where put on stand-by and a fund was created for the generous in our community who would want to help. But that’s about it. The real work began on September 12th. What healing could begin started on the 12th. As my father would say, “The first day of the rest of our lives.”

It’s been 15 years. And as I reflect on what has transpired between then and now, I’m disappointed. Yes, we will ”#NeverForget” the attacks and our experiences that day, but the good will has been lost. We are no longer moved to hug total strangers. At the very least, we don’t even feel like we’re in this together. That’s sad.

I am glad my daughter doesn’t remember 2001. I hope her generation never has that monumental event that defines them like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11th. I do wish they could know the love and compassion that existed in the days and weeks that followed. I don’t know where or why we lost that. I could speculate, but that would lead to a political discussion and I promised myself I wouldn’t use this blog to promote my political opinions (that’s what FaceBook is for!).

I do know that my daughter’s generation, who are often criticized (as every younger generation has been by the older since the beginning of time), are some of the most compassionate, passionate, tolerant and understanding people I know. I hope that they can take over and spread the love, and dismiss the hate that has become such a part of who we have become as a nation.

Perhaps today…September 12, 2016…can be the first day of the rest of our lives where healing can begin. Again.

img_5038Jersey City, New Jersey. September 2013.

His story

His story

We are at the end of National Suicide Prevention Week. During this week last year, for the first time, I shared my story as the survivor of suicide loss. I have remained silent this week because I was caught up in post-Labor Day, back-to-school busy-ness that’s easy to get lost in when you don’t want to think too much about something else.

Last year I was in the final weeks of training for the Chicago Marathon and, with that effort, raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Last year I had waited 11 months to tell my story…or at least find the right words to tell it publically. This year I wasn’t sure anything else needed to be said. This year I am just a few short weeks away from the second anniversary of Chris’ death. This year I am past the grief. This year I have been planning a future for my daughter and for me as we both learn and grow and continue to live. This year I am celebrating a new relationship. This year I am conflicted.

How does one move appropriately forward and still honor the past? How does one continue to tell their tragic story in order to help others when they don’t want to be defined by the event?

Each day this week I received an email from AFSP asking me to promote Suicide Prevention Week on social media with a variety of hash tags representing the day’s theme. I didn’t. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know how else to say what needed to be said when I’m focusing on my job and helping my daughter through high school, and being a friend, and cooking dinner; when I’m focusing on simply allowing my life to go on.

Then I received the email about today’s theme. #FlashbackFriday  It said they were devoting today to remembering loved ones who we have lost to suicide. People who die by suicide have a life and a story beyond how they died. Today join the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in sharing good memories of your lost loved ones. #StopSuicide

I finally understood this isn’t about me. I have the rest of my life in front of me. My story is still unfolding. The story I need to tell is his. And his life can’t be defined by his death either.

I met Chris in 1992. He was working in the editorial department at the newspaper where I worked in ad sales. The relationship between Editorial and Advertising could be described as similar to that of the Montagues and Capulets. The candy machine was on the fourth floor – editorial. I ventured into enemy territory one day when I was too busy to eat lunch. My Snickers got stuck and he was there to rescue me – it – and saved the day. In the beginning I told myself I wasn’t interested. There was someone else. That wasn’t really going anywhere and even as I wanted to say no, I somehow continually found myself drawn to him. He was my age. I never dated guys my age. He didn’t own a suit. My mother told me never to marry a man who didn’t own a suit. I bought him a suit. We got engaged on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and married on the D Day anniversary the following year, only one year and 3 days after our first date. I was impressed by his ability to tell me how he felt and commit himself to me. Having been in an on and off relationship about 5 years with someone who couldn’t commit to just me, it was refreshing.

We were married 21 years and 4 months. Those who know me know that the last years were difficult. He was laid off from a job at the end of 2003 and never went back to work for a variety of reasons that only make more sense to me now. I grew resentful. He became depressed. We began a slow decline and drifted apart. Before that, however, there were good times.

Chris served in the United States Navy from 1982-85. He said it was a horribly repressive 3 years. And yet, so many of his stories began, “when I was in the Navy…” Thanks to Chris we take “Navy Showers” in our house, I know what a Nimitz-class Carrier and a “Med-head” are and have done “FOD” walk downs in the yard (“foreign object detection” required before mowing the lawn). If it weren’t for Chris, I wouldn’t know that aircraft carriers are so big that they have “bad neighborhoods.”

Chris was funny. One of his greatest achievements was overcoming his tendency to be sensitive and somewhat shy to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comic. He took a class and performed regularly for close to a year at the Comic Strip Live in New York City proving to himself that he could make someone laugh besides me.

Chris was a published poet, fan of Beat Generation writers, and alternative rock. He knew a lot about a lot. Usually won at Trivial Pursuit and often questioned what I had learned in 4 years of college while he was spending his Navy downtime reading more books and watching more movies. He overcame a difficult childhood, dyslexia, a verbally – sometimes physically – abusive father, brushes with neighborhood bullies in Rosedale, Queens, and Catholic school. A move to New Jersey in High School was a needed change; then the Navy was his escape. It provided him with positive male role models, and structure. I suspect now, although never formally diagnosed, he suffered from ADHD; when not managed it can present itself in adults as anxiety and depression.

I knew the challenges that were in his past. I knew he was “rougher around the edges” than what I deemed acceptable in a perfect mate. I married him anyway. And 7 years later came his all-time greatest achievement, our daughter. He loved her so; sacrificed so much to spend as much time with her as be could. Oh those beautiful days when she was small. And everything seemed as perfect as it could possibly get.

#MondayMotivation #TransformationTuesday #WisdomWednesday #TalkSavesThursday #FlashbackFriday #StopSuicide

2014-ipad-download-163Mahwah, New Jersey. October 2014

Fall Training

Fall Training

The way I see it, there are three natural times of year for a reset. That is, a time when you can plan for a fresh start. The obvious one is the New Year…January 1, a new calendar; things are changing for everyone whether you like it or not. Spring, that break in the weather from the winter’s cold and the return of flowers and greenery, presents the second opportunity for newness. The third day is Labor Day. The end of summer “vacation” and back to school or work is time to get serious. Those three natural reset times are fairly evenly spaced about every four months. Your birthday is also your own personal new year’s day and another day that people tend to embark on establishing some good habits. So three to four resets per year depending where your birthday falls.

In training for goal races, runners and coaches use macrocycles. Okay, I’ll admit I was running and training for 20 years before I knew there was a term for it, but I did it. A macrocycle is the entire training period leading up to the goal race – a racing season. It’s 16 weeks to 6 months in duration. Most runners split their running year in two — fall racing season and spring racing season. Breaking it up this way allows us to build up appropriately with a specific goal in mind, analyze the results and reset as necessary.

Macrocycles are a good way to approach life as well; use those natural times of year that allow us to start over or reset goals from a new starting point. But even that can sometimes be overwhelming for someone who feels far from a desired goal. So break it down further. In training we use mesocycles and microcycles.

A mesocycle is a specific training phase within a macrocycle (a few weeks or a month) designed for a specific purpose; for example: building strength, endurance or speed. A microcycle is a series of days that make up a brief training period, usually a week. When we create a training plan around these cycles there are rules we follow like the “10% Rule” used for adding mileage from one week – or microcyle – to another. This rule says don’t add more than 10% each week. Doing so usually results in overtraining and injuries. Coaches will also build some flexibility into a training plan allowing athletes to increase or decrease the mileage or time of a workout depending on how they feel. This takes into account that there are lots of other variables an athlete has to contend with including the weather and what else is going on in their lives.

So do you have a big goal? Losing weight, learning something new, a career change, finishing a marathon? Decide where you want to be in a year. Then break it into three 15-week macrocycles. Decide what tasks you want to do in the first one that will put you toward your larger goal. Maybe before tackling a marathon next year, you need to know you can run a 5k first. Or maybe in order to switch to a new career you need to go to school to learn new skills. Whatever it is, break it down. Then break that down to a few mesocycles making those tasks more manageable and finally create a weekly – microcycle – routine that allows you to develop some good habits that help you get to all the tasks. At the end of the 15-week macrocycle (which, if you start now, will put you in the last week of the year), evaluate where you are toward your goal. Reset as necessary. Then develop your plan for the next macrocycle. Always remember “The 10% Rule” – don’t take on more than you need to; that’s when the body gets stressed. And be flexible. You have the weather to contend with. And everything else going on in your life. Roll with it.

“Running has taught me, perhaps more than anything else, that there is no reason to fear starting lines…or other new beginnings.” – Amby Burfoot

There’s a lot to be learned from running that can be applied to life. Whether you are marking the beginning of another year of school, starting a new “training” plan at home or work, or have your sights set on a big race, it’s a wonderful time of year for new beginnings. Good luck with your training.

And let me know if you need a coach.

img_4916Libertyville, Illinois. August 2016