Put your oxygen mask on first

Put your oxygen mask on first

This is a bit of a follow-up to last week’s post. That post, shared on our town’s Moms FaceBook page garnered the most views for anything I’ve posted for this blog. I am grateful for that. Thank you for sharing. When I started writing about mental health about a year after my husband’s death, it was my desire to help open more eyes and ears to something that deserves so much more attention.

Another post in the last week on that moms page which got a lot of attention got me thinking about how the standards to which we hold ourselves and each other can be quite harmful to our mental health. The post (for those of you not following along) was from a mom of younger – I assumed elementary school-age children – who was fed-up with the speed at which one particular teenager was driving down her residential street.  This of course would be a concern to any mom whether coming from the perspective of a parent of small children whose safety was in jeopardy or the parent of the teenager who may be speeding. Had that post stated the issue and then maybe something along the lines of if any knows who this is, please tell them to slow down, the safety of all our children is at stake! the response probably would have been all positive. Instead the post was addressed to “the parents of the teen” and concluded with the line Get your kid under control!!!!

The blame evoked in that post got under my skin. And instead of leaving well-enough alone I responded; I believe, as diplomatically as possible.  I said something like, I understand your concern, no one should be speeding on any street in our town, but to hold the parents of  a “child” of driving age responsible is wrong. There comes a time when young adults need to take responsibility for their own actions and at that age, parents have little control over what their teens do. To this she called me a failure as a parent. And I told her we should plan to chat again when her children were teenagers. The thread continued with many other moms weighing in. I can’t tell you anything that was said exactly because the original post and long thread of comments that followed has since been removed. Yes, it got that bad.

Let’s first talk about the expectation we – mothers – set for ourselves. We want to do everything right for our kids and if we perceive that they are falling short somewhere along the way, we often take the blame. We put enormous pressure on ourselves.  At the same time we are trying to raise our children to become successful adults, we are also trying to have satisfying marriages, running a household, managing the care of aging parents, and maybe even trying to balance a successful career. That’s a lot. And when a number of those areas aren’t working out quite as well as we planned. It gets frustrating. And depressing. Our mental health is in jeopardy. We need to give ourselves – and each other – a break and stop blaming, criticizing, and judging, or allowing ourselves to be.

That’s why I couldn’t leave well enough alone and not respond to that post. I was thinking about moms who were dealing with things far worse than speeding, and not wanting them to feel that in anyway they were to blame, As the parent of a 17-year-old, I now conclude that how our children turn out has as much to do with luck as great parenting. Like we can only take so much credit for the success of our children, we can only accept so much of the blame. 

I didn’t always see it that way though. I remember how not long ago I was that mom – the mom of a 11 year-old with good grades and perfect attendance, who loved school, was interested in attending Princeton or Yale, and was a finalist in the DARE essay contest. I was certain I knew how to raise a child; thought I’d have those teenage years covered and my kid – through my example and exemplary parenting skills – would be perfect.  I secretly judged other parents who were struggling, and imagined what they must be doing wrong. But before my husband and I could finish patting ourselves on the back, life quickly changed.  Seventh grade happened. And I began to learn that 1) these kids have free will, 2) we only have so much control, and 3) we can’t protect them from everything. And that’s okay.

As our children grow up, our perspective as parents change. Everything I experienced as a cancer survivor and losing my husband to suicide changed my perspective too. I don’t judge the way I used to. I now understand that everyone is dealing with challenges in their own homes and in their own bodies and in their own minds that the rest of us know nothing about. And sometimes we are simply ignorant, unable to see beyond our own perspective at that moment. I have learned as a coach that we are all – our children included – naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’ll figure this out.

But let’s take care of ourselves – our own mental health – first. It’s like they say during the flight safety demonstration, ” If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Especially as parents, we are no good to our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves – eat right, exercise, de-stress as much as possible. That way we have as much energy and as much mental capacity to deal with everything the kids are going to throw at us. Sometimes even still, that’s a tall order. 

We’ve heard it a million times, parenting is the most difficult job we will ever have — and we often have to do it while we deal with our own insecurities, limited perspective, other stressors coming at us from several different directions. All while under the watchful gaze of other parents who think they can do it better. Have you ever looked through a bookstore for a parenting book? Have you seen the number of often contradictory subjects? Do you know why this is? Because we are all unique. Every parent. Every child. There is no one size fits all solution that will work for everyone. We have to find what works best for us.

Remember in my last post when I said, “as if parenting wasn’t a gray hair creating, anxiety producing fiasco that constantly left me in a state of self-doubt already”? Well, I (we all!) don’t need other parents adding to that self-doubt. We need to support one another. We need to approach our relationships with other parents from the perspective of a coach – that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Sure we need to look out for each others kids, and talk amongst ourselves to solve problems and discover solutions when there are issues facing our community or our children. But we must work together. Blame, criticism, judgement, and unsolicited advice doesn’t help anyone. 

Most importantly, take care of yourself. We all have the strength we need within ourselves. To find the answers that are right for you and your family, look no further than yourself. Stop listening to everyone else. Trust your instincts, your intuition, yourself. And a journey of self-discovery starts with a clear head. When you’re feeling the heat; get out of the kitchen. Walk away. Get off FaceBook. Meditate. Go for a run. Walk in the woods. Make an appointment with a therapist. Hire a coach. Practice the self-care that works for you. Solving the mental health crisis that I spoke about last week starts with us.

IMG_6338Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey. April 2017



Last day of March. We’re officially nine days into spring, although with snow piles still hanging around us here in northern New Jersey, it doesn’t quite look like spring just yet. The featured picture here was taken a year ago yesterday on my way to my first coaching class in New York City. When I shared the memory on FaceBook yesterday I commented that it looked “springier.” Perhaps. But maybe it’s all in the perspective from which we chose to view the day.

If not a coach, I’ve at least been on this coaching journey now for a year. What have I achieved? Well, at the very least, I put into practice the fundamentals of accomplishing a goal — what we have been discussing this month. I decided in January 2016 that I wanted to be a professional coach; to do that, I wanted to be certified. I set a plan in motion from there. I took the needed classes; I completed the 25-week certification program; now I am completing the required coaching hours. But there’s so much more.

This journey has also been one of self-discovery. The core courses offered by the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) took participants through a process of self-awareness not unlike the process through which coaches are to guide their clients. We learned about the things – our values – that were most important to us. And how to use that knowledge to guide the choices we make. We learned about those negative voices in our heads – Our Saboteur – and how to shut it down. We also learned how to call on a team of positive voices – cheerleaders, our “crew” – that can remind us of our most positive attributes which we can draw on to accomplish our goals and override the Saboteur. We explored our life’s purpose. What am I meant to be? What do I want? What does an extraordinary life look like to me? All of this helped me define who I wanted to be as coach. I also got some great coaching from my instructors, fellow coaches-in-training, and my mentor coach which has gotten me to the point I’m at now. A better coach. A better mom. A happier, more fulfilled human being.

The ultimate transformation for me, however, has been in the relationships I have created with my clients. And what standouts our here is “diversity.” In the beginning I begged someone to be a “practice client” and didn’t charge for my services. My confidence grew and I started to charge and expanded my client base, although still not far beyond my immediate network. It has only been recently that I have, through referrals and business networks, began working with people not previously known to me. These are people with experiences – professional, economic, religious, ethnic, geographic – that are much different than my own. And while our coaching relationship is evoking a transformation in their lives, I am learning – and transforming – too.

The basis of the coaching relationship is the belief that we are all naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. To honor that belief, is to honor an understanding that while we are all very different, there is nothing negative in those differences. Embracing my clients’ creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness, I can’t help but celebrate who they really are, and want for them to be nothing less than their authentic, true selves.

I  grew up in a wealthy, suburban town, where “diversity” was defined by the differences between the Irish and Italians. We were all Christian and we were all while. My perspective was one of privilege. It wasn’t until I branched out – a private high school in another county, college in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood in Philadelphia, a career working for social service agencies – did I begin to open myself up to other perspectives. Changing perspectives is at the heart of transformation – changing how we view ourselves and others allows us to grow and evolve. When we do that, it becomes easier to see the day as “springy.”

IMG_3540Spring on 34th Street. New York City. March 2016.



Ir’s the last week of March. I’m about a week behind my goal of weekly blog posts. When I published Friday’s I was surprised to see my previous post had been 15 days earlier. I lost an entire week! And here I was talking about goal setting and planning this month, and obviously not quiet getting there myself. Life gets busy of course and there are some very legitimate reasons why we don’t get done what we set out to do. That’s why I will dedicate an entire post in the next month to allowing for some flexibility in your training plan.

If you remember our R.A.C.E mnemonic acronym (Realistic, Action, Commitment, Evaluation) from last week, you know it’s time for me to evaluate my progress. What was getting in the way? In looking at how I was spending my time, I realized there were other activities that were taking up my time — yet were still part of the journey toward my big goal of establishing my coaching business. I was putting time into new clients and I was spending some time in developing presentations that I can give on life transitions and running to local organizations (Chambers, Rotaries, Women’s Clubs, etc). That’s all okay and was part of the time I dedicate each week to my business. So what else?

I spent several days cleaning my office. Really cleaning it! Going through files and purging every piece of paper that no longer pertained to my career; stuff I had been holding on to for literally 20 years. Gone! It felt good. And now that I think about it, there’s probably a blog post in there somewhere. So all good, right? And that was a big time sucker! Time well spent, because now I can face my new career in an organized, clutter-free office. I will also probably get back a lot of the time I spent on the project when I won’t be required to spend a crazy amount of time looking for stuff. So good. Still an activity that gets me to my ultimate goal.

Then there are other activities that are important to me, that don’t quite support my business goals and personal vision, but honor my values and are important to me. First, I serve as the volunteer race director for my running club’s event, a 4 x 2-mile relay. That event was yesterday and it was a great success. In the weeks leading up to race day, I have a lot of lose ends to take care from ordering medals and portable toilets, to tracking registrations, securing refreshment donations, and managing the relationship with the park’s department. Plus I report to the club’s board regularly and run the show on the day of the event. I have to be super-organized so nothing falls through the cracks. I make lists of lists. Cross my Ts, dot my Is. Sometimes just thinking about an event like this in the days leading up to it can be enormously distracting. But it’s work I enjoy. It’s the one piece of my fundraising/special event management career that I hold onto. It doesn’t support where I want to be professionally, but it supports my running club’s activities, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction from that. So again. Time well spend. And a conscious choice to spend my time doing that and not writing my blog.

I’ve also gotten involved in an issue in my town that could effect property values. I feel I’ve sat on the sidelines too long, so I volunteered to chair the “outreach committee.” The fight on this issue supports my values and my need to feel like I’m doing something to affect change. I am making a conscious choice to spend time on this. A big chuck of my time is also taken up by my role as Mom. Maybe I should have led with that since it’s my number one priority and a big factor in all the other choices I make. I do try to get all of my other personal and professional tasks done during school hours so the time when she might be around is flexible.

So up to this point, I have made what appears to be a lot of valid excuses to why I’m not getting everything done. Add to all of that keeping up with my training schedule and I could easily say, “I don’t have enough time.” But we all have the same 24 hours in every day and many use that time much more productively and seem to achieve so much more. What makes the difference?

Sure, some of it is in the planning and the choices we make; deciding to spend time on things that make us happy, but don’t lead to our big goals. When we start saying things like, “I don’t have enough time” however, we’re listening to our saboteur, our gremlin, “the dark side” or as author, Seth Godin, calls it in his book Linchpin, “The Resistance.” It’s that voice inside your head that makes excuses for you. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m too fat. I’m too slow. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough talent. I can’t do that! Saboteurs are the biggest challenge facing my clients. They come out of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of emotions. Sometimes they are hard to see because they hide well behind what appears to be legitimate excuses. It often appears like we don’t have time to get it all done. But do we really? As we hear ourselves making excuses, we need to pay close attention, shut down those voices and question our authentic selves. What do you really want? What is really getting in the way? The answers help us clarify our priorities and uncover what we fear. We need to acknowledge our fears and the challenges we are having in order to move forward.

The static from the radio is the things we do on a daily basis that moves us no closer to our goal than yesterday. It is the unproductive habits. The sleeping in late, the habitual scrolling through social media, the watching too much television, the procrastination of what can be done today and telling ourselves “I’ll do that tomorrow.” – From The Seeds4Life. Read more here.

Me? No excuses. I will admit to spending too much time on Facebook, and too much time analyzing my NCAA Tournament brackets in the last couple weeks. I’m not going to waste time analyzing why at the moment. At my best, I know I am disciplined and focused. I learned a technique from another coach that helps us make a habit out of being our best. At my best, I am (fill in the blank; I will (do one thing each day supporting that). So if I wanted to get back to a better fitness routine, that might look like, “I am an athlete; I will do 30 minutes of some sort of exercise each day.” My effort to get back to my regular blogging routine, might be “I am committed; I will write down one idea each day for a blog post.” And maybe, just maybe, I will have one more thing to write about before this month is over.

IMG_6132The De Novo Harriers 4×2 Relay Course. Saddle River County Park, Rochelle Park, New Jersey. March 2017.


Let Me Be Me!

Let Me Be Me!

Two weeks ago (not sure what happened to last week), we talked about goal setting and using “SMART” criteria to establish goals. I left you with the idea that reaching your goals takes planning for the process of doing, training, conditioning or learning that will make achieving the big goals easier.

I just started volunteering as a coach for a running program for elementary and middle school  boys called Let Me Run. It’s like Girls on the Run just for boys. The mission of the program is to “inspire boys through the power of running to be courageous enough to be themselves, to build healthy relationships, and to live an active life style.” The goal is to complete a 5k on May 13th. The program meets two times a week and there is a theme for each session that includes a discussion of “words to live by”that helps illustrate the theme. This week was about goal setting and the words to live by were “a goal without a plan is just a dream.” The boys, ranging in age from 10-12, were quick to point out that achieving a goal requires action, and it was difficult to act without a plan.

After we completed our running for the day – 25 minutes of running with walking breaks this week – we went inside for our lesson on goal setting. Here we used the mnemonic acronym R.A.C.E instead of S.M.A.R.T (maybe because it fits better with a running program, or maybe because it’s simpler); Realistic, Action, Commitment, Evaluation. I like that it focuses on goal setting as a process that requires action. The boys were all asked to come up with two personal goals, a running goal and something else, and to make a specific plan of action for each.

An action plan for running goals is easy. For the boys, there is this program that will take them week by week through training and conditioning that is designed to have them ready to complete the 5k. For you, there are a whole host of published training plans that will meet your needs depending on your fitness level and race goal. I wrote about planning for running goals back in January. As I discussed earlier this month, tackling other personal goals will take some more effort in planning, but the model used to develop training plans is a good place to start.  Break the big goal down into little goals, and then determine the tasks that need to be completed to achieve the smaller goals. It’s simple really. And it’s a process that we are all aware of. So why can we still fail to achieve our goals when we so diligently create an action plan. Perhaps because we are completely focused on the action – on doing – that we over look the “being.” In other words in order to “do” something, we need to “be” something. We need to be in the moment. This is what “co-active” coaching is all about. In order to live the best life we want to live, we not only have to be focused on doing, but on being.

Creating an action plan is only part of the process toward reaching a goal. As a coach I assist clients in determining who they want to be. Who are you when you are at your best? What have you been when you have achieved your goals in the past? Courageous? Thoughtful? Organized? Disciplined? Engaged? Efficient? Humble?

Once you have chosen a goal that resonates with you, then make a list of what you need to do to achieve that goal. And prioritize. What should be done first? What comes next? But before you act ask yourself what and who do I need to be in order to act? Curious? Enthusiastic? Caring? Generous? Empathetic? Trustworthy? Present?

At the conclusion of our Let Me Run workout sessions we huddle up and shout the mantra “Let me be me! Let me reach out! Let me run!” Let me be me. Yes, be yourself. Be who you are at your absolute best. That’s how you work your plan. That’s how you reach your goals.

Saddle River County Park. Saddle Brook, New Jersey. March 2017.
Living (and running) SMART

Living (and running) SMART

Somewhere in your career, or maybe in school, you learned about SMART goals. SMART goals are the first step in creating an actionable plan to achieve success. Creating SMART goals works in life and running as well as business.

It is generally accepted that the SMART acronym was first written down in November 1981 in Spokane, Washington. George T. Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company published a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. – A Brief History of SMART Goals 

The original definition of the acronym S.M.A.R.T. was Specific, Measurable, Assignable/Agreed-to, Realistic, and Time-related/Time-bound. There have been variations on this to make it more usable outside business management. Those include: Strategic, Significant, Stretching; Motivating, Meaningful; Attainable, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned, Achievable; Resourced, Reasonable, Relevant, Results-based; Time-based, Time-limited, Timely, Time-sensitive, Tangible, Trackable. I’m sure there are more you can add to the list.

Whether I am working with runners or life coaching clients, the definition that I believe works best, which is pretty close to Doran’s definition, is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant,  and Time-sensitive. So let’s look at goal setting within that frame work. Clients come into coaching with a goal in mind. Usually it’s a very broad goal. “I want to run a marathon” or “I want a more fulfilling job” or my favorite, “I want to be happier.” Yikes. It’s understandable that most people don’t know how to move forward from there. Everyone one of us is creative and resourceful however and by contemplating  the answers to some questions, we can begin to shape some goals with which we can realistically begin to shape future we desire for ourselves.

Specific…What is it that you really want to achieve? If the answer is that you want to be happy, I would follow that up with what does happiness look like? What does a better job look like? Answering those questions will help steer the way to specificity. Vague goals don’t work because they are hard to plan around. If your goal isn’t specific enough you won’t know what to do today to work towards it. So a specific goal maybe something more like, “volunteer with an organization that has meaning to me” or “go back to school to finish my degree” or “build the skills necessary to move to the fundraising department in my organization.” Finishing a marathon is a specific goal, and therefore has a plan attached to it. For many who has never run before, though, or maybe have achieved a 5k so far, its not a good place to start. It may not meet some of the other criteria, and be a better longer range goal.  When I finished my coaching core classes and began the certification process over 6 months ago, my obvious (specific) goal was to become a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, and in working with my mentor-coach, my desire was to deepen my understanding of coaching, which without the next piece of criteria isn’t that specific.

Measurable…What does success look like and what will determine that you’ve reached it? Crossing a finish line is obviously measurable. How do you measure happiness or fulfillment? Or a “deepened understanding?” When I work with clients, we discuss big goals, those major changes that they want and usually the reason they came to coaching.  Those can be 6 month or 1 year or 5 year goals. In working with my mentor-coach, I was focused on the next 6-12 months and ultimately achieving certification as a professional coach.  The measurement that I laid out with her however gave me a better sense of measurable – and specific – benchmarks along the way. I will know I’ve succeeded when I am familiar with the process of coaching and feel more confident that I want to pursue this as a career; I feel comfortable with the material I’ve learned and it feels like the skills come naturally to me; I can write comfortably about coaching concepts in my blog without consulting “the book.” Check.

Achievable…What can you actually, realistically, do? Here we need to take into account other commitments we’ve made that make realistic demands on our time. We need to consider our real physical limitations and make adjustments accordingly. I use the words realistic and real here because I want to stress that achieving the most meaningful goals will be challenging at times and require us to stretch. There wouldn’t be the same sense of accomplishment in achieving a goal that didn’t require some sacrifice or ask us to move beyond our comfort zone. Going back to school will take time. Training for a marathon is hard. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t physically capable of doing it. There will always be voices inside our heads telling us we are too young, too old, too fat, too slow, too weak, too poor, etc. trying to talk us out of our goals. That’s different and we’ll talk about those saboteurs and gremlins another time.  What I’m focusing on now is setting achievable goals that don’t set us up for failure. The goal should be to walk, then run, then register for the marathon. And at your first job out of college, while it’s good to be focused on the CEO job, it’s good to be open to the progression that will get you there.

Relevant…What does this goal have to do with everything else going on in your your life? What does it do to other goals and desires you have? What will it do to support or complement them? What change will achieving this goal accomplish in your life? If your goal is to run a marathon, it’s important to understand that training is time-consuming and requires a lot of energy (and time to nap after long runs on a Sunday afternoon). A goal to go back to school however supports a goal of getting a better job. Buying a house supports a goal of wanting to start a family. When I first started pursuing my interest in coaching, it was to complement my goal of transitioning my business into something that would give me more flexibility and be something I could do beyond retirement age. Getting certified as a coach was relevant to my life plan.

Time-sensitive..A goal isn’t really a goal without a due date to which you can hold yourself accountable. So what’s the due date? Target dates should have a little bit of wiggle room so, again, you’re not setting yourself up for failure. And they should be realistic, and have some progressive bench-marks built-in. For example: “I will run a 5k in 10 weeks, a 10k in 3 months, a half-marathon in 6 months and a marathon before next summer.”

So decide on your SMART goals and write them down. Have long-range, mid-range, and short-term goals that complement and support one another and the life you want to create for yourself. Then begin to put a plan in motion that will help you reach your goals. Goal setting is simply creating the end zone. How you get there takes planning; a process of doing, training, conditioning or learning that when executed will make the goal that much more achievable. More on planning another day…

IMG_6050The New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory. Washington Heights, New York City. March 2017.