Tending Life Energy

I’m melancholy today. I woke up shrouded in it, and after a lifetime of fighting it, I let it be.

When I first starting out in the coaching business, I was told to keep my blog posts light and informative, with numbered steps if possible. God knows I tried! Several years later I had a marketing expert who I really trust read my work, and one of her first comments to me was that I was holding back. I was shocked! I thought she was going tell me to make more how-to lists.

However, she was right. I have rarely shared my anger, my fears, my shame, my joys and content, my anything. I’ve been working under a polish that has held me back. You see, for the longest time I was working under the mostly subconscious notion that to market myself as a coach, I had to present myself as a life expert. Ugh! The weight of it all left me mostly stuck in my tracks. I don’t want to spin in those tracks anymore.

Her wise words have helped me mostly remove the “life expert” lie and shackles from my marketing schtick. Shudder. I’m no life expert (thank God), but I do know that I’m a good coach. I know creative life energy when I see it, hear it, and feel it welling up in my client, waiting to break through and co-create with the world. I know how to talk to it and what scares it and encourages it. I also know it needs to be taught not to be afraid of emotion.

So, today in my melancholy – despite the sun and the early spring light – I wandered into my favorite coffee shop and read the news (always a great place to go when you are melancholy). 😝 I saw that the Affordable Care Act is likely doomed, and my melancholy turned into despair. I despaired for everyone that has a preexisting condition in the US, including myself, which led to more things to despair about, and I won’t bore you with the rest of my pathos. Just know I went down the rabbit hole.

And then I got up and took a walk.

I took a walk because I know that is one of the best ways to soothe your life energy. While I was walking, I saw a familiar site in Seattle: a notice for a new three-story townhouse. It was placed in front a lovely midcentury apartment building I have admired since I moved to this neighborhood. On nice days a Greek grandmother sit on the stoop and tends the gardens in the front. The western exposure is shaded by a magnificent magnolia tree.

Today the magnolia blossoms were blooming.


Magnolias are like nature’s birthday cake, and I smiled despite it all. Yet, thanks to my melancholy, I soon realized the tree wasn’t long for this world. I took a few photographs and shared an homage to the tree on Instagram.

Several people have already engaged with my photo. Perhaps if they know the tree and the apartment building, they will pay their respects, too. Who knows? I love the mystery of it. And now I’ve written this piece. Perhaps it will touch you in a way that you remove the veneer from a part of you that is waiting to engage more creatively in the world.

Want to tap deeper into your own creative life energy? Drop me a line. Here’s the Instagram post.

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Trusting the Process

Trust the process. It’s easier said than done. Our brains crave control and for many of us that translates into security, guarantees, and safety. It can feel like a cruel paradox that our brains have evolved to crave safety AND life is inherently unstable and insecure. You could walk outside today and be hit by a car. Boom! Done. It’s terrifying.

You probably won’t be run over today. But because our brains are wired to seek security you may just dwell, dwell, dwell on the fact that it could happen. For those of us who have been there, we know that is no way to live (count me in as one of the dwellers).

The crossing the street example is a simplified version of what most of us encounter everyday: risk. There is inherent risk in most everything we do, and if you want to grow and change you have to accept the risk. There isn’t any way around it*.

There are strands of New Age self-help that say we can rise above the fear of life’s inherent risks, and some even state that simply fearing the risk means you will attract the risk to you. As a daughter of a farmgirl, I call hogwash.

We don’t teach our children to transcend the risk of crossing the street. We teach them to manage the risk through breaking down the process (look right, look left, don’t run), and in turn give them the confidence to do it one day on their own. They learn it is possible to cross the street if they manage the risk. They can see their goal in their mind’s eye, and know they are up for the task.

It’s gets a ton trickier when we take this to the adult playing field. Managing risk when we are asking for a promotion, flex time, or the opportunity to telecommute; starting a business; submitting a story for publication; asking a co-worker for help; and speaking truth to power is exponentially more complicated and difficult. When we boil the process down, however, it is essentially the same. You need the courage, the vision, and the capacity to manage the risk (which includes timing, strategy, practice, and the capacity to tend to your inner self – among other things) to grow and create the change you want to make.  

Metaphorically speaking, trusting the process includes tolerating decaying, once beautiful perennial flowers, and knowing they will come back again next year – most likely.

There is a high probability these daffodils will come back, and yet there is no guarantee.

There is a high probability these daffodils will come back, and yet there is no guarantee.

Fancy talking more about learning to trust the process (and manage the risk) that comes with growth and change? I’d love to talk about it with you. Drop me a line to get started in the form below.

*If your worry and anxiety about risk are overwhelming your ability to function, you may need to seek care from a behavioral health provider. Please consult your doctor if this is the case.

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Tend Your Flame: A Free 4-Week Program


If you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, disconnected, or have a case of the winter blahs, I've created a free 4-week mini coaching program designed to reconnect you to yourself, and create fulfilling growth along the way. 

The course requires a minimal commitment -- you can put in as little as 15 minutes a week.  

Download the free program (715 KB PDF)

If you have any questions about the course, I welcome connecting with you. Please drop me a line in the form below. 

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Midlife Crisis or Invitation to Go Deeper?


Oprah.com recently published an article called "The New Midlife Crisis: Why (and How) It's Hitting Gen X Women" by Ada Calhoun, and it's making its way around the interwebs among the middle and upper-middle class women like a virus in a preschool classroom. 

The article doesn't pull punches. It goes straight to the gut, and hard. Here'a a illustrative quote for those of you who haven't read it: 

Is it any wonder that women our age possess a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money? It’s not an idle worry. By some estimates, we carry more debt than any other age group (about $37,000 more than the national consumer debt average). We’re some of the best-educated women in history, and yet we’re downwardly mobile; about two-thirds of us have less wealth than our parents did at the same age.

The author isn't exaggerating. Two women on my Facebook feed commented that they had to get a glass of wine before they could finish the article. Another mentioned Xanax. 

So what are we going to do about this "hallucinatory panic about money"? 

Let's unpack a little first. This is a well-educated, middle/upper-middle class issue. The article isn't speaking to the truly resource poor and hungry, the disenfranchised, the working poor, POCs working within the confines of institutionalized racism, LGBTQAI folks fighting for equal rights. Are we all on the same page? Any suggestions mentioned here are not going address the gaping chasms that exist between middle class anxiety and the reality of living life as a transwoman of color, or someone living below the poverty line. 

First, recognize this middle-class anxiety is contagious. It's a part of our cultural toxic soup that permeates the air like the miasma Medieval doctors thought caused the plague before germ theory was discovered. Take a gander at the daily news and there it is. Talk to the other moms at school and there it is. Scroll through Facebook, glance at a bumper sticker, read a headline at the supermarket . . . and the next thing you know you are homeless, alone, and 80 (or wherever it is that your thoughts takes you). 

Your thoughts. It is so easy to get caught up in them. You are sitting on the sofa, cuddled in a soft blanket, purring cat trying to get at your keyboard, and suddenly you check your bank balance. Boom! You are billion miles away from where you are right now, purring cat, soft blanket and all. 

The author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schultz calls this "the overwhelm."

The overwhelm can transport us from freedom to emotional bondage in seconds flat. So, how do we get back to the purrs and the soft blanket? 

Here's a few ideas. 

  • Name it. Say to yourself: "I am experiencing the overwhelm." Or maybe you want to call it Delores. 
  • Feel it. "I feel sad, angry, frustrated." Cry. It's a great release. 
  • Reframe it. Is this a midlife crisis? Or is a call to go deeper? Which one resonates more with you? 
  • Breathe. Five deep breaths, holding for three seconds after the in-breath can make more difference than you can imagine. And it only take a few minutes. (No need to add a rigorous meditation practice to the overwhelm.)
  • Don't make decisions while you are in a reactive frame of mind. Let the mud settle. Then go forward. 
  • Practice feeling your heartbeat once you realize you have been triggered. Put your hand on your pulse and direct your attention toward you heart. See if you can feel it beat beneath your chest. Imagine your heart beating in sync with the pulse of the world. (It's really cool.)
  • Reach out to a grounded friend. 

The overwhelm is a paradox. It's simultaneously real and it isn't. Remember, you were sitting on a sofa with a fluffy blanket and a purring cat before you looked at your bank account balance! 

Our work, and most important, our peace, comes from knowing that our compounded agitated thoughts are not what is going to solve our bank account problem. 

If we see this anxiety as a call to go deeper, then individually, and collectively, we can create solutions to our hallucinatory money worries that come from skillfill action that is the product of grounded thought. 


The Power of Perspective

My first session with a coach was a profound lesson on perspective, and yet the act itself was so small. And that, my friends, is the power of perspective. 

The coaching call began with me snuggled into a comfortable position on my bed. My pillows were propped just so, my blue tooth was adjusted just right, I was ready to go. After some initial pleasantries and a little initiation into how she worked, we got right into it. 

This particular coach worked a lot with metaphor and movement. After discovering I was on my bed, she asked me to shift a few feet to the left or the right. I chose to shift left and ended up partially perched on a stack of books and papers I had haphazardly gathered together before I placed the call. 

She asked me where I was, and I told her I very awkwardly perched on a pile of crap. She then asked me how it felt taking the call from that position. I told her the facts: it was uncomfortable and I was having trouble concetrating. Her only response was "aaaahhhhh." Then she promptly told me to move back to where I started the call. 

What you see depends on where you are. 

What you see depends on where you are. 

We moved on to another direction after that exchange, but it stuck with me deeply. I can't tell you how many times I have recalled that conversation when I have been awkwardly perched -- so-to-speak -- while looking at a sticky problem. If I find myself having trouble concentrating, and not feeling grounded, I have come to realize that a change of perspective is in order. Usually I find having both of my sit bones or feet on the ground (literally and metaphorically) can make all the difference. 

What small change could you make right now to change your perspective and get a better handle on what is right in front of you? 

If you fancy having more conversations along these lines, please drop me a line at kay@kaysterner.com. I'd love to play with perspective with you to help you embody what is most important in your life. 

Take good care!

Ten Steps for Getting Unstuck

The bad news is everyone gets stuck. It’s not my job to pathologize stuckness, or people who get stuck. Stuck is a human condition and not a character flaw. The good news is it’s possible to get unstuck.

Imagine accidentally falling into a pit of quicksand. It’s a good metaphor for getting stuck. Play along with me as I guide you through getting out. Let’s call these the 10 metaphorical steps for getting unstuck.

  1. Don't thrash, the more you thrash, the more you sink.
  2. Take a big pause and breathe.
  3. Your quality of thought is going to help you get out faster. Panic will slow the process down.
  4. Assess your environment using all of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel?
  5. Take stock of your resources. What resources do you have at hand, what resources are you going to have to work harder to get? Do you have a phone in your hand? Is there a vine hanging over the pit?
  6. Start moving out of the pit small step by small step, using your resources and clear thought to formulate tactics and strategy.
  7. Adjust your strategy and tactics as time brings the future into the present.
  8. If you start to panic again, breathe. Science has shown that breathing in deeply through the nose works as an emotional regulator.
  9. Ease yourself carefully back onto land. You’ll need a shower and to take it easy for a bit. Re-entry may feel slightly disorienting.
  10. Acknowledge your accomplishment. Celebrate your freedom of movement!
Everyone spends some time in the proverbial quicksand. 

Everyone spends some time in the proverbial quicksand. 

Everyone falls into the proverbial quicksand. And when you do it’s a boon to have guidance. A good coach can help guide you through life's sticking point without making you feel like you are any less than up for the work in front of you.

Are you feeling stuck? It would be an honor to talk to you more about it. Drop me a line at kaysterner.com to take the first step.

Holistic Time Management Tips

Consider thinking about time management holistically to really make it work for you. 

Our culture confuses effective time management and hyper-productivity. Hyper-productivity may work in the short-term (see start-ups), but filling every single 15-minute slot in your planner isn’t a long-term strategy (see start-up burnout). Holistic time management includes time for relaxation, joy, and regeneration.

Take a day or two to observe your biorhythms. When do you feel the most energy and do your best work? When does your energy ebb? Notice when you are doing work at times that run counter to your natural energy cycles. Ask yourself if there are there any tiny adjustments you can make, or things that can be left undone? Remember, the work of life will never be complete. What small task can you let go of to support your self-care?

Take note of how you respond on any given day when your body prompts you to rest. How do you react? I know the notion of rest when your body is tired is laughable when you are on deadline, or your child is sick and you’ve been up all night. Here’s my question for you: if you gently employ your curiosity in these situations, what tiny shifts (the smaller the better) can you make to support your need for rest?

Holistic Time Management Tools 

Here's a couple holistic time-management tools you can use and do just about anywhere. 

  • Calm.com offers great 10-minute meditations for free that you can do at your desk, on your sofa, at the bus stop.
  • Taking five deep breaths in through the nose, pausing for three seconds, and then breathing out through the mouth can shift you from a reactive state to a more neutral state in about 30 seconds.

Be well!

What to Do When it Feels Like Nothing Is Happening

I Was Told There’d Be Cake
— Sloane Crosley

Throw an American Dream, Madison Avenue, self-help, Photoshop, and just about any magazine that exists into a pot, mix them up, and you wouldn't be foolish to believe that life would serve up a nice slice of cake every day (gluten free or vegan if necessary) if you tried hard enough. 

It's not true, is it.

There's not always cake. Some days you're lucky to get an Ak-Mak cracker. Some days you get nothing.  

Our reptilian minds are programmed to go after cake -- at all costs! We work and try so hard we run ourselves ragged. 

Maybe there is a better way. 

The refrain in "Take it Easy" by Vanessa Carlton is gorgeous, and hints at an alternative to scrambling.

"Say it once, say it twice, to yourself, to the night / A shaman's prayer / It's natural / When it's quiet get slow"

Try This 

When it feel like nothing is happening and all you are getting is silence (or junk mail) from the world, try experimenting with getting slow, and see how it goes. Meet those seemingly inconsequential days with slowness, deliberate action, patience, a handful of faith, a walk in nature. 

Let me know how it goes. I'd love to talk more about it with you.