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. 



Coaching Questions

What if you had permission to release the burdens that weigh you down? To whom would you give them? The sky, the Buddha statue in your neighbor's yard, the sturdy tree in front of the coffee shop? And then what would you do? 

What if you were unconditionally supported? What would you do? 

What if you could let go of outcomes? And all you had to do was show up to do the work?

Fancy exploring more questions like this? I'd love to coach you. 

Creating Time to Breathe (for those who seek stillness)

I just want the world to stop, so I can get off and take a breath!

How many times have you said something like that to yourself, or heard it echoed from a friend or colleague?

Folks these days hunger for moments of peaceful stillness. And yet it feels elusive. Even on vacation. Even when your kids are asleep and you have time to yourself. Even in yoga class. 

Email beckons. The dirty dishes beckon. Finding your life's passion beckons (this is a big source of stress these days as self-actualization is bought and sold and advertised). Staying on top of current events, learning new technologies, calling mom . . . . . aaaaaggggh! 

There is a way to create time to take those deep nourishing breaths.

Society places plenty of obstacles in the way of those moments of peace (oppressive policies, unobtainable ideals, relentless advertising, increasing complexity . . . the list goes on and on), but they aren't unattainable.

Your peace requires taking a gentle look at the choices you are making in your life. Your choices are how you spend the currency that is time. I've created a list of ideas and tips to support your in re-envisioning how you can spend your time. 

  1. The tasks of life will never be complete. Read it again, and breathe. When you die you will still have a to-do list. Truly knowing that in your gut allows you to let go of the idea that you have to complete the list before you can do what you love, what is fun, what is nourishing. What would be the first thing you let go?
  2. 70% is passing. (This is a tough one for overachievers to accept.) How much time do you spend in pursuit of perfection? Do your beds need hospital corners? Does your document need to be perfect before you hand it over to your manager?  Which of your self-imposed standards have room for a little give?
  3. Holistic time management at its essence is self-management. The better you know your self, the better you can manage your time. Take note of when you are most energized, and do the most difficult work of the day during that time (as possible). Follow your energy patterns. 
  4. Prioritize what you care about. The notion that our willpower is finite is being challenged by science, but we do know that a lack of will contains significant information. You will do what you care about and enjoy. What are you prioritizing that is meaningless to you and doesn't actually need to be done -- at least as a first order priority?
  5. Sleep and downtime are essential components of holistic time management. Effective time management is not hyper-productivity; it allows time for your body to recharge, so you can work most effectively and efficiently on what is most important day in and day out. Hyper-productivity is a short-term hack that doesn't cut it in the long-run. Hyper-productivity may be ruining your yoga class for you. 

Creating time to breathe deeply requires a fresh look at time. Drop me a line if you would like to talk more about this topic. The peace that comes with stillness is yours for the taking. 

Be well.  



Leadership and Power

The unveiling ceremony for John's mustang sculpture. Photo credit:  Oak Kelsey .

The unveiling ceremony for John's mustang sculpture. Photo credit: Oak Kelsey.

Like many of you, I've been thinking about leadership nearly every day since the US 2016 primaries began. Careful consideration of what leadership and power are more important than ever in this age of political uncertainly. Holding the lion's share of nuclear weapon, the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” is more important than ever. Toss in accelerating climate change, structural inequality and racism into the mix, and we’ve got the recipe for a disaster, to say the least.

One of coaching’s great secrets is that when there is a way there is a will. Often what gets in our way is not being able to see our way out of the proverbial muck and mire. We need people who can show up the way forward, using our power responsibly, helping us to become honorable warrior(esse)s. My plan to help show the way forward is to interview people who I think exemplify what it means to wield power with responsibility.

My first pick is my cousin John Kevin Sterner (as an only child John is the closest I have to a brother. His father is my dad’s identical twin brother). Before you accuse me of nepotism, hear me out. John is an exemplary man. He is a talented artist and an athlete. He won both the state championship in wresting for his weight class in high school and the national championship in college. He teaches art and coaches football and wrestling at the local high school. His metal sculptures have places of honor in his hometown and grace the entrance of Southwestern Minnesota State University. He does plein air painting just about any day he has the time, and loves Italy. John also has Lakota and Northern/Eastern European ancestry. He practices a syncretic form of ELCA Lutheranism that is heavily influenced by the religious teachings of the Lakota.

Most recently John has turned around his town’s football team. From the time he took the reins three years ago, he transformed a losing streak into a district championship and a trip to state this past fall. I recently asked him questions about leadership and power. The results of our email conversation are below, which has been edited and formatted for length and clarity.

You live with a foot in two worlds, the White world and the Lakota world, which creates a complex identity for you. How does this influence your coaching and the way you make your way in the world?

It really affects the way I see things in life and who I am. Three of the men who raised me always expressed the importance of my Lakota heritage. Lakota culture and spirituality guide me to see clearly and to remain true to my path in life – it is a primary component of my identity. A Lakota warrior was a teacher first, a provider to all who were in need, a father, a brother, and lastly a defender. The key word is defender, because it isn't about fighting: It means to stand when others don’t. Honor is so important to the Lakota.

My 5x great grandfather, Milauha, was renamed Has a Knife because he was forced into defending his people from the encroachment of the US. During battle he expected to die, so he said hoka hey, which means “it is a good day to die!” According to the Lakota it is a good day to die when you have led a good life and done the things you were meant to do such as teaching and providing for your community. It is a good day to die when your life is in order in such a way that you can leave this world. Milauha staked himself to the ground and fought the US Calvary armed only with a knife and tied to the stake, and he survived. He touched many enemies that day, which was more important than killing. To the Lakota warrior, honor means to say to your enemy, “you are strong, so I will not kill you, but I will touch you and get away while you are trying to take my life.” This is a guiding principle for me.

How have your spiritual beliefs affected how you coach?

I always approach the game and the sport with the idea of being a servant. I am here to help provide young men with leadership that helps them grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is paramount to teach others as you wish to be treated. I have seen many coaches who only want to win, who only want their athletes to dominate, and I have also seen how many athletes dislike their coach and don't admire them. I am not seeking to be liked and admired, but I want to raise young athletes who are role models for both parents and children in the community.

In the past the West had the notion of the Renaissance Man, but it is my impression that being a man of artistic and athletic sensibility is actually a bit of a challenge these days. As your completely non-biased cousin, I see you as exemplifying the Yin/Yang symbol, where within every masculine aspect there is a feminine aspect and vice versa. How do you live this out? Has your masculinity ever been challenged by others on account of your artistic sensibilities?

The scientist in me says that they are the same being: Our brains have a right and a left hemisphere. The left controls time, language, math, sequential stuff and is organized like no other, and the right can’t speak, it is intuitive, it understands the relationships between objects, how things fit together, and it synthesizes information and sees wholes and not parts. To excel at playing sports you need what the right side of the brain does, to be able to think on the fly and make decisions based on immediate information, to be intuitive. Art is very similar, you can follow a prescribed route to get there but ultimately what makes strong art great is the intuitive portion, when to apply that paint or to move a portion of the sculpture to make it better or stronger. To me they are hand in hand and work as a team. The more I see with my right brain the more the world opens up.

John, how did you help the young men you were coaching to find their inner power and agency when you first took the reins? They must have felt some degree of powerless given their history.

As with all groups of people who find themselves in situations beyond their control, it affects not just the players, but the entire community. Changing the mood or the climate of the community is my first priority. 

One of my first strategies was to use an axiom that my father always used to develop young men’s minds to understand the idea of team: A tight rope walker spans a great chasm with his rope and asks who among the crowd of people gathered believes he can walk a wheelbarrow across the gorge. People respond positively, negatively, and with ambivalence – the real killer. He grabs his wheelbarrow and walks across the rope to the other side, and returns triumphantly to the now ecstatic and joyful crowd. He looks to the crowd and says, “do you believe I can do this?” and the crowd cheers, “yes!” The tight rope walker says, “do you believe I can do it again?” The crowd screams, “yes!” He looks the audience over and says, “then hop in!” 

This story is about the importance of believing, trusting, and ultimately having faith in what you are doing. The Bible says that we can move mountains with our faith; we just need to trust in the power. As a staff we worked hard to promote the young men’s faith in their abilities and their work, and that of the surrounding community.

We needed to establish that they had power to change their situation, and not others. "If it is to be, it is up to me" became one of our key slogans. We taught the young men that they needed to prepare themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually to reach their potential. To do this we focused on what they could do to make themselves better. The weight room, camps, and passing leagues brought physical change. Every day we taught the power of positivity to uplift them. We used quotes like “grind, hard work” and ideas that built upon what it means to be a team.

We described everything associated with the team using a train metaphor. Trains are always going somewhere and always driving hard, so hop on and get on board. We were the Laker train! Serendipity even played its part one day as we finished talking about the importance of getting on board the train of belief an actual train came through town roaring by and blowing its horn, as if on cue! Wooooo woooo! The Laker train is rollin’! Who's on board?

Now that your team is winning, how do you teach them to wield their power in ways that are honorable?

The three F’s are key to our approach: faith, family, and football. I attribute this philosophy to one of my assistant coaches, and we have used it since day one. It is ranked in order of importance and value. We believe the values you learn to live a spiritually good life should underpin how you play the sport. We stress good sportsmanship, and being a person who plays with joy and the love of the game first and foremost, and not the win at all costs mentality.

Tom Landry once said that the greatness of the sport of football is that “you can hit a man as hard as you want between the whistles but you help him up and tell him good job.” I firmly believe that our true character, our true inner self, arises in moments of tension and power displays, and you find what really drives that person in their actions.

When you see one of your young men using his power without honor, what do you do as his coach? I know ultimately he is under the guidance of his parents, but I do know that a coach can play a major role in a young man’s life (I remember my dad getting calls from jail to go bail out or pick up his college athletes. I can only imagine what the discussion was like in the car when he gave them a ride home.)

I will usually pull the young man aside and ask him what is appropriate and not appropriate.  I ask them to be responsible for their actions – just as I have to be for mine. It doesn’t matter how many times we get knocked down. What truly matters is how often we get back up!

Anything else you would like to say?

Thanks cuz for the kind words and honoring me with this interview.  Pilamaye Tukasila




Finding Calm in the Storm

With election anxiety swirling around us like gale force winds, it's easy to get swept up in the proverbial storm. 

My master coach has this image hanging in her seminar room. Life feels a little like this today, no? The photograph was taken by French photographer    Jean Guichard . The man survived the storm. 

My master coach has this image hanging in her seminar room. Life feels a little like this today, no? The photograph was taken by French photographer Jean Guichard. The man survived the storm. 

Here's a few techniques I've tried that HAVE NOT helped (not recommended):

  • Refreshed the 538 election forecast approximately every 5.7 minutes to see if there is an update (awesomely frantic).
  • Read pages and pages of political commentary, from regular Joes to talking heads (great if you want to fear for the future of the human race). 
  • Worried (very effective).
  • Visualized a dystopian future (how lovely). 
  • Watched a movie about a viral outbreak (one of my smartest moves so far).

I finally realized that I needed to coach myself. What do I need to be able to coach myself? I need to cultivate a coaching presence, which means I need to ground and center myself, and get out of my dang monkey mind. Here are a few of my favorite grounding tools:

  • Reaching out to my favorite non-anxious people in my life. I had a female friend who did just the trick. Thanks, friend, you know who you are. 
  • Meditating. Calm.com has some great guided meditations and you can pick the amount of time you want to meditate. And most of the meditations are FREE. Great for beginners and experts.
  • Walking. On the days when grounding is really hard I literally concentrate on the weight of my feet on the ground and count my steps. I can usually tell it is working when my thoughts start to clear and more helpful solutions start to emerge. Other folks may want or need more intense exercise.
  • Gratitude. When I start to worry about loosing something (political or personal), I use gratitude as an antidote. A wise woman once told me you can't be anxious and grateful at the same time. It may sound hokey as all get out, but it is TRUTH. I'm so grateful for the right to vote. I'm so grateful to have the privilege to write this to you all right now. In this very moment. 
  • Looking to nature for guidance. A client and I once had a discussion about how much you can learn from a tree that is blowing fiercely in the wind, and how it handles the shock. Have a look outside your window and check it out. Take notes. 

Once I'm grounded I can start asking myself about what next best steps I want to take. This post was one of them.

I also realized that regardless of election outcomes, I will still have access to all of those tools, to again, help me decide the next best move. 

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you would like to talk more about this process. I'm available at kay@kaysterner.com

Add Self-Care to the Equation

As a primarily work-life balance coach I think a lot about how taking care of ourselves can be integrated into our busy lives. Frankly, there are so many systemic factors working against self-care in American life, it can feel like a fool's errand. But I do know from experience that changing how you care for yourself inside the parameters of your busy life is possible. I also know we need to make some serious changes as a nation on a policy level, which makes this work more challenging than it could be. 

I recently gained an insight that has changed how I view self-care in my life. Before I go into it, here's a little backstory to help you see just how much the story I tell myself has changed. I was a serious gymnast until just shy of my 15th birthday. I wasn't at the elite level you see on TV, but I put in 31 hours a week in the gym and traveled around the nation for competitions. Toward the end of my career my version of a workout was striving for excellence at all costs, and pushing past the pain unless I was seriously injured. It has been a hard paradigm to unlearn. 

Fast forward 10 years and I've been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had to have my thyroid removed and now remain dependent on medication to replace what my thyroid once did. The medication does its job well enough, but it is no substitute for the real thing. I've never been able to gain back the energy and stamina I once had.

It wasn't until quite recently that I have given up my quest to gain the energy and stamina of my former athlete and pre-thyroidectomy self. It feels so silly to write those words because it is slightly absurd for a 40 year-old to think she can re-gain her athletic prowess at 15. Silly or not, that's the truth.

Fortunately, one of the perks of being a coach is you are surrounded by good coaches in your life. Last spring I was invited by my first coach, Julia Lynton Boelte (who helped me to transform my work life) to participate in the Whole Life Challenge (I highly recommend looking into it if it is new to you), which focuses on seven areas of wellness and encourages participants to make incremental changes to build off of to create a healthier life. It is really doable -- we're talking 10 minutes a day of exercise and making sure you get an additional 15 minutes of sleep than your usual. The seven areas are exercise, hydration, sleep, mobilization, lifestyle, nutrition, and reflection.

I did well enough on my first challenge, but I was definitely still competing with myself, complete with an inner gremlin who heckled at me from the sidelines for being so out of shape. I think he may also have carried a cattle-prod to shock me on days when I was lagging behind. 

This fall I have been invited to participate on another Whole Life Challenge team by my coaching certification cohort-mate, Fran Mason, who specializes in wellness for women in midlife. I was fortunate to have some one-on-one sessions with her before the challenge began. She helped me to see that I wasn't a competitive athlete anymore, and that I was engaging in self-are to improve my life, and not make it more miserable. She also gave me permission to do nothing (my version of nothing, at least) on the days when I felt exhausted to the core. Or more accurately, her expert coaching helped me to give myself permission. 

And then something clicked. It was a moment of insight at its finest. I was reading the Whole Life Challenge materials before it began -- essentially the same copy as what I read last spring -- and I saw it with new eyes. As I read the website header, What would it be like to take really good care of yourself for 8 weeks?, I realized that I didn't have to compete against myself or cattle-prod myself and crush each of the seven challenge areas everyday. I simply had to rise to the best of my ability to the occasion of caring for myself in each of the seven areas on any given day. 

I am beginning to see the building blocks of the Whole Life Challenge as medicine rather than obstacles to overcome. Some medicine tastes better than others, but if it is good medicine, it is going to help rather than harm me. 

Today I'm home on the sofa experiencing the change of season cold that my son brought home from preschool. The day will tell which of the challenge areas I will rise to, but I'm already well on my way to meeting my hydration quotient. After I dropped off my kiddo, I stood in my kitchen for a few minutes thinking about the best self-care for the moment. I decided on a wellberry tea, vitamin D, and no ibuprofin (to make sure I don't get a false sense of wellness and overdo it, and in turn not show up properly for my client this afternoon and my family this evening). I may take a gentle 10 minute walk if my body allows it. Time will tell. 

Everyone will have their own way of fitting better self-care into their life. I shared my own story to show how the change comes primarily from within. 

How is better self-care looking to integrate its way into your work-life equation? I'd love to coach with you on it. Drop me a line at kay@kaysterner.com and check out my website at kaysterner.com to learn more about the process. 





How to Figure Out the Next Best Move

Here's a relatively simple formula for when you feel stuck and don't know your next best move.

  • Sit on a dining room or kitchen chair
  • Feel your feet flat on the ground
  • Feel your sit bones on the chair
  • Let your sit bones support you
  • Put your hand on your belly
  • Set your intention to make the next best move
  • Take 6-10 deep belly breaths, leaving your hand on your belly. Breathe in through the nose, hold for three full seconds, and out through the mouth, pursing your mouth on the out-breath
  • Ideas will begin to come to you
  • If your idea is is accompanied by or results in panic or a feeling of depletion, don't do it.
  • Ride that wave of panic/depletion and wait for fresher thought
  • If your idea makes you body vibrate with a sense of great anticipation, warmth, calm, a sense of wonder . . . you are likely on the right track 

Try it and let me know what you think at kay@kaysterner.com.

Boost Your Insight

It's an analytical world out there. We're surrounded by metrics, algorithms, big data, binary code, relentless analysis . . . you get the drift. 

This ongoing analysis and computation is truly powerful, and it is a major distraction: When we splice and dice, compute and analyze until we are blue in the face, it can get in the way of gaining fresh insight. 

In other words, how often has a solution to a nagging problem come to you in the shower, or on a walk, long after you have stopped analyzing it? Other places this can happen are in nature, on the yoga mat, on a jog, sitting in meditation. It's what Oprah calls her "Aha! moments."

I liken it to when the sediment of the mind has settled. As your coach I can help you to learn to access and recognize when you are thinking from a settled vs and unsettled place. It's a place where you see old problems from new perspectives, and leave your old (and no longer useful) stories behind. 

Want to learn more boosting your insight? Drop me a line at kay@kaysterner.com. I look forward to hearing from you.