To serve vs. to lead.

Most of my work these days is related to my law practice as opposed to health coaching. However, these words apply to any service I provide to any human. As we all struggle to learn, cope, reflect, and ultimately all choose how to respond to and live in our ever-changing world, I think these thoughts are important. 

I have heard from business owners who have received push-back recently after speaking up for racial justice in support of protests around the country. The response is along the lines of “stay in your lane” or why is my estate planning attorney (or insert any profession) talking to me about race etc.

One possible response is : as a business owner you choose who you serve. If someone disagrees with your views, that is not the person you want to serve.

I worry that this response leads to more divisiveness. Remember the case that made it to the Supreme Court when a baker was unwilling to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple?

I don’t agree that we should choose who we serve in all instances.

For example, perhaps a baker refuses to make a specific type of wedding cake because that type of cake is not what they do. Maybe the bakery only focuses on pastries and not cakes at all. That baker would be choosing to focus on pastries. They can lead the pastry industry. They will not be serving people who don’t like pastries, but can and should, I think, serve anyone who wants what they are offering.

As we see businesses speaking up in support of equality, I think these businesses are being leaders for what’s right in a time where that voice is important (okay, maybe far too late, 100% myself included, but let’s be grateful for what’s happening).

Here is how I am thinking about this in my own business. I will serve everyone. If I agree to prepare an estate plan for you, I will carry out your wishes to the extent it is legal under the law. If you want to donate to organizations I don’t agree with, or not donate at all, I will graciously carry out your wishes fully in the same way I would for someone donating to my favorite charity.

As a leader, I can share the businesses core values. I can educate clients and potential clients about the benefits of legacy giving (leaving donations through an estate plan). I can educate myself and my community about charitable foundations and other mechanisms for giving. I can ask clients if they want to give to an organization, thereby normalizing charitable donations. I can stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement because now is not the time to stay silent.

In this way I lead, but I will not refuse to serve anyone who wants the service I provide, from me, and whom is otherwise unharmful to me.

It also of course means that those who do not like the values I do vocalize are unlikely to hire me, but that to me is in the same way that those who don’t like me will hire someone else because we are a bad fit. And that’s okay.

Cultivating conversations to deepen relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You’re connecting with people you haven’t talked to in years. Or maybe you’re talking more often with your spouse, friends, and family than you have in a long time. It’s great to connect and spend time with each other (even if virtually), but you may find that conversations remain surface-level rather than getting deeper. Or perhaps you just aren’t quite sure what to ask the people you are hearing from and reaching out to.

How do you take those conversations further? How do you get past “Q: How are you? A: Given the circumstances, I am doing well. How about you?”

It was only recently that I started learning that we can actually train to be better listeners, better communicators, and therefore, to connect better with others. (This seems like one of the most essential skills of being human, why isn’t it emphasized more? But I digress…) We are realizing that we need each other right now in ways that we might have been able to escape five weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean that we have all of the tools to help us connect with one another. How do you continue a phone conversation with Aunt Jane whom you haven’t talked to in five years? How do you encourage your friend from high school to share how he is really feeling?

First, take care of yourself.

I heard recently that the first step to being a good listener (which is essential to being an effective communicator) is self-care. If your basic needs are not being met, then how can you be present with someone else? Take care of yourself now – you know best what that means, whether sleep, nutritious eating, time alone, exercise or movement, etc. Then make sure those in your home have their basic needs met. Then start reaching out to others.

Other important steps to being a good listener that I learned recently include: letting go of assumptions, checking your understanding by reflecting what you hear, and sharing how you are impacted on a personal level by what you hear.

Second, ask good questions.

Have you ever been talking with a friend about a decision you are making, and they ask a question that gets you thinking about the issue in a completely different way that leads to new insight into your decision?

Or, think about a time when you were in a conversation and someone asked deep thought-provoking questions instead of sticking with “how do you know the hosts?”

Here are some ideas on questions to draw from in your next video or phone conversation. Or maybe even those at home with you. Let me know how it goes, and please share other ideas to connect right now!

Here are some questions from psychotherapist Esther Perel with a couple added from Tim Ferriss in their recent interview found here. (And I recommend the entire interview for great tips on connecting during COVID-19). In addition to these, Esther encouraged listeners not to be afraid to ask more, to take this opportunity to go deeper, and to go with the next question rather than stopping.

  • Are there people who have been reaching out to you that surprise you?
  • Are there reactions of others that surprise you?
  • Are there people you want to connect with and now is a good time?
  • How are members of your family?
  • Tell me about your brother or sister [or other family member]. How are they doing?
  • What marks your day today?
  • What did you notice today that you don’t usually notice?
  • Are you sleeping?
  • Are you eating?
  • If I were to ask your husband or wife how you are doing what would he or she say?
  • If you want to know how someone is doing and they say something like “I’m doing well” or “given all that is going on, we are doing well” or “given the circumstances, well” you can say “you just told me how are things, and I am asking how are you?”

Here are a few that I liked from this site that might be good questions right now:

  • What passion project are you working on right now?
  • What was the highlight of your day today?
  • If you had to pick any character in a book, movie, or TV show, who is the most similar to you? Why?
  • When you were growing up, what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?
  • What’s your biggest fear right now?
  • Do you have any regrets? (Such as not acting sooner to isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic, or not selling investment assets, or…?)
  • Who is your role model?

Finally, during my health coach training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, they provide good coaching questions. Here are some that might be useful right now:

Relating to the Future

  1. How will it be different once you have a solution?
  2. What would be available to you if…?
  3. What would be the very first sign that things are back on track?
  4. What would happen if you lowered your expectations?
  5. What would happen if you raised your expectations?
  6. What would it feel like if…?
  7. What would it look like if…?
  8. What would it look like if you were able to get past…?
  9. What would make that fear decrease or disappear?
  10. What would success look like?
  11. What would the outcome be if…?

Relating to the present

  1. In the present moment, what emotional sensations can you identify?
  2. In the present moment, what physical sensations can you identify?
  3. What is the most pressing thing happening now?
  4. What is working well in your life right now?
  5. In the present moment, what’s happening?
  6. Where do you feel stuck?
  7. What is most comfortable about where you are now?
  8. What are you grateful for in this moment?
  9. How do you feel when you consider…?

Digging deeper

  1. And then what?
  2. Can you say more about that?
  3. How did you decide that?
  4. How is this significant?
  5. What do you mean by..?

Miscellaneous

  1. Did anything surprise you when…?
  2. How can you expand your life in that area?
  3. How does this serve you?
  4. How does this not serve you?
  5. What are you looking to create?
  6. What can you control in the situation?
  7. What do you enjoy about…?
  8. What’s missing for you?
  9. What’s working for you?
  10. What’s the best part about this for you?

Let me know if you try some of these questions or tips and how it went! Or offer your own ideas. Leave a comment or let me know on Facebook.

8 Tips to increase your health and happiness this 4th of July holiday.

Here in the United States, this coming Thursday, the 4th of July, is one of our biggest holidays. It marks the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was signed, shortly after the first thirteen colonies in what would become the United States became independent from Britain.

If you have the day off work, the holiday can be filled with friends, family, fun, and celebration. It might also bring anxiety over relationships (family? strangers?), over food (that feeling of being stuffed or guilt over eating too much?), and could leave you feeling awful the next day (too much sun, unhealthy food, hungover, lack of sleep?). Here are a few tips that may help you keep it to the fun with family and friends and to avoid the negative.

  1. Move. Plan to be active throughout the day. Is it a nice day for you and the family to go for a bike ride? Walk a couple of miles to watch a parade? Or just enjoy a nice walk in your area? If you can’t fit in a longer walk or ride – where can you fit in shorter walks? If you are at a party – leave for 10 minutes and return more refreshed, or take someone with you who you want to catch up with. They will probably be happy that you asked. If you workout regularly, you might also feel better if you get up in time to fit a quick workout in before the rest of the day begins.
  2. Set an intention. If there is a big meal involved in your day, make an intention beforehand. Will you try all that you want to try? Will you just take tastes and go back if something is really good? Will you choose just one or two things to enjoy along with lots of vegetables? If you are going to drink alcohol – how much? If not, consider bringing a fancy sparkling water or other nice drink to enjoy.
  3. Plan & Prepare. If you are going to a potluck, bring a healthy dish so that you know you can get full on that if you don’t want to eat anything else. Here is the recipe for one of my favorite salads. It is likely to be a big hit, so you might want to make double.
  4. Choose nature’s sweets. Choose fresh fruit over store-bought desserts. What says summer better than red, juicy, watermelon?
  5. Taste. Take the time to taste (and chew) your food. It is easy in a social setting to grab food and devour without really noticing. Even if you are in a conversation, remember to take a minute and enjoy what you are eating.
  6. Relationships – family. If you know you will see a family member who makes your inner self want to scream, plan before you see them how you will react. You cannot control them, but you can control your reaction to them.
  7. Relationships – strangers. Perhaps you are going to a gathering and there will be people you don’t know. If you are not one who thrives on talking with strangers, think of three questions you will ask people before you go. Then, once you get there, aim to engage at least two people in conversation. Ask them questions about themselves, focus on just talking with them until the time is right to leave, and truly get interested. Your questions could be basic (So, how do you know [the host]?). Or, choose some of these juicier questions to get the conversation started.
  8. Most Important. Have fun and enjoy your holiday however you decide to spend it. If you set an intention and your day doesn’t quite go how you had planned, let it go. Tomorrow you may choose to think about why that happened, but holding onto guilt over it will get you nowhere.

An accountability partner: do you need one?

I was first introduced to the concept of an accountability partner when I started my health coach training program in 2017. I have since had a number of accountability partners and I think it is something we may all benefit from in some form or another.

What?

An accountability partner is someone whom you form an intentional relationship with for a distinct purpose. It could be a friend or a stranger. Someone you have a much deeper relationship with outside of your accountability relationship, or not. But the foundation is that, at least as part of your relationship, you dedicate time to spend with one another where each has an opportunity to share their goals, or ask for feedback, or to bounce things off of the other one, and then you hold eachother accountable in some area of eachother’s lives. You could also have a small group. And you don’t have to meet in person.

My experience

I currently speak with someone from my health coaching class about once a month. We share where we are with our business goals, and have provided eachother with meaningful reflection. I love to have someone listen to and provide feedback on my ideas. I can ask questions about issues with a client or a business matter, and get ideas from her and vice versa. For example, recently she was struggling to find time for another course she is working on because things like laundry and other housekeeping always seemed to get in the way. I reminded her of the big rocks principle and she started to block out time for her studying first, and fit the other stuff around the edges.

Accountability partners can also be used to help review another’s work. I am going to start carving out time to focus on a book I have been wanting to write. I am taking a course that will help, but I will also be looking for an accountability partner with my intention being to get ideas from this person as well as editing. Asking someone this favor on its own would be a huge ask, but if I find a writing partner – someone also working on a similar project – we can both benefit by sharing our time and opinions with eachother.

Tips to create a strong relationship:

  • Before asking someone to be an accountability partner, decide how often you want to meet and what the purpose of the relationship will be. Try to find someone working on something similar – that could be eating better, preparing food at home, starting a side business, learning spanish, etc.
  • Talk openly in the beginning and as you go along about how each of you can best be pushed forward. Some people need hard love, specific goals, nudging along the way. Some need outer accountability in order to complete their goals, while others provide plenty of inner accountability and they may actually need more encouragement more than pushing. Some people will benefit most from just having someone to listen, reflect, and ask questions as they talk through what they are working on.
  • Meet when you say you will. If your partner keeps rescheduling or not showing up – drop the relationship. Tell them that you want to take it seriously and look for someone else.
  • Set a specific period of time for each meeting and either split in half or focus on just one of you for each meeting. This guideline is malleable when appropriate, but a good expectation to start from.

A coach can also serve as an accountability partner

If you are looking for something more or haven’t had success with an accountability partner, a health, life, or business coach may be a great solution. We provide long periods of time dedicated solely to your goals. We listen, reflect, and offer guidance and tools to figure out your own direction. We provide that outer accountability when you need it, and reassurance when that’s what you need most. The investment in time and money can pay back many times over if you are at a point where you want to level up a specific area of your life. Most successful people either have mutual accountability partners or a coach in their lives.

Relationships: Dividing labor with your partner efficiently so that you have more time to enjoy eachother’s company.

I received my undergraduate degree in economics. It suits my way of being perfectly. I generally try to avoid my own emotions, but I love to figure out how to allocate my time and money in the most efficient way possible. I was thus thrilled to come across a book explaining how to apply the economists way of thinking to a relationship; or, more accurately, to the labor part of running a household and co-mingled life. I stumbled upon it after my husband and I had been dating for years, but before we were married. It provided us with a system to divide the work we want to do in our household efficiently. Perhaps more importantly, it required us to talk about what we actually want done and how often we want it done which I think is a very important conversation to have, but one that may otherwise be missed. For example, if one person wants vacuuming done twice a week, and the other thinks every other week is ideal, if they haven’t discussed their differences and assume that the other person holds the same ideal, then you can see that problems could arise without either party even recognizing that they are coming from a fundamentally different idea of the ideal outcome.

I want to share how we have applied this exercise, which has helped us face the labor in our household for well over a decade, in the hope that you find something useful to apply in your own relationship. You also may want to read the book to glean other details about the process as they describe it. I haven’t read it in over a decade, so it’s possible that how we now implement and what I recall from the book is different than what the book tells you to do. The book also has a different name now. It was called Spousenomics. Now it goes by It’s not you, it’s the dishes.

The principle. 

The premise is to find the best allocation of resources based on who is most efficient at what tasks, which tasks each partner prefers, and other practical factors for your particular situation.

The result. 

For example, if we catch dungenous crab (yes…living in Alaska has its perks) and we want to get the meat out of the crab to save for later, my husband can complete this task at least 4 times faster than I can do it. Splitting this task 50/50 – whether in time (if I sit down with him to do it until done) or in volume (we each take half) doesn’t make sense unless I really enjoy it and find sitting down together over a pot of crab quality time (I don’t). This task is more efficiently completed if he does 100% of it. Conversely, I don’t mind vacuuming at all, and he hates it. Thus, I do 99% of the vacuuming in our household.

The process. 

Step 1: Each person writes their own list of the tasks necessary for your joined lives, and how often each item would be done in an ideal but practical world. 

We first sat down and independently wrote out a list of all the things we want to get done for the benefit of our relationship. This covers all areas from car maintenance, car and home insurance, health insurance and bills, cleaning the toilets, washing the dogs, cleaning the fridge. All of it. Anything either of you thinks is important to keep up the home, finances, and other areas of your joined lives. Then, each person indicates how often each of those things would get done in an ideal world. Some will be as needed (keeping up with health insurance), whereas others can be scheduled, such as cleaning the fridge each quarter.

Step 2: The partners discuss their lists to create a single list of tasks and time frames. 

Once we each have our lists, we share and have a discussion to reach agreement on all of the items we want done and how often to do them. If this is difficult or you do not both have time to fully devote to a good discussion, this could be scheduled for a different time.

Step 3: Ranking and division. 

Our list in hand, whether that meeting or at a different time, we each go through and mark, on our own, how much we like or hate a task. (Any scale will do, such as 1-5 with 1 being your least favorite tasks and 5 being your most favorite). Then we share and go through each item deciding who will take it on, or if it is something we will share – and how we will share it. For us it works out fairly well that we each end up taking the tasks we prefer more, even if just slightly, and we feel fair about the overall division. It also tends to work out that the tasks we prefer are the ones we are most efficient at anyway. When we have gone through each item, we review to decide if we each think the overall division of labor is fair. Not necessarily in a 50/50 time split, of 50/50 task split, but just plain fair for whatever personal factors go into our decisions.

Fortunately for us, this exercise has not created arguments. If you try it, Each partner should be aware of the process before you begin and should set aside at least a couple of hours with nothing else to focus on except this exercise. It may be best to divide into stages. You can create the overall list, and then rank them in two different sessions, or break them up even more. If disagreements do arise and you become heated, then that may also be a time to take breathing room. Taking the time to spend on this together, if you come with an open mind, can be a great bonding experience and can prevent future disputes over the division of labor.

Step 4: When the work is done, make sure to enjoy each other’s company and the efficiency with which you have divided the work part of your lives together. 

There is a concept that if you are starting  a business, it is important to set financial goals not just to reach them, but so that once you hit your target you know that you can stop building and enjoy what’s important to you in life. The same can apply to your relationship. This should avoid resentment about who is doing what, at least most of the time, but there is no point in that if you don’t take time to enjoy what you have accomplished. It may even be worth scheduling ‘date nights’ with your partner into your task schedule as well.

Conclusion

We have only done this exercise a couple of times in about 13 years. We found it helpful to revisit after our lives had changed dramatically and our list of tasks were different. We have calendared the tasks that only occur 2-4 times a year, but neither of us is really great about sticking to the schedule. Nonetheless it is a helpful guide, it reminds us when it is time to complete the task, and we get to it eventually. As for the daily tasks, we are really very good at sticking to our division of labor, and by having a list we find it alleviates a lot of resentment. It is easy to feel a division of labor isn’t fair if one person does all of tasks A, G, and H unless it has been decided ahead of time and you realize that it really is fair because the other person is doing B, C, D, and E, etc. And certainly there are things we split for convenience (feeding the dogs) and because we both like to do them (cooking).

Let me know if you try this exercise and how it works for you! Leave a comment or visit me on social media.