Learning Agility and Embracing the Suck

Learning Agility and Embracing the Suck


“Embracing the suck” is part of the path to mastering anything new says social scientist, Brene Brown.

These days, my “new” is learning to write the stories of the amazing, courageous women I’ve interviewed for my book…I’m learning to be a storyteller, essentially. And it’s hard!

It’s hard because

  • I feel responsible for someone’s story. I want to write it in such a way that I honor and convey the core essence of their narrative. I want my reader to really see the women and their experience.
  • I’m so accustomed to business writing, which is all about keeping the message short, direct, and to the point. Storytelling requires me to develop a style of expounding, elaborating, and being more colorful and emotive in my writing.
  • I’m working to find the balance of staying focused and on point, yet sharing enough that my reader is drawn in, as if riding a wave beside my “character,” following the rise and fall of the story’s build, the peak, and the close.

The work is stretching and challenging me in new ways. The difficulty persists, but so do I. I show up even when I don’t feel creative. I make myself write – “just get words on the paper,” I tell myself, “and the flow will come.” I feel myself growing, not only in my ability to write the stories, but also in how I tell stories to others. I’m learning about the art and delivery.

This path, and sometimes anguish, of learning something new is what I refer to as The Learning Curve. I have the (ahem) joy of being in it right now!

The Learning Curve

Whenever we come up on a learning opportunity, we have a choice of two ways to go:

  1. We can decide to go for it, or
  2. We can choose to stay right where we are…“the comfort zone”

If we choose to go for it, we’re sure to have some new muscle building with a likely series of trying the new thing and failing. It’s like learning to ride a bike as a kid and taking the training wheels off for the first time. We’re gonna fall – probably over and over and over again. Attempting and failing is hard, it’s embarrassing, it…sucks. It makes us want to quit!

If we decide instead to stay the course of where we are, it’s easy. We’re comfortable. It feels good. In other words, we can “do it in our sleep.” But we also miss out on learning new things, opening up possibility, and even discovering something we might love or be really good at, that we had no idea of before.

Anytime I come up on something new – it could be a job opportunity, realizing I need to develop a skill, or fixing something in my house ­– I think about The Learning Curve and weigh my options: Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it? What’s the worst-case scenario?

Sometimes I decide not to take on the challenge, and I pass on the potential promotion, delegate the task, or call that plumber. That can feel really good – and necessary. But sometimes I decide to step up, stretch myself, and I go for it, I take the leap, I DIY it. And there’s a thrill in that too. Even though it brings pain with it, which it is certain to do!

What new thing are you learning these days? How’s it going?


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 




Bearing Witness to Truth

Bearing Witness to Truth

When I began writing my book, I decided it would be informed not only by my own life experiences, but also those of many others. I put together a plan and timeline, began writing, and started the interviews.

Nice, neat, and tidy, right? As soon as I got started, I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be the orderly, paced project I had designed. My strategic, linear mind was clearly not going to have her way. Truth work is anything but a straight line…both the processing of my own and the witnessing and interpreting of others’.

Being with someone who’s sharing their personal story of knowing and living their truth is sacred. It’s mind blowing and heart wakening – a bearing witness to one’s humanity and soul. It’s not an “interview;” it’s a sacred conversation.

When planning out this work, I had no idea the gift I would receive in bearing witness to others in their openness, struggle, loss, joy, and deepest vulnerability. I hold it in the utmost trust. I get to do this work.

And about that plan and timeline of mine…I’m doing my best to stay on course and meet the necessary deadlines. I’m also learning to be open and allow the beautiful connection with others to be my guide. Whenever the battle brews between my heart and head – as it often does – may my heart prevail.


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Seismic Shifts From the Tried-and-True

Seismic Shifts From the Tried-and-True

A few weeks ago, I began the practice of “morning pages” again, and I feel the shifting of my internal tectonic plates.

For those unfamiliar with morning pages, the tool comes from Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, where she guides readers on a path to freeing their internal creative self, and introduces this pivotal daily morning writing ritual.

The idea is that you awake and, first thing as you rise, free write for about 30 minutes, emptying yourself of thoughts, ideas, wonderings, and such. Keep the pen moving for 2–3 pages’ worth and whatever comes, comes. The purpose isn’t to produce anything spectacular, although sometimes you might! Simply write.

For the last ten years, I’ve been on again, off again with this practice. Every time I start back, I wonder why I ever stop. For in these pages over time, I’ve scoped out a yearlong sabbatical, launched a business, and discovered and claimed my identity as a gay woman. Shifting plates…

I think of morning pages as a writing meditation of sorts – I watch my thoughts and feelings flow from my pen onto paper as I release about events, experiences, and dreams, and with them, anger, fear, love, joy, loss, excitement. I let go, I imagine, I question, I leap. I’m safe here – free to be whoever I am in this space and be with whatever emerges.

A practice so simple, yet I feel its quake. This time, it’s revealing my inner creative, me claiming who I am as a writer. A professional writer. Not an amateur, or hobbyist, and my craft isn’t play or my sidekick – although the roar of resistance sometimes tries to convince me otherwise.

This time around while reading The Artist’s Way, a particular passage really stood out to me – the one where Cameron describes the shadow artist…

“Artists themselves, but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists. They often choose shadow careers  – those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.”

“Artists love other artists. Shadow artists often gravitate to their rightful tribe but cannot yet claim their birthright. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance…but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.”

“In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.”

I thought, “Could this be me?”

As I process coming out of this creative closet, it feels like the fruition of a decades-long crescendo.

  • As a child, I grew up with arts and creativity. My older sister, Melinda, and I took piano lessons and played our entire childhood. I performed flute in the school band, sang in my church choir and school chorus, wrote for my school yearbook and newspaper, and took up photography as a hobby when I got a camera for high school graduation.
  • In college, I studied journalism and wrote and photographed for university publications. And although I didn’t plan it, my early work out of college took me down a professional path of nonprofit arts administration – my first job with a private music academy, and a dozen years later I became CEO of an urban arts council…truly my dream job.
  • When I left that post, I took a sabbatical for a few months to gain clarity on what would come next in my career. How did I spend the time? I painted for the first time in my life, I learned Spanish with my son, I took up guitar lessons again, and I started a blog as a new writing challenge – all arts-related pursuits. I’d spent so many years helping arts organizations and artists build capacity and develop resources, that I was drawn to finally explore my own creativity again. The space and playground of the sabbatical inspired me to start my own business focused on my passion of helping people and organizations transform.
  • So attracted to artists I am, that I fell in love with one, and in October this year, I married Lyn Koonce – a professional contemporary folk musician. Music fills our home, and I have a front row seat to her amazing work and recent new album launch.

As I reflect back on this trajectory through my recent morning pages, I can see how central art and creative expression have been to who I am and who I’m becoming.

If indeed I have been the shadow artist Cameron describes, I feel myself emerging from that and claiming my artist self. I’m a bit in awe of the revelations that come from this practice. Plates shifting…

Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation.










tree reflection - photo dune

January lures me to a place of reflection of the prior year and intention and goal setting for the year ahead. It’s my way of honoring life events, learning from what I’ve experienced, and dreaming of what I most want.

Over time, I’ve developed a some tools that serve me well in this process. Here are a few favorites that I hope you will find of value. 

  • Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of the page. On the left side at the top, write “Freedom From” (What do I want to STOP doing?). On the right side, write “Freedom Toward” (What do I want to be or START doing?). Then down the far left column, write these words: Career, Family & Friends, Significant other / Romance, Fun & Recreation, Health, Money, Personal Growth, and Physical Environment. Complete each column in terms of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom toward’. This exercise will help you create alignment in the direction toward what matters most.
  • Another exercise I find valuable is completing Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix, which I have sample-populated below from a business perspective. I like to do this including both work and family elements, sometimes in two different grids. I don’t know about you, but much of my day quickly can be filled with the 3rd quadrant – the seemingly urgent, but less important things. At the end of those days, it’s hard to note anything meaningful that I’ve accomplished. Ideally, I use this tool not only at the beginning of a new year, but also at the beginning of each month and week to keep me focused on what matters most.
    time management matrix
  • Journaling can be another effective outlet to reflect and draw out thoughts about the past year and help focus and imagine the 12 months ahead. Consider the writing prompts below as you complete this exercise.

Reflecting on the prior year:

  • What am I celebrating?
  • What were the most significant events of the year past?
  • What’s going well? …not so well?
  • How am I leveraging my strengths?
  • What did I learn? (skills, knowledge, insights, etc.)
  • What would I have done differently?
  • What did I complete or release? What still feels incomplete to me?
  • How am I different this year than last?
  • For what am I particularly grateful?


Imagining the year ahead:

  • What intentions do I have for the coming year?
  • What is the commitment I want to make for: my work, my family, my self?
  • How do I want to approach things differently?
  • How do I want to spend my time?
  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • How and with whom do I most want to spend my time?
  • How will I honor my core values?
  • Imagine that it is 6 months from now, and I’ve acted on my intentions or met my goals. What is like? How does it feel? What resources and support surround me?

A final critical piece to goal setting is to enroll an accountability partner. As you refine your intentions and goals for the year, ask a friend or colleague to help support you and hold you accountable. Set a schedule where s/he will followup and ask you about your progress. They can serve as an important ally in helping you move past barriers as well as celebrate your progress (big and small). Choose someone who will challenge and stretch you and call you out when you’re playing small!

Best wishes to you in this experience and bringing forth your best self in the year ahead!

about-leadershipAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Act As If

Act As If

Act As If...

A few years ago while conducting research around starting my own business, I ran across a book I really enjoyed called “Birthing the Elephant” by Karin Abarbanel and Bruce Freeman. From it, came a favorite quote of mine: “Act as if.”

Presented in the context of being an entrepreneur, the short phrase expresses the concept of viewing yourself in a new way and aligning your actions and the way you communicate to reflect this new ‘brand’ and self image. “Actions change attitudes, motions change emotions, and movements change moods. You might not be able to change your thoughts and your feelings, but you can change your actions. Your actions can change your feelings; your actions can change your thoughts. You can act differently than you feel.”

The day I read page 121 and the words “act as if” is the day I decided to begin my business. For several months, I had conducted research around launching a new venture, secured necessary resources, and written a business plan. On paper, it looked great, and when I read the words “act as if,” I thought “what am I waiting for?” It’s interesting when you’re starting something from scratch. There’s a moment when you literally must flip the switch. So I did.

The quote “act as if” hit home for me. In that moment, I took on the mantle of entrepreneur and business owner – I walked as if, ate as if, slept as if…I went about my day as if this is completely who I am, even though early on there were many days where it felt more like a story than reality. I lived this new brand as if everything in my life up to this moment had prepared me for this.

It’s three years later and – through much hard work and many challenges, along with steady progress and great wins – my business is flourishing.

Today, in my coaching and consulting practice, I encourage individuals, teams, and organizations to “act as if” with their vision, mission, and plan. I encourage people and organizations to dream and imagine their most vibrant future. And with that, I challenge them to act as if they’re already there. After all, our thoughts and actions create our reality. We manifest what we most desire and focus on.

My hope is that this mantra will inspire my clients and those I serve as much as it has me. And that they will overcome the one thing that holds most of us back: the belief that we must wait until we know who we are or until we craft the perfect plan before we even get started. Just remember, you’re more ready than you think you are. Get started now.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

~ William James