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. 

 

 

 

Leading Wholeheartedly

Leading Wholeheartedly

A few weeks ago, I watched Biden and Harris take office and was especially struck by a comment in Biden’s inaugural address, “Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

“Take a measure of me and my heart.”

His words stunned me. First because it feels so good to have leadership again. And second, because it feels so good to have leadership with heart. I believe we do.

Our world needs more leadership with heart. It’s what I’ve come to call “wholehearted leadership,” to borrow one of Brene Brown’s coined phrases. It was in reading her book, “Gifts of Imperfection,” that I first heard that phrase ten years ago. I strive to live it in my work and life. And I look for it in others. It’s so deeply satisfying and fulfilling to see it in action…

  • Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think
  • Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism
  • Cultivate our resilient spirit and let go of numbing and powerlessness
  • Cultivate gratitude and joy and let go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  • Cultivate intuition and faith and let go of the need for certainty
  • Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison
  • Cultivate play and rest and let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  • Cultivate calm and stillness and let go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  • Cultivate meaningful work and let go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  • Cultivate laughter, song, and dance and let go of “cool” and always in control

– Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living

These affirmations hang in my office as a reminder of how I want to love, live, and lead in the world. It’s about showing up with vulnerability – owning who you are and letting others see you. It only took me a few decades to learn this…and it’s a forever journey. It requires great intentionality, practice, and loads of courage…Every. Single. Day.

I remember the first time I learned about vulnerability as a leader. I was 30 years old and in a leadership development program where I had been paired with an executive coach. Part of her guidance encouraged me to become more vulnerable as a leader. I had an instant, visceral reaction to her words. I cringed, remembering my mom and what she taught me as a young girl. I told my coach, “My mama did NOT teach me to be vulnerable!”

I imagined sitting across from my mom and sharing with her what I learned at leadership school. I could see her plain as day…sitting across from me, arms tightly crossed, and giving me a furrowed, disapproving stare. Growing up in my home, any thoughts of vulnerability were considered weak, and I was taught to show anything but that:

Be strong!

Never let ‘em see you sweat (or cry)

Hold your cards close to the vest

I don’t think either of my parents intended this, but what they taught me around vulnerability – to guard against it – caused me to show up as a leader rigid, aloof, and less approachable. It took me nearly two decades to undo.

I see this same resolve in leaders I coach today, especially female leaders. To get ahead, we develop armor…a shell to protect us, we put forth an image of steel, as in “I have this under control” and “I’ve got it all together.” Inside we may be quaking, but the external world will never know it. We take it own, carry the load, and ‘grin and bear it.’  Years and decades pass. We become someone we don’t know anymore….or worse, someone we don’t even like.

“Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden says.

This is a reminder to us all to put down our armor, come out from behind our shields, open our hearts and let others see our humanity.

 


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. 

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

We’ve been waiting. Waiting for 2020 to end and 2021 to finally arrive. But the turn of the calendar didn’t solve our problems – in fact, not much feels different at all. If anything, it feels like a continued or even an increased sense of unknown, uncertainty, and chaos.

Since March 2020, I’ve often felt like I’m in the middle of a dense forest with no obvious way out. My “way” has become one of putting one foot in front of the other, literally taking the next step, and then the next. Most days, this helps me feel like I’m making progress, albeit slow.

My consulting and executive coaching work focuses on helping leaders and their organizations navigate change and transition. These days, I lean on my own practices…a lot. One of my favorite sources is the work of William Bridges and the Bridges Transition Model. In his book, “Managing Transitions,” he presents the stages of transition: Letting Go, the Neutral Zone, and the New Beginning. Let’s take a look at the Neutral Zone he describes.

The Neutral Zone

“It’s a time when all the old clarities break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore, and anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different.”

Sound familiar?

This Neutral Zone is a huge chasm of discomfort between an ending and a new beginning. We’re waiting – for a new president to take office, for spring to come, for a vaccine to be widely available, to return to school and work, to hug our friends and family, and to travel. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Telling yourself it’ll be worth the wait, but also feeling exhausted, isolated, and worried because time can feel like a finite resource.

Bridges continues, “One of the most difficult aspects of the Neutral Zone is that most people don’t understand it. They expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to another, and that kind of journey takes some time. The attitudes, outlook, values, self-images, and ways of thinking that were functional in the past have to ‘die’ before people can be ready for life in the present.”

So, what do we do in this neutral zone? What do we do while we wait? How are you in this zone? Probably like you, one day I’m up, the next I’m down. Some days I’m optimistic, others, I can’t find that optimism no matter what I do or how hard I try.

But hang on…there’s hope!

As we’ve sustained in this abyss now for nearly 12 months, I’m learning to be with it and also recognize it for its gifts and opportunity. Somehow, it helps to know we’re all in it together…it literally feels like there’s not one person on the planet with a “ticket” to escape this time of pandemic, social and racial injustice and unrest, and political turmoil. We’re faced with doing our work and living our life the best we can. What feels most right to me is openness, kindness, compassion, flexibility.

“This is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be,” offers Bridges. “It’s a time when reorientation and redefinition must take place, and people need to understand that.”

Yes, it’s a time of anxiety and even chaos, but also it is a time when we’re more open to new ideas and opportunity. I remind myself daily that there’s power in this place. For me:

  • Priorities have become clearer, and I realize what’s most important in my life.
  • I can do with less. A lot less, in fact: money, material things, activities, work hustle…all the busyness
  • Losing what “was” is teaching me to exercise my creativity and look for new opportunities to cultivate and apply myself – my interests, skills, talent, and experience. Coupling this with new insight around my priorities is giving way to a new and more aligned path.
  • I’m reminded to celebrate the highs and the wins, even the smallest wins (especially those!)
  • I look for the lessons in the lows and greatest challenges.
  • I realize that my happiness and power come from within. I’m developing my spirituality practice to help me tap into that.

Since March, I’ve discovered that not only does my old way not work now, but I no longer even wish for that way. There are many things I quite like about this middle place and how the present is informing what I’m building. I’m learning to trust myself and my intuition and inner voice much more every day.

How are you finding ways to maximize and leverage your neutral zone?


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. 

2021 Intention Setting

2021 Intention Setting

For my 2021 intention setting, I’ve picked this Amelia Earhart quote and two words as my guideposts: Immerse + Commit.

I love variety – a lot of things, options, choices. If I were to describe my life as a buffet line, when I reach the end, my plate would be piled high and about to break under the mountain of food – everything looked so good, so I took just a little bit…and then the little became a LOT.

This lived experience can have me setting too many goals, taking on too many clients and projects, and casting a net too wide because it all looks so delicious!

My “way,” while exciting and filled with variety, often keeps me from having the rich depth of experience I want to have. It also prevents me from truly committing to something and finishing or mastering it, because of the sheer heap of assortment.

So, for 2021 I’m immersing in and committing to a small “salad plate” of:

  • Writing
  • Coaching
  • Work in equity, inclusion and diversity
  • My overall health and wellness

And my shero, Amelia, with her “the most effective way to do it, is to do it” will guide me through!

2021 Planning Guide

Here are a few prompts that support my clients with intention and priority setting. I hope you find them helpful to do your own 2021 reflection.

  1. Identify up to 3 items that you want as your MAIN areas of focus for the year. For each area, provide a simple heading (written in first person) that states what you want to have achieved by December 31. Underneath each, note one or more measurable outcomes you will see/experience as a result.
  2. For these areas of focus, what do you anticipate that might hold you back or get in your way? Listing these can help you be prepared for potential barriers and to prevent them before they arise.
  3. What theme (or themes) encapsulates the above areas of focus?
  4. Of the theme(s) you’ve listed, what word or two best captures the essence?
  5. Identify a quote that can serve as a “headline” or “billboard” for you, related to your key words. (Searching quotes based on your key words or themes is helpful.)

It’s a good idea to post your results to this “worksheet’ in a place where you’ll see it every day. I have mine on my office wall and placed as a “bookmark” in my daily writing journal. Cheers!


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. 

Authenticity: No crock

Authenticity: No crock


I listened to a podcast recently featuring Seth Godin and his latest book, The Practice, where he proclaimed, “authenticity is a crock. Authenticity is overrated. Authenticity is a trap. No one wants you to be authentic.”

I’m a huge Seth Godin fan – I love his work and principles, but I completely disagree with him on this position. He professes that his position on authenticity is controversial, and I couldn’t agree more!

According to Godin, the only time in our lives when we’re truly authentic is when we’re an infant. When something doesn’t go our way, we spiral into a tantrum. Post toddler, we lose that raw, unabashed authenticity because our decisions and actions become calculated, carried out with intent and purpose (even if subconscious).

For example, you may not like something your boss does, but you’re not likely to go run screaming into their office, as that’s not likely to get you your desired result. What you do instead is weigh actions and consequences, navigate the political landscape, and moderate your behaviors. Godin considers this inauthentic – what you deep down most want to do is not what you end up doing in your actions.

“If you go see a concert,” he says “you don’t want the authentic musician. You want that musician (despite exhaustion from a 20-city road tour) to give you the best performance of their day, their week, their month. If you need surgery, you want the surgeon to ignore that they had an argument with their spouse and instead bring the best version of themselves. That’s what we want in every interaction.”

Godin continues, offering that people don’t want authenticity. What people want from you is consistency, humanity, and empathy…for you to deliver the best, most talented, skilled version of yourself. And the best way to deliver this is to do what comes naturally to you.

I read this. I hear this. And my response is, this IS authenticity – at least my definition of it.

For two weeks now, I’ve churned on Godin’s viewpoint that “authenticity is a crock.” I’ve wrangled with it internally and debated it with colleagues. Where I’ve landed is this:

  • I have a deeply held belief about what authenticity is.
  • To me, consistently delivering who you are IS being authentic. If humanity and empathy is core to who you are and you show up and deliver that, then you’re being authentic.
  • Authenticity is being true to who you are, aligning with and living your values, and delivering on your personal brand promise day in and day out, regardless of whether or not people are watching.
  • Being authentic is being the truest, realest me…the me-ist me I can be.

No, I’m not going to run into my boss’ office and throw a tantrum because something didn’t go as I had hoped. I refrain from doing this, not because I’m being inauthentic, but because my authentic self functions in a world where I’m keenly aware of rules, protocols, and the political landscape.

With this example and many more, I’ve learned about cause and effect, actions and consequences, and the culture of “this is the way we do things around here.” These lessons have saved my life, my career, and relationships. No, I won’t necessarily live out my unadulterated, unfiltered, raw self out on the street, in the boardroom, or even at my kitchen table necessarily, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not being congruent and authentic.

My clients know my skill, talent, values, and qualities. They know that when they work with me, they’re going to get these things fully and consistently. And I’m human, I can have a bad day, I can get overwhelmed and exhausted, and when these things happen, the impact can show up in my work. When it’s likely to, I name it, we adjust and adapt, change or reschedule…whatever the situation calls for. This is authenticity.

 


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.