Cliff's Blog

A feel-good morning microblog of 10-second takeaways offering advice, insights, and inspiration to brighten your outlook and give you a lift.

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Old Friends

Oh, what great fortune to have old friends!

Old friends who make you laugh with a word, who tell you like it is, who call you on your shit, who wave to you from your memories…

Old friends have watched you drop your breadcrumbs; they know where you’ve been and how far you’ve come, the tragedies that have made you, the false starts, the unexpected wins. They know all your nicknames, your ghosts, your hairstyles.

To be known and to be loved is often enough to wake up to.

How many times do we think of old friends in our busy lives and smile, consider a call, and then get wrapped up in something else?

That’s okay, they probably do it too, with you, and how wonderful to consider that, occasionally, when the smile is big enough, you’re both doing it at the same time.

Perhaps right now.

Hello, old friends.

13 March 2019 | No Comments

Stones Become Fishes

I have this cycle I go through whenever I have an appointment with a client.

About an hour ahead of the appointment, I start to get anxious. Well, not exactly anxious. If I am to be honest with myself, I would say that it’s not anxiety so much as resentment of the fact that I have this appointment at all. It’s going to interrupt my flow, pull me out of the beautiful trance of writing resumes and working on business development stuff.

I’m in the zone, baby. And I don’t want to get out!

But this new thing is pulling me in a different direction and the current is getting stronger. So I pop open the client’s intake form and begin reading their life story. It always draws me in. As I learn about crucial events, goals, insecurities, and sources of real pride, the client materializes. These anecdotes and insights, like fishes in an aquarium, begin to catch the light and reflect a pattern back to me. What was once just a few dark shadows, minute by minute, turns into something more. The first and last name in my calendar become a person, with something to offer and obstacles to overcome.

By the time I get on the phone, I’m in.

There is potential for this cycle to play out in other aspects of my day as well: the woman at the traffic light, the Facebook friend of a friend, the store clerk, the wrong number.

And since they don’t have an intake form to hand in…

These folks can be stones in my stream, or they can be something more. They can rise out of the sand and become a school of colorful fishes with bodies like fragments of mirror turning this way and that until enough of them align to create a captivating glow, to reflect a little bit of me back to myself.

It doesn’t take long. Whatever they become is up to me.

12 March 2019 | No Comments

Rain, Spiders, & Mosquitoes

Upon realizing it was raining on the way down to take out the trash, my daughter asked me, “Why do we have the rain… and mosquitoes and spiders and all that? Why can’t it just be ladybugs and humans?”

Answering a child’s questions helps us tackle profound topics with simple logic so I took the bait…

“Well, this world isn’t just about humans. It’s not just about you. Some people like spiders. Mosquitoes eat other bugs. Rain feeds the ground…”

The truth is my daughter is smart enough to realize all of these things. In fact, she’s a Science geek but that doesn’t stop her from wishing things weren’t as they are when they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable for her. She pushes away facts for feeling, like the rest of us.

So what if it means insects take over the world! Or all the plants dry up and turn to dust, or someone you don’t know loses a love.

By the bottom step, my daughter was back to reality, appreciating gravity as she dumped out our recyclables.

She held out her hand to catch a few droplets and then ran back upstairs.

When it comes to comfort and progress, we can be selfish beings, pulling the blanket off our partner in the middle of the night, eating the last bowl of cereal, wishing away the rain as we start our day.

My slippers were starting to soak through on the bottom.

And then a door slammed shut a few houses down, yanking me out of my head. I watched as a little girl broke free from her mama’s grip, ran for the curb and jumped with both feet into a pothole filled with muddy water. Mom wasn’t happy.

Our desires are innocent enough, part of being human.

But, if you can pull away from yourself for a moment, YOU who resents the weather, YOU who dislikes the dampness in your shoes… you will see the girl down the street, or across town, or in another city, splashing with both feet in the puddles. You will see the plants turning green. You will see the mosquito eating the spider.

And your soggy slippers won’t matter as much.

11 March 2019 | No Comments

Powder Blue Room

We go through such great lengths to paint the inside of our rooms… It takes all day, we risk destroying furniture and floors. Taping’s a bitch. It gets much worse before it gets better, and it always takes longer than first envisioned.

But it’s worth it, don’t ya think?

Color is a catalyst. It has great influence over whether we play, focus, chill, or sleep. Sure, you can relax and focus in a bright red room, but it’s much easier to do so in a light blue one.

So we corral the furniture into the center of the room like farm animals and lay out the tarps. We’re willing to disrupt our lives for that color, and ultimately for that good feeling.

Remember this the next time you lose your shit, when you drop into that red state of mind. The first thing you should think to do is not to build a plan, not to try and find a solution, and not to deconstruct the problem; it is to figure out how to make the room blue again.

10 March 2019 | No Comments

Trapeze Act

When we leave a job or a partner, or a home after so many years, that feeling of being lost is bound to surface. Like a trapeze artist suspended in the air, immediately after letting go of one bar and reaching for another, we start to fall.

It’s scary. Take away that second bar and it becomes terrifying, which is often what it feels like when we’re leaving ourselves open to something new: like a freefall.

It’s easy to want to leave our body at this point, to abandon our pursuits and long for the safety and security of the platform, back there, before we leapt.

Panic prevents us from doing what we need to do. Jumping is hard, but letting go the second time is harder because we’ve learned how it makes our stomach feel. It’s Science. Gravity is non-negotiable. We have to fall a little if we want to move on.

Some of us can make falling feel like flying, but that’s less important than what we do while up there in the air.

Arms extended, eyes open. Remember that timing is more influential on your outcome than talent. The bars are already in motion. Falling and flying are in your future. The only way you can fail is to keep holding on.

9 March 2019 | No Comments

Accelerators

My toddler twirls in front of the TV.

“Look at me, daddy. Look at me.”

A refrain we carry into adulthood in both actions and words. When we cry, when we march, when we tweet, when we design, when we present…

Much like entrepreneurs pitching investors, everything important that we do, eventually, leads to seeking validation from others. We’re all building our masterpieces and looking for funding. The creating part we’re all very conscious about, but I think we forget that we’re investors too.

We have the power to accelerate the things we love and believe in, simply by looking at them.

Your partner, your friend, you neighbor is more likely to dig deeper if you comment on the ditch they’re digging and of what they’re uncovering deep inside. Our positive words, thin and slight, stack up like dollars to encourage more work and more commitment.

Love manifests ingenuity. Attention fosters progress.

Just as startups pivot their way into greatness, my daughter’s dance gets more intricate each time she spins around and sees me watching.

“Look at me, daddy. Look at me.”

And I invest.

8 March 2019 | No Comments

The Arena

Powerful people are often unfaithful commentators. The story they tell is bound together by the desire to retain their pedestal. Who would give up a VIP box seat to sit in the bleachers? No one wants to do that and so power begets power – sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

So, us truth-seekers, we look to the powerless, the oppressed, the ones who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, the ones sitting in the bleachers, the ones whose chanting chorus in the arena is drowned out by the carefully engineered and expensive sound system piped into the VIP box.

But the vision of the oppressed is skewed too. It’s tethered to a need to vindicate each other, which usually means vilifying the other, storming the VIP box. This is often a justified action and one that should be televised; the volume of the mic needs to be lowered so the chorus can be heard. However, more voices in the arena don’t make for easy harmony, and coming into power is not, in itself, a qualification to lead.

As the voices conflict with each other and the words become unintelligible, some of us long for the simpler days of the singular voice, some of us love the din, and some of us wish to leave. But what we all have in common is that we’re fearful of what may happen next. We can feel the roar crescendoing, the walls wavering, hands pushing on our backs and necks, as we look around for an exit while clambering to hold our space and move closer.

7 March 2019 | No Comments

How To Get Smarter

The smartest person in the room is the one who is talking the least.

It’s a simple calculus:

Listening is how you gain knowledge. If you’re talking, you’re not listening, therefore, those who choose to listen collect more knowledge than those who choose to speak.

We should view speaking as the absence of listening as if you’re switching the vacuum from suck to blow. And, once you choose the blow setting, the absence of knowledge begins. It starts before you open your mouth. It starts once you make the decision in your mind to speak because often you’re preparing your speech while others are talking.

We’ve all been there, refining our great lecture underneath someone else’ words, planning our opening, picturing the mic drop. Meanwhile, great insights and new knowledge are floating by above our heads and seeping into other people’s minds, and not ours.

It’s fine to talk. It’s important to contribute, but shutting up, by definition, is the smartest thing you can do.

6 March 2019 | No Comments

Never Lost

When we leave a job or a partner, or a residence after so many years, that feeling of being lost is bound to surface. Options overwhelm. Distance suffocates.

The mistake we often make is in where we look reorient ourselves. We tend to look out into the woods for a marker or the right path. We look for another person, a so-called expert, and make them our guide.

This is dangerous. There are plenty of ways into the forest and they all lead to different places. The guides will lead you to their favorite place, not necessarily yours.

The key is to stop looking out at the jungle and instead look inward. Don’t worry about what’s out there for you, pay attention to what you want to do next and who you want to become. Figure out

-your frustrated wishes
-your genuine interests inside and outside of the old routine
-your talents you want to continue using
-your skills that you want to develop

This is your map. It doesn’t matter how deep the woods, figure out your tiniest step forward and the spark of hope will swell within you.

Always, look in, not out, to draw up your map and discard the illusion of being lost.

5 March 2019 | No Comments

Symptoms of a Job Search

I can almost diagnose a person’s mental state by the length of time they’ve been in the job search.

At 1-2 weeks, we’re usually in a manic state, (overly) positive and full of (often unsustainable) energy.

A month or 2 in, our mood starts dropping. We may have anxiety and even panic attacks thinking about the future, which is starting to look blurry. We can’t see ourselves in it as easily.

By 3-4 months, we’re showing signs of fatigue, dropping out of our healthy routines, staying up late and sleeping in. We make excuses to ourselves and to others about why we’re not doing what we should be doing.

At 5-6 months, we’re likely entering a full-blown depression. Negative thoughts dominate. “What’s the point of looking? I’ll never be back on top.”

Here’s the tool you need to break this cycle: It’s not you. It’s your job search.

As humans, we seek connection, achievement, and purpose, regardless of how “social” we view ourselves to be. Work is a big part of this. We find a CONNECTION with people who inspire and validate us. ACHIEVEMENT comes from setting a goal and getting there. Think of PURPOSE as a longer-term achievement; attachment to a greater good.

Work – even crappy work – brings these elements into our lives. Without it, we lose the magical trifecta, and start slipping, which is why we must find ways to bring these 3 things back into our lives, unemployed or not. So there it is: Pursue Connection, Achievement, and Purpose. Reclaim your energy and be your best self again, *before* you find the (perfect) job.

4 March 2019 | No Comments

Good Leadership

My client mentioned she is good at having difficult conversations, and that this is something that makes her a good leader. A lot of people I work with say this.

It’s not so hard to be part of a difficult conversation if you’re the person in power – the boss, the landlord, the parent. You just start talking and it happens. What’s hard is coming at these things as an equal, what’s hard is putting aside your title and status to purposefully stand on common ground, ground that’s shaking and about to give way. What’s hard is coming out the other side better than you were before.

If someone is doing a bad job (again), or if payment is past due (again), or if rules are ignored (again), or if they put their foot in their mouth (again), a difficult conversation is indeed necessary. Here, you’re always at a crossroads.

You can drop the hammer and lay down the law; in other words, drive steadily toward the end-result you desire: the absence of that person.

Or, you can do the hard thing and tell that person what everyone else knows but what no one will say, with the lightness, respect, and reticence as if you were talking to your own supervisor. You can amplify the whispers for a moment. Underline the refrain. Offer up the code.

Few people try to fuck up in life, so chances are if the person is failing, it’s a theme in their life (or it’s about to be) – trying too hard, taking on more than they can handle, neglecting relationships, forgetting important dates…

That theme can be underscored or it can be interrupted. It will be underscored if you keep your hat on, wear your stripes, and wag your finger. It can be interrupted if you take a deep breath and leave yourself out of it.

It’s certainly not your job to fix people, particularly people who are messing up your own situation, costing you money, pissing you off, etc.

But how do you want to walk away from this? Like you just ran over a squirrel? – Not your fault! Why did it run out in the road like that!

Or, as if you came upon a hummingbird landing and taking off from a branch?

The most respected leaders seize the opportunity to lead in all situations, even the difficult ones, careful to leave everyone better off than they were before they came. They lead up until the very last moment, and they lead selflessly, so they can celebrate in good conscience when all that’s left is the branch, waving ever so slightly.

3 March 2019 | No Comments

Sharing Space

Touch is easily the most underutilized of all the senses…

I learned this from a colleague when I was doing Admissions for a private vocational college. One of the programs was massage therapy and whenever I had a question for the program director, she would roll her chair across the short expanse of the cubicle hallway and put 2 fingertips on my knee before answering. If she was standing next to me, it would be my elbow instead of my knee, and as we got to know each other, it was my shoulder or lower back. It was an extremely light touch, almost like it wasn’t there at all. She wasn’t using me for support, rather just the opposite.

I asked her about those 2 fingertips.

“Touch is powerful,” she said. She always spoke like that. “I want you to know that I’m sharing space with you.”

She didn’t do this with everyone. She had a sense of who could handle it. (Touch is indeed powerful enough to harm a relationship as well as reinforce it.)

I noticed that no matter how hectic her day when she came over to answer my question with her palm flat on her own knee and her outstretched fingers reaching silently across the divide to make contact, she not only gave me her full attention but I gave her mine. Her touch placed us inside a bubble that blocked out sound and blurred the background.

We got so much done in that bubble.

I don’t know the science of 2 fingers on a knee but over time our connection grew extremely strong. We became allies. We braved many storms in that place. We made the space our own.

I never outstretched my own fingers. I guess offering the knee was enough.

2 March 2019 | No Comments

A Secret Among the Self-Actualized

Even for the ones with the jobs so many others wish they had- the actors, the entrepreneurs, the authors, the working artists, the travel journalists, the spiritual guides, the 4-hour-work-week day traders, the tropical-island scuba instructors, the yogis, the CEOs, the coaches, and all of those people who proclaim love for their work… The truth is they’d still prefer to not be working.

Even the best job in the world can’t deliver absolute openness.

No one, not even the most self-actualized among us, desire obligation more than free time. It’s like being in a gorgeous building. No matter how vast the rooms or ornate the ceiling detail or wonderfully cool the air conditioning, eventually you want to get outside where there are no walls, to walk in the woods or lay on a hill and look up at the sky.

But the light doesn’t last long out there either.

However memorable the sunset, the weather cools down, the bugs come out and, eventually, it gets dark, so you return to your building. Now, whether it’s a beach house or a shack is irrelevant. It’s serving some sort of purpose in your life. But don’t try to figure that out, just know that it’s true and instead of comparing your work life to your leisure life, try to seek solace in the coming and going between the two.

Work… free… work… free… If you look for it, there’s a balance in this back-and-forth. There has to be. That equilibrium can sustain you. And it will lead you to appreciate the weight on both sides of the scale.

1 March 2019 | No Comments

Conversation Vacation

Looking to get away?

The next conversation you fall into, let go of everything you know, even the notion that you already know the person in front of you. Listen to their voice ask they talk, the vibration, the up and down of it. See their face, how much their mouth moves, how their body moves.

Instead of replying, invite them to go deeper. You can do it with silence, or a question, or the lift of your eyebrow. The deeper they take you, the further into uncharted territory you go. It doesn’t matter if this is your partner or the person on the corner. It’s a new day and you don’t know them fully.

Get into someone’s thoughts, a few layers down, and you can escape from your own for a while. You can free yourself from the circles you run in. You can find warmth in someone’s heart.

28 February 2019 | No Comments

Stay or Go?

Staying in the same job for several years can almost be like falling into a depression.

It swallows you up and that’s all you see. It’s not so much whether the job is good or bad; it’s just that you can easily lose the ability to compare your surroundings to those of other situations. You begin to believe there is only one way of doing things, or, even if you know there are other ways of doing things, you haven’t experienced them in so long, it’s hard to believe they exist.

Like depression, long tenure is all-encompassing.

I’m not saying you should leave but you should definitely see what else is out there and discover other ways of doing what you’re doing, for your own sake and for the sake of your employer. Be a tourist somewhere else to shake up your paradigm.

Whether you stay or not, is irrelevant.

You’ll climb out of the chasm. You’ll see farther and shed off the claustrophobia you didn’t know was there. And with deeper inhalations, a lot more is possible, wherever you are.

27 February 2019 | No Comments

Beautiful Trance

I used to think CREATIVITY was about creating stuff. That’s what it looks like on the outside, but if you really look at a person who’s creating, you can see it’s more about chasing a feeling.

Artists – the most committed creators among us – are constantly wishing they were in that creative space. It’s almost painful, like lying in a bed in the middle of the night and trying to get back into a dream. That’s the catch. After living in that CREATIVITY, other parts of reality don’t seem to bring as much bliss. Conjuring light becomes more exhilarating than standing in it.

All of us have access, but some clamber in front of the doorway more than others, eager to please whatever God guards that door.

And you can’t half-ass it either. You have to full-ass your way into that beautiful trance. Once inside, you really don’t dare comment, reflect, or adjust; you just keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. Screw the analysis. For now, create, create, create…

Paint the next line, fold the next corner, sing the next note. Invoke that light in your small room. You don’t need to see very far. You don’t have to know any more.

26 February 2019 | No Comments

Go Small Or Go Home

If you’re having trouble getting started, you’re probably starting too big.

Take a page from reporters and novelists. When telling a story, they usually start with tiny details: the doorway of a building, the button of a jacket, a word, a name, an action. Big themes have no place at the beginning.

It’s the same with resumes. When faced with a pile of notes, I start with crafting a single bullet point, one achievement out of many, then I work backward from the inside out, from the bottom up, bullet by bullet, job by job, ending with the grand introduction, the client’s favorite part: a 2-line opening statement summarizing the entirety of the person’s life and career. A sunflower grown from a seed.

I rarely get to that 2-liner without first toiling over some tiny bullets.

And such is everything, isn’t it? Bricks to a castle, glances to a relationship, flowers to a garden.

Start small, have faith, and build something beautiful.

25 February 2019 | No Comments

Indentation

The space bar on my keyboard has a noticeable indentation right where my thumb hits it. It’s so smooth and streamlined that, when I first noticed it, I thought it must have come like that. What a perfect resting place for a thumb!

But time and erosion are more diligent than any product developer. They never let up.

To think that such tiny, soft taps of my fleshy thumb have worn down a piece of plastic and will keep wearing it down until it’s completely destroyed. I supposed I’m hitting that space bar more than anything else in my life. That’s true for many of us; a fraction of our destinies are connected by a withered space bar.

Moreso, we’re connected by the tapping: repetitive acts and thoughts that grind away at us. With enough time and neglect, a light touch in the same tender spot can destroy us.

But the remedy is as simple and subtle as the suffering. A small adjustment, a shift half an inch to the left or right, will break the cycle and end erosion’s reign. You don’t even have to know why you’re moving or what you’re moving toward. In the beginning, any movement will save you.

24 February 2019 | No Comments

So Many TVs

I found an incredible deal for a TV, bought it, and then returned it because it had a crack in it. While waiting to hear back from the company, I started to second-guess my buying decision. I went to Best Buy and looked at 50 other TVs, read their little tags, talked to an overzealous sales guy, and stayed up late researching reviews and technical specs online.

By the end of the week, I’d circled back to my original TV, the one I wanted most, the one I had already researched to death and settled on several weeks prior.

“Too bad you wasted another week on it,” someone commented.

Not at all. I just needed to remind myself of what’s out there in order to recognize that what I have is exactly what I need.

I see this a lot with career-counseling clients. Over time, jobs and routines lose their flavor (or more specifically, we lose our ability to taste their flavor), which makes it easy to forget how our jobs are nourishing us.

A few days (or months!) of circling doubt is sometimes what it takes to reach peace of mind in the long run.

And realize that when you’re shopping for TVs or pondering a career move you’re not walking in a circle; you’re climbing a spiral staircase. You may pass the same places in your journey but, because time is a teacher and you’re stacking up insights, you’re a bit higher up than you were the first time around.

23 February 2019 | No Comments

Empathy When It’s Hardest

Empathy is my ninja power. And yours too, if you want it to be.

Empathy is the way into anyone’s heart. It allows you to stand in their shadow and feel the way the wind hits them. You can witness the healing of a soul when you stand in that place. And you can be part of that healing.

We empathize with friends, loved ones, those with unwarranted wounds. It’s a human thing and it always works, for everyone involved.

But empathy isn’t always easy. In fact, when it’s not easy is when it’s most powerful.

When we’re at our best, in full ninja regalia, an enlightened state if you will, we experience empathy for people on the other side of humanity, not just the slain but the ones holding the rifle and the gavel. We simultaneously love the abuser and the abused, the oppressor and the oppressed. This doesn’t mean we’re aligned with evil, rather confronting it and challenging it with our greatest weapon.

When we stand in this space with our feet firmly planted, we’re reminded that there are a cause and effect to everything, that the notion of the hero and the villain only perpetuates conflict, like a child’s comic book with its endless sequels: clever incarnations of the same tension between the same people.

There is real power in EMPATHY at this level, a fierce, unrelenting LOVE that works diligently against HATE, CONTEMPT, DISGUST, and the others, that converts gnarled barbed wire into chain mail to enable its wearer to withstand and outlast the evil that’s hurled from all sides.

22 February 2019 | No Comments