Values, Creativity and Finding a Path of Balance

Recently The Daily Reviewer honored me with a best of the web, Top 100 Ballroom Dancing Blog. Ted from The Daily Reviewer delivered the notice of award to me via my Values of Dancing post. Which got me thinking, this blog is an extension of my personal coaching practice, so why again I am blogging about my experience in preparing for my own big challenge, a ballroom dance competition? This blog is fundamentally about the processes, experience of and benefits that come from purposeful engagement in strategic action in order to stretch beyond our own expectations. To take risks, be adventurous, and act with courage to face what frightens us. In doing so we uncover the wisdom in and around us, and reach out to people and resources that enable us to be  in motion and grow. Coaching provides a structure and environment for to you create or refine your life to work in harmony with your values, passions and purpose.

Values clarification and living out one’s most precious values comprises much of the foundational work I do with my clients. Creativity, dance, and ballroom dance are often the metaphors I use with my clients because I can speak from a perspective of experience.  There is power in speaking from experience, just as expanding the perimeters and scope of experience in life increases its potency.  This power streams through the voices of my clients as we explore what brought them to coaching, and their innate gifts and past experiences from which they draw throughout the coaching process.

Many of my clients are facing a transition in their lives, personally, professionally or both. Many are considering, in this current economic and emotional climate, what is most important in order that their lives are filled with elements of meaningful work to which they are well suited, time to spend with family and friends that is regular and nonharried, and experiences (hobbies, courses, spiritual paths, travel etc.) that push the boundaries of their personal growth. Very often it is the desire to pursue an experiential route to expand their personal growth that also opens up their array of possibilities for the other elements in their lives to be “better” and balanced.

Sometimes these experiences come as an unexpected windfall opportunity (Congratulations you just won an all expenses paid trip to…), but those are rare. We can each push the boundaries of our lives and the experiences, which knit the texture of our lives, if we are crystal clear about what is most important, most sacred to us, and use those markers to guide us along our individual paths to our desired outcomes. When you know what you feel as well as what you think, and are honest about both, you open yourself to possibility and the ability to follow your passion in an intuitive, natural way. You create a life that is personally successful, satisfying and rejuvenating.

Lucy, one of my clients, holds creativity, integrity and compassion as primary values. For many years she felt stifled by work, at mid-sized State University, it became all consuming and while she had great love for academia, she was increasing feeling resentful towards her colleagues, her students and her University. Everyday was a stress filled experience of too many papers to read, too many students to mentor and too many irritating colleagues and not enough time and energy left over to pursue her areas of research and enjoy her marriage and friendships and other interests.

During the time we worked together Lucy clarified her most sacred, primary values and how she would take action to ensure those were reflected in her life, all areas of it, professionally and personally.  As she undertook purposeful, strategic action to live out her values she first moved to a place of compassion for herself, stopping a cycle of beating herself up for not being “the perfect academic who lives only to work”, then unrestricted compassion to other while rediscovering her interest in fiber arts, leading to a passion for knitting and into a community of knitters.

Knitting can be a meditative process, a place of centering. As Lucy knit scarves, shawls, socks and hats for her husband, self, friends and family, each stitch made with love and respect for the intended recipient she found her resentment towards work melting away. In its place a rejuvenation of her heart and mind was taking root. She rediscovered her passion for why she became an academic and 1.5 years later approaches the challenges of work with an compassionate mind and heart, she speaks her mind calmly but firmly when addressing a contentious issue and is better able to see her colleagues and students as people like, her trying to create lives that are meaningful. She continues to knit, expanding her circle of companions, calming her nerves when frayed and sharing her talents and gifts with all those who touch her life.

Why did coaching work for Lucky or any one for that matter?  It works because we use a solutions based approach that focuses on where you are now and where you want to be in your life.  We work as a team, to make smart decisions that support your personally successful life.  Coaching involves two critical components: 1) reflection, an opportunity to think about and clarify one’s visions, values, goals and hurdles; and 2) action, a commitment to take self defined steps to move towards one’s goals. Coaching actively supports the behavior changes needed in individual to create, reinforce and sustain their “new normal”.

Fellowship, Adversity and Taming Gremlins on the Dance Floor

The fellowship experienced in dance is a thing of beauty and of strength.  In my Values of Dancing post I noted Community/Fellowship as a value reflected in ballroom dancing. When you dance you have something in common with others, a shared experience, even if in only one area of life. You are connected and contribute to that shared bond of belonging to a community. People in a community celebrate together and pull together in times of need.

Last Sunday’s 10th Windy City Dancesport Showcase also reflected the French Proverb “Adversity is the touchstone of friendship.“ Adversity at its core is something that is unfavorable, causes trouble or misfortune.  Our own perceptions and “story” about ourselves can be a cunning and therefore worthy adversary. The fellowship inherent in friendship reinforces our innate abilities and strength to best our most worthy adversaries- the dreaded Gremlins. Those self-saboteurs, that whisper, shout and repeat negative stories about you and me. Gremlins manifest from our insecurities and self doubts. Slanderous ratfinks that can just mess with your mind and focus.

Several days after the Showcase I was reflecting on my own jitters and joys related to the event with several other women I know who dance, despite serious jitters of their own.  Sunny’s remarks are a perfect reflection of what the stories our Gremlins tell can do and what we can do to counter those tall tales. “My insecurity is destructive but I do surround myself with quality people. Regardless of my performance, Sunday was an interesting experience and enjoyable.”

The jitters I am sure she was feeling inside did not show in her performance. Sunny, I, and many others, are hypercritical of our dancing when the amygdala takes over. All the “What if you fall and make a fool of yourself? Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You’re not good at this… blah, blah, blah” stories that are spoken by Gremlins are like a warped oral history.  And when the fear center of the brain shoots into overdrive- Whammy! jitters galore and out goes the our ability to see things for what they are really.  Damn primal brain! I am pretty good judge of dancing and I can tell you Sunny performed much better she might have felt she did- I know the same was true for me because my friends told me to get over myself I did just fine.  What excellent friends I have who looked at me saw the Gremlin peeking out and put it firmly and in no uncertain terms back in check- just what I needed.

Looking deep into the mirror of our friends and seeing what is in others is also reflected in us is a gift – it is not always pretty to see those reflections but it is interesting, illustrative and instructive. I hope Sunny continues to dance and knows that the fellowship she shares with other dancers can be a touchstone for her too. We all draw from the wellspring of support in friendships to courageously face our adversaries and big challenges.

So I am reminding myself  “don’t-let-your-amygdala-over rule-your-abilities-and-sharing-these-with-others-that-is-not-the-path-to-true-happiness” when my Gremlin peeks out. I am now in a place where I figure if I could get past my paralyzing fear of public speaking and I can with performing. Thank you Sunny and all my excellent honest and sincere friends.

Now go tame your Gremlin and tell us your story of  how adversity is the touchstone of friendship.

Everything hurts: Do I have to keep doing this?

My body hurts from practicing my dance  routine, steps and specific techniques (dang delayed hip action).  One big toe is black and blue courtesy of a nasty landing I took from a jump with a less then stellar landing (Note to self, remember to keep your heels parallel and glued together in mind air and when landing).  My back and legs are sore from moving a lot. And top it all off I have managed to aggravate an old knee injury and stress a wrist enough for some of the muscle is tearing away from the bone. I can’t even conceive of how I managed to do that… All on the left side of my body- I am feeling lopsided.

My brain hurts from introducing 10, not 9 like I was counting before, but ten new pieces of choreography in the past few weeks and all of the dang Rhinestones. I don’t care if I ever see an other rhinestone in my life. Some days one routine blends into an other. Sometimes I can’t seem to coordinate the signals from my brain with what my muscles are doing.

Somebody please remind me why I am doing this? My back hurts, my foot hurts, I keep mixing up my routine. Really why I am I doing this, aside from keeping the manufactures’ of rhinestones, and my chiropractor in business? Which, incidentally, I like to think of this as the Danahar Stimulus package. This was the self-indulgent conversation I had with a coaching colleague the other day. Wisely my colleague turned my own question back to me. Deirdre, Why are you doing this?

There comes a time when you hurt from growth. As a child and adolescent we all literally had growing pains. Well growth as an adult is no different. Change is uncomfortable. It takes time for new ideas to root themselves in our brains, for muscles memory to be created, for the bumps and kinks to be smoothed out.

There comes a point when the idea of quitting is very seductive. And stopping can always be a choice.  Sometimes is the best choice, because there is a  significant danger ahead, or a great permanent negative consequence looming if you keep on a path. But more often than not, when you are pursuing a goal that is rooted in your values and is pushing for growth, the best choice is to allow for the growing pains.

So I rested more this past week than I might have otherwise. I became well acquainted with my ice packs again and offered up a prayer of thanks for the inventor of the heating pad. And I remembered that I am capable, and if I mix up a routine, a) I have a partner who can help get us back on course and b) it is not the end of the world nor is it an absolute reflection of whom I am. Sunday I had to remind myself of this during and after an exhibition in Chicagoland.

Allow for the growing pains in your own big challenge. Keep moving through them.  If it is too much, take a break and try again. Reach out to others for a dose of reality and support. Remember, you have a choice, to do or not and there are consequences for both choices . Which choice will you make to lead you down a path of few regrets?

Zen of Rhinestone Application, part 3

Two of my three dresses that need to be made competition ready are now stoned. The last one is now in progress and I expect it alone will have a total of 1200 – 1300  stones on it when complete. My dresses are not intended for resale, so it is not critical that stoning is perfect. Still I want them to look handcrafted not handmade. They are an outward reflection of me, an expression of my personal style, my personality and values.  And I want them to reflect well on the gift of my friend who has shared her talent for sewing with me.

When it boils down to the heart of why I am doing all of this is a discovery and rediscovery process of the tools at my disposal, the abilities others and I have and that they are enough to be part of something bigger and beautiful. I am under no illusion that ballroom dance will solve the big issues in the world, such as hunger and peace for fractured countries. But I am sure that it is an art form that brings together a dazzling cross section of people from various backgrounds who in their best moments share their passions, offer their talents as gifts to be shared, cheer on their compatriots to bring their best to dance and inspire the same in their partner.

You cannot hide in dance, any form of dance, ballroom or otherwise, and fully participate. You must connect with others, the musicians creating the sounds that inspire movement, the others on the floor, stage or in the audience and most certainly with your partner.  People react to your presence and presentation when you dance, from the way you articulate the music through your body, to the swish of fabric caught in the air currents born in a spin, and the flash of rhinestones and emotions.  You are responsible for what they see when you pass by.  The more authentic you are in your presentation the more you fully engage others and in the entire experience and the greater benefits for you and others.

Each rhinestone applied, each sequence of dance steps practiced, each hours spent finding my own styling is an expression of commitment to fully honor and realize the beauty of doing something well.  I see those same things expressed in other people who are also preparing for a competition or their own personal big challenges. There is fellowship in this community of dancers. I am not on this journey alone, even when I am alone placing rhinestone, after rhinestone.

Zen of Rhinestone Application, part 2

Over the past three weeks I have applied more than 1350 individual rhinestones to my competition dresses. If you are not careful with lighting you could blind yourself from the glare of the shine.

Each rhinestone must be hand placed and secured with a tiny daub of special glue developed for this purpose. This is a slow process that requires careful attention and a steady heady hand.  Once you commit a stone to the fabric with glue there is no going back. Wiping up excess or misplaced glue is not really possible; the fabric is permanently marked, changed.

Knowing what you want as a final look, a final result is of absolute importance. Planning ahead of time for a design pays off, as does some practice.   Wise practices for anything thing in life you really want to do well.

Zen of Rhinestone Application, part 1

During this period of preparing for the Windy City Open, I am also engaged as part of a National Planning Committee for an upcoming conference for community -based organizations involved in HIV and Substance Abuse prevention for under-resourced populations. I am honored to be part of this effort again; this is the 3rd or 4th iteration of the conference. There are always frustrations that come with being part of a group planning process, however, this particular go around has been extraordinarily complicated and frustrating for too many reasons.  After several particularly long and trying days of working on this project, I have done a significant amount of work on stoning my dresses.

I lose myself in the process of mapping out the design and apply the stones. Stone, by stone, by stone and inch, by inch, by inch. Regularly stepping back to look at how the process is coming along. Ensuring that I am staying to my planned design and making adjustments as needed. Some evenings an hour or two have gone by without my really noticing and the tension I felt from the conference planning effort has dissipated. There was even a brainstorm that resulted in the successful addressing of a pending issue.

Sometimes just letting go of a nagging issue and allowing yourself to become fully and completely immersed in an other unrelated activity provides the release you need to decompress as well as generate novel approaches to problems. You discover unforeseen abilities and recall forgotten ones.

Values of Dancing

My quest to push myself as a dancer and confront the challenge of stage fright and frankly of being judged by others is grounded in my personal values. I have learned through personal and at times painful experience that to be unclear or untrue to ones values is setting your self up for regrets, resentment and disappointment.

I also find that dancing lends itself to expression of some specific values. Taking an informal poll of fellow ballroom dancers here is in no particular order a brief list:

  • Honesty/Authencity- people can tell if you are forcing something, it looks false and it is a turn off, but to watch someone dance who is fully in the movement, in union with music and their partner is a captivating sight, regardless of how technically proficient one is or not.
  • Partnership- for obvious reasons.
  • Communication- much of the lead and follow in partner dancing is through non-verbal communication from the energy sent and received through arms, hands, chest and legs, but also through making eye contact with your partner, and the people around you.
  • Health/ Well being/Fitness – once you start moving you keep moving and one health focused effort leads to an other, physical activity, food choices, stretching, etc.
  • Creativity/Aesthetics/Beauty- an art form broad enough to embrace individual expressions of beautiful movement, music’s, colors and shapes.
  • Community/Fellowship- when you dance you have something in common, a shared experience, even if in only one area of life, to be connected to contribute to that shared connection opens up the sense of belonging. People celebrate together and pull together in times of need.

When you are crystal clear about your values and take actions guided by these, you create a life that is personally successful, satisfying and rejuvenating. People who live the “good life” live with happiness rooted in a deep-rooted sense of harmony and flow with their values that is reflected in how they live their daily lives.

Your happiness and harmony increase when you:

  • Are crystal clear about the values most important to you.
  • Make decisions that are guided by your most important values.
  • You bring integrity to everything you do.

Knowing and Living Your Values:

A Path for Harmony and Happiness

Saturday August 29th, I will be hosting this workshop in which you will have an opportunity to clarify your personal values and see where you can take concrete steps to cultivate purposefully living out your values each day. I invite you to join us on Saturday, August 29, 2009.

Time: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm

Location: Inner Wisdom Bookstore, 31 N Kellogg St, Galesburg, IL

RSVP by Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at (309) 343-8806

Investment: $25, willingness to be open to possibilities and 1.5 hours

Benefits: Clarity, Focus, Satisfaction