How to Climb a Mountain

“Take a look back … the view is spectacular,” my husband Dave suggested as I stopped in the middle of the path, sure I was about to pass out or fall backwards down the mountain. I was about a third of the way up the Bump and Grind and all I could see was the long path ahead of me.

“I can’t look now,” I sputtered. “I’ve got too far to go,” while thinking to myself that I wished I had never agreed to this … I wasn’t ready and it was too hard.  But I couldn’t really turn around now as I was deathly afraid of going down the steep side. I knew that if I got to the top I could descend on the less steep side.

I set off again on a mission to get to the top as fast as I could. And then stopped again, thinking I would pass out or fall. And then set off again … and, well, you get the picture. I did eventually get to the top and take a look down … it was spectacular and I was very proud that I had challenged myself to do this hike when I wasn’t entirely ready!

It seems to me this experience is a perfect metaphor for life. We can never be quite prepared to take on a challenge. All we can do is keep taking a step at a time (which BTW was what I kept telling myself on the way up. Just one more step, just one more step …) and eventually we will tackle that tough challenge.

But, while hiking down the gradual slope, I realized that I had missed out on a lot by my impatient, goal driven approach. I was trying to go too fast and it was taxing both my leg muscles and lung capacity too much. I also needed to give myself permission to stop occasionally, look around, enjoy what I was seeing AND celebrate the fact that I had made it that far. I really didn’t enjoy my trip up the mountain.

I see this all the time in my coaching practice. People striving for goals, trying to go too fast, not stopping to appreciate what they’ve experienced, not reflecting on what they’ve learned, or not celebrating what they’ve accomplished to that point. It robs them, just as it robbed me, of the joy in the journey.

So the next time you’re impatient to reach a goal, resist your urges and stop to take a look around. You just never know what you might discover about yourself or others.

Written by Tammy

Are You Safe or Trapped?

Dave and I have been teaching and giving talks for over 30 years and so it was surprising to both of us just how much angst we both experienced getting ready to present at DisruptHR Victoria. To be fair, it was a bit of a different format – 20 slides automatically forwarded every 15 seconds – and it was being video taped but nonetheless I have given hundreds of talks over the years … WTF? Why did my inner critic rear its ugly head to such a degree? My first thought was that my angst was all about not having control over when the slides advanced, but upon reflection there was a lot more going on.

Serendipity being what it is, I was just reading Tara Mohr’s Playing Big and Denise Jacobs’ Banish your Inner Critic, both of which offer insight and tips for dealing with your inner critic, albeit from slightly different perspectives.  Both of them suggest that the inner critic is a hardwired safety instinct. The role of the inner critic is to protect us from harm,  whether that’s physical or emotional.  This insight alone has helped me reframe what’s happening. Instead of the usual “this is ridiculous” message I give myself, I’m now saying, “Thank you for trying to  protect me, but I’ve got enough experience to handle this.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift that leaves me feeling more grounded.

My next insight came from Tara’s book … that our inner critic will yell most loudly when we are getting ready to play a bigger game. I realized that while I have given many talks, I can only think of one or two that were actually videotaped and none were going to get circulated more broadly.  There were several firsts in this talk … first time with a 5 minute, highly structured talk, and first time with a video about to be circulated. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be “perfect,” another sign that the inner critic truly has a hold on you. I reminded myself of the Leonard Cohen quote I often say when perfectionism is taking over

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

My final insight came from Denise Jacobs’ book. She has a chapter on “comparison syndrome” that really resonated for me. She talks a lot about the role of social media in feeding the inner critic and how to deal with that by tracking your triggers and then eliminating some of those sources. It was her ideas around becoming self-referential, however, that were so helpful to me. In preparing for the DisruptHR talk, I watched quite a few talks from the previous year, watched a number of shorter TED talks and read quite a few blogs about what to do/not do. The more I did this “preparation” the more freaked out I became. I was becoming other referential, not self referential. I needed to stop preparing and comparing,  get centered in on what I wanted to say and trust my own experience.

Jacobs’ suggests that to be self referential you determine your success by looking at who you’ve become over time. You then focus on becoming the best version of yourself. I was so anxious my first day of teaching high school English (many years ago now), I actually vomited in the staff washroom before I made it up to the class to teach! I realized that I had come a long way.  Embracing my “onlyness,” the space in which only you can stand, allowed me to embrace who I am and what I have to offer and do the talk “Tammy style” instead of “everyone else style.”

I’m happy to say that I got myself centered and, while I did feel many nervous flutters while waiting to give my talk, I did not vomit 😉 I have not seen the tape yet, but I will deal with that inner critic when the time comes 😉 In the meantime, I’m excited that I took the risk and very appreciative of the entire learning experience!

The new normal

In the last while, I have found myself saying, “when things get back to normal,” meaning when I can get back to doing business the way I used to (or was comfortable with). Well, I think I have known all along that’s a bit deluded and news of a triple dip recession only heightens my awareness that doing business right now requires huge amounts of courage, nerve, risk taking and creativity. This IS the new normal.


Just one step

I spent Friday with an amazing group of women reflecting, visioning, questioning, visualizing, laughing, supporting, realizing. As a result, I have put in place a big vision and Monday morning has brought with it an overwhelming sense of yikes, how will I ever do this??? And right behind that, my own words many times in our creativity workshop, “just take one step and don’t think about the whole thing or you will become paralyzed and not do anything!”


Making it safe to fail

The Etch A Sketch designer, Andre Cassagnes, died at the age of 86 this past month which got me thinking about creativity. A few things to note:

  • People often create outside their discipline. Cassagnes was an electrical technician who was working with metal powders and noticed the potential for a toy.
  • Etch a sketch itself, much like the ipad today, creates conditions to make it safe to fail. All you need to do is shake or erase and you can start over.
  • It’s too bad we find it so difficult to collaborate with others outside our discipline and shake and start over in organizations!


Perfectionism is the enemy of …

Perfectionism is the enemy of … almost everything – creativity, risk taking, progress, productivity, health, happiness, etc., etc. As a recovering perfectionist, I overcame many voices today and shot 4 videos in less than an hour. Thanks hubbie Dave and UberDave for all your help!


How Smart are SMART goals??

I have always had a slight resistance to setting SMART goals and was excited to see some research that puts them into perspective. SMART goals can keep us motivated in the short term but the researchers suggest we also need goals that “leap off the page and sing to us” to accomplish truly great things. Here’s to a year of leaping and singing 😉


visuals inspired by my 30 day challenge

What do Cartoon Thought Bubbles Have to do with Teams?

The Implications of Thought Bubbles

Thought Bubbles in Action on a Team

“I feel like Switzerland and I just want to bash their heads together.”  Sarah was exasperated with two members of her team and was telling me how tired she was of listening to their stories and how awkward team meetings were becoming.

“What would happen if you told them that? Perhaps not about bashing their heads together but about how you feel? How might that change things for you and your team?” It had never occurred to Sarah to do this and there was quite a long silence. By the end of our conversation she realized how her silence had been contributing to keeping the unhealthy dynamic between her two colleagues going. She also realized that there was some risk in actually letting them in on her “real” thoughts, but that the potential gains could outweigh the risks.

It’s pretty common for people not to reveal their true thoughts in team situations. Sometimes it relates to being conflict avoidant, sometimes to groupthink, sometimes to an overly “politically correct” culture on the team, and sometimes to fear of being vulnerable all of which are demonstrated in the cartoon above.  Whatever the case, if you find yourself going over situations long after they’re over and feeling unsettled, it may be time for you to examine the role that your “thought bubbles” are playing.  Here’s one of my own examples and how I dealt with it:

I’ve worked with many co-facilitators over the years to deliver various training programs and inevitably the program has some sort of evaluation form. Most times the form lists each person’s name and then asks for an individual rating of each person. This has always bothered me in that if we are working as a team and co-delivering a program, I think we should be rated as a team, not individuals. Inevitably, if rated individually, one member’s ratings will always be the lowest and one member’s ratings will always be the highest. It sets up a competitive and uncomfortable dynamic. So, I have been dealing with this for years and finally (sometimes I am a slow learner too!) I followed the 4 steps I recommend to others:

  1. What role have your thoughts and feelings in your thought bubble played in the situation unfolding as it has? Whenever the topic of evaluation comes up on a team, I get uncomfortable and a bit cranky and end up not participating meaningfully and saying things like “I hate evaluations … we get feedback along the way so what’s the point?” I end up having a conversation that doesn’t really capture my true thoughts and probably frustates my team members.
  2. What are the risks and opportunities of sharing your thought bubble? The risk is that someone might disagree with my suggestion to do a team rating and think that I am insecure about my own abilities, that the real reason I want a team rating is so I don’t end up at the bottom. The opportunity is that at least I can be more honest and authentic about why the topic of evaluation bothers me and perhaps even have my team agree with a team rating.
  3. What would need to change in order for you to share your thought bubble? I just need to be more confident about my own opinion, that I have given the matter some thought and that it’s not a suggestion I make lightly. The other thing that needs to change is to bring up the topic when we have time to more fully discuss it instead of at the last minute during a program.
  4. What’s a small step you can take to bring more of your thought bubble to team conversations? I can suggest that the next time we do a program that we add the evaluation form to our initial planning sessions.  I can also then preface my comments with “I’ve been thinking about this a lot and was wondering if we could …?

I’m pleased to report that I did indeed bring up this topic and that the outcome was positive. It allowed me to be more authentic and it allowed my team members to get to understand my perspective a bit better.

While this was a positive outcome, sometimes your reflections might lead you to conclude that it is simply too risky to share your thought bubble. If this is the case, then you need to find a way to let go of the issue and not let it continue to permeate your thoughts and, therefore, your presence and interaction on the team.  How to do THAT is another blog post …

This blog is based on the 10 of Diamonds, Sharing Thought Bubbles, taken from our Teamwork Explorer.

Sharing Thought Bubbles

Sharing Thought Bubbles

The Right Time


This is probably the worst time to launch a new website and start blogging … it’s summer here in Victoria and I’d rather by outside playing. We’re also moving to new digs and I’m surrounded by boxes and chaos. I’m distracted by the number of “to do’s” on my list in order to ensure that our phone and internet connections do indeed get hooked up at our new place.

Having said the above, I hear myself asking a coaching question I ask of my leadership clients “So when will be the perfect time to do [fill in the blank]?” The answer is never, if you’re like most people. There are no good times to launch new ideas, move house, read that book that’s been on your shelf for the last 6 months, quit your job, start that business you’ve always wanted to, start that exercise program, become a better leader, blah, blah, blah.

It comes down to a couple of things really … do we REALLY want to do it? A lot of things on our “to do” list are shoulds, not wants… are you shoulding yourself into endless tasks that don’t really nurture your soul?

And then, how scared are we of the unknown and how big a risk are we willing to take to make something different happen in our lives? Many people are afraid to take risks because they over estimate what they currently have and under estimate what they might gain by taking that risk.  This is especially true of our high tech clients who are developing their leadership … they are hesitant to embrace their new leadership skills for fear of losing their tech skills.

The next time you are faced with something that requires a risk, write down everything you have in one column and everything you might gain in a second column. What are you over and under estimating in those two columns?

Thanks for reading this first blog entry and visiting our new website!  Please leave a “Hello”, check out the new site, sign up for our newsletter, and visit our store (where you can find more on risk taking in our CREATE cards).

Special thanks to Mark Smiciklas of Intersection Consulting for the inspiration and coaching to include graphics in the blog!