Author: Kathleen Doyle-White

Work Ethic and Success

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about work ethic and being successful.

A few months ago, we started tearing down our 102 year old garage to convert it into my new office space. This is a dream I’ve had for awhile, but after meeting with an architect and engineer, I soon realized that the realities of turning such an old, crumbing structure into something suitable for my current day professional needs, was far more extensive and expensive then I imagined.

After I received my first bid from a contractor for this project, I pretty much decided that it wasn’t worth doing. Discovering that the cost could be almost twice as much as what I had expected was enough to talk me out of it, not to mention all the permits, notifications to neighbors, licensing, etc. that would be needed to even start the project.

After talking with my reasonable and steadfast husband who reminded me that we would have to do something about the garage since it was in such a bad state, I continued down the path of getting more bids in hopes that someone out there could do the project within our budget.

On my third try, we found a contractor named Gerry who came much closer to our original budget. More importantly, he had a way about him that gave me confidence that a quality job could actually get done for a reasonable price within an agreeable time period.

So what made Gerry different than the others? As we sat in our living room with him in our first meeting, I realized that Gerry had a way of approaching everything in the project as ‘doable’. The other contractors emphasized parts of the project as being ‘very hard to do’ or something that would take exceptional effort on their part (which only translated into more dollar signs to me), in contrast to Gerry who would say, ‘This will be tricky, but it’s very doable’. He gave me the hope that we could get past the tough parts.

Secondly, Gerry assured us from the beginning that he would try to approach the project as if he was doing this to his own house. He would look at every cost and try to get the best price possible. I had heard this in varying forms from the other contractors, but for some reason, I didn’t quite believe them, particularly after I saw their total cost estimate. I knew from everything I observed about Gerry – his old wristwatch, the beat up truck he drives, his faded U of O sweatshirt – that he loves to get the best for the lowest price. His philosophy reminded me of my mother-in-law who’s always had an uncanny way of getting something for nothing, the result of having grown up with very little and turning it into quite a lot.

As we began the project, I quickly saw Gerry’s work ethic and commitment. Although he lives 30 minutes in good traffic from my house, he showed up early each morning, ready and raring to go. It was still summer when he started tearing down the old garage, so he used some of his high school aged kids to help. They had a great time doing the destruction. Gerry knew that my neighbor was quite concerned with the project since a wall of our garage is only one foot from the wall of her garage. Each day, Gerry found a way to chat with my neighbor to assure her that he was doing everything possible to guard against any damage to her structure. Throughout each stage of the project, he continued to give me detailed information about what he was doing and why. He continued to ask me what I would prefer and gave me pricing information to help me make decisions about lumber, windows, doors, etc.

Most importantly, he worked from early morning until late afternoon, with only 30 to 45 minutes for lunch in his truck, to get the work done. And, he’s done most of it himself. As I’ve watched him pick up large sheets of plywood, shovel out huge amounts of dirt and gravel, install skylights, and re-do decking, I’m amazed at his energy and drive. The work that has been sub-contracted out has been equally inspiring to watch. All of his sub-contractors love working with him and have been working with him for, in some cases, 25 years. The concrete guy commented to me, ‘Yup, Gerry is reliable. He sticks to a schedule and is always there to give us what we need to do the job. And, most importantly, he pays us on time!”

During the course of the project, we had a mini-monsoon. For 3 days, torrents of rain fell on Portland. At one point, I looked out at the project from an upstairs window and it looked like a swimming pool. Throughout all 3 days, Gerry continued to work steadily as the water poured off the rim of his hat. Instead of seeing it as insurmountable, he took it as an opportunity to create a much better way to divert water around the house and away from the garage and porch. By the third day, he jubilantly reported to me that the water was gushing out of the new pipe he had installed – a sure sign that he had fixed an age old problem that the house had had for more than a century. Seeing his smiling face in the rain as he pointed to the new pipe, I realized what joy this guy gets from doing the work, even in the worst conditions.

Taking all this into account, I’ve learned some great lessons from Gerry about work ethic. Here are the high points:

1) Nothing is impossible – if you have the attitude that whatever the problems are, there is always a solution, you won’t get overwhelmed or give up. It’s all in how you see the problem – what to some is insurmountable, to others is an opportunity. Anything is ‘doable’.

2) Run it like you own it – if you personalize what you’re doing, people will see the ownership you’re taking. Putting yourself in the customers shoes makes a huge difference in seeing what’s most important to them. If this was your house, your business, your deal, what would you want to experience?

3) Show up and stay engaged – there’s a lot to be said for just showing up each day with consistency and commitment. Keeping yourself physically, intellectually and emotionally engaged throughout the project is a key to your success. Your level of engagement impacts the entire project and you’ll find that it’s often mirrored by everyone else involved.

4) Work hard – there is no replacement for hard work. When someone is paying you to do a job, they watch you. They take note when you’re there and when you’re not. They notice when you put in the extra bit of effort to accomplish something. They feel your level of enthusiasm and determination.

5) Stay cool and have fun – in the midst of all the work, a cool head and sense of humor goes a long ways. Something always goes wrong, and the ability to not overreact and use logic and good problem solving skills to make your way out of it, is worth a great deal. Plus, having a good sense of humor throughout the project is an added bonus. At one point during the monsoon, I saw Gerry slip in some mud and as he picked himself up off the ground, covered in mud and muck, he commented, “Well, the wife will have no doubt that I was playing in the dirt again today.”

This week, take some of Gerry’s work ethic and habits to heart. This one man embodies so many of the qualities I see in someone who is successful in their work. Maybe you already approach your work in the same way he does. But see if there’s something I’ve listed here that you’re not doing. In my case, I realized that having that ‘can do’ attitude sometimes eludes me. If I get overly analytical about something, I tend to focus on everything that can go wrong, get overwhelmed, and don’t even start the thing I’ve wanted to do. It almost happened to me with this project and it was only with my husband’s steady encouragement and Gerry’s ‘everything is doable’ attitude, that got me started.

Whatever it is, take a lesson from Gerry this week to help you, not just do the work, but to do it with commitment, reliability, and determination. You’ll impact everyone else around you and have a better time doing it!

Have a good week,


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Blaming Others

Good day, team.
The first coach’s challenge I wrote in 2004 was about blame. At the time, many of the teams of people I was working with were blaming each other for things that were going wrong, and many were taking everything personally. Over the years, I’ve seen blame rear its ugly head on a regular basis. It seems that we are all prone to this tactic.

This past week, a number of my clients have been blaming the people they work with. For this reason, I’ve decided to share excerpts from previous challenges focused on blame.

Blame is one of the most destructive attitudes to cultivate when in a dispute with someone. Whether you disagree with a family member, a friend or a teammate at work, blame plants the seeds of distrust, which in turn creates suffering for everyone involved.

When someone blames us, we go into defense mode. But the reality is: If we are trying to do our best, there is nothing to defend. Pay attention to how often you defend yourself with others. More important, notice how often you defend yourself internally with thoughts such as, “They really don’t understand me. I’m the one who was right; they just don’t get it.” Sooner or later, this inner defensiveness gets projected out onto to someone else.

What strikes me most about this is the partnership that blame and defensiveness form in working against us — particularly when we’re trying to play on the same team with someone. At the heart of this defensiveness is our overwhelming desire to be right. This desire, along with wanting to look good or appear smart, is so overwhelming that it blinds us to whatever anyone else is saying or doing.

I remember my father talking with my mother over dinner one evening about his colleague Bill. Bill always had to be right, always had to put himself in the best light possible and could not be trusted because he focused entirely on making himself look good. My father said, “Bill is so determined to be right that even when he’s wrong, he’s often the first to point it out so he can be right about being wrong!” I remember thinking how awful it must be to worry about what other people think about you all the time.

On reflection, I realize that what my father said that evening about not trusting Bill is at the heart of this issue. We can find other people to be reliable, competent and friendly, even committed to the same goals we are, but if we think their chief motivation is to make themselves look good or that their goal is merely the next promotion, a big bonus or a chance to pump up their ego, we won’t trust them.

When our self-image is at stake, many of us go to extraordinary lengths to defend ourselves. Sadly, though, the self-image we’ve created is imaginary, and so we end up defending something that doesn’t exist. I often ask my husband, “What do you see me doing?” because I cannot see myself. I’m too close to my well-honed self-image. I purposefully have to check in with myself to inquire about my true motivation. Am I only doing this to make myself look good? Have I taken anyone else’s well-being into account before I pursue a given course of action?

Some of the people I consider heroes — Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama — have never been afraid to be wrong in the eyes of others when it comes to the well-being and welfare of their fellow beings. I hold them in high esteem and often think, “What would they do?” before I act.

Your challenge this week is to notice when you tend to be the most defensive. If you blame others when something goes wrong, ask yourself if blaming them will lead to a good outcome. How much of your motivation is about making yourself look good rather than what’s best for the team? Be courageous in your inquiry.

The Dalai Lama advises, “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy. Pride leads to violence and evil. The truly good gaze upon everything with love and understanding.”

Have a good week!
Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249
© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

The Importance of Belonging

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about our need for friendship and belonging.

About a month ago, my 93-year-old mother-in-law became quite ill. After a long life of hard work and joyful activity, the matriarch of our family was now fading fast. As we stood by her bedside, saw her frail body and listened to her labored breathing, we struggled with the thoughts and emotions that inevitably come when you lose someone you love.

She had stopped eating. At each mealtime, we all tried to encourage her to take a few bites from the tray of food in front of her, but she would not. As her weight continued to drop, her face began to look more and more skeletal, and it seemed that with each passing day, the specter of death drew closer.

As this was happening, more and more people came to visit her. She lives in an apartment on the first floor of an assisted living center near the front entrance. At mealtimes, when the residents of the center make their way slowly with the aid of canes, walkers and scooters to the dining room, they have to pass my mother-in-law’s room and often stop in to see her on their way. When she became ill, the number of outside visitors who came to see my mother-in-law also increased. Everyone in the family stepped up their visits; we wanted to make sure someone was visiting her every day. And we engaged hospice and home nursing care for her as well.

At first, I wasn’t sure if all this traffic was good for her. What if someone had a cold — or worse? If she caught any type of virus at this point, it would be her end. What if she just needed peace and quiet? All this activity could take too much energy from her and not allow her to heal.

As the days wore on and we were all preparing for her demise, she began to get a little bit better. Slowly, she began eating again and gained back some of her strength. She went from napping most days to sitting up in bed chatting with visitors. We were all surprised by this change and wondered what precipitated it. In trying to get more information from her about the change in her behavior, we asked asked why she had stopped eating, her reply was, “I wasn’t hungry,” with her usual frankness. And now, apparently, her appetite was back.

Sitting with her one day at lunchtime, I watched as the steady stream of visitors came to see her on their way to lunch. It’s an entertaining bunch of old-timers. There is the 94-year-old ex-Marine who still wears his “Semper Fidelis” cap and tells WWII stories; the woman who wears purple and calls Mom “Sweetie,” which I don’t think Mom particularly likes but smiles when she says it anyway; the friendly woman who delivers stuffed animals to the very ill residents so that they always have a smiling stuffed rabbit or puppy propped up in the chair next to their bed for company; the couple who live just down the hall who are always holding hands; and the 98-year-old fellow who delivers my mother-in-law’s newspaper to her each day with a smile and sits by her bed to discuss the day’s headlines. I realized that all of these people who bring their love and friendship to her are keeping her alive. They help her feel like she belongs there with their loving kindness and attention. They give her a reason to continue to be a part of the community.

It’s so important for all of us to feel like we belong. Whether it’s to our family, group of friends or work team members, our sense of belonging is essential to our well-being. Our need for connection and contribution is part of our genetic makeup and without these things, we become more and more separate from humanity and ourselves.

This week, allow yourself to experience the joy of being connected to those you are closest to. Revel in the moments of love and affection you have with your family. Appreciate the time you spend with your teammates and what you discover about each other. Allow yourself to fully embrace the feelings of trust and commitment that come from working day in and day out with the same people. And remember how together you all make up a much bigger and better world.

As my mother-in-law started to feel better, she began to ask her caregivers to leave her front door open so that she could see the other residents walk past her door. Now, Mom’s door is open every day. As the other residents pass by, they wave and yell out, “Hi Jean, how ya doin’ today?” She always gives them a big smile and waves back with the comment, “Well, I’m still here!”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Give Them Some Rope

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge, “Give Them Some Rope,” is the third installment in my Horse Sense series. If you’ve been following my horse adventures, you know that I’ve leased a wonderful horse named Treasure for the summer. Over the past three months, Treasure has taught me many lessons, some of which I’ve tried to capture in my weekly writing.

Last week, Treasure taught me about allowing her to do it her way and not imposing my will on her. And that’s the theme of this week’s challenge, too.

This past Friday, I went out to Kozy Manor, the stables where Treasure lives, for my weekly horse lesson. I found her out in the pasture, happily enjoying her breakfast in the company of another mare. Convincing a horse that being haltered and put on a lead rope in such a pastoral setting where she’s been allowed to roam free and eat good grass, is no easy task. But this morning, Treasure only snorted at me a few times when I put the halter around her head.

I intended to work with her on a much longer lead line, so I walked her out to the open arena where we’d have plenty of room. I hooked her halter to a 24-foot rope rather than the usual 12-foot rope, knowing that this would give her lots of room to move, but it would be much more challenging for me to control her.

Treasure immediately tested the length of the rope, and I suddenly realized the power of this animal. She moved around a lot faster than usual, and the pull on the rope was much greater than I was accustomed to. As she pulled harder on the rope, so did I, and each time I yanked the rope back, she would stop and face me with a confused look on her face. Why was I giving her all this freedom only to try and stop her? It was a mixed message for sure.

As I worked with Treasure that morning, I saw the same phenomenon over and over again. I would instruct her to do something for me, give her lots of lead rope to do it, and then, when I was afraid that I was losing control, I would yank her back. Instead of teaching her how to do something, I was confusing her. There had to be a better way! My growing anxiety and frustration only increased my inability to work successfully with her.

We often do this exact thing with people who work for us. We ask them to do something and give them lots of freedom to do it. And then when we become afraid that something isn’t going quite right, we yank the rope back, so to speak, to get them under our control. Meanwhile, the mixed message this tactic sends creates resentment and confusion. Have you ever heard the phrase, “They’re jerking my chain”? That’s a phrase I often hear from my clients when their boss suddenly tries to take back a project or assignment after things aren’t going quite right.

At one point in my lesson with Treasure, she actually did what I asked her to do but she did it going in the wrong direction. I yanked hard on the rope, and my teacher asked me, “Why didn’t you recognize that she did what you asked her to?” And I said, “Because she didn’t do it the way I wanted her to.” My teacher laughed. “Really?” she said. “Did you want her to do it the way she’s learning to do it or the way you expected her to do it? And why are you so anxious about giving her lots of room to learn? If you keep yanking on that rope, she’ll never be able to work it out. You’ll just continue to frustrate both of you. Try holding the rope closer to where she is and when she pulls on it, let the rope slide through your hands for a foot or so and then slowly pull on it. This will let her know that she’s got room to learn and will encourage her to work it out. And don’t forget to let her know when she actually does what you’re asking her to do. It may not be exactly as you envisioned, but recognizing that she did what you asked is key to her learning.”

How many times do we ask others to do something for us, but because they don’t do it exactly the way we want them to, we forget to recognize what they’ve accomplished? So many times my clients have said to me, “Geez, what do they want? They asked me to take ownership for this project, and then they swooped back in and took over when I didn’t do it exactly the way they expected. It’s so frustrating! First they empower me, and then they micro-manage me!”

This week, take a look at how you manage others in this context. Are you giving them a mixed message by asking them to take over a project or an assignment and then taking it back when you see it’s not going as you expected? Are you appreciating the way others do things even if its different from the way you would do it? Is your fear of losing control motivating you to jump back in and take over?

Try doing what my teacher suggested ― give them more rope. It doesn’t mean you let the rope go. It means that when you feel the urge to yank the rope back, let some more of it go instead. Then if you still see that you need to pull on the rope, do it gently. Try giving someone the space they need to learn how to do something even if it takes them briefly in the wrong direction. There’s a lot to be learned by taking a detour off any given path. Going in the wrong direction first is often what helps us learn how to make our way back to where we need to be.

Recognizing how someone learns to do something is key to good management and mentorship. Perhaps the only way my horse could do what I asked her to do in that moment was to go in the opposite direction. I envisioned her going to the right, but she managed to do it going to the left. Because she didn’t go exactly as I thought she should, I missed the most important part ― that she did what I really wanted her to do. If I’d given her more rope, I might have seen that she gave me what I was asking for, even if it wasn’t exactly how I wanted her to do it. Most important, in those few feet of rope, I could learn that by releasing rather than yanking, we both stay involved in the learning.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote;

“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”

Have a good week!


P.S. The coach will be on vacation for a few days. The next challenge will be published on 9/29/13

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Coach’s Challenge Decision-making

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about decision-making. One of my clients sent me the following article a few years ago. I just stumbled upon it again and realized how much wisdom there is in it.

Your challenge this week is to take a hard look at how decisions get made within your organization. What team myths are getting in your way of making good decisions? How can you apply better decision-making models to your business and projects?

From BusinessWeek Viewpoint, Oct. 23, 2009

Myths that Undermine Decision-Making
By Bob Frisch

When executive teams find themselves unhappy with the dynamics of decision-making, they often seek psychological solutions, going through exercises in teamwork, trust, communications and the like. But through the course of a career spent facilitating these teams, I’ve found that most of the problems aren’t in their psyches, but in the widespread myths about the teams themselves. CEOs and their teams need to take a hard look at these myths, recognize reality and fix the way they make decisions.

Myth 1: A Single Team Makes All of the Big Decisions

Most corporations have in place a top executive team that typically consists of the CEO and direct reports. The rest of the company assumes that all major decisions are made or ratified by that august group.

The reality is that decisions at the highest levels of companies are made in many forums, formal and informal. For example, the go or no-go for an acquisition may be made in ad hoc meetings involving the CEO, chief financial officer, head of business development and the president of an operating unit. Many decisions don’t require the entire executive team, but only a handful of executives — which ones depends on the nature of the decision.

But when the real decision-making teams and processes aren’t overtly recognized, confusion about the locus of authority often results. Executive team members who are repeatedly presented with “done deals” feel disempowered. Before you know it, the group is undergoing trust-building exercises when they should be coming to a common understanding about how various types of decisions will be made.

Myth 2: The Executive Team Is a Body of Equals

Because executives are peers, functional heads on the executive team might believe that they have the same decision rights in meetings as operating executives. And consequently, small operations could expect the same voice at the table as large ones. Think of the U.S. Senate, where Rhode Island carries the same weight as California.

But in reality, some people and some functions carry much more weight than others. It’s more like the House of Representatives, where California has more votes than Rhode Island, and the speaker of the house has more influence than a freshman congressman. Often the executive team isn’t serving as deliberative body at all, but an advisory one much like the president’s Cabinet.

Problems arise when the team isn’t clear about which model of decision-making is in play — Senate, House or Cabinet. Are they being asked to decide? Are they being asked to advise? Are they being informed about a decision that has already been made? Is it “majority rule”? Are the more powerful members brokering a decision? Is buy-in really needed from the smaller constituencies? Was a decision brokered before the meeting started? It’s surprising how often members of a top team involved in a discussion have entirely different views of what kind of input they’re being asked for and, afterward, different views of what purpose the discussion served in coming to a decision.

The solution is not to choose one model of decision rights but simply for the CEO to make clear in advance of a meeting where the group is in the decision-making process, and what is expected from the discussion. This simple step improves discussion quality and heads off confusion and dissatisfaction among team members.

Myth 3: Team Members Should Always Adopt a CEO Perspective

Many CEOs expect members at top-team meetings to take off their functional hats and adopt a holistic or companywide perspective. Top executives owe it to the CEO to provide the wisdom gained from their general business experience and their understanding of the company’s strategy and objectives.

But asking everyone always to think like a CEO can be counterproductive. The head of human resources, for example, may not have much to say from a generalist’s perspective about a proposal for a new plant. He or she may, however, have opinions about hiring or labor relations at the plant. But raising those issues is often perceived by the CEO and other team members as parochial, and the HR head would be accused of being an ineffective team member. And, so, much of the value of functional expertise is lost from the discussion.

As with models of power, the answer is not to choose the generalist or functional perspective, but to recognize which model is desirable for different types of decisions, make it explicit, and overtly manage it.

By addressing all three myths, CEOs build a formalized and flexible range of decision-making environments. Decision-making groups are recognized and chartered, and the nature of any individual’s role at any point in any decision is made explicit. With the ability to choose which configuration is most appropriate when, the CEO can then unleash the full power of conscious decision-making. And the top team can settle into the central role it ought to have with clarity of purpose, process, role and outcomes.

Bob Frisch is the managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group in Boston.

Copyright 2000–2009 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved.

Have a good week!


Note: Many thanks to John Limb, CEO of OCP for sharing this article with me.

Losses and Gains

Good day, team.

I fully intended to send out a challenge this week about the subject of decision-making. However, my weekend was seriously disrupted by the theft of my car. It was parked in front of my house and someone stole it last night. When I went out this morning to drive it away, there was nothing but a big empty space.

This week’s challenge is about dealing with loss, which seems more appropriate given my recent experience. I’ll save the challenge about decision- making for another time.

When I saw that my car was gone, I immediately wondered if I’d actually parked it in front of the house. I thought back to last evening and realized that before I went to bed, I’d looked out the window and seen it parked there. Fear began to course through me. I was asleep while they stole my property, defenseless in my naïve slumber. I felt the intrusion – someone had invaded my personal space.

I began to think, “What had I left in the car?” Nothing that couldn’t be replaced, but it made me angry to think that they’d gotten my horse supplies, my favorite lap blanket, the new panama hat my husband just gave me for our anniversary, and the $10.00 in quarters I stashed in the special change compartment. How many CD’s were in the glove box? What else had I left in the car? It was disturbing to think about some thief rifling through my auto paperwork, reading my registration and the receipt for last winter’s snow tires, or using my lip-gloss. That all seemed much too personal to share with someone who didn’t give a hoot about me and wasn’t afraid to steal my car.

I thought about who would do such a thing? I imagined nasty looking guys who were part of a car theft ring, targeting my car on the street, and towing it away without any regard to the damage they would inflict upon it. Why did they have to steal my car? Why do they have to steal anything at all? What kind of life does someone have that they have to steal someone’s car? I realized that this kind of thinking wasn’t going to help and maybe I could think about this loss differently.

I have seen many times that with loss there is also a gain. This is often hard to see when the sting of the loss is happening. But, over time, the gain becomes more apparent.

After the initial shock of losing my car started to wear off, I realized that cars belong to the category of stuff. Losing stuff is minor compared to losing animals and people. It’s inconvenient and irritating to have to deal with insurance adjusters and police and the lack of transportation for a few days, but it’s a minor pain compared to the tragedy of losing a loved one.

I began to think of what I might gain from this loss. Losing stuff makes room for something new to come in. When I looked at my calendar for this coming week, I realized that I could walk or take public transportation to anywhere I needed to be. I could ride my bike like many of my close friends in Portland do. The weather is perfect for walking and bike riding and both would be good exercise.

Maybe I would need to get another car. Although I enjoyed having an SUV for the first time, I always felt this car was too expensive and I didn’t need that much room. Frankly, a very good salesman talked me into purchasing the car and I always felt like I paid way too much for it. Perhaps this would give me an opportunity to make a better deal and get something that’s in a better price range.

Mostly, I realized that in the world of loss, this is a minor mishap. When my good friend lost her dog recently, I thought of how hard that loss can be. He was her close companion for many years and she had basked in his unconditional love. Living without that love is a loss that is hard to endure. And yet, my friend is so grateful for the time she had with him. That gratitude has taken some of the sting out of the pain of her loss and left her with wonderful memories of her faithful companion. I wonder what the gains will be from her loss. Perhaps she’ll have more freedom to go places without having to worry about who will take care of her dog. Maybe, sometime in the future, there will be another dog that will come into her life.

Today, I remembered the story of the Buddhist monk who saw the gain in his loss. He was in town helping to feed the poor when his little hut on the hill caught fire. As much as the townspeople rushed to try to put the fire out, the hut burned to the ground. As the monk approached the smoldering embers and piles of ash that had been his home, the townspeople moaned over his loss. “We are so sorry,” they exclaimed, “we tried to put the fire out but the wind was too strong.” The monk looked upon his neighbors with affection and gratitude. Then, he looked up at the evening sky. “Well,” he observed, “now I have a much better view of the moon.”

This week, if you lose something, try finding the gain. Sometimes just knowing that there is almost always a gain makes dealing with the pain of the loss a little bit easier to bear.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about feeling overwhelmed. We all know what it’s like — that anxious feeling we get in our chests when we’re no longer able to keep it all under control. It’s the tipping point between having enough time to get it all done and running out of bandwidth. When we have too much to do, we run from one thing to the next, without any time to digest what’s happening. Our ability to deal with others, to listen, to analyze, to be present to any one thing gets compromised, and life becomes a blur. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed that we become paralyzed and can’t seem to get anything done at all.

I wonder what would happen if I actually let myself stop in the midst of feeling overwhelmed? It’s the last thing I’m inclined to do as I’m running to keep up with the demands of my life. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Would others think I’m a total slacker? Would I be letting other people down? What if I don’t get back to someone exactly when I said I would? Or if I don’t get the wash done or work on my presentation early enough to get it done right?

When my clients are overwhelmed, I often suggest that they try to take one thing at a time and focus on what’s directly in front of them. But I also know how difficult that is when you have competing responsibilities. For example, it’s Sunday morning, and you’re working on your computer because you have something due for Monday that you didn’t get done last week. Your kids are playing in the next room. A fight breaks out, and you can hear that it’s escalating. Your spouse yells from the other room, “Honey, would you make sure the boys don’t kill each other?” You’re trying to stay focused on your work, but the noise level in the other room is calling you away. “Hey guys,” you yell, “can you keep it down to a dull roar in there?” There is a momentary silence, some laughter and relative peace for a few minutes. Now you’re concentrating on the work in front of you. Pretty soon, the noise level is up again and your attention is distracted back to the kids. Finally, you get up from your chair and march into the other room to let the boys know that they need to go to their separate rooms. After a few minutes of groans and excuses, they depart. As you make your way back to the computer, your spouse comes in and asks when you plan to fix the dryer. It seems to never end.

A big part of feeling overwhelmed is the inability to complete something to our satisfaction. We don’t feel good when something is only partially done or not done well. Quality work requires quality time and attention, and when we split our time between multiple things, we produce fragmented results.

So what’s the answer? Here are some suggestions for dealing with overwhelmed feelings from a World of Psychology blog entry, “Overwhelmed — These 6 Strategies May Help” by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Accept your anxiety. Battling feelings of anxiety only boosts them. According to psychologist Marla W. Deibler, “It’s normal to experience some degree of anxiety when our stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable or imminent.” Allow yourself to accept what is and ride out the wave.

Change overwhelm-inducing thoughts. Pay attention to what your thoughts are telling you. You can replace “I’ll never get this done” with “I may not get this all done today, but I can get at least a good portion of it started” to reduce your mounting anxiety. Also, thinking that we can control everything is a big stressor. Letting go of what we can’t control and focusing on what we can control reduces stress. Taking a break from whatever is stressing you out also brings relief — a short walk, a few stretches at your desk or a cup of tea with a friend or co-worker can help reduce stress.

Change your multitasking mindset. If you’re multitasking, you’re already doing too many things at once. Expecting quality results out of something that’s only getting a small portion of your attention is like expecting yourself to talk and listen simultaneously. Try driving a car and texting at the same time, and you’ll know what I mean. Allowing yourself to completely focus on what you’re doing is a relief. And the satisfaction of doing a high-quality job is wonderful. The idea that everything needs to be done right now is an illusion, and one that produces huge amounts of unnecessary drama in our lives. There is no need for the extra drama — one thing at a time is a discipline that’s essential if you want to keep your anxiety down.

Focus on right now. Just as allowing yourself to focus on one thing at a time is essential, so is being present right now. Each moment comes cleanly on its own. If we don’t fill it with old baggage and emotional anxiety, it gives us the space we need to just be in it.

Take a deep breath. When I’m feeling anxious, my breath becomes shallow and quick. If I can pause a moment to take a really deep breath and slowly blow it out, the fire of anxiety begins to dim. I can feel my feet on the ground, I can see out of my eyes, I can focus. Deep breathing encourages the body’s relaxation reflex.

Take action. To quell overwhelm, engage in an action that you enjoy. Listen to music or take a walk in nature. Chat with a friend about a happy subject or read a book. All of these activities can reduce stress.

Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” As good as it feels to be industrious, responsible and hard working, beware the life that holds no joy in its activities. Don’t forget to see the humor in your life and have a good laugh on a daily basis. Allow the joy of the moment to bubble up within your heart, and try not to take it all so seriously. Getting stuff done can feel like you’re accomplishing something, but when you don’t have time for what’s really important in your life, it becomes a wasteland of to-do lists that have checks by their entries.

This week, I’m going to try some of these suggestions to counteract my feelings of anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I hope you try them too.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

8/18/13 “Vacation”

Good day, team.

This time last year, I wrote a challenge about summer vacation. When I re-read it this morning, it seemed so appropriate for this week that I’ve decided to re-publish it.
I hope you enjoy it.

These are the final weeks of August. Summer is rounding the bend into autumn, and again the seasons will change. With that change, summer vacation comes to an end. As an adult, I’ve always kind of resented having to work in summer. Those three months off from school at the peak of summer were such a highlight each year. Some childlike part of me still thinks my summers should be spent having nothing better to do than to go out and play. Whether swimming at the local pool with friends, going to camp, visiting relatives at the beach or just hanging out, my childhood summers were always a time to do whatever presented itself each day. What a sense of freedom I felt as I bounded out the door into the morning sunshine, ready to embrace whatever adventures I would encounter on another beautiful summer day!

When I started working full time after college, I realized that part of being a grown up is giving up the freedom of childhood summers. I was so disappointed to discover that I had only two weeks of paid vacation from my job each year. How could I possibly pack all the summer fun into a measly two weeks? On the other hand, who could pay for more time off? I realized I’d taken for granted the fact that my parents had paid for my summer activities. I’d also taken for granted the freedom of those three months of time off each year.

This morning, I thought about all the things I needed to do today — clean the house, shop for dinner, prepare for an upcoming business trip, finish the wash and so on. On most days, I have a to-do list of tasks that fills my time. I thought to myself, “What if I just don’t do any of those things today? What if I go out and play instead? What if I just take a mini-vacation?”

This reminds me of an excerpt from “Walden,” the wonderful book written by Henry David Thoreau. I’ve shared these paragraphs before, but this morning, it seems particularly relevant considering my desire to take time off:

“There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revelry, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

“I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest.”

This week, find time to give yourself a mini-vacation. As the long days of sunlight still exist, give yourself permission to go out and play, or as Thoreau did, sit in your doorway in silence and stillness, just being with the moment and whatever it brings.

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.


Good day, team.

This past week, an article I read in The New York Times by David Brooks got me thinking about self-orientation. The piece was about Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriquez and how, over the years, he has become more and more preoccupied with himself and his image. This week’s challenge looks at how this type of self-orientation can separate a person from his or her team, friends and family. These folks become the center of their own universe and forget that anyone else is around.

Self-preoccupation didn’t happen to Rodriguez naturally. It happened after promoters, agents and owners saw a rare talent and the money it could generate. Here’s part of what Brooks wrote:

“Rodriguez was a baseball prodigy from his earliest years. He batted an insane .505 his senior year in high school and had as many as 100 scouts at every game. When he was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners, he hired the super agent Scott Boras, who damaged whatever chances Rodriguez had of becoming a normal human being.

“Boras turned him into a corporate entity. In her book, ‘A-Rod,’ Selena Roberts reported that in the middle of his first contract negotiations, Boras had Rodriguez read a statement accusing the Mariners of being ‘low class.’ In other words, he was told to attack his first organization in order to squeeze a few dollars out of them. From the beginning, Rodriguez’s preoccupation was not with team, it was with self.

“By the time Rodriguez became a free agent, he was the marketing facade of A-Rod Inc. When negotiating with the New York Mets, Rodriguez’s handlers asked for the use of a private jet, a special hotel suite when on the road and a personal marketing staff. By the tine he reached the Texas Rangers, according to Roberts, a clubhouse attendant was required to put a dab of toothpaste on his toothbrush before every game.”

All of this led to an overly inflated ego that is insatiable in its quest for more and more attention. At the same time, Rodriguez has become overly sensitive to that attention. Ironically, the very special talents that lead him down this road are now threatened by his inability to deal with them. He has developed a reputation for caring more about his personal statistics than his team winning.

How does this happen to people? How do people become so overly concerned with their own performance, their own status (such as job titles and how high up they are on an organizational chart), their own ideas and even their own daily lives that they separate themselves and lose their ability to connect with others?

Like Rodriquez, many people with special talents get targeted by others who want to turn them into superstars. The great injustice is that once they become stars, it’s harder to relate to the team or the family. This alienation makes it more difficult to access their special talents, and the constant preoccupation with themselves continues to separate them. Being special can be a lonely place, and we often see superstars turn to drugs and alcohol to numb that feeling of being disconnected and alone.

As Brooks so aptly put it:

“My theory would be that self-preoccupied people have trouble seeing that their natural abilities come from outside themselves and can only be developed when directed toward something else outside themselves. Enclosed in self, they come to believe that their talents come from self, are the self. They have no outside criteria that tell them what their talents are for or when they are sufficient. Locked in a cycle of insecurity and attempted self-validation, their talents are never enough, and they end up devouring what they have been given.”

In the work environment, it’s difficult to trust people who constantly frame events in relation to how they affect them personally rather than how they affect the overall team. They are so self-oriented that we can’t trust them to be there for us when we need them. Part of good teamwork is sacrificing our own gains so that the team wins in the end. And part of belonging to the whole is knowing that we are only one part of that whole and not the entire thing.

This week, try to witness your own level of self-orientation. Are your unique talents and experience balanced with the talents of others on the team? Do you find that you dominate meetings by showcasing your talents? Do you give others the space to showcase theirs? How much time do you spend thinking about yourself during the day? Do you interpret almost all situations from the perspective of how this affects you rather than the broader view of the team? Do you compete with your peers to be the fastest, smartest, most creative and innovative, or most powerful? Do you throw others under the bus to gain the most advantage?

Each of us has sense of self. That self is often defined by the world around us and the people with whom we have the most interactions. As we age and acquire more wisdom, we see that these definitions may be pretty good when it comes to describing how we show up in the world, but they don’t really define our true selves at all. How we appear to others becomes less important. Rather than allow others to define whether we’re good or successful or special, we eventually learn to access our true selves. When we are in touch with our true self, we can more readily share ourselves with others. We revel in a sense of belonging and naturally desire to be true to what’s important to the group overall. When we alienate ourselves, we ultimately suffer. When we become overly preoccupied with our own concerns, our ability to embrace other people disappears.

People who have healthy self-esteem naturally value other people’s sense of self as well. Kindness and consideration of others predominates. These people consider what their team members need to be more successful. They encourage their team to be more considerate of other teams within the company, knowing that if they all win, the company wins. They think of ways to step back to allow others to shine.

Try experimenting with your self-orientation this week by intentionally putting yourself in your teammates’ shoes. What’s challenging for them and how can you help? How are they feeling about the project and what does it look like from their perspective? How can you reach beyond your own concerns to help a family member or friend?

William B. Given, Jr., the famous business author wrote:

“Whenever you are too selfishly looking out for your own interest, you have only one person working for you — yourself. When you help a dozen other people with their problems, you have a dozen people working with you.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Finding Meaning and Purpose

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about finding meaning and purpose in our work and how that contributes to our overall happiness and sense of well-being.

Over 60 years ago, the famous Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” cited by the Library of Congress as one of the 10 most significant books ever written. In his book, Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be pursued; it ensues as a result of living a life with meaning and purpose. The more directly you pursue happiness, the less likely you are to achieve it. Although pursuing happiness may result in momentary pleasure, it doesn’t lead to an authentic, soul-satisfying happiness that can come from living a life with meaning and purpose.

Frankl taught that people can discover meaning and purpose in three ways: by doing work that matters, by loving others unconditionally and by finding meaning in their suffering. When I read this, I understood the first two, but understanding the third took some time and thinking. In Frankl’s case, he was interned by the Nazis in 1942 and lived in concentration camps for three years. In reading about his captivity, I realized that he survived this horrible ordeal by believing that his life had a purpose and that all of his suffering was not in vain. His survival had everything to do with how he responded to his circumstances. If we suffer and think it’s because our luck has run out, we didn’t get a fair break or someone else has done us wrong, we feel nothing but despair. But if we choose to find meaning in our suffering, we can change our attitude about our difficult circumstances.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “Attitude is everything.” I think in this context, much of what Frankl wrote about illustrates the phrase. Each of us experiences loss and suffering in our lives, and there are many ways we can deal with it. For example, a few years ago, when my business was suffering because of the economic downturn, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue. However, instead of allowing myself to worry, I decided to use my time to study new coaching techniques and take some training courses. When business is good and I’m busy, I don’t have time to take the training that keeps my skills sharp. When I look back now, I realize how smart it was for me to use my time in this way. Instead of allowing depression to creep in and waste my time, I chose to use the time to my advantage. I still worried but not to the extent I would have if I hadn’t chosen to fill my time productively.

What helped me most during this time was the realization that I was able to do some good in the world. I wanted to keep coaching because I could see the value it brings to others. That deeper meaning gives me a sense of purpose. That sense of purpose helps me navigate through the obstacles that always come up when you run your own business and gives me a strong sense of determination to keep going.

This week, ask yourself if the work you do is meaningful? You don’t have to be on a mission to save the world. Each of us does small things every day that contribute to the well-being of others. The trick is to find the meaning in what you do, whatever it is. For example, there’s a dog-walking service down the street from my house and a small park about ½ block in the other direction. Each morning, a woman walks all kinds of dogs past my house down to the park for a run. She always smiles and waves at me when she walks by. One day, I was out on the sidewalk and I asked if I could pet the dog she had on leash. I remarked that I thought she was lucky to have a job working with dogs all day. She told me that she loved it. Although some dogs were pretty challenging, most of them loved going for their daily walks. She said it made her happy to be doing something that brought joy to the dogs. And she was glad to help out their owners, who because of work and other obligations didn’t have time to walk their dogs every day.

I realized that this woman probably doesn’t make much money. But her authentic happiness is easy to see. She loves what she does and finds meaning and purpose in it.

Discover what you do in a day that benefits others. Maybe you work in a financial function for a company and make sure that people get paid every two weeks. Or perhaps you work in a restaurant and enjoy bringing good food to your customers. How about writing computer code that enables others to access better information or redesigning the way something works so it’s easier for others to use? Maybe, like me, you work with people as a coach or a consultant and try to help them maximize their strengths or find better ways to accomplish things.

Stay-at-home parents who spend their days caring for their children, garbage collectors, bank tellers —the work these people do adds value to the lives of others. How we relate to the roles we play in our jobs is up to us. Our attitude toward what we do and our ability to find the meaning and purpose in it determines our happiness.

As Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.