My new blog, LifeCoach 911, is a Q&A blog of your questions about life’s dilemmas, challenges and opportunities!  I’d love to know what’s on your mind and answer your questions.   Occasionally I’ll post opinions and life lessons from current events, too.  You can find the first post at http://blog.essence.com/lifecoach911/2009/09/how-can-i-finally-kick-my-procrastination-habit.html.  I look forward to talking to you on the new blog!

Warm wishes,
Valorie

Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 Victory Tour poster 1984

I was standing in the nose-bleed seats on the fifth level of Mile High Stadium with my parents, my cousin Tyrone, his dad – and most importantly, my binoculars.  This was my first concert.  I was never an excitable kid, but when Michael Jackson stepped onto the stage with his brothers for the “Victory” tour concert that night, my hands flailed in the air and I screamed uncontrollably – like one of those silly girls I’d previously made fun of from old footage of The Beatles.  I was in 7th grade and I thought he was the cutest, sweetest, most talented, most entertaining guy in the world.  His photo graced the inside of my locker at school.  I marveled at his dance moves, regularly sliding backwards across the kitchen floor in my socks fruitlessly attempting to moonwalk.  I sat for hours and listened to every song on the Thriller album, memorizing all the words, and when the Thriller video came out, my parents let me stay up late one night to see it. 

His music is the soundtrack of so many happy, childhood memories.  The first memory happened one afternoon in 1978.  I can still picture our three smiling faces – rocking back and forth and snapping our fingers to Michael’s hit “Rock with You.”  I still love to dance, but that day at five years old in the living room with my mom and Tyrone is my first memory of dancing.  Then and now, his music never fails to make me feel good – and for me personally, that is his legacy. 

We wonder how people can feel emotional when someone they never knew passes.  But the truth is, in this media age, we let many people into our lives that we don’t know – we buy their music, watch their movies, and invite them into our homes through our television sets.  In moments with people we know and care about, these entertainers and public figures become a part of both our milestones and everyday moments.  We don’t know them personally, but the gifts they share become a memorable part of our life experience.

I often write about the importance of knowing your purpose – and how that purpose emerges from your innate talents.  And even though his talent is far beyond what most of us can imagine for ourselves, he was an example of the power of using what God gave you to make an impact.   Your purpose can be as simple as “bringing joy,” “provoking thought,” or “influencing attitudes” – in his case, he probably did all three through music and entertainment.

Your purpose should answer this simple question:  How is someone’s life better because they cross your path?   Besides elevating the music industry and breaking records, Michael Jackson gave millions of us entertainment that made us smile, dance, and connect with the people around us – and I can say for sure that my life has been richer for it.
 

Coachable moment:

How is someone’s life better because they cross your path?  You don’t have to be a megastar or have immense talent to have an impact.  Know your gift and use it to the best of your ability.

Sonia_Sotomayor_1395839cThis week, with the president’s appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, much of the buzz is about the motive for the choice.  Why are opponents making an issue of her race?  No one suggested President Bush chose the last Supreme Court appointee, Justice Roberts, for his race or gender.  It’s perfectly legitimate to question the nominee’s views and scrutinize her credentials, but why make race an issue when the candidate is clearly qualified to hold the office?  As a woman and a minority, it exhausts me that few in the media point out the sheer arrogance of the argument – the inherent assumption that if the candidate is a minority or even a woman, that somehow she must have been given some sort of special consideration.   Perhaps I am sensitive to it because I’ve experienced it first hand.  Perhaps you have, too. 

When someone has achieved the American dream through hard work, grit and determination – whether we agree with their views or not – can we, as Americans, drop the race card?  Or rather the reverse racism card.  Why is it assumed that minorities can’t be ‘color blind’?  No one ever asks that about those in the majority.  Will we ever stop making assumptions about people based on outward appearances?  What do you think?

Coachable moment:

As we make progress in the areas of race and gender relations, it is essential that conscious individuals lead by example.  Whatever your race or gender, consider a way in which you have held a grudge or made an assumption about someone different from you solely based on their race or gender.  In what way could you let go of an unfair assumption or give them the benefit of the doubt?  When you dust the chip off your shoulder, it’s surprising how much lighter your load feels.

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Isn’t it amazing what passes for news these days? Last weekend, I flipped on the TV and MSNBC was doing a whole segment about Miss California USA, her racy photos, her stance on gay marriage, and the possibility that she  might lose her crown.  CNN gave it plenty of coverage, too.  Last week, one morning, the Today Show covered it as one of the three lead stories in the opening of the show.  In case you’ve missed all the fuss, don’t worry. It’s not worth your time (see lesson #1 below).  But if you’ve already been bombarded with it this week, at least you can glean a few lessons from it:

1. Be intentional about the news you focus on.

Some of it is pure gossip and isn’t worthy of your time and attention.  Aren’t you busy enough already managing your own challenges and issues?  Ever notice that every year there seems to be a scandal that requires Donald Trump to decide whether a wayward contestant will keep her crown?  It’s not a coincidence.  He’s a PR genius.

2. Resist the urge to judge others. 

That doesn’t mean you have agree with a person’s behavior or words, but be careful about how quickly you point out others’ mistakes.  Miss California USA has been accused of being a hypocrite after proclaiming family values, then appearing in racy photos.  Truth is, we all have said or done things we wouldn’t want broadcast and scrutinized on the evening news.  But if you’re the one who made the mistake, own up to it.  Proclaiming your faith isn’t about being perfect, but about acknowledging your flaws and the grace God has gives you to recover from them.  When you truly accept grace, excuses are not necessary.

3. Stand up for your beliefs.

Asked by a gay marriage advocate whether she believed in gay marriage, Carrie Prejean told her truth.  It wasn’t popular with some, but she answered the question honestly.  I encourage her to muster the same courage to be honest when talking about her racy photos.

Coaching questions:

1. Is there someone you are judging these days because of their less-than-ideal behavior?  Without excusing the behavior, how could you practice more grace and mercy in your approach to the situation?

2. Are you on news overload?  What could you do about it?
3. In what way do you need to tell your truth?  What’s holding you back?

Valorie Burton is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) is the author of five books, including What’s Really Holding You Back?Listen to Your Life, and How Did I Get So Busy?The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule and Reconnect with What Matters Most.  Subscribe to her free e-newsletter at www.valorieburton.com and follow her at www.twitter.com/valorieburton.

Since the swine flu didn’t turn out to be a disaster we were warned it could be, some have complained that government officials and media “over-responded.”  In all fairness, the media does have a habit of sensationalizipigng the news to get us to stay glued to the television.  It works because often we don’t seem to pay attention unless they convey a real sense of urgency.  There’s so much demanding our attention, that the thing that screams loudest usually wins.  But the CDC and others were in a no-win situation – either shift into high gear as though millions of lives were in danger, even if they actually weren’t, or play it cool and risk that millions of lives were not in danger when they actually were.

 It’s easy, in hind sight, to say, “They should have known better.”  Optimism is great, but officials and the media would have been criticized if they’d been too optimistic.  I’m a born optimist.  Give me any situation and I can see the bright side of it.  But I also know that optimism isn’t always the best approach – especially in risky scenarios.  Think about it.  Do you want an optimistic engineer to design the bridge you drive across every day?  Do you want an optimistic doctor who tells you your unusual, persistent headache is probably nothing and sends you home without running some tests?  Do you want the optimistic CPA who doesn’t cross every “t” and dot every “i” because she figures the likelihood of an IRS audit is slim?  No.  In some situations, you want the pessimist – the person who sees everything that might go wrong, and takes precautions to protect you.

 In the end, we lost a few days of school for a few hundred thousand kids (I’m sure the kids aren’t upset about this!), some extra time spent washing our hands, and a few extra dollars on those little bottles of hand sanitizer.  It’s a small price to pay to be safe – and it may be because of those actions that fewer people became sick.  Granted, other possibly more important news stories received less attention or none at all.  But it is hindsight that helps us see that.

 As a personal and executive coach, I see a practical life lesson in the handling of the swine flu pandemic.  Psychology research shows the most successful people are those who can balance optimism with strategic pessimism.  In other words, they are optimistic about the future, but also realistic about risks.  They are willing to take precautions, even if those precautions are inconvenient, because they’d rather be prepared for what might go wrong rather than ignore reality.  Where do you need to apply this type of wisdom in your life?  Consider the key areas of your life – your finances, relationships, health and work – and answer these coaching questions:

  •  In what area of your life do you need to take note of potential risks or looming problems? 
  • What action(s) could you take to reduce your risk and lessen the impact of an unexpected emergency, if it were to appear?
  • When will you take action?

 Valorie Burton is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) is the author of five books, including What’s Really Holding You Back?Listen to Your Life, and How Did I Get So Busy?The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule and Reconnect with What Matters Most.  Subscribe to her free e-newsletter at www.valorieburton.com and follow her at www.twitter.com/valorieburton.

42-15341447One of the biggest news items this week has been the “stress test” several banks failed to pass. Designed to determine whether banks are financially healthy, the stress test is supposed to diagnose problems based on certain indicators of financial health. Some banks are disputing the results, of course. Kind of like some of us do as individuals. If you had to pass a stress test based on how you are living your life, would you pass? If your life is overextended, consider this post a wakeup call.

Symptoms abound when we are too busy, but we have to recognize them as indicators that life is spiraling out of control. I know I’m too busy when my plants start wilt because I haven’t had time to water them, my car starts to get cluttered and I haven’t exercised in a week. What symptoms tell you it’s time to reclaim your schedule? Here are a few common ones to get you started, from my book How Did I Get So Busy? How many of these statements describe you?

  •  I regularly eat lunch at my desk.
  •  I work straight through lunch.
  •  My mail is piled up because I haven’t had time to open it.
  •  My friends complain I am too busy for them.
  •  I haven’t had a seven-day vacation in over a year.
  •  I’ve missed paying a bill in the last three months because I hadn’t had time to open it.
  •  I’ve run out of clothes, socks or other items because I didn’t have time to do the laundry.
  •  My fuel light came on because I hadn’t had time to fill it up.
  •  I can’t keep up with household chores.
  •  I don’t have enough quality time with my spouse and/or children.

If some of these symptoms describe your life, it’s time to prescribe a remedy. Coach yourself about what actions to take by asking these coaching questions:

  1. What is causing me the most stress?
  2. What could I do differently to eliminate or decrease that stress? Who could help? What activity or unnecessary effort could I drop for now?
  3. What’s missing from my life right now (i.e., enough rest, space, resources) that would enhance my well-being? What step could I take towards having more of that missing piece in my life?

Valorie Burton is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), speaker, and author of five books, including How Did I Get So Busy?The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule and Reconnect with What Matters Most. Subscribe to her free, weekly e-newsletter at http://www.valorieburton.com and follow her at http://www.twitter.com/valorieburton.

042709-time-cover1A recent Time Magazine cover story, “The New Frugality,” suggests the recession has changed our perspective – not just for the short term, but for the long term.  I hope so.  Suddenly, Americans are saving again.  We’re eating at home with our families more.  We’re being more thoughtful about how we spend.  In the process, we have a chance to change bad financial habits and to reconnect with the people and things that matter.  Depending on how you approach it, a setback can leave you better – or it can leave you bitter.  

 

Whether financial or otherwise, setbacks can feel cruel and unfair.  You were cruising along, heading towards a destination – and suddenly, you land back where you started or maybe even somewhere worse.  It could be a small setback – you lost 15 pounds, but recently gained back five, or you finally built up your savings only to have an emergency wipe it out.  Or maybe it’s a big setback – a relationship deteriorates or you lose your job or business.  None of us ever wants a setback, but when it happens, let yourself mourn your loss.  Then make a decision to not just go through it, but to grow through it.  Frustrating as it may be, it is what it is.  If you let go of lamenting “what shoulda/coulda/woulda been,” you realize that what seems like the end could be a new beginning.  When you have time to recover, setbacks give you a chance to hit the reset button on your life. 

 

I learned the power of turning setbacks into comebacks from my mother, who by all medical accounts, should have lost her life in 2001 when she suffered a massive brain aneurysm and underwent brain surgery.  Instead of losing her life, she only lost her physical abilities.  But over time and with persistence, she was able to walk, talk, see and swallow again.  Today, she describes her life as better than it was before her disabilities.  Why?  Because she had the courage to make changes that created the life she really wanted.  Sometimes setbacks can only be understood in retrospect, when we see that without them, we couldn’t have become the person we were meant to be.

 

Psychologists have identified something they call “post-traumatic growth,” to describe people who not only bounce back from major trauma and setbacks, but become better because of them.  How about you?  Will you become better because of your setback – or just bitter?  Consider a setback you are facing – whether financial or otherwise – and coach yourself with these three questions:

 

1.      What message or lesson is being offered to you in your setback?

2.      What will you do differently as a result?

3.      When you stop looking back at the problem and start looking ahead to the future, what opportunity lies before you?

 

I’d love to hear your comments.  Has the recession caused you to be smarter with your money, connect with family more, or be laid off from a job or industry you didn’t like anyway?  Are you better or still feeling bitter?

 

Valorie Burton is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), speaker, and author of five books, including Listen to Your Life, Why Not You?  28 Days to Authentic Confidence,  What’s Really Holding You Back? and How Did I Get So Busy?  Subscribe to her free e-newsletter at www.valorieburton.com and follow her at www.twitter.com/valorieburton.

A lesson from Susan Boyle’s confident performance

 

 

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Britain's Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle teaches the power of confidence that comes from within

Have you ever had someone make negative assumptions about you before giving you a chance?   Perhaps you don’t fit the traditional mold of the dreams you aspire to – you feel you’re too young, too old, too big, not attractive enough, experienced enough, educated enough, or [you fill in the blank].  When it comes to your dreams, what really matters is whether you have the talent, grit and confidence to rise to the occasion when opportunity knocks – just as 47 year old Susan Boyle did on Britain’s Got Talent a week ago.   According to the Washington Post, videos of Ms. Boyle have been viewed 85 million times in the last week.

 

 The unemployed, never-married and admittedly “never kissed” singer had, until this month, sung only in her local town.  Many columnists and commentators have simplified the reaction, saying the audience – with its eye-rolling, snickers and sarcasm before her performance – judged the book by its cover.  Indeed, they did.  But the reaction goes deeper than that.  How do you explain the tears and resounding cheers from that same audience within seconds of Ms. Boyle’s opening notes? 

 

 It was more than her voice that led them from jeers to tears to cheers.  Besides a bit of guilt from realizing how shallow they’d been in judging her, I think many related to being the underdog.  Overlooked.  Underestimated.  Ridiculed for having the audacity to believe that your dream is possible – especially if you don’t look the part. 

 

 In a world of slick marketing and Photo-shopped magazine covers, we seem to readily discount anything or anyone who doesn’t measure up.  In fact, if Susan Boyle looked like a typical pop star, we wouldn’t be talking about her.  No one is shocked when a beautiful, young woman has talent.  We seem to give beautiful people the benefit of the doubt.  As a culture, we’ve even been known to make celebrities out of people with no talent as long as they look good.

 

 While the audience seemed uncomfortable with Ms. Boyle’s looks, she seemed perfectly comfortable – and refreshingly confident as she walked on stage with her hand on her hip.  “I’m going to make that audience rock,” she said backstage before her performance.  She knew she had the talent and she believed in herself. 

 

How about you?  Do you believe in yourself?  Do you too quickly judge others?  Coach yourself with these two coaching questions:

 

  1.  In what way are you underestimating yourself right now?  Perhaps it’s time to step up and stop hiding the gifts you have to offer the world.  We will all be better off if you let your light shine.
  2. Is there someone you aren’t giving a chance because they don’t “look the part”?  Look beyond the cover and you might discover some unexpected positives.

 (If you want to hear a little more of Ms. Boyle, check out her rendition of Cry Me a River from a charity CD 10 years ago:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI2DxkrgpgQ).

 

Valorie Burton is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), speaker, and author of five books, including Why Not You?  28 Days to Authentic Confidence,  What’s Really Holding You Back? and How Did I Get So Busy?  Subscribe to her free e-newsletter at www.valorieburton.com and follow her at www.twitter.com/valorieburton.