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Annie Von Essen

Get tips to do your work with less stress and more joy

When things aren’t working at work (Part Three)

We’ve been thinking about what happens when things are simply NOT working at work.

In Part One of this series, I acknowledged that there are times when we’ve tried everything and it has become clear that it’s simply time to move on. In Part Two, we looked at a four reasons why it may be time to quit — and examined some actions we could take.

But what if the ONLY answer is to leave?

You’ve done good work! You have done your best. It’s time to get out and get a different job.

My language may seem flippant. The job market can be hard, I know. It may have taken you a long time to get this job. If you cannot leave or cannot find another job right now — go back to my last post and look at all the other ways you can survive and make the best out of the crappy situation in the job you have.

BUT just because finding another job is hard and scary DOES NOT mean you should not explore the idea. You may find that a new and better job is actually right around the corner.

You do not know if you do not try. Really. Preschool teachers say this all the time because it is TRUE. You do not know if you do not try.

Think about it…

WHAT IF you could leave? What else would you do? Where could you go?

The first step is small. It is not quitting or even pulling out an old resume. Start by talking to a few folks you trust. Have coffee with a friend and chat about finding a different job. Then have a tea date with a friend of a friend. Begin to think about different options. You got this.

Decide. Do you want to leave this job? Decide to leave. You do not have to leave yet. But if you do not make the decision to leave, time will just keep passing. And you will still be right where you are.

Once you decide it is time to leave, you will need to explore other possibilities for work. This is not a quick process. Continue to chat with trusted friends and network with their friends. Think about all the possible fields you could work in. What jobs use your skills? Consider the amount of money you need to earn. Make sure to give yourself plenty time and space alone as you explore what you are good at doing and what you enjoy doing.

Once you get clear about what you want and you begin looking around, people and resources will begin to show up and show you how to get out of there. I’ve seen this happen time and again.

The process is not going to be easy. It may take a while. But isn’t making a new choice better than staying stuck forever, feeling physically and emotionally spent, and dreading work?

You can find something better.

Work doesn’t have to suck. Really. Lots of people have jobs they do not mind going to — jobs that are pretty okay most days, and some days are even FUN. You can have this too. Figure out what you want and need from a job and what you have to offer. Then take action — and take care of yourself.

Are fear and overwhelm creeping in and overpowering your sense of possibility? If you are overwhelmed, please find a friend who will listen to you and support your plans. Consider talking to a professional about this. Reach out to people for support outside of your work space.

By |March 25th, 2015|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on When things aren’t working at work (Part Three)|

When things aren’t working at work (Part Two)

This post is a bit longer than usual. But it’s super important. I’m writing this for all of you who are experiencing struggles at work and trying to find a way out.

In my last post I acknowledged that there are times when we need to quit. We’ve given it all we’ve got. We’ve really tried to make things work. But we’re hitting the wall.

If that sounds like what you’re feeling, it’s probably time for a change. There are four reasons that work may not be working. (This also applies to other major areas of your life.)

Let’s take a look at these four possible scenarios:

SCENARIO #1: Your work is really hard right now

If you used to enjoy the work you’re doing and you can clearly define why it feels hard right now, the “thing” that is making it hard may be finite. If so, this tough situation may soon be over.
The tricky thing about “really hard right now” is that sometimes things are hard for so long that you get exhausted. From there, you can easily turn the corner into full burnout.

We don’t always see burnout coming. If we are in a rough patch and we think we can see the end, we may just tell ourselves, “Keep going, work harder, this will be over soon.” But if you JUST push through it without slowing down, you may end up exhausted and spent, with all your perspective gone. Then you WILL hate what you’re doing and want to leave.

The key here is to do things that help you avoid burnout WHILE you are going through a big push at work.

1. Take breaks.
2. Define your sense of purpose beyond your work.
3. Ask for support at home and at work.

And remember that this period of work or pressure has an end.
(If no end comes — or if there’s no end in sight — you may have entered burnout.)

SCENARIO #2: Your work is no longer the right fit

Once upon a time, your job was pretty good — even great! — but now you feel something is shifting. Something is pulling you in a new direction. That feeling is exciting and scary. You are beginning to think about leaving and doing something different. Perhaps you can see how someone else could do your job now.

Congratulations: Your work here is done!

Listen to this voice. Begin to explore other options and talk to people you trust. Talk about that little voice telling you it’s time to move on. Build a plan and exit the job.

New beginnings are good for everyone — for you, for the person who could step into your job, and for the organization you work for. New beginnings create new possibilities. You can create a ripple of good things by leaving when the time is right.

SCENARIO #3: You could be burned out

If you used to enjoy what you did and now find little to no fulfillment in your work, you are probably burned out. When you reach burnout, you get exhausted, then depressed and possibly very distant. You begin to feel despair. You feel that things can never change or get better.

Burnout is no good because it leads to all the ways we don’t want to feel as human beings: sadness, anger, exhaustion. We lose insight. We feel our lives lack purpose. Like I said — no good!

If you are burned out, you probably remember enjoying and taking great pleasure in your work. You were proud of it. Then more and more was added to your plate. You felt an ever-growing expectation to do well. And you kept going. Perhaps something very difficult occurred with a project or a person in your workplace. And you kept going. You wanted to do your best no matter what. You kept going. And going. And going.

If you are experiencing burnout and you can admit it (which is actually very difficult), you have three options:

1. Keep working at your current job, but acknowledge the burnout AND do something about it.
Take some serious breaks (breaks during the day, days off, AND a longer break). Get support from family and friends. Make a plan to take some work off your plate. Celebrate your successes AND separate your sense of self from the work that you do.

2. Seek other employment.
Ideally you will take a BREAK between jobs. You need time to regain strength and find a new sense of self OUTSIDE of your work. Request some time off before you start your new job. Or plan ahead for a break between your current job and your search for the next one. This time will help you figure out what limits to set with yourself in your new position so you do not burn out again. (More about leaving your job in Part Three of this series.)

3. Just keep working.
You can keep working and ignore what is happening to your body and mind. If you stay at your job and do not make any changes, your burnout will increase in severity. Your physical and emotional health will decline. Your relationships will suffer. You will continue to feel less fulfilled.

I DO NOT suggest this option. You CAN choose option 1 or 2. People escape from burnout by taking action and making changes. You can regain joy and avoid a full collapse.

SCENARIO #4: Your workplace is toxic and bad for you

Are you constantly walking on egg shells, waiting for the other shoe to drop? Do you try to get your work done without interacting with most of the folks in your office? Do you find yourself feeling bad about yourself and your work?

If you have answered YES to one or more of these questions, you may be in a toxic workplace.

A workplace can feel rough and rocky — and yucky! — for periods of time, during a time of change or during difficult work projects. And organizations CAN change the way they work together and shift the workplace environment for the better.

It is also possible that the entire workplace feels toxic when it’s just one or two people who are bringing everyone down. Perhaps they are burned out or tired of their work. Perhaps they are going through personal struggles. Figure out if you are dealing with an organizational culture issue or a personal one.

Once you have figured out the source or sources of the stress and toxicity:

1. Talk to someone.
Start by talking privately with someone in a position of authority. Someone you TRUST. Someone you think can help. Prepare and have an honest conversation about what is going on. This can help. It may take a while and it may be a hard journey.

This could be a good starting place if you are still committed to the work and not in burnout.

2. Set up strong boundaries and outside supports.
Remind yourself who you are as a person, what you have set out to accomplish, and what you wish to achieve at your work. Then DO your work. Ignore and avoid the folks who are toxic and just DO your work. Cultivate a full, fruitful life outside of your job.

This works best if the work you’re doing is not deeply entangled with the folks who make you feel bad about yourself. This solution may work only for a short period of time — perhaps enough time to look for different work.

3. Leave the job.
That’s right — LEAVE! You have done good work. Pat yourself on your back. You did your best. Now go out and get a different job.

I know this is not quick and easy. I know it’s scary.

That’s why I’m devoting Part Three of this series to discussing what to do when you know you have to leave. Stay tuned!

If you are feeling stuck and overwhelmed and you do not know where to start, I provide practices for moving out of overwhelm and into action. Sign up for my monthly newsletter for tips and to receive updates about upcoming workshops – like The Room Next Door – where you’ll develop practices to help reduce your stress and find your joy.

By |March 19th, 2015|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on When things aren’t working at work (Part Two)|

When things aren’t working at work (Part One)

What if you really, really don’t like where you work and it just isn’t getting better?

I have written quite a few posts on “making it work at work.” I’ve written about not defining yourself by your work, how to take breaks, how to ask for what you need, and how to survive in the job you have.

But what if all of those suggestions just aren’t enough?

What if everything in you is telling you to leave? Or perhaps a tiny voice is whispering… This is not good for you… not good.

Now, maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “But Annie, I love my job.” Or you like your job. Or perhaps you think your job is just fine. There is still something in this post for you. In life there are things we need to quit or stop doing because they are no longer good for us. So even if you love your job, read on.

If you’re reading this and you are stuck in a job you hate — this is a reminder that it is possible to enjoy your work!

There are four overarching reasons you may feel like quitting your job (or ending something major in your life):

1. It is really hard right now.

2. It was the right fit at some point, but now it’s not.

3. You are burned out.

4. Your workplace is toxic and bad for your heart, mind and body.

Does something on that list sound familiar? The first step is identifying that something is wrong. And then you can begin to look at why you feel like quitting. Maybe you’re not sure. Maybe you’re sure but you don’t know what to do about it. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series! We’ll unpack each of those reasons — and some possible solutions — in my next post. Because there ARE things you can do.

For now, here’s a good place to start:  Talk to someone outside of your job — someone you trust. Tell them how you are feeling. Figure out how to take more breaks during your workday. Perhaps you can even take a long weekend and spend some time enjoying nature. This will help for now.

And don’t forget to breathe.

Stay tuned for the next two posts in this series.

By |March 4th, 2015|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on When things aren’t working at work (Part One)|

If you are not your work, what are you?

A few weeks ago I began a series about “making it work at work.”
In the first post, I wrote about a technique for finding your balance in the workplace: actually realizing that “you are not your work.”

Check this post out if you haven’t already. Your Not Your Work

Let’s back up.

Why would you be in need of this reminder in the first place?
Well, a lot of us work A LOT.
Even when we are not at work we fret about our work, we check emails, we answer calls.
We even dream about our work!
With technology and increased expectations and demands to get more done with less time and a smaller staff, we carry our work with us. And then the parents among us are never really away from the work of parenting. Combine parenting with a job and the result is competing priorities, almost all the time.

Sometimes it can feel like work is sitting right between our shoulder blades all day and into the night —a subtle pressure between the bones.

That’s a heavy weight. It can lead to no longer liking your job (if you liked it in the first place). It can grow into a sense of dread whenever you think about going to the office. You may find yourself teetering once the edge of burnout, which I will write about in future posts.

If you feel tired, overwhelmed and overloaded with work, you can begin to reduce the burden by reminding yourself – YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK. (That’s pretty loud, I know.) This technique is critical to avoid becoming fed up with your work.

But if you already know you are not your work – then what are you?

Right now you might be saying,

“Really, Annie? What am I?”

I know this is a big existential question.
And yes, people have written about this for millennia.
And yes, when I ask myself this question I think,

“Whew – too big, too big!”

You don’t have to look at the question head on.
It’s OK to give it a sideways glance.
But it’s a question worth asking.
Who are you?

What are all the exquisite, powerful things that make you – YOU?

Think about your experiences, history, identity, heritage, choices.
Then think about what’s at the core: the solid uniqueness of you.

Here’s something you can do.

Try it in your head, in your journal, or even on a sticky note!
Say to yourself: “I am me. I am_____________.”
Fill in the blank at least 5 times with adjectives.
Be kind. The list could include things you are all
the time or just some of the time.

Here are a few of mine:

I am me. I am bright energy.
I am me. I am gentle.
I am me. I am generous.
I am me. I am small.
I am me. I am strong.

Now ask yourself:

“Besides my professional self, my parenting self, my care taking self, what do I love to do? What do I enjoy?”

Keep it sweet and simple. These do not have to be BIG ideas.

Here are a few of my answers:

I love to read, knit, cook, run, hike. I love to be with my friends, neighbors, and family. I love to be near water and in the green space behind our building. If you want to go deeper, you can think of a way you already nurture these other parts of yourself.

Take note.

Is there a way you can do something this week with your non-work self or your non-parent self?

Just one little thing. Give it 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

Maybe you already do these other things. You go for walks with friends, paint, write poetry, ride your bike. Shine a light on those things. Remember them at work and outside of work.
When work is looming, we need to remind ourselves that we DO have a life outside of work.
There may be beautiful parts of our lives and our lived experience already happening —we just need to notice and acknowledge them!

You are not your work.

You are so much more than your work.

You are YOU.

If you are feeling really DONE with your work and pushed beyond the limit, don’t worry.
You don’t have to stay forever.
In my next few posts, we’ll work on developing a strategy to help you make a bold switch.

In the meantime, here are a few more posts on finding balance in the workplace:

How to love the job you are in (or survive the job
you hate)

You are not your work
Invest in who you are – not what you do

By |February 16th, 2015|Be Present, Connect, Less Stress More Joy|Comments Off on If you are not your work, what are you?|

You are not your work

In the next few weeks I will be writing about making things “work at work.” I will give you thoughts and tips for coping and thriving in an intense workplace. In these blogs, I will be thinking about my amazing clients who work for non-profits and for-profits. Both are high stress jobs. Most places people work are stressful environments nowadays.

The basic equation looks like this:

Less money to hire employees + more work to be done = fewer employees doing more.

A lot of what happens in an organization is not in our control. However, we do play a role in team dynamics, our work product, our outlook, and our own stress management. In this series I will focus on the things we can control.

When your work is really hard…

projects stacking up all around you…
demands to do more with less…
unhappy clients and customers…
a gossipy, complaining co-worker…
a boss that does not understand your workload…
…these are the days you feel like you need to put your head down and just plow through.

These are the days you are heading toward burnout. Too many of these days in a row and it may be really hard to find anything good about your work.

This is a critical time. It is when you need a BIG reminder that you are NOT your work.

Say it out loud. Get in your car after work and declare:


Even if you do work that does real good in this world — like growing food or teaching children:


Even if you are really good at your work — like delivering the best service to grumpy customers or perfectly stitching up someone’s wound:


Even if your primary work is raising your own children. They are very close to your own identity, but your children are not you.


So then what?

Well, when the work is really tough (or even when it is peachy) a great way to stay sane is to do things outside your work and your family — things that will remind you of your “you-ness”.
Put the work down and do something for yourself. Something that makes you feel like you.

What if you don’t know what that is?

Start by spending a little time alone. Perhaps write about things you enjoy. What makes you feel cozy and content? What restores and energizes you? You’ll start to see the best ways to get in touch with you.

Here are a few activities that will help you remember you are more than your work:

  • A walk or bike ride by yourself
  • Time out for coffee or tea (without work, electronic devices, or media)
  • Lunch alone, away from your desk
  • A few extra minutes in bed in the morning to say hi to yourself
  • A quick chat with yourself in the mirror
  • Writing about anything that is not your work
  • A creative project you can work on for few moments each day — something just for you. (Knit a few rows, work on your bike, cook something yummy.)

Why do this?

Because taking a little bit of time away from the work and reconnecting to yourself reminds you that you are not your work.

Then, when you are at work and stuff is hitting the fan you can think:

“I am going to do my best with this, but you know what? How I do this work right now is not all there is and not all of who I am.”

That sense of separation from the work will increase your ability to actually do the work.

Wild? I know.

Now take yourself for a walk.

By |January 29th, 2015|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on You are not your work|

Re-entry: Getting back to real life

Each New Year is full of opportunity. People breathe a sign of relief and say, “Thank goodness it’s the New Year!” At the same time we all talk about how quickly the last year went by. We feel a sense of excitement and anxiety as the year begins again.

When we come back to earth after the holidays, we must re-engage with our work. We also may be trying to re-establish a daily schedule or cut back on our sweets intake.
(Okay, I am trying to! AND I am trying to go for a few more walks…maybe even a run?)

The first weeks of a new year can deliver downtrodden feelings: “Oh well, here we go again.” Or: “Man, I am going to go back to this work?”  Or: “What am I doing with my life?”

But the beginning of a new year can also hold feelings of renewal and anticipation. We all have an opportunity to push the reset button. We may be thinking, “I can do this differently this time.”

I am finding it is important to pay attention to both of these tendencies in myself. Although I am deeply grateful for my daily work, it can be hard to go back after taking a break. At the same time, I am thankful for the reminder that we exist in cycles. I like that the end of each year brings a new year, just as every night holds the promise of a new day.

So how do we go back into the old work while holding on to a sense of the new?

I have two big thoughts and a quick checklist for you.

Give yourself more time

Re-entry takes more time than we allow ourselves — so does change. As you enter back into your routines, pay attention to your feelings. If you feel sluggish and find yourself asking, “Can I do this work again? This routine again?” and the answer is YES I can, then go slowly. Take it one step at a time.

Remember, even if the answer is YES you do not have to do things exactly the same way. (In later posts, I will revisit what to do when the answer is NO, I can’t keep doing this work.)


Choose something new, let go of something old

This re-entry period is a powerful time to clear out the old and usher in the new. Perhaps not in a full “New Year’s Resolution” sort of way (although if that works for you – go for it). No I am thinking about the big, big picture way of letting go of what no longer works well, and embracing new ways of being and doing.

Ask yourself what you want to change this year:
“How do I want to feel and act differently?  What do I want to let go of?
What do I want to embrace?”

This year I am letting go of other people’s expectations. (Okay, I am really going to work on this over time.)  And I am embracing the exquisite feeling of being cared for by people who love me.

Now for the practical advice!

How do you get back into work and life in this New Year?

Review your calendar

Clean up that calendar! I mean it. Clear out the clutter. Delete. Delete. Delete. Then add something that is in line with what you want to embrace.

Mine: Deleting most of my weekend “to do’s” and adding time with my partner on Saturday mornings, JUST US. (See how I did that… my letting go and embracing pieces are all up in my calendar!)

Pick ONE — and only one — new habit or routine.

Got lots of ideas for the New Year? Awesome! Capture them. Right them down.
Now pick one, ONLY one that is super duper doable. Tell some people about it. Do that. Start there.

Mine: Longer meditation in the morning four times a week. This is already something I do – I’m just adding 5 minutes to my meditation time. Doable.

Figure out one thing you love in your working life.

What is one thing you love about your work? Even if work is grimy and tough right now, what is one twinkle in the midst of it?  Write that down. Make it a mantra. Take it to work with you. Remember it on Monday mornings.

Mine: My clients. Really! I love working with my clients.


Find one sweet lovely thing you already do that feeds your spirit, and keep on doing it! Some good probably came from those holiday indulgences. If so, keep it up. (Maybe in moderation… maybe not).

Mine: Some serious sleeping in on the weekends. (Sorry for those of you with kiddos, you may have to pick something different).

Take a few moments right now and ask yourself:

What do I want to let go of this year?

What do I want to embrace?

Choose one or two things and get started. Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Take baby steps. You can do this.
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

P.S. If you love to dig into process and self-help books and want a new way to work toward living out your goals, check out The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. It’s a great tool for your New Year reset.

Psst… For the next few months, I will be writing about how to deal with a work environment you do not love — or at least one that is exhausting and trying at times.

By |January 14th, 2015|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on Re-entry: Getting back to real life|

Find your center during the holidays

The holidays are here. If you’re like me — if you’re like many people — you’re feeling a combination of excitement and pressure, joy and sadness.

Right after Thanksgiving in the USA, everything around us explodes into green and red lights. There are so many ads, so many shopping deals. So many expectations, so many parties to go to. And so much year-end work to be done.

The holiday time can be sweet. We look forward to sharing food, laughter, and love with family and friends. We experience faith in something bigger — faith in each other.

But the holidays can also weigh us down.  Amid the rush and the twinkling lights, many of us can feel alone, disconnected and unsure.

For many people, this year’s holiday season is laden with sadness, anger, mistrust and disillusion. Recent events in Ferguson and New York — and across the United States — point directly at our long-standing divisions and the injustice that continues to reside in our midst.  The global crisis of Ebola points at our fragility and dependence on each other. Deep in my bones, I am feeling great sadness and anger and loss.

How then do we make it through the holidays? How can we manage not to droop under the grinding challenges at this year’s end?

Three practices are helping to buoy my spirits this month — and you may find them helpful, too:

  • Reflect on what this season mean to you
  • Pace yourself and take smaller bites
  • Do less and notice more

Reflect on what this season mean to you

Two major religious holidays are celebrated this time of year along with many spiritually and culturally significant days. Hanukkah and Christmas both fall in December. These holidays celebrate miracles and represent light being brought into the world.  The winter solstice — often the last big feast before the hard months — represents rebirth and the coming of a new year.

And it may be that these holidays are not yours and have no connection to your beliefs. Even so, you can find personal significance in the season — without the holidays. Ask yourself: what is the deeper meaning people are searching for this time of year? What deeper wish do you have?

Ask yourself: “What meaning do this season hold for me?”

For me, this season is a time to reconnect with dear ones. It’s also a time for reflection: I think about where I have been and where I am going. I reflect on love and how I want to show love to other human beings. I think about the ways I have been showing up and the ways I have not. It is a time to express openly the possibility of miracles while actively acknowledging the sadness, conflict, and injustice in the world around us.

Pace yourself and take smaller bites

This is helpful advice during a holiday meal!  It is also a good practice for the whole season. Taking baby steps and dividing tasks into smaller bites is a healthy way to handle life’s challenges. It’s a big part of what we talk about in my Room Next Door workshops.

Try focusing on one thing at a time. Break down the work, the chores, and the activities into bite-size pieces. Get very clear about the first doable piece of a task. Do that one thing. Then go on the next piece. Give yourself less work in a given amount of time.

Do less and notice more

Take a moment right now to figure out what can come off your plate. Can you change a deadline, eliminate some errands, or drop an expectation you have placed on yourself?  Say “No” once or twice — or even three times — this month. Some projects can wait. Choose the gatherings you’re attending wisely. If you try to do it all you won’t enjoy any of it.

Be mindful. Pay attention. When you’re in final stretch of a work project or preparation for a meal with friends, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and make everything slow motion (like in a movie).  What do you notice? Is it a connection between people, the click clack of computer keys, the smell of warm pie, a friend’s bright laugh, even a feeling of sorrow blurred around the edges?

When you slow down, you will be reminded why we need each other. We need each other’s support, love, and kindness. Hold onto this fact during December, because this is what the holidays are truly about.

What does this season mean to you?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

By |December 11th, 2014|Be Present, Connect, Less Stress More Joy|Comments Off on Find your center during the holidays|

One simple way to get unstuck

When you have a big problem and you are feeling stuck, I have a tool for getting unstuck — ask for help!

Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about taking risks and creating something new.
My biggest learning has been that I cannot do it alone.

I am someone who loves to give help. It feels good to be of use and to support someone else. Just look at my work: it’s built on giving advice!

What I don’t like is asking for help.

When I ask for help, I feel vulnerable. I’m giving up control. I can’t dictate exactly what sort of help I’m going to get. I don’t get to choose how that help is going to be delivered.

If asking for help makes you feel uncomfortable, too, here’s where that feeling comes from:

When you ask for help, you are actually saying, “I cannot do this on my own. I need support.” The dominant U.S. culture teaches us that asking for help is weak. We’re taught that we should be able to do everything on our own — that being a successful human is an individual thing.

That teaching is a lie. We are all interconnected.

Any major change in our lives is done in community. Whether we’re raising a baby, launching a project or moving into a new home, we’re changing alongside of other human beings.

We need each other.

If you have a grand plan you want to implement, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by too much work or too much life — you need help. And that’s a good thing!

Asking for help opens up a new way of seeing a problem.
It allows the weight of the work to be shared.
It increases the energy going toward a solution.

When you ask for help, you are no longer alone. And when you are supported you will begin to see new ways forward.

You can reduce stress and increase your creative potential by asking for support.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when asking for help:

Pick the right folks for the job.

Who has the experience? Likes this kind of project? Can handle it? Who is someone you would like to have around, who would probably like to help you?

Decide what kind of help you need.

Figure out exactly what you need help with. What are you looking for (and not looking for)? What are your time frames?


Make an explicit request – don’t beat around the bush. Make your request very specific and clear.

Be prepared for “No.”

Give folks a chance to get off the hook when you ask. If someone says they cannot help, don’t hold that against them. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you could not help.

Be clear and set boundaries.

Make sure your community knows what kind of support you need and what you do not need. Keep the ownership and responsibility for the task as yours.

Hire a professional.

If your own community cannot help OR it is going to put too much burden on them, hire a professional. This could be a therapist for processing an experience, a mover to help you transition to a new home, or a marketing specialist for promotions.

Say thank you.

Thank you goes a long way. Please say it! In person, via email, or by snail mail, let your helpers know you appreciate them.

Questions for reflection:

What are you needing a little support for and who can you ask?
How can you say thank you to for support in the past?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

By |November 20th, 2014|Connect, Create, Get It Done|Comments Off on One simple way to get unstuck|

Cake in the morning & other ways to handle change

In my last few posts I talked about preparing for a big change. How do you contend with change when you are in the midst of it? How do you steer when your boat is out to sea?
You probably feel a loss of control. I do. And not having control is one of my least favorite things.

If you’re experiencing a big change, a new set of emotions may come flooding in.
Some are feelings you’d like to avoid at all cost, like sadness, anxiety, panic, and anger. Others are more positive, like awe, exhilaration, or jubilation. Whether they’re scary or wonderful, all of these emotions can be overwhelming.

While riding these waves of emotions, you are being asked to do something different. That is what we don’t always like. Change requires us to practice new behaviors and create new habits. During change, we experience a loss of control. (We never have very much control – but change drives that point home.)

What can you do so you don’t lose it?

What do I mean by lose it?
For starters, how about eating lots of cake for breakfast? (Okay, I know that morning cake is not always a bad idea. But after my husband Rob left for graduate school and I found myself having cake for breakfast three days in a row… well, let’s just say it started to take its toll on my energy levels.)

When I say lose it I also mean: Not talking to your friends, eating too much, not eating enough, not sleeping, sleeping A LOT, watching tons of Ally McBeal reruns [insert your personal unhealthy TV obsession here] … anything that makes you feel bad about yourself at the end of the day.

How to keep your center in the midst of change:

Breathe deeply

Yes. Breathe. Annie, isn’t this always on your list? Yes. And for good reason. A few good breaths bring us back to ourselves. Breathing relaxes our shoulders. Softens the belly. Reminds us that we are made of air and matter. Reminds us that we are still here, still alive. This is your breath. This is your moment to be alive.

Hold lightly

The load you are carrying may be heavier right now. There is more to juggle, more to figure out. Try not to be hard on yourself when things aren’t working out perfectly. Try taking a few things off your plate. What is not necessary? Not mission critical? Maybe “necessary” has a new meaning. Now maybe some things that used to be necessary are no longer needed.

Take it down to the smallest piece

Simplify what you need to get done. When thinking about what needs to happen next, take it down to the smallest step possible. Give yourself only a few small to do’s at a time. When those are done, give yourself a few more.

For example: Today I will buy dolmas at the grocery store so I’ll have some sustenance in the house. Today I will get out of bed and stretch. Today I will call my mom. Today I will walk around the block. Today I will write that email to Juan.

Remember your anchors

Who are the people who are most important to you? What things in your life bring you joy and comfort? Big change is the time to get serious about what you care about the most, and let go of the rest. Really let it go. Cross it off your “feeling guilty, must-do” list. You could think of this desert-island style. Think of the three things, people, and values that will sustain you on your island. Who holds you steady? What holds you steady?

In the midst of my current life changes, what matters the most is being with the people who understand me and are invested in my wellbeing. What matters is taking care of myself, being kind to myself and working to be kind in my daily interactions with others.


You know how much sleep your body needs. (And if you don’t, it is probably 7 to 8 hours per night.) If you are only hitting the 5-hour mark, do your best to get a little more sleep. Try setting an alarm when it is time to get ready for bed. (This is what Adrianna Huffington does.) If you’re sleeping too much, build a system for getting yourself out of bed. Try multiple alarms. Put lights and music on timers. Schedule morning appointments.

Strip it to the core

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again. When you are in the midst of big change, get rid of the extra crud. Strip away anything that’s weighing you down. Take it off, leave it behind. Deal with the day to day. Remember what matters to you. Take a deep breath.

Lean forward.
Watch for a few lessons along the way.

Make the change.
You’re ready to weather the storm.
You can do this.

Question for reflection:

What are your anchors in the midst of change?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

By |October 29th, 2014|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on Cake in the morning & other ways to handle change|

One question to ask during change

Anticipating a change can be scary, but you can also have a sense of control. You can at least try and plan for what is to come. You can tell yourself, “I think this is going to happen and then I will do this”. Not that it will work out that way. But before things actually change—when you see the change a-comin’—you can at least receive comfort by pretending you have some control.

Then the change comes.
And you are in the thick of it.

You are no longer waiting for the boat to leave the shore. The boat is out in the water and the waves are getting bigger.

Two things happen once change has begun to occur.

You can release a bit of the fear of the unknown. You now know what the change is going to feel like because you are in it. Some of the landscape is coming into view. You are beginning to see things and experience things from the inside of the change.

The second thing that happens is the reality of the change sets in and now you have to deal with the new experiences, the new emotions. You can no longer plan for the inevitable. It is happening. You need to act. The question goes from “What will happen?” to “How am I going to get through this?”

Once change occurs, things do not become more certain. A whole new set of questions pours in:

Can I do this?
Is it always going to feel like this?
Is it going to change again?
What should I do next?
Am I going to make it through this?

In my next post I am going to talk through a few ways to stay grounded while change is happening.

For now I want to focus on one question we may not want to ask while we are in change. It is one of the most important questions we can ask during change. However, the way it is asked and when it is asked determines whether the question is helpful or actually hurtful.

The question is…

What is the learning – what is the possibility – in the midst of this change?

I know this is an annoying question. Actually it can be a horrible question in the midst of gut wrenching, unexpected changes. This question could be misconstrued as meaning that the change you are going through is good or has purpose simply because there is something to learn from it.

There are times you should not ask this. And no good friend should ask this either. See my note below about when not to ask this question.*

Here is the thing –
I do believe we can always learn something from change. I do believe that there is always possibility in the midst of life’s storms. I do not believe that this means things always happen for a reason or it is good when people go through painful trauma. Horrible things happen to people all the time and nobody deserves these things. They do not serve a higher purpose.

However, I do believe goodness shows up within change – even horrible change. And the lessons we need to learn often come in the midst of turmoil and upheaval. Even if these lessons are not visible until sometime later.

So when you are ready, when you have navigated the change, survived the hardest moments, when you have created breathing space….
Ask yourself, very gently….

What possibility is in here? What am I learning?
(Not what “should” I be learning… but what am I learning?)

If you ask gently enough the answer can be surprising.
Take notice.
What’s inside?
There may be a lesson, an invitation…

The learning may be really freakin’ hard. It may be something you would rather avoid. Change works that way.

If you figure out what is inside the journey—the lesson or blessing—you can engage.

And what if you are tired of learning?
Well, unfortunately learning is a part of our journey. It does not stop. If you want to be a more loving person, you are going to have to keep learning. Sigh.

Like change, there is always more learning. It just keeps happening.
If we turn away from the learning—just like turning away from change—we stop growing and feeling. This results in less love, less joy, and less light in our lives in the long run.

So take a deep breath, sigh if you must, and ask, “What is the lesson in this change?”

*Note: You do not need ask yourself “What I am learning?” if you are in the midst of grief. If you are in the process of letting go of people or places or even ways of being, you need space to grieve. Yes, there probably will be hard or beautiful learning that comes from those experiences. But we need the space and time to grieve – not to find some false silver lining. In grief, give yourself time not questions.

By |October 23rd, 2014|Less Stress More Joy, Make Change|Comments Off on One question to ask during change|