Quietly Desperate



It must have been in high school where I first heard the famous Thoreau quote:

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”group of people waiting in line, back view

At fifteen or sixteen, I’m sure I had no clue what Thoreau was getting at. For one, I was not a man, and, for me, “desperation” meant calling that cute boy from third period and hanging up in a fluster the moment he answered the phone.

Today, although I am still not a man, I have a better sense of Thoreau’s sentiment.

And I see it quite often in people who come to me for coaching. They will tell me that things are stuck, or stale. That they can’t seem to make progress, can’t get a break, can’t overcome the forces aligned against them.

So, they stay where they are, hung up and quietly (or not so quietly) desperate.

When you think about the last hundred years in the developed world, there’s been such a seismic shift in the way most of us live our lives. Then, so many of us were union members who worked in factories at the mercy of time clocks and management bullies. The average worker learned to report, do his or her job and keep out of the cross hairs of the suits with their time-wasting “improvements”.

Today, with the shift to a more service-based economy, fewer and fewer people are making their living using their muscles and brawn. Jobs today are about knowledge, customer service and adaptability.

Yet, if you grew up the child or grandchild of a working person, you might just hold onto some of the working people vs. suits sentiment.

What’s harder today is that you’re probably more like ”them” than your grandparents ever were.

But the us vs. them dynamic lingers. So often I see people who still wait for permission from “them” to come up with a new idea. Who won’t dare act without approval. Who need to have a supervisor to blame when they’re stuck.

These are the truly desperate people.

And they don’t have to be.

Now, more than ever, you have to be the architect of your own career. Those who wait for an authority figure to step forward and bestow blessings and permissions will miss opportunities.

This, my friends, is guaranteed.

The other day I heard a story about a young woman who’s in her first job right out of college. She’s utterly entry-level, yet heard about a new project the brass was excited about. She did some thinking and came up with an idea, based on what she could gather about it. She wrote it up and sent it to the big boss. Who kindly wrote back to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

So, she thought some more. Brought in a friend who was also lower level and together they brainstormed another approach.

She submitted again.

And her concept is the one the very large, innovative organization is going to implement.

I told this story to someone recently who said, rather bitterly, “Millennials! They don’t know their place!”

But that’s not it at all.

No, that 23-year old woman knows that she’s not going to live a life of quiet desperation. Not her.

She’s in charge of her career, not anyone else. And to get where she knows she wants to go – she’s going to get herself there.

It’s an important lesson whether you’re twenty and just starting out, or sixty and feeling very stuck.

And the lesson is this: quiet desperation is a choice you can certainly make. But you can also choose something else.

You can choose to stop waiting for permission and start creating opportunities.

Because you don’t need anyone’s else’s permission to do that.


Why Do You Do What You Do?



These days I am obsessed with why.

huge-wave-featAs Simon Sinek illustrated in his viral TEDx talk, plenty of people know what they do and they even know how they do it. But ask them why they do what they do?


Recently, I’ve been playing with simple and direct ways to figure out your why. Testing first on myself and then on two willing guinea pigs, I think I may have come up with a new tool to do it.

And now would be a pretty terrific time to ask, “Michele, why bother?” Or, even, “Speaking of why, Michele, why in the world do you do what you do?”

Funny, because just yesterday I was asked what I do for a living. When I replied, “I’m an executive coach”, the guy perked up and said, “What sport?” ["Uh...not a sport. I help people get better at their job, or find a job they'll like better." He eyeballed me. Then said, "Think you could help me?"]

I got exposed to the coaching world in early 2004 and was drawn immediately to the work of Thomas Leonard. Considered one of the founders of modern coaching, Leonard was an innovative thought leader in the field and the more I learned about him and his work, the bigger fan girl I became.

Leonard wrote this:

The professional coach is…

Your partner in achieving business and personal goals.
Your champion during a turnaround.
Your trainer in communication and life skills.
Your sounding board when making choices.
Your motivation when strong actions are called for.
Your unconditional support when you take a hit.
Your mentor in personal development.
Your co-designer when creating an extraordinary project.
Your beacon during stormy times.
Your wake-up call if you don’t hear your own.

And most importantly.

The professional coach is your partner in helping you have all of what matters most to you.

(Excerpted from Thomas Leonard‘s ‘How to Coach Anyone’ Solutions to 68 Common Coaching Situations published by Wealthy Thought Leader)

Leonard died in 2003, so I just missed knowing him personally. However, his legacy continues today via his co-author and colleague Andrea J. Lee, who I’m happy to call a friend.  She posted the above on her Facebook page the other day which happily coincided with the exploration of my own why.

Super helpful, because Thomas’ words gave me a big context in which to frame my why.

Yes, my what is coaching – I do all of the things Thomas Leonard suggested in his list. And my how? Well, I use every bit of my training and experience in each coaching session. And I’m learning more every day.

But my why?

The thing that drives me?

The thing that causes me to wake up each morning eager to work with my first client at 7:15am? To speak with the guy in France despite the time zone and cultural challenges? To connect with you in Chicago? Or are you in San Francisco today? Maybe it’s Seattle this week?

What compels me to stand in front of the room with a clicker or a Sharpie in my hand, gesticulating wildly to make a point? What motivates me to write, speak and mentor?

What’s that kind of big, honking, super why?

(Deep breath)

My why is this: I want things to get better. For you, for me, for all of us.

And I absolutely know for certain that you can have exactly what you want  - things can get so much better – when you are completely clear about who you are at your best and are brave enough to live that way.

So, I help people get clear and brave.

And then lives change for the better.

Then offices change for the better.

And families change for the better.

And neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries, worlds – all change for the better.

Sort of way out there big picture, but I’m sure you get the idea. You do, don’t you?

Completely thought you would.

Now, I told you mine. What’s yours?


(photo credit)



Tell Me Something Good


There are times in any of our lives when we feel off step, out of sorts, maybe even stuck. For some of us, these moments come when we find ourselves at a moment of change.

Maybe that change is something you’ve invited. Maybe it’s univited. Maybe you don’t even realize there’s been change until it’s done.


You find yourself completely at sea and there is no breeze to fill your sails.

What do you do?

Will you stay stationary? Or move?

Will  you stagnate? Or grow?

(In case you’re taking notes, “movement” and “growth” are always preferable to “stationary” and/or “stagnate”, just FYI.)

But how do you do it? How do you start moving when you’ve been in the doldrums for so long?

Good thing I know the answer.

There’s one thing to do that’s guaranteed to move you.

One thing to ask yourself. One thing to get clear on. One thing to own and implement.

Here it is – you ask yourself: “Where in my life, right now, can I do something good?”

Sounds kind of simple, doesn’t it? But it’s really kind of hard to do when you’re locked in a box and can’t seem to find a way out.

And you owe it to yourself to find a way out.

You know, I’ve long held that all of us humans have the same purpose in life – to be a force for good in the world, in our own way. And meaning comes from however we decide to do good.

So when you’re stuck in place and can’t seem to find a way out, look for something good to do.

Look for some way you can contribute.

Maybe you focus on customer service at your job.

Maybe you mentor someone.

Maybe  you volunteer.

Maybe you buy coffee for the person in line behind you.

Maybe you figure out what’s missing in terms of creating good in the world… and you do it.


There is a ton of research that shows that finding the way to matter in the world – in ways large and small – is more impactful on your life than even being happy.

So work on finding meaning in your life. Do something good.

One thing. You can choose.

Then drop me a line and tell me how it goes so we can sing one of my favorite songs together.



On A Tightrope Over A Chasm of Failure



I wonder about you.Own It!

I know things are stressful, and you’re unsure.

Every day you question. Every day you worry that you don’t know where you stand, and if what you’re doing is appreciated.

Or even seen as important by anyone. At all.

I know it’s not fun to be so uncertain. Not one bit.

So, I wonder if –  for just one day – you could shift it.

That for one day, as a test, you could own that…you actually do know what you’re doing.

That you’re not making it up as you go along. That you’re not walking on a tightrope over a chasm of failure, one error away from falling.

What if – for one day – you could ignore the tightrope and come at your day from a place of calm? Generated from a deep understanding of your own expertise?

Not in a boastful or bullying way, but with a centered sureness.

Sure in your bones that you haven’t gotten to where you are by luck, chance or happenstance.

Because, you, my darling friend, are not a fluke or a mistake.

No, you’ve gotten where you are by showing up, doing what needs to get done and honing your practice.

Whatever your practice might be.

I know it’s easier in some ways to say that it’s all luck. Or chance.

Because then you don’t have to claim anything. You’re sort of off the hook.

And no one can say you’re too big for your britches.

Or that you’re calculating.

Or trying too hard.

Or not nice.

If you shrug off your expertise, you’ll probably continue to fit in with the crowd. You know, the Whac-A-Mole herd-like people who are only happy when no one sticks their head up?

Those people.

There is comfort in a crowd, for sure. But you might also feel anxious. And as if everything could change in a moment.




Do you know what I’m talking about?

Does it keep you up at night?

It doesn’t have to.

You can have calm, steadiness and success. You can have great days.

But to get there you have to own who you are and what you’ve got.

So, for one day – just one – give it a try and see what happens.

Stop pretending you don’t know what you’re doing and start owning everything you do know.

Of course, be open to learning. Be open to the perspectives of others. That’s what people who center in their strengths do.

It’s what the best leaders do.

It’s what you can do.

Step away from the crowd. Dip into your expertise. Feel it. Own it. Live it.

For just one day.

Just one.

I wonder what that will be like.

I wonder if this week holds the day you’ll give it a try.

And as one day leads into another, maybe you’ll happily find that you’re permanently off the tightrope and walking your own, broad path of success.


Connecting The Dots


When I’m not working directly with clients, I spend a lot of time connecting dots.

Honestly, I’m reading all the time.Connect The Dots

Like this one: Mother May I? The author raises a fascinating question – are your work relationships adult-adult, or parent-child? I can see this one question immediately changing your approach.

I was asked if I had written anything about mentoring, and I found this: Mentoring Mojo, which was apt and timely since it’s nearly five years since the loss of my great mentor. I learned so very much from her.

Speaking of learning, there was this: What Writers Can Learn From ‘Goodnight Moon’. It’s beautifully written, and got me thinking about story arcs and the “surprising twist”.

Then this one: 5 Smart Steps to Combat Workplace Bullying. I wonder if you’ll be surprised to learn just who it was who came up with those five smart steps.

Speaking of bullying and difficult people, I’m going to be doing a webinar with the Harvard Business Review and Citrix on the topic on August 12th: Bullies, Jerks and Other Annoyances: Identify and Defuse the Difficult People in the Workplace. Use that link to register, and it’s absolutely, 100% no charge to you and yours. Join me, won’t you?

Yep, I’m always connecting the dots. And sometimes the patterns appear readily, and sometimes… it takes time for them to come together.

The Nancy Drew in me completely loves that.