On Memorial Day



photo credit: James Tourtellotte

As difficult as my working life has been at times, one thing is true: I’ve never had to face enemy fire.

I’ve never had to quickly assess the risk threat and ask my people to advance into certain combat – and possible death.

I’ve never been far from home, hungry and exhausted, in a strange land with a different language and differing customs carrying an eighty pound pack through sandstorms,  snowstorms, rainstorms over mountains, through rivers, in jungles.

I haven’t been on a small boat in a big ocean, looking for the incoming weaponry that could sink my vessel.

I’ve not been in an airplane, tracing a safe route through enemy flak.

No, I’ve not been tested in these ways.

And so today and every day I honor those who served and those who gave their lives in service to their country.

It’s awe-inspiring and humbling to consider the men and the women who simply saw a need and filled it. Who went above and beyond not only because they could but because – in one split second – they knew they had to do something to save the lives of others.

I’m especially moved by those who never expected to be in combat but found themselves there. The nurses, the quartermasters, the cooks – those people who stepped up when duty called, and did what needed to be done.

Some of these people, in fact, lie in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery – their names are not known but their heroism is never forgotten.

All soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen – they are valuable beyond measure, and stand shoulder to shoulder in a line of service which leads from our nation’s earliest days directly to today.

At the Gettysburg battlefield over 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln said:

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today, I honor the last full measure of devotion of so many. Those honored dead who bravely did what so many of us have not done.

It is to them this day is dedicated, with respect and honor for their great sacrifice and the great sacrifice of the families they left behind.


photo credit: James Tourtellotte



Change One Thing To Be Really Happy


If you ask what’s my baseline, fundamental belief about the world, I’d have a fairly simple answer.

You see, I believe that there are really only two ways to go through life.

You’re either someone who believes (let’s call them Camp A) that there’s never enough and you can’t trust anything, or (Camp B) you believe there’s plenty to go around and you trust most things.

Camp A’s motto is “I got mine. You go get yours.” Or maybe it’s “I got mine and now I’m going to prevent you from getting yours because there may not be much left and I may want more tomorrow.”

Camp B’s slogan is “I got mine. Want some?” Or maybe it’s “I see you don’t have any. How can I help?”

Since they don’t trust – anything – leaders and managers who come from Camp A tend to micromanage, bully and disparage. They push overwork, over-achievement, over-delivering because it means more for them! But there’s never really going to be enough because “enough” doesn’t exist in their mindset, does it?

Now, people who come from abundance and trust are quite different. As leaders and managers, they mentor, teach and lead by example. They know that trusting employees to work from home or take twelve weeks off after the birth of a baby is an investment in their people’s  quality of life and creates high-performing, committed workers.

So, in shorthand:

Abundance means there’s always enough.

Lack means there’s never enough.

Trusting that things will work out for the best means that they often do.

Trusting that things will always go south means that they often do.

The camp you fall into on this defines the quality of your life and the richness of your experience.

Best-selling writer Jonathan Haidt, who’s been called a “top world thinker”, wrote a book called The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom in 2006. In the book, Haidt offers a formula for achieving happiness, represented by:

H = S + C + V

(Math! In a Michele Woodward blog post! Alert the media!)

H stands for your overall happiness. S represents your “Set Point”, C is the conditions of your life (do you have a long commute? A happy marriage? A leaky roof? A bum knee? A beautiful garden?) and V stands for the voluntary things you choose to do (anything you do that brings meaning or brings pain).

And, of course S is all about whether you come from abundance and trust or lack and fear.

The interesting thing is that simply changing one part of the formula makes a huge difference in  your overall happiness. Want to guess which one?

That’s right, diligent readers – your set point makes up the biggest part of your overall happiness. So, while you can change the conditions of your life by moving closer to the office, fixing the roof or getting physical therapy for your knee, and you can certainly choose to do more meaningful things, but the real payoff comes from shifting your set point.

Whatever you can do to let go of fear and allow more trust will pay off.

Whatever you can do to remind yourself that there’s plenty of good stuff out there for you will pay off.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Seems like there are plenty of people who will invite you into Camp A, ask you to take a chair and settle in for a long, long sit. They’ll also tell you that people in Camp B are foolish, naive and stupid because the world is a hard place and you have to fight and scratch to get what you need in this life.

But I’ll tell you something – people in Camp B are happy. They really are, profoundly and innately. And they can be productive, successful and at the top of their game. Their lives are not struggles – in fact, their lives seem inordinately lucky, kind of effortless and even blessed.

It’s pretty sweet.

So, how about this? How about you start your membership in Camp B today? Start by noticing when things go your way. Keep track of times when there is more than enough. Remember that all trust begins with trusting yourself – so do what you can to stop the second-guessing, the self-doubt, the self-disparagement.

Step by step, move by move, opportunity by opportunity, you will build your trust that the world is actually full of wonderful things for you, and for others.

There’s plenty of room in our tent here in Camp B, and there’s space for you right here next to me.

The Thing About Mother Love



collection of old note paper on white background.I have been known to scrawl down an idea or two (thousand) when they pop into my noggin. Sometimes, it’s something I’ve read, or maybe I heard somewhere. When it comes time for my house to be cleaned out, the biggest impediment will be what to do with the three zillion Post-it notes, four thousand completely used legal pads and three gross of used index cards I have scrawled upon in my daily life.

And that’s just the tally since January 1, 2014.

So, I don’t know where this line came from, but I jotted it down on my desk blotter, which is really just a huge pad of paper I use to blot my ideas. The words form just a fragment, but it’s enough for me to remember and to think about:

“Follow highest excitement”

Did someone say this to me? Did I read it? Did it pop into my head, unbidden, from divine inspiration?

I have no idea.

But I do know what it means. It means that to find your deepest happiness, your most contented joy, your highest fulfillment, you must pursue the thing that lights you up the most.

Some of you know that in this last year I became an empty-nester. Within a few weeks of each other both of my children moved to new places to do new things and I found myself, very suddenly, with a life wide open.

Helpful friends had many suggestions for me. I should travel more. I should get an office downtown so I could be around more people. I should go to grad school. I should be on the TODAY show. I should get married. I should definitely not get married but have a madly passionate dating life.

All well meaning, but as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: “Someone else’s dream.”

When I look at my “highest excitement”, the thing that lights me up more than any other is something rather mundane. You might even say kind of ordinary.

But it’s not ordinary to me. To me, it’s the most amazing thing in the world.

You see, there is just one thing I will always do first. That I will break plans to attend to. For which I will spend every dollar I have and borrow if I need more. That I will always, always, always make time for.

In fact, my life’s highest excitement is… being a mother to my children.

Sexy, huh?

But, if they ask me to come be with them, I am there.

If they want to talk through things in their lives, I am there.

If they need help, I am there.

If they want to send me a hilarious gif of an Asian baby break dancing with a puppy, I am totally there.

And you might say that now is “me time” and that I’ve paid my dues and it’s time for a big separation and what am I some kind of helicopter parent?

No, in fact, I’m sort of the anti-helicopter parent. I’ve always known that my entire parenting job was to prepare my children to do what they’re doing at this very point in their lives – to make their own decisions, to live their own lives, to love their own ways.

My highest excitement comes from the delicious pleasure of “what next?” in the lives of these extraordinary people. What will they learn that sparks a new way of thinking for them? What will they experience that leads to a greater knowing? Who will come into their lives? How will they be in the world?

To me, this is a sheer and utter delight.

It occurs to me that what I’m really talking about is ”mother love”. That encompassing feeling of good will, delight in the moment and happy hope for the future – so maybe my highest excitement is really about me, and my ability to follow what my heart knows is right and true.

But here’s the thing that also occurs to me: this good will, this delight, this hope – exists plenty of places. Examples abound everywhere, and you don’t have to have given birth or raised a child to experience it.

You just have to live to your fullest expression. To honor what’s most fulfilling to you.

Regardless of gender or station, race or education, when you choose to honor and follow your highest excitement, you bring your own version of powerful mother love to the table.

This is the promise. This is the hope.

This is the possibility.

And today, on Mother’s Day, this is my big idea. Now, let me write it down somewhere.



Is It Me?




See this book right here? The one looking like a sticky-note hedgehog?

This book, No One Understands You And What To Do About It by Heidi Grant Halvorson has just entered the pantheon of Books I Recommend Most Frequently.

Honestly, it’s terrific. And applicable to so many situations:

If you are starting a new job and want to make sure you get off on the right foot – read this book.

If you are often the number two candidate for a new position and want to make sure you’re the number one next time, read this book.

If, like Rodney Dangerfield, you don’t get no respect, read this book.

If you went to night school to get an advanced degree but no one in the office sees you as anything other than the former intern, read this book.

If you’re a leader, read this book.

If you’re not as successful as you’d like to be, read this book.

If you’d like to be closer to other people, read this book.

If you want to understand your marriage, read this book.

If you want to understand yourself, read this book.

I mean, people, if I haven’t been clear enough: Read. This. Book.

Heidi Grant Halvorson was a guest on my late, beloved podcast Wisework because of her earlier book Nine Things Successful People Do Differently (also on my Books I Recommend Most Frequently list, btw). So, obviously, I have joined the ranks of Halvorson Fangirls.

And I completely and utterly own that.

Heidi writes about complicated research with a deft and humorous touch, which serves to make the concepts that much easier to grasp. As in:

“This may come as no surprise, but powerful people are more likely to act like selfish jerks. Research by a group of Berkeley researchers, led by Paul Piff, has found evidence of power-induced jerkiness in even the most mundane daily activities.”

Don’t you love “power-induced jerkiness” remaining unedited in a book published by Harvard Business Review Press? Halvorson goes on to use the study as a way in to understanding why the powerful are so much different from those who perceive themselves to be less powerful (Just so you know, the big difference is because they powerful are thinking about their own goals, not yours).

Made me think about the inequality discussion in a whole new light.

And that is the marvel of this book. Read it and you will see things differently. You might even make some changes in the way you are doing things, so you have greater success (what she would call being Promotion-minded) or you might make changes so you can mitigate the chances that you’ll be misunderstood in high-stakes situations (that’s Prevention-minded – see, I learned something!).

Regardless, this book is a keeper. It’s practical, thoughtful, funny and purposeful.

In short, I liked it. Very much.  

I believe you will, too.


Let’s Talk About Joy



Close Up Of Soap BubbleIn my line of work, I often meet people who feel like their job needs to be… well, work.

It’s supposed to be hard, a challenge, a trial, wearying.

It has to be a difficult challenge, a burden, a slog.

So, when I say to them, “Let’s find a way to base your career on joy”, they look at me as if I just got off the last train from OutThereville.

For these dear, harried souls, “joy” and “work” are never used in the same sentence. Never. Ever.

Of course, until they meet me.

Because I know that when you base your career in something that’s joyful, work doesn’t feel like work - it feels like a pleasure. Like an adventure. Like the most exhilarating learning you’ve ever experienced.

When you can find the joy in what you do, then stuff like toxic people, or unexpected roadblocks, or other setbacks become simply Things That Happen. When you’re operating from a true, deep love of what you’re doing, Things That Happen…happen. And so you deal with them and get back to doing what you love.

Sure, maybe wiser and more experienced, but still deeply joyful.

You want a real world example, don’t you?

So, recently, I had a colonoscopy. Immediately, you’re thinking “joy!”, aren’t you?

When I met with the doctor before the procedure, he told me that he had learned how to do colonoscopies when he was in the Army in Vietnam. I said, “Wow, you must have seen the technology change so much between then and now.”

He looked at me curiously, then said, “I sure have!” and went on to tell me, with a lot of enthusiasm, what’s changed. In that moment, I saw that my doctor loves his work. Loves it. Finds it fascinating. Appreciates the work he does. Feels joy.

And he does colonoscopies for a living.

Someone asked me yesterday how they could have a “bigger” career. How could they push past the barriers and boundaries they encounter and live large?

I replied with: “Start with joy.” Because with joy as your foundation, things come so easily. People find you a pleasure to be around and want to do business with you. Opportunities come. Doors open.

Life gets rich and full.

So, maybe it’s time for you to take a close look at your life. Where are you on joy? How can you get more if you don’t have enough?

How can you shift from the limiting idea that a life worth living is by definition a hard-fought battle, and move toward the bounteous idea that the best life is one founded on pure, unadulterated joy?

Because if you can, everything will break wide open for you.