Conclusion How They Got Their Glow – The Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life

Conclusion

How They Got Their Glow

“Little by little, one walks far.”

—Peruvian proverb

One of the most popular sessions in my longer workshops is the reunion we hold about six weeks after the course ends. Participants come together to report on their successes and struggles. They celebrate one another’s achievements and share strategies to overcome obstacles.

The people whose stories fill these pages came to me for courses or coaching with similar goals: to fill their days with more satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. They wanted to improve their experience at work and at home. They all went through the same process, defining their purpose and creating visions that set them aglow. They lit up at different points and in their own unique way. They made changes, large, medium, and small. They came to improve how they managed the business of their lives and that they did.

Has everyone who has ever taken my courses made improvements? I really can’t say. I do everything possible to set people up for long-term success. Life happens and it is entirely possible that some people go back to business as usual. Hopefully, they pull a technique out of their new tool kit when faced with a decision to make or a dilemma to solve, whenever the time is right. The people who come to see me in the months and years following their workshops or coaching do so because they’re excited to tell me how they’ve used what they learned to do something that was meaningful for them.

As I’ve mentioned before, the framework presented in this book is tidy and structured, but the world we live in can be chaotic and messy. These tools can’t always compensate for tough circumstances, but they can help you do the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt. Sometimes, they can help you see how to reshuffle the deck and even find some new cards to play. As one example, in this economy, many people feel happy to have any job (if they even have one), let alone one they find gratifying. They have bills to pay and can’t afford to take time off to contemplate a more satisfying career. So the workshop provided them with tools and ideas to make their current job more enjoyable. Beyond that, they were able to find ways to incorporate their passions and talents in other aspects of their lives, like Regina, who found so much joy singing in her church choir.

This program can help you find the resilience you need and a new, more productive approach when you have tried something that didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. As the Chinese proverb says, if you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through. You can always go back to the list of potential strategies you developed in step 7 if the first one you tried didn’t produce the results you expected.

Consider this your reunion. People take from the experience what they need, when they need it. Some come hoping to make minor adjustments to a life that’s already going pretty well. Others are looking for a complete change in direction because they’re unhappy with the status quo or their circumstances shift. In a moment, we will take a look at how the people whose stories you’ve been reading have fared thus far. But your story doesn’t end here.

You have just learned a framework and tools that you can use at any time to achieve whatever it is you want or need to do. At this point, are you wondering if you’ve done enough? Done it right? Pshaw. Right, shmite. Let me remind you that YOU are the expert on you. Only you can answer those questions for yourself. This is not a course that comes with a final exam and a grade on a report card. The program presented in this book is meant to serve you. It is not meant to be one more set of expectations for you to fulfill. No “shoulds” here.

This book can serve as a resource for years to come. I hope you have found it useful to think about things in a new way and learned some tricks that help you be more productive and effective—in whatever way benefits you. Only you can be the judge of that.

Tweaks and Transformations

The people in this book have selected the techniques that work for them and have assembled their own custom toolkits to serve their specific needs. I am always delighted to hear some of the interesting ways they have applied the tools to fix their own unique circumstances.

Using Their Tools to Build a Better Situation

One last time, allow me to emphasize just how important it is to write down the elements of this program that mean the most to you somewhere it will be easy for you to access at any time. Your custom closet can serve that purpose, or you are most welcome to use whatever application or technique works for you. Just be sure to find one that does. Then, so you won’t forget, schedule time to review it at regular intervals. Telling someone about your plans and committing to keeping them updated on your progress is another excellent way to stay on track. Also, the more you make a practice of using the tools presented here, the more likely they will just become a part of the way you think.

Setting Priorities and Staying on Point

Brandon is the busy executive who used his vision statement to decide if he should accept the invitation to serve on a prestigious corporate board. His picture of success had him available to attend his children’s soccer games and special events, so it was clear that joining that board at that particular time was in conflict with his immediate priorities. He found the clarity his vision provided so powerful that he continues to use his tools and filters to maintain awareness and make good decisions. He reasoned that he will likely have another opportunity to serve on a corporate board, but his son would never be eleven again.

He has used the importance/urgency matrix to prioritize projects at work and at home. He has shared his tool kit with his family and colleagues and encourages them to give careful thought to the choices they make. Brandon is a fan of the “big rock” concept presented in step 7 and uses that thinking each morning to determine what he wants to achieve. Then he sticks to the plan as much as circumstances allow.

He had been particularly concerned that his colleagues would look at him askance if he left work during the day to go to an event at his kids’ school, so he worked out an ironclad plan to make sure he consistently delivered high-quality work on time and on budget. That plan worked well. He is thriving at work and is home when needed. But something unexpected happened. Far from being looked down upon for making family a priority, he has become a leader in his company and a champion of work–life balance. His colleagues look to him as a role model. Something he feared has actually boosted his career and improved retention and morale in his company. In turn, his personal goals are much easier to achieve.

Keeping Joy on the Agenda

As you saw, the visioning and goal-setting steps provided a powerful framework for Sandra. Her vision statement helped focus her prodigious energy on those initiatives that mattered most to her. Setting priorities helped her see that launching her nonprofit organization, Fertility Within Reach, was an urgent desire. So much so that she launched it in one year, not the five years she had initially envisioned.

Sandra also became more disciplined about managing the projects she and her team took on at work. She developed a full-blown project plan for each initiative, figuring that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing right. The structured approach helped her hold her staff accountable, which was especially important because they were scattered across a few different locations.

Sandra told me that her Business of Life tools helped her do something else that completely transformed her personal life. She now runs every decision through a “joy-to-hassle ratio” analysis. Before agreeing to a request from her family, community, whomever, she asks herself, “Am I going to get any joy out of this?” If the answer is no, she feels no guilt from declining. She wouldn’t do anything that wouldn’t benefit her business, so why would she do that in her personal life? Her vision statement and a few simple questions help her keep joy on the agenda.

Small Shifts Can Yield Big Dividends

Richard also found that, paradoxically, easing up a bit can make a huge difference in the workplace. He is the corporate executive whose impossibly high standards were inhibiting his staff, who were reluctant to turn in assignments because he was so likely to find fault with them. Richard did a “five whys” analysis to get to the root of his paranoia-driven perfectionism.

Why do I demand perfection from my staff and myself?

I am afraid our analyses fall short of board members’ high expectations.

Why (do I fear our analyses will fall short of expectations)?

The board members are industry leaders with access to the most cutting-edge intelligence and economic forecasts and they will expect the same of us.

Why (would they expect that of us)?

I’m not sure, but I assume they would expect me to know what they know.

Why (do I assume they would expect me to know what they know)?

I am afraid to ask them what they expect.

Why (am I afraid to ask them)?

I might look weak since they probably expect me to know what they expect.

When we reviewed his answers, Richard appreciated the irony of his own lack of thoroughness in preparing himself to produce a stellar product. He wasn’t holding himself to the same high standard to which he was holding his staff. All out of fear of looking “bad” to his board. He created a great deal of angst for himself and everyone else by managing according to what he imagined might be expected of him. Leadership 101 calls for setting explicit expectations and managing to objective, measurable outcomes. Richard wasn’t even managing himself well, since he failed to establish expectations with his board.

I also pointed out to him that his board members were there to be a resource for him and his company, not to trip him up at meetings. Richard needed to create relationships with the directors so he could make the most of this valuable resource and establish an agreement on the best approach to their collective work. Not only had his paranoia stifled his staff’s creativity, it deprived the board members of the satisfaction of fully contributing their expertise to benefit the company.

We agreed that Richard would invite one locally based director to lunch each week or set up a phone call if the director was located at a distance. Most board members were pleased to be engaged in this way and were eager to share their advice. Once Richard realized that he had allies and even mentors on the board, he was able to relax in the knowledge that they wanted to see him succeed, not fail.

This simple shift in the way he looked at his board was a game changer. With the knowledge that he could ask for help and advice, he was able to ease up on his staff, letting them be more creative and take some risks. Their performance and morale increased immeasurably. As an added benefit, Richard’s intake of ulcer medication went down proportionately. Probably more than anyone, his wife was delighted that he managed to be home for dinner and was in a good mood much more frequently.

Freedom from Fear

Brenda, the would-be manager whose middle school teacher told her she had no ability with numbers, faced down her phobia and enrolled in a college math course en route to pursuing the management career to which she aspired. During the semester, she worked hard, took advantage of every bit of extra help she could get, and joined a study group. During this time, we also looked for ways she could bring more elements of management into her current job. She asked for a project to lead so she could build up her track record and beef up her résumé. Her manager was pleased to see her take the initiative and gratefully put her in charge of overseeing their department’s renovations and the process of moving all the faculty and staff to their new space.

The day Brenda showed up in my office to show me her final grade—an A—she was positively beaming. She had shed the shackles that had held her back for years and truly believed there was nothing she couldn’t do. After acing the one thing she was sure was beyond her abilities, her confidence soared and she enrolled in a degree program. She loved college life and immersed herself fully in that experience. Rather than exhausting her, school gave her energy and she sailed through her program, working day and night to complete it. Tragically, just a few months shy of graduating, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. With every ounce of strength and determination she possessed, she earned her bachelor’s degree before succumbing to her disease.

At her memorial service, I was filled with grief and gratitude. Brenda faced her fate with grace. She had finally discovered what she was capable of achieving. What’s more, she was able to teach her nieces to question anyone who told them there was something they couldn’t do. As Brenda learned more about management at school, she had several opportunities to put that knowledge to use at work. Her efforts were appreciated and she found that enormously satisfying right up until the time she was too ill to work any longer. Brenda unchained her melody. She did not die with her song still inside her. And that was enough for her.

Total Reboots

The pain of not pursuing their dreams or making a difference was enough to compel several people to seek wholesale change. They wanted to use their considerable talents more fully and to make their days matter. Despite their professional accomplishments, they were unfulfilled and curious why that was. So I showed them that to achieve soul-satisfying success, they needed a plan.

Passion Pushes Past Inertia

Danielle found the courage to leave her lucrative yet soul-sucking career in fashion to pursue her passions when she was laid off from her job. She was able to resist taking another position in the same industry once she realized that her work hadn’t incorporated any of the things she truly enjoyed. While she was very nervous about making a living, she finally had the time and mental space to contemplate her options. She started by injecting the free days that stretched before her with some pleasure. Having set goals to take a cooking class and to start preparing home-cooked meals, she got right to it. When she stepped into the cooking school’s kitchen, she had that wonderful feeling that she was finally home.

As soon as that course ended, she immediately searched for her next gastronomic adventure and enrolled in a class to learn how to make artisanal chocolates. From the moment she plunged her hands into the warm liquid confection, she knew she was literally dipping into her dreams. This was it. Danielle had stumbled on a way to combine her artistic skills, business acumen, and love of all things culinary. She took the entrepreneurial plunge. She has never looked back. Her website states the principles that fueled the goals she set for her enterprise: “Our passion for recapturing small production, sane business practices, and quality of life and product defines us.”

Her story doesn’t end there. With what she considers a kind of cosmic confirmation that all is right with her world, she received an e-mail from a woman who had lost her job and wanted to strike out on her own. Danielle recounted the tale:

I called her and we chatted for a while. She was in New York and her dad had forwarded an article written about me from South Shore Magazine. Two weeks later I received an e-mail from my college roommate thanking me for being so kind to her best friend. Her friend told her she had spoken with a woman in Massachusetts who had started a chocolate business. She knew it had to be me. It was a crazy small world moment that I just loved. It makes me feel that I am doing exactly what I should be doing and we are connected to certain people for a reason.

Danielle is having the time of her life and business couldn’t be better. In fact, I recently logged on to her website to find a picture of a chocolate man wearing a Santa Claus hat and waving a white flag. It said, “We surrender! We can’t make it fast enough . . . (to guarantee delivery on new orders) before Christmas.” This statement is evidence of her adhering to the principles that define her business.

She has also hung onto her razor-sharp wit as she relayed her adventures with a photo shoot for yet another magazine feature: “They sent Manolo Blahniks but my bunioned feet would not fit in them so I had to wear my real chocolate shoes, which are cork-soled clogs. Hmmm . . . could I dip in Manolos? Anyway, it was fabulous to be fawned over by hair and makeup stylists for the day. I felt like a princess. A princess in clogs.”

Danielle’s renaissance began when she took her first cooking class. If you are looking for a change, consider following your heart and doing something you love—just because you love doing it. You’re practically guaranteed to have a good time and you just never know where it might lead you.

Time to Please Me

Like Danielle, spending time considering his passions convinced our people-pleasing lawyer, Jim, to re-chart his course and get off the path he’d embarked on to please his parents. While a law career wasn’t what he’d envisioned for himself, he thought that he would be able to find a niche in that field where he could fulfill his desire to connect with his clients and have a meaningful impact on their lives. But the reality of legal practice did not fit his idealistic notions of how he could make a difference while making a living.

When Jim looked at what he liked about his legal work, he realized that it was counseling his clients, mastering an extensive body of information, and writing complex legal briefs that brought him pleasure. But he found that working in a corporate environment and focusing so much attention on billable hours left him feeling spiritually bankrupt. He didn’t mind the tasks he had to perform, but he felt like a fish out of water in that setting.

Jim found a new direction when he focused on his mission. He had no trouble identifying where his talents and passions intersected with the needs of individuals and the world.1 He loved counseling people, reading and writing on spiritual topics, and working with nonprofit organizations. Somewhere deep inside him, he knew what he felt called to do. He wanted to be a rabbi, trading in torts for Torah. And he’s in good company. Jim called to tell me that he knew of at least six other attorneys who were pursuing the rabbinate at his seminary. Each day he’s in school, he feels sure he is in the right place. And while he’s finally following his own heart, his parents couldn’t be more pleased. Who knew?

Who AM I Anyway?

Truth be told, I take the time in my courses to teach about guiding principles mostly as an affirmation of peoples’ good intentions. This exercise is usually just a quick listing of the core values that fuel our behavior. It doesn’t usually prompt major changes. It just makes everyone conscious of what drives them so they feel good about their motivations before they move on to the next step. That is, until I met Miranda.

Miranda, the corporate CEO we first encountered in the mission step, was in her late fifties when her beloved, elderly Chihuahua, Carmen, died. As time went on, Miranda’s grief deepened and she felt seriously depressed. She wasn’t in the habit of allowing herself time to notice, let alone indulge, her feelings. Now, however, she was so overwhelmed with sorrow that she did the unthinkable: she cancelled her attendance at a board meeting and spent a few unscheduled days at home for the first time in recent memory.

On a long, solitary walk on the beach, she made a major discovery about herself: she was an addict. While some people turn to alcohol or cocaine, Miranda’s drug of choice was activity. Now, with three days on her hands with little to do but think, she couldn’t avoid her emotions. She realized that Carmen’s death was so devastating because not only did she lose her constant companion, she lost the only friend who ever loved her unconditionally. She felt angry, alone in the company of others, and afraid she would die a bitter, bejeweled old woman. The vision of where she was headed frightened her so intensely she did something else she would have found unthinkable a few short weeks earlier. She asked for help.

Miranda knew that a colleague on one of her boards was coming to me for coaching and she decided to give it a try herself. She was still quite upset when she arrived for her first session. We decided to start by examining the source of her distress so her plans could address the root cause rather than the symptoms. Once she started paying attention, her insights flowed freely.

Her parents were very traditional and very well off. Her father was a prominent businessman and her mother was very active in civic affairs as a volunteer. They lavished Miranda with gifts and her brother with attention. When she was a young girl, her parents expected Miranda to have impeccable manners and to marry well some day. They invested most of their parenting energy on her brother, whom they groomed to take over his father’s company—something Miranda would have liked very much for herself. She rebelled by getting an education and working her way up the corporate ladder. She was determined to show her parents what a girl could do and hoped to gain their admiration in the process. Her behavior didn’t meet their expectations of what was becoming for their precious jewel, and they were rarely impressed by her accomplishments. She was promoted, won awards, and commanded a huge salary, and still her parents never offered their approval. Frustrated, she became a shrill, demanding taskmaster prone to legendary outbursts of temper.

Before we got going in earnest on developing her personal strategic plan, Miranda required more data. An exacting executive, she wanted a full dossier before she was ready to tackle the project of her life. So, we performed a 360-degree evaluation in which I confidentially interviewed those all around her at work and in the community. The results were sobering. She wasn’t surprised that many of the professionals I interviewed thought she was tough and highly competitive. However, she was truly pained to find out the administrative staff secretly referred to her as “Cruella Deville” because she would “bite their heads off” if she didn’t like the way they carried out an assignment. Miranda was quite fond of these young women and had no idea that they felt that way about her.

This revelation haunted her as she began the planning process. Her “ahas” started right from the beginning as we reviewed her life’s purpose. She’d never given much thought to her mission other than showing her parents how wrong they were about what a girl could do. She’d long ago proven that she could succeed in the male-dominated business world, but that never filled the void. Yet she kept on going after promotions and honors—all sorts of outward validation of her worth. Like an addict, she was seeking to fill a hole in her soul with awards and accolades. It didn’t work. She needed to make a difference.

Her experiences, coupled with the pain of learning that her young colleagues disliked her so intensely, led her to believe her life’s mission had something to do with creating opportunities for other women to develop their full potential and thrive in the workplace. Working on her vision statement and looking at her strengths helped her flesh out how she might approach that mission.

For Miranda, who did whatever it took to whomever was in her path on the way to the corner office, stopping to contemplate the principles that would guide her actions going forward was a transformational exercise. She committed to fostering empowerment, excellence, opportunity, honesty, integrity, and generosity in herself and others. Her newly espoused values clearly lit the path she would follow to the end of her career.

With this important groundwork completed, setting priorities was fairly simple for such a consummate businesswoman, as was developing strategies to achieve her new goals. She knew how to mobilize resources to get results. She created a plan and started a program to help disadvantaged young women prepare to enter the workplace. She held them to exacting standards, but most were able to rise to her high expectations. Miranda worked directly with several of the girls and found that watching them gain confidence, skills, and, ultimately, jobs was extremely satisfying. While I can’t say Miranda turned into a marshmallow, her edges have softened a great deal. Her face looks more serene and far less pinched. And she’s held on to a secretary for several years, after having gone through more assistants than Murphy Brown.

Now Miranda finds much more satisfaction giving out scholarships and awards than she ever experienced in receiving them. She finds fulfillment in giving what she never received from her own parents—the gift of listening to what these girls really want and helping them to achieve their dreams. In turn, with each young woman she helps, she is healing her own wounds.

Miranda called me recently to tell me she had just received the most meaningful award of her career. A few of the young women she had helped along the way chipped in to buy her a pewter bowl to thank her for seeing their potential and insisting they stick with the rigorous program until they graduated and secured employment. She was particularly touched that a young woman whom she helped to land her first job presented the gift. Miranda had a first of her own that day: she shed her very first tears of joy.

Built a Better Balance

Countless people come for classes or coaching when they feel like their lives are out of balance. For many, that means spending so much time on work that there is little time left over for other priorities. The administrative and time management skills they learn help them become more efficient. But often it is the act of committing those other priorities to paper and making a plan to address them that allows the real shifts to take place. There is something about the visual experience of seeing your priorities mapped out that snaps that vague sense of imbalance into sharp relief. Once you can see where your issues lie, you can make choices that serve you better.

He Finally Fit in Some Fun

Paul is the finance manager who took my Business of Life course after relocating for his new position. In class, he had a very serious demeanor, dour almost, and made a point of emphasizing that he was taking the course to sharpen his planning skills so he could dazzle his new boss. He never participated in discussions about the “softer” issues that engaged his classmates. So he surprised us all when it came time to talk about goal setting. He realized when he looked at his custom life closet that he had put all of his eggs in the career basket and had not made a priority of his relationships, health, or place in the community. This hit him especially hard as he thought about what it meant to live in a new city where he didn’t know anyone. Frankly, he found it rather depressing.

He immediately set some goals to get more exercise and to meet new people. And he wanted to have some fun. Paul had always liked volleyball, so when his local adult education center organized a team, he joined. After their first game, a rousing victory, he invited his teammates out for a celebratory drink. In the weeks that followed, the team often went out after games and he made a few new friends whom he met for meals and movies. Paul’s newly balanced life paid dividends for him on the job as well.

With a life outside of work, Paul had something to talk about with his colleagues besides budgets and balance sheets. His colleagues found him more likable. Once he loosened up, his colleagues started to include him in their social activities. They were also more willing to collaborate with him on projects. The quality of his work life and work products improved when he focused on leading a more balanced existence.

Metabolic Multitasking

Mark is the attorney who sought out coaching once he made partner in his law firm. Years of a singular focus on getting promoted had taken its toll on his health and social life. He was ready to get back into shape and back in the game. He used all of the prioritization matrices to establish an exercise program that would also serve his goal to be more social. He had settled on jogging a few days a week with friends as part of his routine. When his sister invited him to participate in a ten-kilometer race to raise money for kids with autism, he readily agreed. It served a cause that mattered to him and was a catalyst to get him off the couch and on the road.

Using his natural ability to organize groups, he put together an e-mail distribution list and invited several friends to meet him at the appointed time and place for his planned runs. He encouraged everyone to invite their friends and post their plans as well. Before long, there were more than thirty people on the e-mail list and a dozen or more showed up for most of the morning runs. Several signed up to participate in the autism race as well. At our last meeting, Mark told me he had just met an intriguing woman on one of his morning runs. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “I’m thinking of running a few extra days a week. You know, to get in shape faster.”

Starting with Their Strengths

When they first set out to start Our Space, Inc. to provide art therapy programs for children affected by cancer, Peggy and Gail were overwhelmed by the myriad steps required to launch their new organization. They started small, with tasks that appealed to their artistic sensibilities and drew on their strengths. But they well knew they lacked the business skills and other things they needed to make Our Space a reality. Their SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) defined the gulf that stood between them and fulfilling their vision.

Just when they needed it most, Lee Ann appeared, ready to bridge the gap. She was the talented program manager who told me of her desire to use her artistic and planning skills to help people with cancer. As you saw in the SWOT step, her skills and Peggy and Gail’s vision were the missing pieces in each other’s puzzles. I was delighted to make an introduction and witness the impressive results of this collaboration. Lee Ann guided Gail and Peggy through the process of creating a business plan, setting up an advisory board, and incorporating Our Space. She provided the structure that was essential to harnessing their creative energy and channeling it into practical action that produced tangible results. In turn, Lee Ann found a worthy outlet for her organizational gifts. Clearly, her talents and passions collided with a real need in the world.

All the while, Gail and Peggy continue to draw on their strengths to grow the program and work toward building a permanent space. With Lee Ann’s help, they’ve hosted several successful fundraisers showcasing Gail’s comedic talents and artwork they and their many friends created. They offer their art therapy programs in numerous hospitals and other settings while they continue to march toward their vision of opening a dedicated space. Connecting with patients and supporting their families in these challenging moments brings them great satisfaction, infusing their path with joy and inspiration.

Do you think they were just lucky to find each other? As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Peggy and Gail were so passionately committed to finding meaning in their own struggles with cancer that they kept looking for ways to make it happen, even when their dream seemed impossibly beyond their reach. They told everyone they knew about their vision. Their friends connected them with others who could help bring it to life. And, as we’ve seen in other examples, a compelling vision makes others want to be a part of it.

As for Lee Ann, corralling these artistic types could be a challenge at times, but it was enormously exciting to guide them and see their vision take shape. Helping kids with their art projects in those early days gave beautiful expression to her desire to work with cancer patients. Not long after Our Space hit its stride, Lee Ann landed a great job in risk management, the field she missed after leaving her previous position to care for her aunt. Her employer allows enough flexibility for volunteer work. Now she’s happily engaging her heart and head, using her gifts to make a difference.

Steadying the Boat in Stormy Seas

Thelma is the hospital department head whose goal was to stop yelling at her family. Her Business of Life classmates wouldn’t let her get away with her proposed strategy: trying to pretend she wasn’t angry when her husband and son left their dirty socks on the floor. She was grateful to her colleagues for pushing her to be honest with herself and confront what was really causing her such distress. And to value herself enough to put herself on her list of priorities. She shared her powerful story when I interviewed her some three years after her course ended:

Your class couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. It was about a year before my world fell apart, and if I hadn’t learned those skills and had time to practice them and make them my own, I don’t know how I would have managed. Really.

Thelma recalled her class project and how touched she was when her classmates challenged her with so much compassion. Her closet and calendar exercises showed her how she’d left herself out of every equation, putting everyone and everything ahead of her own needs. She was exhausted. Her goal for that group exercise was to stop yelling at her family. Her strategy was to just forget how angry it made her when her son and husband took off their socks in the living room and just left them on the floor. For such a strategic thinker, that wasn’t much of a strategy, so I instructed her do a root cause analysis on why this situation upset her so much.

This exercise showed Thelma that the socks bothered her so much because they were a symptom of a much larger issue.

With her new knowledge, the class encouraged Thelma to talk to her son, who was thirteen at the time, and she put up a chart that rewarded him for every day the living room was free of his socks. He lost a point for every day the socks (or hats or whatever) were there. It took him close to a year, but he earned enough points to get the game system he wanted.

But Thelma discovered her challenges went much deeper as she recounted in her interview. “My husband was another story. It turns out he was having an affair and my son found out about it. My husband insisted he keep it to himself. My son (who knew the socks were the least of his worries) became seriously depressed because he felt powerless to do anything about it. To make a long story short, he ended up in the hospital to get treated for his anger and depression. It was there he found the courage to tell me about my husband’s affair . . . I threw my husband out that very day.”

Thelma took responsibility for her part in this family drama and set out immediately to chart a more productive course for herself and her children. She recalled that she could have fallen apart, but found that the Business of Life tools showed her there was another way out of this situation. She knew her kids needed her to be strong and steady. Work was her safe place where she was in charge, respected, and successful. She needed for that to remain the case so she revised her personal strategic plan. When Thelma got to the SWOT, she realized that she’d contributed to her son’s depression by not being stronger about holding him to higher standards of respectful behavior. She felt that contributed to his poor self-esteem. She realized, thanks to her classmates, the sock chart was the first time she’d really held him accountable for his behavior. “He needed me to do more of that. I knew I couldn’t do that without building my own sense of self-worth.”

Thelma re-read her class notes and what I’d said about being present. That led her to a yoga class that is all about cultivating awareness. She reported that she learned how to be present, aware, and able to cope with life as a single mother and so many transitions. And she learned to put taking care of her own wellbeing on the to do list.

Maybe most of all, the planning tools you taught me helped me to be viewed as a strong leader in the hospital. I know I have the respect and support of the doctors I work with and that’s crucial to my sense of self-worth. Work was the one constant positive thing during the year from hell. The strategic planning structure made it easy to evaluate even the most complicated project and to break it down into doable steps.

Now, everything feels doable.

Slow, Steady Success

Stella, who broke her “yeah-but” habit when she established the religious bookstore and cafe she’d always dreamed of, provided an update a few years after taking her class. She came to her workshop assuming her goal was beyond her reach because she couldn’t afford to quit her day job and lose her benefits. So how would she ever realize this ambition? Stella learned to question her limiting beliefs and look beyond the “buts” to find what’s possible. As soon as she opened herself up to seeing novel opportunities to fulfill her aspiration, she found a way to do it. “Your course was a catalyst for me . . . Thank you. The bookstore and cafe is my joy. Although open on weekends only, I expanded to a larger space and increased my product line.”

She is working on a new website where she plans to sell T-shirt designs that her graphic designer son is creating exclusively for her shop. He is helping her with marketing to boost sales. Stella considers her bookstore a work in progress that is “moving in the right direction (ever so slowly). In the meantime the café is holding its own . . . The fellowship is amazing.”

And They Lived . . . Ever After

The people featured in the sections that follow make a regular practice of reviewing their closets to ensure they stay on track. It reminds them to continue with their productive strategies or take on new priorities as they achieve goals or their circumstances shift.

Gratefully Ever After

You met Regina in the goal-setting step. She’s the IT project manager who had fallen into some unhealthy habits, such as dining on fast food, after having her first child. Despite having a satisfying job and a family she adored, Regina was exhausted and prone to bouts of depression. Among others, her goals included starting an exercise regimen and setting a good example for her young daughter.

Regina has ditched the fast-food drive-through in favor of stopping at the salad bar on nights she doesn’t have time to cook. She set modest fitness goals and, as a result, has had no difficulty meeting them. In fact, she looks forward to her evening walks with her daughter, who is now four years old. Steadily, her weight has dropped and her moods have lifted.

With more energy and more confidence in her ability to manage, she had a second daughter (whom she straps into her baby carrier for those walks) and is taking a graduate-level course one day a week. Regina continues to sing in her church choir and loves everything about it—the music, friendships, and spending time in the building that always makes her feel divinely inspired. Despite the ups and downs that go with being a working mother, Regina has always been appreciative of her many gifts. Now she has added a practice of a gratitude meditation during her morning commute on the train so she never loses sight of her great fortune.

Consciously Ever After

Angie is the bank vice president who left her prestigious job to raise her children and, ironically, busied herself with volunteer work to the point where she didn’t have the time she wanted to be able to spend with her children. Her identity was so caught up with being respected for her business know-how that she had a hard time embracing her role as full-time mother. However, that’s just what she longed to be—for now.

The key for Angie was becoming conscious of what was driving her decisions. For some time, she’d convinced herself she was taking on so many volunteer assignments because she was the only one who could do them well enough. She was, after all, a bank vice president. Once she did her time and emotion study, she could see she was spending more of her time nurturing her ego than her children. Her goals and the way she invested her time were not in harmony. She very much wanted to help her kids with their homework and to see them excel academically. In addition, she wanted to be the one to drive them to their extracurricular activities. Family dinners were also a priority for her.

Once she confronted the reality of what she was doing, it was simple for her to realign her calendar with her priorities. She wanted to remain active in her community, but she became far more selective about the work she accepted. She still checks her custom closet now and then and limits herself to no more than one meeting per day with rare exception. Hoping to return to work when her kids are older, Angie gives priority to serving on boards that will help keep her professional network active. Until then, she is present and fully committed to her current position: mom.

Joyfully Ever After

As you saw in the vision step, Bruce’s career was going well and he adored his wife and two little girls. Still, he felt a vague dissatisfaction when he came to his Business of Life course to sharpen his business skills and get to the bottom of his discontent. When he struggled to write his vision statement, he made some important discoveries. He knew that he and his wife, Mara, wanted to have a third child, though they didn’t know how that could fit into their already crowded schedules. As he envisioned his ideal life, it was full of the love, laughter, and silliness he and Mara had enjoyed as a young couple. But as their days filled with more and more responsibility at work and logistics at home, their focus had shifted away from simply having fun with each other. Bruce worried that his circumstances made his vision infeasible to realize, so he was reluctant to write it down. I instructed him not to worry about how he would fulfill his vision or to limit his ambitions at that point. Cultivating some awareness was key to his ability to make some adjustments.

First, Bruce noted that he had yet to cut back on the extra “face time” he had started putting in years ago to establish his career, even though his star had already risen. Second, just writing his vision statement clarified for him the source of his other main issue. He and Mara had settled into a routine that did not make time for them to connect romantically and just enjoy each other. He didn’t even need the five whys to tell him that they didn’t giggle nearly as often as they used to.

With that kind of clarity, the fixes weren’t hard to identify. His time and emotion exercise gave him the opportunity to reshuffle his work schedule now that he no longer needed to attend all the committee meetings that had helped establish his leadership position. He would reinvest that newly liberated time toward his family goals. Mara was overjoyed when Bruce proposed hiring a babysitter so they could go out every Saturday night with the simple goal of having fun and remembering to love each other.

One of the sweetest moments of my career came when Bruce dropped by for a surprise visit about a year after his course ended. He stuck his head in the door, a goofy grin stretching from one ear to the other. Then he stepped all the way in and revealed the bundle in his arms. With as much pride and joy as can fit on a single face, Bruce said, “Meet Zoe.” Then we both laughed until we cried.