The Ultimate To-Do List: 100 Dreams

August 26, 2010 on 6:20 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Some people think of a mission statement as a prose summary of how you want your life and/or career to unfold.  I prefer a checklist approach.  List 100 goals.  If you find this daunting, break it down:

10 professional goals

10 family goals

10 financial goals

10 creative goals

10 places to visit

10 skills to master

10 books to read

10 events to attend

10 subjects to research

10 things you’ve always wanted to do (e.g., bungee jumping).

List everything you want in life, even if you have achieved it already (e.g., college degree).  As you check things off, you’ll be reminded at what an interesting life you have already led.  As you see the things you haven’t gotten to yet, you’ll have the ultimate to-do list.

Love Those Laxatives

August 19, 2010 on 6:19 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

Recently, I met with a top commercial casting director.  He gave me a choice of commercial copy for an Italian restaurant or for laxatives.  Now, as an Asian-American, I have about as much chance at landing an Italian restaurant commercial as I do at landing the lead in a Roots revival, so that choice would be a waste.  But I could be the new laxatives girl, so…. 

Thankfully, I’ve never had to use laxatives, but then I had no inspiration.  I needed to convey that these laxatives were the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the thought of them, well, was just not as great as sliced bread.  How did I get through it?  Whenever the copy called for me to say the product name, I substituted my baby’s name in my mind, and so I cracked a smile, my body relaxed, and I got a twinkle in my eye at just the right moment.  Behold the power of substitution. 

Substitution is a technique I encourage my clients to use when going into a situation that might make them freeze and not do their best.  The idea is to substitute something that gives you the desired effect for the actual thing that makes you freeze.  A business application of this would be at an interview.  One client was interviewing at a top consulting firm.  She was prepared but would completely fall apart at the start of the case interview.  Consulting firms give interviews called “cases” which are business problems the interviewee needs to solve.  These cases are similar to research projects, which this client was comfortable with after two years of graduate study.  Therefore, I coached her to substitute a professor for the interviewee and a proposed research topic for the case.  She still needs to know how to do cases, but the substitution gets her relaxed enough so that the preparation she has done has a chance to show.

If you are in an audition, interview, sales call, or other important event for which you are prepared but during which you might get rattled, consider using substitution.  You won’t forget where you actually are.  You will still be able to harness the adrenaline and the energy of the moment.  You will still need to prepare.  However, you will have one technique to keep you grounded if you feel the need.  At the very least, you’ll now know how to sell those laxatives.

Scaring Yourself INTO Change

August 12, 2010 on 6:17 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

One of my coaching clients, thinking of switching from acting to accounting (that’s right, acting to accounting, NOT the other way around!) recently asked me how to know for certain when a career change is right.  For monumental life changes (as career changes often are) most clients are excited during the self-assessment process, pumped up for the research and planning phase, and then petrified to make the actual leap.  To get past this, ask yourself one question:

Which will you regret more:  trying a new career and failing miserably; or staying at the current career and never knowing what might have been? 

The answer changes over time.  When you first consider change, the prospect of failure is often scarier than the prospect of regret.  You can improve your readiness with smaller changes  – e.g., adding new skills, making contacts in your new field.  Keep in mind, though, that being scared off by potential (but by no means guaranteed) failure might indicate this change is not really for you.  You might not be willing to expend the effort to make this change a reality, and you might need to go back to the self-assessment stage.

However, as dreams of change keep calling you, the fear of failure wanes.  You might be scared, but you consider the change anyway.  You might be like my client, looking to others for certainty about something only you can know for sure.  For this client, and others getting scared out of making a change, I propose you scare yourself INTO the change.  Use the fear – but fear of regret, not failure.  Move towards change because of fear – because your fear of regret outweighs your fear of failure. 

Remember, you can regain your career, your reputation, and your money after almost any setback, but you cannot ever regain the time you let pass by.  Yes, change is scary.  But, if you think change is scary, try regret.

Timing Your Dreams

August 5, 2010 on 6:15 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

It’s been said that you can have it all, just not all at the same time.  This is true for our dreams.  In the April newsletter, you were asked to list 100 dreams.  You probably don’t expect to achieve them all at the same time.  But, have you actually planned out which ones you want now, rather than later?  Revisit your list of 100 dreams and assign a broad timeline for when you want to work on them.

Think in terms of now, soon and into he future.  NOW dreams deserve your attention now.  For example, if one dream is a fulfilling family life, and you currently have small children, then now is a unique and opportune time to work on that particular dream. 

SOON dreams have a two- to five-year time frame, so you might do some planning now, but nothing else day-to-day.  For example, if you want to take an Alaskan cruise within the next five years, you might save money now, but you can wait to plan logistics.

IN THE FUTURE dreams have a longer time horizon.  These are dreams that are meaningful but not time-critical.  You want to have a checklist of these to remember them.  But, don’t fritter away your NOW time thinking, “I’ve always wanted to…plant a garden.”  If planting a garden is a life dream, but not compelling right now, don’t waste time watching gardening shows and dreaming about the possibilities.  Just acknowledge that it’s on the list and that you will get to it when time frees up.


Having a broad timeline for your dreams ensures that you don’t feel so overwhelmed by your interests that you end up squandering your energy in too many directions or feel guilty because you’re not getting enough done.  Having a timeline ensures that time-sensitive dreams won’t expire with neglect (as the dream to have children does expire at a certain age!)  Having a timeline acknowledges that all dreams have a rightful place in your life, even if not at this very moment.

A Win-Win Solution To Labor Market Chaos

July 15, 2010 on 6:08 pm | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

A Fortune magazine article for a past downturn highlighted the changing scope of layoffs  – affecting white-collar, as well as blue-collar; recent graduates, as well as experienced.  The downturn is even hitting historically stable jobs, such as banking and consulting.  In these precarious times, one might wonder, “Can anyone win in this problematic labor market?”

An indiscriminate market that hits even the safest careers highlights an important and often overlooked point about the choices we make.  There is no 100% job security.  Every choice carries a risk.  If you make a career choice just to mitigate your risk, you could experience a potentially bigger letdown.  Let’s say you choose that consulting job, even though your dream is publishing.  Because consulting is stable.  Because publishing doesn’t pay well.  If you’re one of a significant number of recent graduates who got laid off when several big-name firms downsized, you’ve lost out twice:  1) you’ve lost your job; and 2) you’ve compromised your dream for what turns out to be a false sense of security. 

A better approach would be to acknowledge that all careers carry potential risks and therefore to take the risk for something you truly want.  This approach is a win-win solution.  If things work out, you have your dream career.  If not, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best for what you love.  Either way, you’ll have a fabulous time on your journey.

The 80/20 Rule

July 5, 2010 on 6:07 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

To get a better work/life balance, you can try bringing more personal life into work.  Some actual examples of this trend are casual dress at the office, telecommuting and flextime, and bringing pets to work.  On the other hand, you can introduce business techniques into your personal life – e.g., scheduling your social calendar in your Palm Pilot, conducting family “meetings”.  My favorite technique is to apply the 80/20 rule, or Pareto’s Principle, to both work and life.

The 80/20 rule refers to the idea that in many cases 80% of the value (sometimes measured as income, revenue, or profits) is created by the top 20% of the population.  Thus, a firm with five customers that generates $5 MM in revenues would fall under the 80/20 rule, if the top customer generated $4 MM in revenues (or 80%), while the other four customers combined accounted for 20%.  If this business understands the 80/20 rule, it will not treat all its customers the same because of the disproportionately higher value of its top customer.

What is true in business is true in life.  We have many different customers – people/ responsibilities vying for our time and energy.  Our customers might be our spouse, our kids, our employer, our community, our hobby, etc.  Each customer brings us value, not necessarily in dollars and cents, but if our bottom line is overall quality of life, then each customer contributes to our bottom line in some way.  Yet, we don’t always give the bulk of our time and energy to our top 20%.  For example, if you think that family and career are your top 20%, and yet you spend a lot of time and energy on social events, committees, hobbies, and many other things, you may not be recognizing Pareto’s Principle.  Instead of spreading a lot of time and energy in disparate places, try to focus on the few things that are most valuable to you.  When you are faced with an overwhelming TO DO list, remind yourself of 80/20.  Apply your energy to the “20” to get yourself “80%” of the way to fulfilled.

Time Diary

June 24, 2010 on 3:59 pm | In life coaching | No Comments

Having worked in professional services for most of my career, I am used to accounting for my hours.  As a consultant, you itemize which hours are spent on each client.  Ideally, the most valuable clients get the most time.  So, too, in our personal lives the things we value most should get the most attention.  How close are you to living up to the things you value most?  For one week (one month or even longer would be preferable), keep a Time Diary.

List all the constituencies vying for your time (e.g., family, work, household, finances, fitness, personal, etc).  They are your clients.

Keep a log of everything you do in half-hour increments.  Be specific and honest with the time you actually.  If it takes you two hours to do laundry one day, don’t log one hour, thinking you can get your speed up at some other time. 

Assign each individual activity to a client (in the above example, laundry is the activity, and household is the client).  Other examples:  taking the kids to school is Family; hours in the office is Work.  At the end of the week (or longer), total the number of hours you spend by client.  The percentage of time that you devote to each client is a point-in-time audit of how you spend your life. 

Sample daily entry:






Household Cooking



Family Take Daughter to school



Personal Dinner with friend



Work Office


*Includes time working AND commuting/ preparing for work.

Sample monthly summary:



% of Total



















Grand Total



Of course, quantity is not quality, but the Time Diary is a tool to keep yourself on track.  Are you even able to fill out  this type of report, or are many hours “unbillable”?  Is this how you intended your schedule to be?  Are you spending your time on what is meaningful to you?

A Matter of Life and Death

June 17, 2010 on 1:55 am | In life coaching | No Comments

I saw a Dateline Survival Story of a young hiker, getting caught in a blizzard, and surviving for days with only his lunch and water bottle.  (He didn’t sleep to prevent freezing to death and used the snow to refill his water bottle, first warming the bottle with his hands.)  This story illustrates an important point:  when you want something that badly, you will find a way.

This man wanted to live.  He realized, if he lived, he had a chance to be rescued.  He couldn’t do everything on his own (i.e., rescue himself from the mountain), so he focused only on what he could do:  stay alive – not alive for a certain time, not alive with all his belongings, just alive.

So it should be with our goals.  When we have the same life/death clarity, goal or no goal, we focus on what we can do.  However, many of us pick a goal and assign extraneous conditions to it.  We don’t just want to be a successful actor; we want to be a successful actor by a certain time (typically very soon after we decide to be an actor).  We don’t just want a fulfilling career and family; we want them both now and moving in lockstep each and every day. 

Unfortunately, goals are messier than that.  Our goals push our mental, physical and emotional limits.  Our goals conflict with other things that we want.  How do you know to keep pushing yourself?  You need life and death clarity about your goals.  If the goal is as meaningful to you as staying alive was to that survivor, then keep scrambling.    You may be rescued and have your dreams come true.

Taking A Chance In A Down Market

June 14, 2010 on 1:53 am | In career coaching, life coaching | No Comments

A reader asks:  I’ve been planning a career move, but the market I’m targeting is slow.  Should I wait till the market picks up before making the transition?

Making a move in a down market is tougher than in a robust market.  In the heady days of the last labor market boom, employers were so strapped that they considered a wider range of candidates – candidates with less experience, different industry expertise, or different functional specialty.  Now, employers can be selective and demand exactly the profile they prefer.

That said, there are many aspects to consider in a career move, and the state of the market is but one.  Other factors include professional preparation and emotional readiness. 

Have you thoroughly researched your target field?  Do you know the top firms?  Do you know the major trends? 

Have you conducted informational interviews to gain firsthand knowledge of your target field?  Do you know what personalities and backgrounds are most successful?  Do you know what it means day-to-day to work in this field?

Have you considered the impact of this transition on your life outside of career?  Are there significant lifestyle changes (e.g., longer hours, less money) associated with this transition?  Are you ready to work harder as you always do when you embark on something new?

If you have done your homework and are professionally and emotionally ready for a transition, then this supercedes the market circumstances of the time.  Yes, you could wait for another market upswing.  But then you never know when this might happen, and in the meantime, your knowledge goes stale and your courage starts waning.  In a down market, people still get jobs.  If you feel you’re ready, go for it.

The Importance of Heart

June 10, 2010 on 1:51 am | In career coaching, life coaching | 2 Comments

Early in my career, I was told, “You will be phenomenal in whatever it is you put your heart in.”  I have been a pianist, actor, consultant, banker, recruiter, and career coach.  Can you guess who said that?  A musician seeking to inspire?  A coach seeking to encourage?  Actually, I heard this and similar quotes at every stage in my career.  This particular one came from a partner at an investment bank.

Heart is probably not the first thing you think of when you think investment banking.  Yet, this successful person in this quantitative, business-minded industry recognized the importance of desire.  When we discussed the elements of career success, grades, degree, experience, and other tangible qualifications were not mentioned.  We talked exclusively about heart, passion, and wanting to do what you do.

We all hit career plateaus.  It might be an outright setback, like a layoff, or something subtler, like remaining at a position that no longer challenges you.  How do you know if your career is still the one for you?  There are many techniques to jumpstart your progress.  You can find mentors to inspire you, read trade journals to get new ideas, and research industry trends to plan ahead.  You can also just ask yourself:  How badly do I want this?  If your career still gets you excited — lights the fire behind your eyes, pulls at your heart – then focus on that and allow yourself to get excited again.  And you will be phenomenal.

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