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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How an eclipse changed my vision forever

At an Exxon station in the middle of nowhere Wyoming I was using towels to cover my car windows from the inside, so I could sleep without every trucker in Wyoming being able to peer in.

This wasn’t turning out as I expected.

It was nearing midnight. Behind me, on I-25 South out of Wyoming, a hundred-mile back up was snaking forward,  slowly.

It had taken five hours to go 60 miles in the company of other eclipse viewers who were now all as eager as me to leave Wyoming behind.

Cars were backed up on the exit and were 10 deep at the gas stations waiting to fill up and creep a little further along.

I was thankful to be out of it and welcomed the opportunity to sleep in my car in a field adjacent to an Exxon station, a field whose claim to fame less than 12 hours earlier was to host other people like me who'd driven to the southeast corner of Wyoming for the unique privilege of seeing a total eclipse.

I managed to make it into the path of totality in time to stroll the streets of a small Wyoming town waiting for the interesting part to begin. 

I peered up into the sky through my certified American Optics cardboard glasses.

Sure enough, there was a semi-circular black chunk missing from right side of the sun, like someone had nipped it with nail clippers or one of those tools designed to get perfectly round scoops out of watermelons.

Shopkeepers and waitresses would pop out onto the street and quickly glance up at the sun through their glasses and then dart back in.

The eclipse was progressing, but without the benefit of these glasses, there was no way you would have known. It was sunny with barely a cloud in the sky and Wyoming is nearly all sky.

This went on for over an hour, the moon was 25, 50, 75% over the sun without any discernible change on the streets of Wheatland. But it was happening.

I began to wonder: “When will I be able to see evidence of progress with my own eyes?"

It remained imperceptible on the ground until the moon had eclipsed the sun by about 90%, then a strange twilight emerged, swallows appeared, streetlights blinked on. The “open” sign in the laundromat was suddenly visible and I could see some stars.

And then, totality. It was safe to view without glasses for less than a minute. It went by unbelievably fast




I waited … to feel…  something... to experience some or all of the things I’d heard about in the media leading up to the event.

I'd heard about people bursting into tears, having life-changing transformative experiences and  … feeling … something.  Animals acting strangely and all this cool, you’ll-never-be-the-same, because you-just-saw-a-total-eclipse epiphany stuff.

I’m standing in Wheatland Wyoming and I don’t feel anything but let down and eager to leave. Hmmm.

At midnight, in my car trying to sleep while the thousands who had to be at work, or somewhere, the next day, crept down I-25,

I asked myself, “Why did you come here? Why are you sleeping in your car in a field next to an Exxon station?”

And as if on cue, at that very moment, a stock tractor-trailer full of loudly bleating sheep pulled in right next to me. I thought, “oh, this must be the eclipse related crazy animal behavior I read about.”  Finally!

I fell asleep counting sheep, albeit in a way I hadn't expected.

I awoke to a stunning sunrise in an uncrowded Wyoming with barely a trace of the exodus from the night before.

As I eased down the now near empty interstate, the sun rose unobscured.

I thought about what I'd seen through the special glasses I and thousands of others had purchased to protect our vision.

I considered the sun was 90% covered by the moon and it had been invisible to the naked eye, even dangerous to observe.

We were so close to the thing we’d all traveled to see and when it was literally a breath away, we could not tell it was happening with our own eyes.

And then, suddenly, that flaming, white halo exploded around the moon; I had been surprised that it was white. That white incandescence must have been there all along. It took an obstacle to make it visible.

It occurred to me that as we’re walking around at street level, working, waiting, wishing and striving, we’re all a little closer to our moment of incandescence than we probably realize.

If you keep working and keep faith, what you seek will appear and when it does, you’ll realize it had been happening all along, too powerful for your naked eyes to see.

It’s an obstacle that gives the sun an opportunity to blaze with an incandescence millions stop to look at, and that unchallenged, it could never achieve.

It’s the same with us all.  Your dreams are closer than you think.

Shine on.

Make your move,


P.S.
Also always, please add to the conversation on our Facebook page and while you're there, give the page a like. And if you like this story, please share it. 



Don't miss an inspiring story. Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content right to your inbox each week.

Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How much of the "Real You" should you show?

This is repost of an "Ask Courtney"  response from last year.  I think it's timely. Hope you agree.


Click to listen in SoundCloud!  It's fast, easy and fun. No sign up or download, just click and listen.

Here's the question. 
I'm currently looking for position in the international development field. I'm about to send my job application to a nondenominational Christian international organization. I know the organization is looking for Christ believers to join their team. Although I'm a Christian, I'm hesitant to include anything on my personal website that will show my religious beliefs since I'm applying to organizations and companies that do not incorporate any religious views into their missions. 
 
How much do I share?


Dear HMDIS,

First of all, good luck on your job search.

Let me pose this question:

How happy and successful do you want to be?


To the degree that you're hiding something that you'd prefer to be out in the open and honest about, you’re going to impede your own advancement and burn up energy concealing your "secret."

If you felt that your religion was a private matter, I would say, keep it private, but this sounds like something you want to put out there and stand behind it.

So hiding it may not feel good or right for you. If you conceal it for fear of how you’ll be perceived, it will weigh on you and while it may weigh less than the job you’d like to have today, over time, it’s going to become heavier.

Find the courage to show up as your authentic self.

Not showing up as my authentic self was a mistake I made early in my career more times than I'd like to admit. It cost me a lot - respect, and probably advancement.

That might sound like I was a massive fraud, but I wasn't at all. It was early in my career and I was inexperienced and a bit insecure. I wanted to be a rock star, so I thought I had to fit into some “ideal candidate” mold.


It’s not uncommon to feel this way when you’re starting out in your career.

Eventually, I realized I was only hurting myself. I was not trying to deceive anyone; I thought I was being "diplomatic" and "professional." I thought, “This is the way it’s done.”


When you make even small alterations in who you are, it becomes harder for people to understand where you’re coming from and connect with you.
 

The great thing is that the more comfortable I became in my own skin and showed up as myself, the happier and more successful I became.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, a few people did not like the real me, but that ended up being a blessing, because these weren’t people I wanted to work, partner or hang out with, and the people I did want to be with welcomed me.


You'll be spending a lot of time at your job, so if there’s something that would stop them from hiring you if they knew it, you probably don't want to be there.

I know that’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re completely over the job hunt and just want someone to hire you, but it’s true nonetheless.


We're all subjected to being judged for race, religion, what school you attended, what car you drive, state you're from, for being a refugee, wearing a headscarf, listening to country, rap, bluegrass music, etc.

I had a boss who once told me that she was all set to hire this great candidate she'd interviewed, and then she found out the candidate owned a pet rat. That was it for my boss who is deathly afraid of and disgusted by
rats. She did not hire this person -- because she owned a rat. True story.

The winning card to play, always, is to show up as you.

It's easy to be cynical, but people will pleasantly surprise you with their goodness and decency.

Most importantly, they will respect you for being honest. If you alter or water down what and who you are to get in the door, you deny yourself the chance of being respected, appreciated and hired for who you are and what you believe in.


Hold out for people who will appreciate and celebrate you as you are. They are out there and they're looking for you as hard as you are looking for them.

Have you ever concealed some part of yourself to get a job? How'd it work out? Join the conversation on the Facebook page.  Share your story.

Best,

Want more? Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content right to your inbox each week.
Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cherokee Princess and the Rodeo Queen

 I was sitting on the front seat of the school bus. I was in the seventh grade. 

I was the only kid on it. I was always the first one on the bus, probably because I wanted to get away from school more than anyone else.


Listen to Courtney tell the story on soundcloud!

I'd chat with my bus driver while we both waited for the bus to fill up. 

I liked her a lot, mainly because she treated me like the adult I longed to be.

Her name was Judy. 

She’d known me from practically the day I was born. She knew my mother, father, brother, grandparents. It was a small town

Another reason we got on really well because she was a horse crazy adult and I was a horse crazy kid.

As just about anyone over the age of 21 knows, what happens to you and how it happens to you when you’re young shapes how you approach life and interact with the world later on. 

You don’t realize how some people influenced how you turned out until later in life.

Judy lived close to town and was raising three children. They kept horses and had a stable and little grazing pasture and a truck and horse trailer that she managed to hold together with determination and duct tape.

She was real, some people would say, salt of the earth. Her smile lit up the room and she had that energy that made you feel like there was no one she’d rather be talking to.

She was one of those no BS people who spoke with a combination of  candor and kindness that leaves you feeling good in the way that people who call bullsh#t on the stupid stuff in life often do.  

Her daughter, Hannah, was a few years younger than me. Hannah was a small girl but a fearless rider. She had a little brown and white pony named Cherokee Princess.

They showed their horses at local western shows on the weekends

In a city about 40 miles away, there was a big venue called the Coliseum - big by back-then standards anyway. When big name bands came through town, this is where they played. The Barnum and Bailey circus was still around and it came through there too. If something big was happening, it happened at the Coliseum.

Every spring, the professional rodeo came to the Coliseum.

Barrel racers, calf ropers and bull riders on the rodeo circuit came in and competed for a weekend and then moved on to the next venue. These were adults, professionals with horses that cost thousands of dollars and many of them sported endorsements from big companies. It was not some local horse show I was used to.

It was the show, the kind of place that seems similar to what you know,  but everything is amplified and out of your reach, so ... more exciting.

To my small town mind, this is where you ended up when you “made it.” And no one I knew in our two stoplight town ever had ever “made it” or even gotten close.

That afternoon, Judy said, “guess what?”

“What?” I replied. 

“I’ve registered Hannah to compete in the rodeo."

“At the Coliseum?" I asked

“Yes!” She was smiling ear to ear.

She went on,

“She’s a member of the Cowgirls Rodeo Association, we both are, so I registered her and she’s runnin’ barrels. Why not? She’s a member just like them. I pay my dues just like them.“

She was right, of course. But it took a minute for me to realize that a person could just do that. No one had to give them permission she didn’t have to have a $10,000 champion quarter horse or a fancy truck and trailer rig. 

It’s hard to explain how this announcement made me feel, what it made me realize.

The things that I thought were for “other” people … someone I knew was doing them.  I. COULD. DO. THEM

My little seventh grade mind was reeling.

The rodeo went from being something that “other” people from “other” towns did to something that people I knew could do. That I could do.

And if someone could just do that then what else could someone do?  


That Friday night,  they hooked up that truck and trailer and hauled Hannah’s brown and white pony to the rodeo and Hannah and Cherokee Princess burst through the gates at full speed just like the rest of those professional cowgirls on huge, expensive quarter horses with big fancy truck and trailer rigs and competed. Just. Like. That.
  
Now to put this in perspective, Hannah’s pony was a small Shetland size pony competing against grown women on big, fast quarter horses.

When she finished her run, the rodeo announcer asked everyone to give the little lady on her little pony a big hand and they did. The crowd went nuts. They got it. They loved it. 

When someone believes you’re good enough to play in the big leagues, it changes things.

It changes how you see the world. It tells you in a way that nothing else can:

You have the right to be here.

When you hadn't even realized you'd been doubting it. 

It straight up settles that question. You have the right.

Because a lot of what holds us back life is we don’t think we have "the right."
 

And we don’t even realize we've bought into it. 

It's other people telling us the things we long for or want or dream about are for “professionals only”, or people “with money.”  It’s only for … you can fill in the blank.

What Judy taught her daughter was that she had a right to be there and anywhere else she had the notion to put herself.  

And so do you, where ever and whatever you have your eye on, what you’re thinking about ...

You have a right to be there.  It’s not just for other people, it’s for you.

See you at the rodeo,

Courtney

P.S. As always, if you like this week's post, please share it.

P.S.S. Was there a time when someone believed in you, opened the door for you to go somewhere you thought was out of bounds? Tell your story on our Facebook page and give props to them.

_________________________________________
Courtney Kirschbaum is career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines.  A TEDx speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for professionals to find their ideal job.
Get Courtney’s one-of-a-kind weekly newsletter for wild stories of world travels, lessons learned from corporate grind and even better ones from her ‘jailbreak’ and subsequent journey to entrepreneurship. Subscribe here to get the next installment and you could be forever changed.
No time to read? Listen each week on the SoundCloud Channel

Thursday, August 10, 2017

You have no idea how much THIS holds you back


It might surprise you to learn that a lot of talented people have bad resumes and profiles that hold them back in their careers and they have no idea.
Here's what that looks like.




Months of job hunting gets no or poor results. Frustration increases and confidence decreases.

That's when you make a career limiting mistake: you give in, and take job you're overqualified for, assuming it's the best you can do. 
I see it all the time: talented people with incredible potential whose careers should be rising at a steep trajectory, accept jobs where they're under-employed, even though they have the experience to do much better.

It's not your fault. It's almost impossible to effectively act as your own agent, champion, copywriter and marketer.

It doesn't help that most of the freely available information is rudimentary and results in forgettable resumes and profiles.

What happens when the results don't come?

People blame the job market, the glass ceiling, ageism, you name it - anything other than entertaining the idea that changing their tactics could get them what they want.

Here's the part that makes me crazy!

The same people who will invest thousands in meal delivery service - a basic one will cost you $3200 annually. A personal trainer? Two sessions a week will run you over $8,000 in a year, regular manicures and pedicures will run you $2500 in a year ...
I've seen these very same people recoil from the idea of investing in their career 

Unfortunately, the typical professional's strategy to get ahead is to work 6o-hour weeks, job hop or both.


And when employers view your resume and your boiler plate profile jam-packed with assurances that you're a motivated, results-oriented, team player with a proven ability to do ...something, what happens? Unfortunately, not much.
This "professional" lingo is as memorable as the nutrition panel on a can of Diet Coke. 

It under serves your hard work and accomplishments. That's the real rub. You don't get the payoff for your hard work.

Do they tell you why you didn't make the cut?
Almost never. They pass you by.
Knowing how to do this well is a kind of trade secret and most professionals are not in the habit of sharing their trade secrets. So what do you do?
Re-tool or lose out to someone who has
I created a video to show you what it means to re-tool and where to start.

The great news is,  it's not more work. It's same amount of effort redirected and articulated differently and more effectively. 

Fair warning: this video contains adult language (it's veiled, but still... if such things offend you, take a pass.)
There are lot of "a-ha" moments for you
This video will change how you think about managing your career. This point is really well made at about minute 14.
Here's some of what you'll get:
1. A speechwriter's editing trick, so the thought of tackling your outdated resume does not make your stomach churn. (I kid you not this is simple but brilliant!)
2. The sacred salary rule - unfortunately women tend to break it more than men, and that keeps the gender wage gap alive and well. 
3. How to avoid some well-concealed employment contract traps.
4. An cool interview tactic to make you more appealing and more memorable.

Whether you're job hunting or settled in your career, this information will update your insights and give you a competitive edge.

You deserve the full measure of reward for the time and effort you've put into your career

don't let it get lost in mediocre profiles and tired resume copy and reactive job hunt tactics.
Access the video using the link below and please (please!) leave a comment on the video page - of the what-was-good-not-good-and-how-can-I-improve-it-variety, because I'm always looking for ways to deliver better content.
Watch the video here SmarterJobHunting.comhttp://bit.ly/2vTicUi

Happy re-tooling!
Courtney


P.S. Don't miss next week's post. It's a story post about a rodeo queen (sort of ;-). You're going love it. 
__________________________________________________________________
Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.
Want more? Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content right to your inbox each week.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Down Low Secret to Reaching Great Heights

Have you ever been in a place and thought,

"I really don't want to be here, but I'm not sure how to get out." 




Several years ago, I moved from the east coast to a town in the high Rockies.

I took advantage of everything on offer, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and exploring the completely different landscape.

One crisp, fall morning with a dusting of snow still on the crowd and the aspens turning gold, I set out on a hike.  

In a remote area, the trail led through an open meadow to the base of mountains, which formed a stunning natural amphitheater. 

The trail continued up to the rocks, it appeared I could climb up and over a rocky area and keep hiking. 

Up I went, finding sturdy foot and hand holds looking only at the rock, which offered good steps, and was not too steep. 

And as I slowed down to find my way up, I realized ...  I was stuck. 

I couldn’t find holds to go up and I couldn’t get down. I stood there, almost vertical, hands and face on rock, suddenly remembering a term I’d heard in the survival training course I’d taken shortly after arriving in the mountains: “cliff out.”

My heart was beating out of my chest. I was stuck on a sheer cliff miles out in the wildness and could easily fall and break my neck and who would know?

“You idiot! How could you do something so stupid!?”

The emotions that accompany being alone in nature and realizing that you are in trouble of any kind are almost always the same  - shame and embarrassment.  

The search and rescue veteran who taught the survival class told us that. "I've seen it a hundred times ..." he said

He said when those two emotions arise, they bring down your chances of getting out of whatever you've gotten yourself into. 

Shame and embarrassment lead you to make hasty, fear-based choices when you otherwise might make levelheaded, good ones… survivable ones.

Remembering that stopped my panic, allowed me to calm down, get my bearings (and my heart rate down) and move very slowly to figure out a way down.

Admittedly, it wasn’t a bad cliff out, but the thing about these situations is they often aren't catastrophic, they’re survivable, except when our attitude betrays us and skills and knowledge we might easily access when calmer, become inaccessible.

I saw many colleagues do this before I ever learned the term.  

When you’re starting out, no one tells you that you might find yourself at a kind of dead-end, one you’re not prepared for and that scares you a little. One that forces you to turn back, temporarily.

On those mountains, I was alone, but when you have to back track in life you have to “climb down” in front of friends, family, colleagues, on LinkedIn, for crying out loud!

You get eye-rolls and questions and second-guessing.

Reversing direction in your career often has a stigma attached to it.  People like you to stay the same, be “realistic,” tough it out.

The list of epic successes who backed-up and restarted or took a different path is long and diverse, here are few …

John Grisham started out as a lawyer and wrote in the mornings before going into his office.

Spanx Founder, Sara Blakely didn’t get into law school and was selling fax machines when she got her idea for Spanx.  Can’t you just hear people saying, “You’re going to do WHAT?" She made over $3 million in her first year.

Julia Child, the first of the celebrity chefs set the precedent for the cooking shows that are so popular today. She was 39 before she wrote what is arguably still the most well-known cookbook in the world and didn’t start her TV show until she was 51.

If you’re contemplating a climb down from what is or might turn into a cliff out, you’re in fantastic company.

Sometimes the way up, is down.

Whichever direction you're heading in. I hope you're loving every minute of it!



Courtney

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please share it. Don't miss a story: Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content (including great stories!) right to your inbox each week

P.S.S. Job Hunt School is a survival course of a different sort. I've just released a new FREE career strategy and job hunt workshop offering career strategy and job hunt tips for 2017. You can see it here. 


Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to have a successful, low stress job hunt. 


Friday, July 28, 2017

What Mongolia Taught Me About My Job

My lips hovered over the small bowl full of what looked like watered down milk. I’d heard about this stuff, but could I drink it?”

That’s what I was thinking as Mongolian girl who’d given it to me looked on, clearly unimpressed.

Her look seemed to ask, “Do you have the guts to drink it?” 



This week's blog is a great one to listen to. Click to listen. And subscribe to the audio blog.

I was sitting in her family’s ger, the round felt tents of nomadic Mongolian families, in the middle of nowhere on the Mongolian steppe. There was nothing but rolling grassland for miles and miles; beautiful and vacant except for this family’s ger and animals. It was the middle of the day, but inside the ger it was shadowy and smelled faintly of smoke.

I was holding a bowl of airag, - fermented mares milk – a Mongolian traditional drink.

Mongolia is a landlocked country, sitting snugly between China and Russia.

Mongolians are without equal when it comes their expertise riding horses and even today, many are nomadic herders. If you watch Game of Thrones, imagine the Dothraki, without the violence.

One of my traveling companions told me that traditionally, it’s the older daughter’s job to get up in the morning and milk the mares to make the airag, which Mongolians used to ferment in a leather bag. The family I visited used a plastic barrel.

So I knew the girl who handed me this particular bowl of airag had gotten up early that morning and milked the mares that were tied in a string outside.

As I hovered above the bowl, I thought to myself, cow? Horse? What difference does it make? I took a long, respectable swig.

Now if you’re wondering airag tastes like, it has the approximate taste of milk that you know is not 100% perfect when you put that spoonful of Cheerios in your mouth, but you’ve just watched your brother eat the last Pop Tart, so you think,  “oh what the hell, it’s better than nothing”

Got Airag?

It’s been a while since I was there, and I remember the airag and a lot of other things about that adventure, and I for some reason I never forgot that it’s the oldest daughter's job to get up and milk the mares.

I guess because in my family, I was the oldest daughter, and that job would have fallen to me.

That would be great, because I like horses, but I loathe getting up early. I could have done an ace job of it, except for that.

I don’t imagine the Mongolian teenager had much say in the matter. She was young. It’s tradition.

A lot of work gets assigned this way.
We fit people to job descriptions that are rarely well written and almost never updated. When we begin work, just like when we begin life, we aren’t in the position to ask for adjustments. We do what we’re told. The habit sticks.

Imagine you’re great at 90% of this job, but 10% you really dislike. Why not carve the 10% out and give it to someone else, trade it, delete it entirely? Result:  Better job, happier you. Happier you … well, I could go on and on.

Typically how we manage people is we give them a job that is only slightly more customized than, “You’re the oldest daughter, so you milk the mares.”

And then we assess the person and tell them they need to “improve” what they are not good at doing (and probably don’t want to do anyway) rather than adjust a job description or find someone who would prefer to do it.

Sometimes this gets justified when a nearby cynic tells us that "work" is a four-letter word.

What rot. If that’s your standard, then that’s what you settle for.

I used to know someone that said “job” should stand for Joy of Being.

If we don’t accept the premise that work should be painful or make us miserable, we raise our expectations and change our actions.  At least it’s higher benchmark.

What do you do that demotivates you, slows you down, or that you just plain hate? How can give it away, trade it delegate or delete it?

It can't be any worse than airag. Try it.

Good luck and let me know how it goes in the comments.

And if you every get a chance, I can’t say I recommend airag, but it’s worth a try.

Make your move and drink your milk!

Courtney

Check out the pictures from Mongolia on the FaceBook page.
If you enjoyed this post, please forward it.  


Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Want more? Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content right to your inbox each week.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A beautiful, true story

I have a remarkable and true story for you this week. This story happened exactly as I’m detailing it here. I’ve taken no artistic license and I’m not exaggerating for effect.


This week's blog is a great one to listen to. Click to listen 

In college, I spent three summers working at school in East Sussex, England. The place was like something out of a postcard, situated in a beautiful, old manor house in the English countryside. During the year it was a traditional prep school, but during the summer it became an English language school and camp. 
 
Students came from non-English speaking countries to learn English and enjoy summer camp.
 
The days were long, but it was a blast.
 
Most afternoons, we’d pile kids into a van, or mini-bus as the English called them, and to take them on an “outing.”
 
One of the regular outing destinations was the “Dolphinarium” in Brighton, on the southeast coast.

Situated by the beach in an ancient building that looked like something out of a WWII movie, it had some marine life displays, but it’s primary offering was a dolphin show.

The kids loved it. They didn’t seem to notice the rusty pipes and peeling paint or that the place had seen better days.
 
Being close to those dolphins was enchanting, but a part of me was casing the place to see if there was a way I could set them free. The beach was literally yards away and something seemed inherently wrong about these animated creatures living in a grotty old building, putting on shows in a tiny pool.
 
In the staff common room, where the teachers gathered in the evenings, we had a discussion about it. One contingent arguing that it was a horrible thing to keep wild animals captive, someone else commented that the dolphins couldn’t be released because they hadn’t learned to survive on their own.

My remarkably insightful contribution to this discussion was:
 
“Couldn’t we just as well be discussing this over beers at the pub?”
 
Did I want to see these animals free?  Hell yes! Was I a twenty-something with student loan debt and no employment prospects, also hell yes. The best I could do was entertain fantasies about hitting the lottery, in which case I would immediately become a dolphin-liberating philanthropist. 
 
In those summers, I couldn’t know how relevant the idea and the very definition of captivity would become to me.
 
After more than a decade of commuting, cubicles and conference calls, I realized captivity was a much more nuanced concept.
 
About 10 years after graduating and well established in what most would consider a pretty decent job and career, I was training with a group of consultants at my company. We’d all gotten pretty close over the few days we were together and
 
one colleague confided in me and asked, “are you ok with doing … this … for the rest of your life?”  
 
It was a question I would hear many times, parsed in different ways with different words from various colleagues over the years.
I knew what he meant:  the office politics, bureaucratic BS, the corporate grind …
 
“I guess,” I said lamely. 
 
Curious if he had an alternative in mind, I asked,
 
“What do you want to do?”
 
He replied, “I’d like to own a lemon grove in the hills of Tuscany.”  
 
I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.
 
I’ve lost count of the times in my career when people pulled back the curtain and admitted, “yeah, I’d rather be doing something else, but this pays the bills.”
 
Once you become used to certain environment, can you change?
 
How do you get out? What’s the process? What steps do you take?
 
During my last summer at the school, I was assigned to take a group of kids to the “Dolphinarium.”
 
I was expecting the same old grotty pavilion and the usual dolphin show,

but what I saw that day is something I’ve never forgotten.
 
The Dolphinarium had been renamed the “Sea Life Centre” and the two dolphins were gone.
 
The performance pool housed only a few barking seals. There was a display with monitor playing a video in which the story of what happened to the two dolphins unfolded.
 
The pair had been shipped to a lagoon in the Caribbean, trained to survive on their own and set free.  
 
To this day, I can’t say why, but the part in the video where they release those dolphins into the wild completely unstitched me.  It was all I could do to hold it together in front of the kids and spare them and their fragile young psyches the trauma of,  “Oh my God, why is the teacher is crying!”
 
In my experience, this kind of reprieve was unheard of. The unexpected justice of it left me stunned and elated.
 
If we can free dolphins, why can’t we free ourselves?
 
Over the  years, I’ve learned a few things about successful emancipations and managed to orchestrate one of my own. Here are some observations and lessons learned:
 
Recognize the advocates around you.
These are the people who see that you’re capable of getting and being more. They are there.
 
This could be someone who’s been where you want to go or who possesses the knowledge and has taken other people there.

It's anyone who believes in you and your potential. It might be an acquaintance or a thought leader who resonates with you.  
 
If two Dolphins had a boatful of marine biologists and trainers preparing them for freedom, you’re justified in having a support team of your own.  
 
Find someone to share all or part of your journey with you.
If I had it to do over again, I’d have kept in touch with that lovely man who shared his dream of lemon groves in Tuscany, because people like that keep you believing in your own vision.

The people who will tell you you’re crazy and that you're being unrealistic are a dime a dozen. People who will share their dreams of lemon groves are rare and powerful.

Yes, the risk will be yours alone, but you’ll find courage in company.
 
When you discover someone who envisions something bigger than the next promotion, you’re probably on to something good.
 
Make your move,
 
Courtney

P.S. You can see pictures of the two dolphins that were released on the FaceBook page.

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