Monday, January 31, 2011

Like A Book I Once Read

Once upon  a time I taught in the public schools. That experience sits so far in the recesses of my brain that it often seems as an old friend used to remark on his first marriage, more like a book I read  as opposed to a life I lived. But it is not a made up story. It was real life. My life.

It never felt like a good fit. My sites were set on much bigger aspirations than living out the next several decades in a suburban setting teaching seventh grade English. The bureaucracy was stifling. The structure of the days suffocating. I tried to make it work. I switched grades and subjects. I served as a Union rep and coached the cheerleaders.  I feared I might transform into one of those angry teachers who hated the kids in her class and counted the days until she retired. Whose students hissed about her when she walked out of the room. So I left before things got ugly. I suppose that when they talk about what has gone wrong in education that I am one of those "good" teachers they couldn't keep in the system.

When people asked me if I would miss anything about it, my reply was easy. I knew I would miss the kids. They were the reason I had wanted to teach in the first place. To make a difference in their lives. They were the ones who made me smile.

Every once in awhile I have tripped over a former student.  Once back in my radio sales days, the bouncer walked up to me at a station promotion at the old Woodbine Inn in New Jersey as my hand gripped the stem of a martini glass. He asked if I was Ms. Tombrakos and had ever taught seventh grade.

A few months back I received an email through this blog from another student who informed me that I was the one who taught him the meaning of the word gumption. He had decided that based upon reading what I have been up to  since the days he had been my student that I possessed that characteristic.

And now just yesterday I received a series of Facebook friend requests. I checked to see who these folks were and what I found was not only three more former students but the thread of conversation that had them find me.

"Anybody remember having Ms. Tombrakos as a teacher?"
"Yes, I was a Big Fan!!!"
"She denied my request."
"Maybe she has boundaries."
"She was a nice teacher."
"She had a lovely smile too."
"I just looked her up. Wouldn't she be a little older than that Joanne lady looks?"
"She could have used pictures from years ago."
"Go to her blog."
"It's def. her!"
"She just accepted my request but I don't think it's her. It's just a coincidence."

No coincidence. It was me. I was moved and a bit humbled to think that I might have made enough of an impression that they remembered anything about me.  As I said, for me it is like a book that sits on my shelf gathering dust.

The thread of conversation implored me to open that book and reflect on that period in my life.  The young me, fresh out of college, wearing pleated trousers with permed hair, driving a 1977 Camaro with no air-conditioning, and living a life completely different than the one I do now.

What I can't get out of my head is that from the beginning my desire has been to make a difference in other's lives. Then it was in the kids teaching them a word they might never forget. Today it is through my writing and coaching.

I'd lost that part in my Corporate America years. That feeling that I was contributing to anything bigger than the difference in a revenue line. I left to get that back. The funny thing is until this little sojurn down memory lane, I had forgotten that I had been making a difference all along.

Are there parts of your life that feel more like a story about someone else than your life?
What is the work you are supposed to be doing?
How are you making a difference?
How has Facebook reconnected you with your past?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Desire #39

Desire # 39: 
Send my thank you notes by hand

I remember when I thought it was really cool to get an email. That was before spam, email marketing and the proliferation of electronic communication in business. It was also before my emails were accessible from every mobile device known to peoplekind.

And now email is common.

And I'm not one to be common. 

Between my birthday and Christmas I noticed what a treat it was when there was actually something to open in my US Mail besides a bill or a catalog. And so the desire to go back to  writing thank you notes by hand, the way I used to in the olden days took root.

There is nothing ordinary about picking out a thank you card and taking the time to compose  a thoughtful message. It requires remembering all those things no one does anymore, like write in a handwriting that you take pains to make sure is legible and going to the post office to buy a stamp before dropping it in the mailbox.
Think about it!
How many thank you notes have you received lately that were not electronic?
When was the last time you went to the post office?
How many people even remember to say thank you?

Yes, I know it does not seem very green to many of you.  And yes, it takes longer. You can't just type a rush of words and hit send. You have to have a card. You have to think before you write because there is no spellcheck to self correct. A pen forces you to write in whole sentences the way a keyboard does not always mandate.

And then there is the subject of stamps. They cost money. This old fashioned thing is definitely pricier.

But it is so much more fun! 

I ordered a box of beautifully designed note cards from my friend Tara Dixon who has just a launched a whole line of Gratitude Designs in which 5% of all profits go to benefit The Flawless Foundation.  I wrote my first two thank you notes of the year Sunday. I sprung for stamps knowing while this might not be very green, I was contributing to my postal worker's salaries.

An example of Tara Dixon's Gratitude line.

I got to reflect back on the reason I was sending the notes in the first place before I scribbled my message because  there is no delete button on an ink pen if I made a mistake. I got to relish the gift again. I got to put attention on my friends who were ever so deserving.

There was nothing chore like about this. I was not doing something  I had to do but rather enjoying something  I wanted to do. I was practicing an art, one that seems to have gotten a bit lost in the tech maze and one I am determined to not let fade away.

Do you send thank you notes? How?
Are you surprised when you receive one, especially if it's in the mail?
How does it make you feel?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snow Slowdown

It's snowing again. In a way I'm rather over all this white fluff. I've lost track of how many days this winter today's snow makes. But in another I am happy to see it. You see I think time is moving too fast. It is January 25 already. There is less than a week left to this first month of 2011. And the snow is my invitation to slow that all down.

I have a list of 101 desires and intentions that I want to manifest this year. I noticed yesterday as we moved into this last week of the first month of the year that I felt panic. Would there be enough time to make it all happen? Which items were already in play?  And what if each and every item on this list comes to be? How do I digest all that? More panic.

For some reason the sight of the snow falling outside my window eased my anxiety. Since I was a kid a snow day signified slow down to me.  People can't move as fast. The trains are slower. The buses crawl. Offices open late and close early. The pile up of slush and snow at the corners force pedestrians to form single lines as they navigate the cleanest path.

A snow day is a day to catch up. Or to get ahead. Or to play hooky. The first flakes of snow falling from the sky begs me to revel in the miracle of white, if only for a moment, in a way rain never does.

Snow says slowdown. It is my reminder from above that there is something far greater and more powerful than me that I have absolutely no control over. I can't control the slowdown the thick white flakes sticking to the ground can cause any more than I can control the passage of time.

But I can slow down just enough to stay in this moment and not get too far ahead of myself.  The forecast says more snow. Apparently I am not the only one who wants January to end slowly.

Do you think the year is moving too fast?
Does snow signify slowdown to you?
What have you created this year so far?

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's Your Manifesto?

When I have thought about manifestos in the past my mind goes right to politics. Think high school world history class and Communist Manifesto.  But it seems rather trendy at the moment to have a manifesto whether it is for your business, a new idea you want to spread or your own personal journey.

In Tribes, Seth Godin considers publishing a manifesto as a key element if you have an idea to spread and want to create a micromovement. The point is to get clear on what your idea is and the direction you want to go. Maybe start with following Dan Pink's suggestion for changing your life in 2010 and asking yourself what is your sentence?

A little research and I found manifestos as varied as being arranged in a list or  more creative and graphic along the lines of a vision board. But what they all shared was a sense of clarity and direction.

I've started one to help me get clear on this non fiction book proposal I am writing. And its' working.

In my research I  came across this really cool manifesto on The Gypsy Girls Guide that I had to share with you.  While I do have a passion for travel, I am too much of a homebody to lead a bohemian life style, so I'm not planning on joining their tribe.  But I do love their manifesto!

Do you have a manifesto for your business? your life?
If you do what is it?
If you don't what would be the first item you would create for it?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life Rafts

I think sometimes that too many of us cling to our jobs as though they were a life raft in the middle of a vast ocean. We look ahead to where we think the signs of land are, to where we think we are supposed to be going but our vision gets cloudy.  The fumes of the tiny motor that has propelled us this far have gotten in the way. They fuzz our brains and create a film over our eyes. Sometimes the odor makes it difficult to breathe. Nothing is as clear as we might like.

We forget this boat belongs to us. That this is our life and we can go wherever we like with it. We forget there is more than one route we can take. We forget we can turn this motor off for a while and just float. We forget we can let go. We're not sure we know how or if we are willing.

Are you willing to let go?
Do you know how?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The What If Game

When I was growing up one of my mom's best friends used to come over for lunch every second week on her day off. Aunt Elaine (which is what I called her even though she was not my real Aunt) worked in an office. I found that rather enamoring as a young girl who grew up in a neighborhood where most of the mom's stayed home or had a part time job at best.

Aunt Elaine wore skirts with nylons and seams that ran up the back while Mom preferred slacks. They shared secrets and a sweet tooth. I was always happy when she showed up because it generally meant good dessert. If I was really lucky Mom would bake a lemon meringue pie. They would sit in our tiny kitchen at the yellow and white Formica table, laughing and talking and drinking coffee until their throats hurt. And every so often they would do something else. They would rearrange the furniture.

Now keep in mind that we didn't live in a very big apartment so you would think there had to be just so many permutations of moving things around they could come up with. But they always seemed to come up with a new one.

I doubt either of them realized there was something energetically positive about shaking things up. As far as I knew no one in their circle knew about Feng Shui and if they did never discussed it. It was just in their nature to notice when things might be getting a  little stale and it was time to play what if. They would both stand in the middle of the room with their arms folded and begin the what if game? What if they moved this chair here and that lamp there? What would that look like?

My father, much more of a creature of habit than Mom would come home, roll his eyes, light a cigarette and announce that he guessed Elaine had come for a visit. I would savor a piece of homemade crust and notice something was different and it was more than just where the ottoman was now.  Even in the dead of winter it was as though a fresh spring breeze had just blown through the apartment. The promise of what if  and what that might look like  lingered in the air long after the last piece of pie had been devoured.

Do you play the what if game?
What if you moved this piece of furniture around?
What if you changed this one thing in your life?
What does it look like for you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Different Kind Of Stress

There is no getting around stress.  The best of us, no matter how much we try and manage it are bound to have our days when it trips us up and leaves us immobilized.

My stress used to show. Dark circles would appear under my eyes, my forehead would remain in a crease for hours on end, a hacking cold, a stiffness in my shoulders that made it hard to turn my neck, the lack of glow to my complexion.

When I find myself in the company of people who know me from the world that was partner in creating that stress as I was the other night they think because I look happy and relaxed it is because I don't really "work" anymore.

I've written before how that is one of my pet peeves. I still work. In a non traditional environment.  Somedays I think harder and longer than I did then. And I still have stress. I stress when my books will be published, where my next coaching client referrals will come from, if anyone will read my blog, and  the vagueness of income that is not based on a bi-weekly paycheck. Oh and did I forget the stress of paying for health insurance?

Yet it doesn't show up the way it used to. People tell me I look great. They assume the  reason is because I no longer have stress.

But I'm here to tell you that's not true. I have stress.  It's just a different kind of stress. One borne from the passion of doing work I love and feeling intrinsically rewarded instead of fear that I might not ever get that chance.

Do you experience stress?
What is its source? 
Do you imagine if you left your current job your life would be miraculously stress free?
Is it more stressful to imagine taking a giant leap to a new adventure or staying safely put?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Embracing Disappointment

I learned to protect myself from disappointment at an early age. My elation at the prospect of the possibility of something I desired coming to fruition was tempered by words of  caution.

"Don't get too excited. You don't know what's going to happen."

The message I heard  was to tone down my joy as if that might somehow protect me from disappointment. If I wasn't too hopeful I wouldn't be too attached to the outcome and it would be  a much shorter trip to being let down.

The less joy I allowed myself to  feel at the suggestion of what wonderful thing might happen,  the thicker my armor of protection would be. Shift joy to cynicism. Call it pragmatic in the workplace and you're considered more grounded in "reality".

What I learned is that trying to protect myself doesn't stop disappointment. In fact, I suspect that the thicker I built those walls, the less I believed I would get what I wanted,   the greater  I increased my  chances of being disenchanted. Not to mention  the joy I denied myself along the way.

What was the big deal anyway? So what if I was disappointed? Did disappointment mean that I had eliminated ever getting what I wanted? Or was it a sign that the Universe had something better in mind than I had even imagined for me? What if I started to find joy in disappointment as well? What if I let go of my attachment to disappointment and replaced it with the elation of havingness? What if I learned to embrace disappointment instead of trying to head it off at the pass?

I have a lot on my desire list for 2011. 101 items to be exact. Some might say that is too long a list. That I need to brace myself that I might not get every single one. That no one gets it all.  That's their reality. It's not mine.  And if I happen to trip on disappointment on a few of them, that's OK too. I know how to pick myself up.

Do you protect yourself against disappointment? If so, how?
Does that stop you from going after what you really want?
Do you have a list of what you want to create this year? 
Do you believe you will get it all or are you gearing up to be disappointed?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Words Are All I Have

"You think that I don't even mean
A single word I say
It's only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away."
The Bee Gees

My mother always told me to think before I speak. She ingrained in me the importance of the words I chose, whether speaking a sentence or writing one down. In the middle of one raging fight when I was a teenager she admonished me that my words had daggers on them. I don't remember what I said, only that I had caused tears to well in her eyes. I had hurt her simply by whatever it was I said. It was the first time I really understood the power of words. They could "take your heart away" in the best of ways or the worst of ways.

In my years selling advertising  I saw words  used to make money. Whether it was the closing line of a sales pitch or a commercial designed to entice you to buy something the careful selection of words, the tone and order in which they were delivered could make you salivate or turn your stomach. A promotional teaser  was designed to get you to tune in and buy something, if only a few moments of your time.

As a coach, the words I use are intended to make you think, to assess where you are and where you are going.  My choice of words is designed to get you to the answers you are looking for but if not careful, I can just as easily choose words to sway you in the direction I think you should go.

And as a writer I am consumed with words. I choose them carefully determining their effect. Words properly strung together to form a sentence can create a scene or a feeling or an understanding that I want to convey to you. They create a visual in your mind. They hold power. They can influence. They can make you think, for better or worse.

The reasons for the tragedy of the shooting of Congresswoman Gifford and the other victims on  Saturday in Tuscon are yet to be fully revealed. But there is no question in my mind that the careless use of rhetoric and the stringing of words designed to incite that has become so commonplace and so accepted fell upon ears that took them for their literal meaning. Worse yet, upon hands that took action.

We are a society based on communication and free speech, one in which which conversation takes place 24/7, on line, off line, in text and in print. Attempts to be heard above the fray for reasons of desired celebrity and/or money have caused too many to use words without thought of the consequences they might produce. They are "only words" but "words are all we have" and how we use them requires civility, responsibility, integrity and a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Do you think before you speak?
Do you think before you put something in writing?
Do you think the political vitriol had an impact on Saturday's tragedy?

Friday, January 7, 2011


That was my word for this week. Traction.  It is what I wrote at the very top of my weekly ToDo list.


I wanted to gain some traction in this first week of the new year. To feel I was making some solid progress towards what I want to create in 2011.

It's been slow. Slow enough to make me feel anxious. I haven't been willing to rest in this spot. To remember that movement, no matter how slow is movement forward. I worry  I am going to blink and 2011 will have escaped me.  And nothing will have manifested.

I needed to get clear on exactly what I want to create this year. So I started a list of 101 Desires/Intentions I have for the year. I'm up to 49. Even the process of making a list is going slowly.

My body has not been cooperating. She is still healing from that awful flu. She's crying for more rest and she's been winning. I know that is necessary right now but I still have this burning  urge to press my foot on the accelerator and really gain some speed and cover some ground.

So I started to make a list of what I did accomplish instead of focusing on what I had not. I published a story on I wrote a blog or two. I made progress on my book proposal. I talked to my coaching clients. I crossed off ten of my twenty items on my weekly ToDo list.

Maybe there really is movement.
Even if it feels as if the snow chains are on the tires.
Even if it is    ever    so      slowly.

How is your first week of 2011?
Did you gain any traction towards what you want to accomplish?
Do you know what you want to accomplish?

Looking for a coach to help you jump start your year?
Check out more about my programs here or email me directly with your Qs!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Drawing A Line

I am a big fan of technology. Not without its flaws I do believe it offers us more positive than not. For example yesterday  sitting with my financial planner, the fact that  he could pull up my portfolio in real time, something that we couldn't have done ten years ago is pretty cool.  Or the miracle that I can talk via Skype to my friend Jane in Australia and it not cost either of us a penny.  I can sit in my home office and write about whatever I choose and with the tap of the publish button allow whoever is so inclined  the access to read it. These are all good things.

But then there is the down side. The noise factor. The overload of information. The things that inspired my Tech Detox Diet last year. When is it too much?

Exactly where do we draw the lines about that which we want to make public?

I got to thinking about this as I was reading a recent post on Penelope Trunk's blog. I have followed her since I started blogging, not because I am necessarily a fan of her perspective on the workplace but because she has without a doubt carved a niche for herself. She has a very successful blog and a growing business as a result. I follow her to learn.

She does quite often, go off the topic of the workplace and focus on her personal life, her kids, her divorce, her new marriage. The post I read the other day disturbed me for a lot of reasons. But my point  here is not about the specifics of those circumstances. It is the question it raised for me.

In our 24/7 easy global access world where is the line between sharing an authentic voice and true transparency and  information that is better kept private?

As a writer and a blogger, I am well aware that the more honest and transparent my writing the more it resonates with my readers. I can tell in the comments I get and the emails I receive. But I do have a line. That I will not cross.  Just don't ask me to describe it, because it is more a gut feeling, common sense type of thing that I just know.

My question here is not just relegated to bloggers. Take a look at some of status updates people post on Facebook. If the FCC was monitoring they would be fined. Or your Twitter feed. It can be horrifying to see what parts of their lives people choose to make public for everyone and anyone to see anywhere.  And the thing is once posted this stuff never really goes away. It resides somewhere on some giant server, someplace.

Then there is the issue of cell phone use in public venues. I listened in on a conversation while waiting in line at Starbucks yesterday. I was not eavesdropping. The only way I could avoid listening would be to cover my ears. The woman was angry and animated. Apparently because the friend she was talking to and another woman had made what she considered disparaging comments concerning her therapy and her children. This she announced so all of us on line could hear was "private" and not "up for discussion".  This woman had drawn her line but what I found interesting is how crooked it appeared.  While waiting for my morning fix I learned she had one kid, was in therapy, the friend in question was named Jennifer and she was not particularly fond of how Jennifer and her husband were raising their own two children. She was interested in her privacy but not concerned with the dozen or so people waiting for lattes who had been given no choice but to hear these details of her life.

I'm glad I have my line even if I can't describe it to you. I will always strive to write in an authentic and transparent voice but there will always be parts of my life that will stay private. I'll continue to subscribe to Seth Godin's advice that we should live our life on line as though we are on Candid Camera.

Do you have a line you draw?
Where is it?
How public are you willing to make your private life in a world of social networks?

Monday, January 3, 2011

For Real

I can hear it. In the quiet of this  first Monday of the first month of a brand new year. A clean page turning. Absent from any scribbling in the margins, cross outs or erasures. A fresh sheet of white paper to begin the writing of a year. 2011. For real.

Yes, just a few days ago the finishing touches were being put on that month long stream of festivities and extra "stuff" to get done that December is. But all those touches of red and green, the Santa Clauses and snow men I collect, my tree, are now packed away as if they had not made their annual appearance. As if it all wasn't  for real. But it was. And now this is.

2011. That is a big number.

What will I make of it? 

There are no resolutions for me. I don't believe in the word. Intention yes. Desires, many. Visions, absolutely. As I sit here in this moment trying to decide what I will do first, I know that until I take a step, the page stays blank. The words stay unwritten. The songs unsung. The memories only dreams.
Until I take that first step I make nothing of it. For real.

In front of me I see the clean slate. I can almost smell the mixture of chalk dust and water that have wiped away the markings of 2010 as if it was that easy to erase the impact of what happened. The victories, the defeats, the laughter, the tears,  the love, the anger.

Then I remember that is what is so wonderful about this way we mark our lives in years. What happened before did matter and it did exist and it leaves its mark. But  now we have this chance to start over, to use what we  have learned and move forward. A new beginning that leads to a new middle to a new ending. A new real.  The cycle of life. But not until we take that first step. For real.

What is the first step you are taking?
Do you have a vision of 2011?
Do you know what you want to create?
What will you make of 2011?

Interested in making 2011 your best year yet?
Hold yourself accountable and hire a coach!
For more information on my coaching programs and appointment availabilities email me directly.
Appointments available via Skype or in person if in NYC.
For real!