When your calling scares you

I’ve been mulling about calling again these last few weeks. I haven’t really actively researched calling in several years but it’s resurfacing in my own life. I want to talk about how a calling scares us sometimes. There’s a quote that’s lingering in my mind these days. It’s from Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis and it’s near the end of the book when evil Uncle Miraz has been defeated.

“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?”
“I – I don’t think I do, Sir,” said Caspian. “I am only a kid.”
“Good,” said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

This quote has always stood out to me powerfully. I remember watching the movies as a kid and thinking that was such an odd thing for Aslan to say.

Now it doesn’t feel so odd. While this probably qualifies as “vaguebooking” because I’m not going to go into details (sorry!), this quote really hits home for me right now. I feel a much stronger tug to a calling in my life that has mostly lain dormant so far. I recognized it in my early twenties and yet have never really acknowledged it until now because . . . well, frankly, it’s scary. It’s not a calling I want. I look at it and I see a lot of pain and problems. I dread the idea of it. Even acknowledging its existence has felt like too big, too hard of a step to take so I’ve ignored it as long as possible. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am not “sufficient” for it.

And yet it’s there. I can’t shake it. Certain events keep making it clear to me. Have you ever had one of those moments in your life, where someone else names the thing you won’t name yourself and it feels like the entire universe shifts into place? And then you go home and think you’re being entirely way too dramatic? That happened to me recently and it’s been so interesting to see myself run away from it. I thought I was all about follow my callings but this one I don’t want. This one is too scary for me.

And yet the beauty of a calling is really, that I don’t have to be sufficient for it. Callings require more from us than we can ever give out of our own strength. God prepares us. He does the work in us and through us. It’s not up to me.

I think when your calling scares you, it’s probably a good sign you’re on the right track.

Defining Work and Success for Yourself

Back in July, I participated in a TED style in-studio event called Inspired Success. I spoke on defining work and success for ourselves. Each of the speakers received their video file this week. I wanted to share mine and also give you a bit of background on the experience.

Getting involved as a speaker for this event was pretty random. I went to a networking lunch in June. A woman there suggested I contact Sunday about speaking for her Inspired Success event, after hearing about my work. So I called and Sunday bravely took a chance on someone she had never met!

Then as we got closer and closer to the July event, I had a lot of second thoughts about participating. The “Inspired Success” theme wasn’t resonating with me so my speech was feeling really inauthentic. I almost canceled two days beforehand! It was the “breakdown before the breakthrough” as Sunday coined it. Wednesday afternoon, I sat down and wrote what I really thought and this is what came out:

Success is an elusive concept and shouldn’t be our focus.

While I felt pretty awkward suggesting that “success” shouldn’t be our primary focus at an event called Inspired Success, the audience was wonderfully supportive. In my speech, I suggested “success” is sort of a vague idea – it’s really arbitrary, not guaranteed to be replicable and can feel really empty when we “achieve” it. Instead of success being the end goal, I suggested that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are often the things we’re really looking for. In order to see “success” in these areas, we need to redefine work. Defining work properly means we learn to see value in more than just our paid employment. We need to see success in more than just dollars and fans. In fact, we need to re-engaged with our Creator and understand his calling in our lives.

Delivering the speech felt amazing – the women at this event were truly an inspiring group and the positive energy in the room was incredible. They’re doing fantastic work in our community. I felt so lucky to get to connect with many other Seattle entrepreneurs. I’m working Carin and her WISE Women group. I love Rachel‘s vision for her Leadership Launch program. Debbie and Anna have both blessed me with their wisdom and insight.

I’m so glad that I participated after all. I learned a lot about myself in the speech-writing process and was really encouraged by the stories from all the other speakers. It was another one of those moments where I felt like my calling was affirmed and the overriding emotion at the end of the day was simply gratitude.

Inspired Success is now an on-going community and Sunday is hosting her second in-studio event tomorrow in fact. If you’re a Seattle area woman leader, check out the community on Facebook here and get involved!

Retaking the Birkman

I sometimes get questions from people about whether they should be retaking the Birkman? What they’re asking is if their scores change based on current circumstances or situations. I always tell them that one of the best things about the Birkman Method is that it’s a one-time investment. Starting around 17 or 18 years old, your reports should stay pretty accurate for the rest of your life. My website tells people you’ll be able to use it as a lifelong reference tool.

I took the Birkman for the first time at 17 years old. It was right after my first semester of college and I was about to turn 18. I really didn’t know much about “most people” and had only a smidgen of work experience. And yet, as I returned to my reports many times over the last 12 years, it still captured who I was. So I felt pretty confident in telling my clients it doesn’t change. At the same time, I thought it would be really cool to be able to confirm that with real data! Birkman International was nice enough to let me retake my own Birkman questionnaire for free to check.

Retaking the questionnaire was a revelation. I had no memory of doing it the first time, and wow, those questions are tough! I found myself wondering – along with most of my past clients – how on earth they get results from these questions!

So here’s the quick snapshot of what happened:

retaking the birkman
My 17 year old self
retaking the birkman
My 29 year old self


It might look like everything I just said was a lie. Most of these symbols moved! Yes, they did. And at the same time, they didn’t move much. Let’s dig in:

Usual Style

My Diamond symbol moved the “most” in that it moved from the blue square to the green square. The diamond represents your “usual style” or “strengths” behavior. It’s what you do when you’re at your best and it’s visible to others.

I called Birkman to discuss the results and got a lot of great information. During our 20s, a lot of us are still “settling in” to our usual styles. Of all the things the Birkman maps this one is the most flexible. This makes sense as we all know we have to modify our usual styles regularly in order to work well with people who are very different from us.

As we graduate from college and start our careers our usual style solidifies. So at 17 or 18, your usual style may not be totally nailed down but it probably doesn’t change super significantly. I didn’t switch to being an intense red style. I stayed on the people-oriented right side of the graph and moved slightly into the more extroverted communication half of the grid.


The asterisks represents interests. This shifted a hair down and to the left. My Areas of Interest report that breaks this down into categories (see below), basically just rearranged my top three interests (all still really strong interests). This is great news for those who want to take the Birkman to help them figure out a major and career direction. My midrange interests made some interesting jumps up or down, but my most intense interests stayed the same over a decade. Again, the changes confirm and solidify my interests. There are no radical departures from previous interests.

retaking the birkman

Needs/Stress Behaviors

My circle-within-a-square symbol represents my needs and stress behaviors. This symbol shifted deeper into the blue square – I’m now about as intensely “blue” as you can get as far as what I need from others and from my environment in order to operate in my strengths style. Our needs are typically more hardwired than our usual styles and for me this change mostly tells me that I’ve gained self-awareness since 17 years old. What my gut instincts told me then was pretty accurate and as I had more life experiences and more stress, my needs became more apparent and obvious to me.

Is there value in retaking the Birkman?

There probably is some value in retaking the Birkman for certain people. Sometimes I think we settle into one pattern of thinking about ourselves and we never go back to reassess that. This is a huge mistake, since we are all learning and growing all the time. So, retaking your Birkman might give you a much needed fresh self-perspective that could prompt healthy changes in how you work and relate to others. On the other hand, just reviewing the Birkman you already have is likely to give you some new insights, especially if you haven’t pulled it out in a few years. If it doesn’t feel like it describes you well anymore, take a minute to figure out if it’s the usual style that doesn’t seem accurate or the needs. You might find, like me, that your usual style has developed in a new direction while your needs remain the same.

Bottom line: I think Birkman is right. You can stick with your original report forever and benefit from it in a wide variety of situations. It truly is a lifelong reference tool.

Management Advice: Stop saying “BUT”

So here’s your very simple but difficult management advice for today: stop using the word but! Whether you’re parenting or working or hanging out with friends, the word but needs to go.

management advice Why?

I was first clued into this concept when reading a parenting book called How to Talk so Kids will Listen which is excellent and you should read even if you’re not a parent. The authors explained that anytime you use the word “but” you end up negating everything you’ve just said. Let’s do a quick example:

I say “Hey Canon, you did a great job with clean up time but you forgot to pick up the toys in the family room.” What does that sound like to you? Did he really do a great job? It sounds like I’m trying to let him down easy, that actually no, he didn’t do a good job cleaning because he forgot a key part of the process. What does he hear? That I don’t mean what I said and I’m really just criticizing him.

How could I say it better? “Hey Canon, you did a great job cleaning up in the playroom. Can you also grab the toys in the playroom?”

It applies equally well in the workplace context. I was reminded of this principle reading Fierce Conversations this week. Susan Scott writes, “Multiple, competing realities exist simultaneously: This is true and this is true and this is true.” When we say “yes, but” we don’t acknowledge the competing realities, we just try to keep persuading other people that our own version is correct.

What to say instead

The word “but” negates other views and can come across as blaming. Scott recommends trying to replace every “but” with an “and” so that both realities are acknowledged as valid pieces of the whole picture.  Instead of “You see it that way, but I see it differently” try, “You see it that way, and I see is differently.” A really simple switch that has the potential to keep discussions civil and people feeling like they are heard while still also allowing for differences of opinion. Win Win. Other options include:

  • “The problem I see is”
  • “At the same time”

Watch out though, as these can also come across as condescending based on your tone. And is probably the safest bet. You can also just stop your sentence and replace that “but” with a period. Start the next sentence as a question instead. Because asking questions is always a good principle for parents and managers anyway. That was bonus management advice right there.

The Coaching Habit – a great book for everyone who leads

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay StanierThe Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier (CEO of Box of Crayons) is super practical, super funny and easy to implement immediately and in small chunks. In fact, he also has a video that goes with each chapter so if you prefer watching to reading you can still get all that practical advice without having to turn pages.

Who is The Coaching Habit for?

It’s for busy managers and leaders who want to be “coaching” their employees and helping them develop their potential. The key word is “busy.” Stanier provides seven questions for managers to ask and gives you scenarios to understand how asking these questions might play out. He makes you think about what moments might trigger the need for one of these questions, and help you prepare for how you want to coach differently.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of management and coaching books out there. If you’re like me, it makes you feel a bit panicky about all that knowledge you haven’t yet absorbed. This book is a great place to start and might be all you need for a long time! Stanier knows you’re busy, knows you don’t have time to implement huge complex changes. He even gives you some great tips about how to build your coaching habit so that it feels doable and really sticks.

Did I mention this book has a really fun readable layout is absolutely hilarious?

What is The Coaching Habit about?

Stanier suggests that most of us spend too much time in meetings or coaching sessions handing out advice that won’t get followed anyway. He recommends sticking with some concise questions to get to the real issue and solve that in less time. The seven questions are really simple (sometimes the most simple things are most effective right?):

  1. The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?
  2. The AWE Question: And What Else?
  3. The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?
  4. The Foundation Question: What do you want?
  5. The Lazy Question: How can I help?
  6. The Strategic Question: If you’re saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?
  7. The Learning Question: What was most useful for you?

You can be a great coach without letting it eat up your whole day. If you’ve felt overwhelmed with all the options, this book is a great place to start. Read it fast, try one thing today already and see how it works!

**The link to Amazon is an affiliate link!**

Five Stages of Grief and Change Management

five stages of grief
Photo Credit: eClosure

The Five Stages of Grief are simple: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance. But they’re also anything but simple.

Why am I talking about the five stages of grief today? Because they’re part of life and they’re even part of organizations. And this week I’m thinking particularly of the stages of grief in the context of change management. While we typically only use the word “grief” around funerals – it’s a valid label for the emotions we experience whenever and wherever we experience loss.

Loss happens in organizations and communities because things change. So part of effective change management means managing the grieving process.

The five stages of grief give us a map but with caveats. First, this is not a linear progression. People can start anywhere and circle through all the stages. We can go straight to depression or bounce back and forth between anger, bargaining and denial. Second, there is no time frame for each phase – you can’t schedule how long this process will last.

In the face of relationship loss, most of us assume acceptance just comes with time and that everyone will differ on how much time they will need. I see this assumption in organizations as well. “Just give them some time and they’ll come around” is a common attitude when people are resisting change. But I think there’s a lot more to it than that.

Managing Change in light of the Five Stages of Grief

Let’s say you plan out a grand new vision – great new things will come but it will mean cleaning house, reorganizing and streamlining. In an ideal world, you build consensus before implementing changes by gathering adequate feedback. You invite everyone affected to share in the vision by holding forums and discussion panels. You analyze what people will lose in the change, not just what they will gain. In this way, you make sure people feel valued and maintain some sense of membership.

This kind of process may allow you to avoid causing people grief all together. If they have had time to consider ideas before they’re set in cement, can help shape and design what’s coming, then the ownership and excitement they feel will mitigate the grief because they won’t feeling like they’re losing too much. Denial, Anger and Bargaining won’t even be necessary because they have ownership in the process. I think those aspects of grief often spring out of our sense of helplessness. When we realize how little control we have, we feel vulnerable and threatened. I see a correlation between these stages and our flight or fight response mechanisms when we’re in danger.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in the ideal world. Change is often handed down with little warning. All our defense mechanisms jump into action. The leadership can mitigate these emotions by implementing strong communications processes during the transition phase. People need to feel heard, valued and understood. They need to see that those in charge really understand how the changes will affect others – they need to know they still have a voice that is valued – they need to be given back some sense of ownership. Without these things, I think it’s almost impossible to get people to a place of acceptance and buy-in. And that can be devastating to the success of the vision.

Thoughts on this? How do you see change being implemented effectively or ineffectively around you? Have you experienced the five stages of grief? What kind of plan would you put in place to support grief during changes?

Work with your hands

work with your hands poster

“Everybody isn’t a lawyer or doctor. Teach kids it’s ok to work with your hands and build cool things.” I ran across this poster on LinkedIn last week (you can see it here) and a friend commented that it’s a great time to be in the trades.

Later she wrote me how frustrating it is that people seem to think “. . . being a tradesmen is a secondary dream or something to fall back on if you don’t make it as a doctor . . . It seems the general LI public is really ignorant as to the education and commitment that it takes to be successful in a trade and that it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s like if you don’t work at a keyboard or on a phone, that you’re less of a professional.

  • The fact is HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other tradesPEOPLE do go to college and are required like many professions to obtain annual CEU’s and certifications.
  • The fact also is that plumbers can expect to earn $80-100k annually.
  • The fact also is that we have a terrible lack of tradespeople available and they are now in a position to call the shots in regards to benefits, schedules and perks.

I don’t think that sounds like something that is a ‘fall back’ . . . I’m seriously disturbed by the attitude of people who clearly consider working with their hands lower in some way . . . and we’re going to find ourselves in a dire situation because we haven’t fostered the trades.”

Her comments reminded me immediately of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I’ve quoted him before on the blog (here and here and here). He’s a PhD who became a motorcycle mechanic. He documents how we have degraded work over time by separating thinking and doing. This is a false separation, as my friend knows. In real work, you can’t separate mental and manual function. Mechanics, plumbers and general contractors constantly confront situations that require diagnosis and good judgment. It’s super insulting that we imagine these people are somehow less intelligent than a banker.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. Shop Class as Soulcraft p. 164

Work with Your Hands

Nothing beats experience. When you work with your hands, you see what works and what doesn’t. There’s something tangible in front of you and you get immediate feedback on your progress. You see what you have accomplished. This is highly rewarding to most of us. Who has experienced the feeling that you’ve accomplished more cleaning out your garage then you did all week at work?

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. We see the whole picture. It’s easy to grasp how our efforts contributed. We can see real differences!
  2. We complete a whole project instead of just filling a desk for a certain amount of hours.

I’m sure you could think of more. If you want meaningful work, it’s important to consider how important tradespeople are to our society. They might not get the respect they deserve, but if you run their jobs through Daniel Pink’s Drive test, they win every time. Autonomy? Check. Mastery? Check. Purpose? Check.

Let’s work on erasing the hierarchy of jobs and instead celebrate the diversity of careers. The next generation needs to know all their options.

There is Life After College: A must- read for all!

life after college
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My library hold on There is Life After College by Jeffrey Selingo right after my last blog post. Wow, what perfect timing! You should put it on hold too. Why? Whether you’re a parent, teacher, counselor, student, professor or new graduate, there will be something here for you. A college coach recommended this book in her seminar at my Birkman conference. Selingo identifies three common paths for students: the Sprinters, Wanderers and Stragglers and I found it fascinating that this coach has found markers in the Birkman reports that predict which path students are likely to take.

But that’s not really the point today. The point is this book has information and advice you probably need. You might be a parent frustrated with your kid’s “failure to launch.” Read this book. You might be a graduating high school senior who is unsure about the next step. Read this book. You might be a college administrator trying to figure out what other classes or opportunities the students needs to “succeed.” Read this book.

Life After College

Selingo helpfully describes the current post-college challenges in our economy. Parents, it’s not all your kid. The system has issues too! He provides tons of concrete tips for students on how best to navigate college and understand how employers hire. He discusses internships, alternative learning avenues and hands-on experiences. It’s all the stuff we don’t tend to think about when we’re just starting college. How employers hire and what they’re really looking for.

This kind of book really resonates with me because it asks us to take a good hard look at all our assumptions. So often we live like lemmings just being funneled through the system because that’s just easier. As a result, we don’t stop to ask why we’re doing what we’re doing and if it’s really the best route. He clarifies how our ingrained patterns of doing college and looking for jobs aren’t really serving us anymore. Selingo jolts us out of our rut and helps us do some needed re-evaluation at the macro level. I love this because it’s similar to what I’m trying to do at the micro level with individual students and their families as they figure out their college and career direction.

Have you read it? What were your takeaways?

Is a college degree necessary for everyone?

college degree necessary

So I created My College IQ primarily to help students pick majors and figure out their career direction in life. But today I was in a meeting that made me want to rename my product. We were talking about the fact that a lot of our culture assumes the need for a four-year college degree. We push kids to go to college. And yet, what we really mean is that kids need to become “credentialed” in some way for their careers. And there are so many more options for getting credentialed than just a college degree. The above chart is from the Association for Career and Technical Education and I think it’s so helpful to give us that broader picture.


That’s what we should be talking about when we’re helping students figure out next steps. What if we talked about what “credentials” they’re going to get instead of what college they’re going to?

A lot of people should not go to a four year university. It sounds wrong to say that. As a society, we pretend that university is the answer to everything. We think it’s a requirement for a great career and more money. Meanwhile, we ignore the debt conversations. We continue to reinforce blue collar/white collar divides. We continue to rank manual labor jobs as somehow less worthy than mental labor positions.

But I know for a fact that plumbers make good money.

And many people thrive when they can see the work of their hands.

And many people struggle with depression and disengagement at their fancy desk jobs.

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If you want a good philosophical look at the value of manual labor or blue collar work, you should check out Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft. For me, it was an incredible reminder of the intelligence and skill required to do jobs we often look down on. I was reminded that we often learn so much more by doing than by reading. This is him discussing our push to get everyone to go to college:

“In this there is little accommodation of the diversity of dispositions, and of the fact that some very smart people are totally ill suited both to higher education and to the kind of work you’re supposed to do once you have a degree. Further, funneling everyone into college creates certain perversities in the labor market. The sociologist of education Randall Collins describes a cycle of credential inflation that ‘could go on endlessly, until janitors need Ph.D’s and babysitters are required to hold advanced degrees in child care.’”

Cultivation of Knowledge

College and university used to be primarily about cultivation of knowledge for its own sake. That’s why you still have Art History and Philosophy degrees. These are great and even necessary areas of study, but let’s not pretend that they make it easier for you to get a good job. While I think everyone should be required to take some philosophy classes, it’s often hard to Liberal Arts students to translate their college degree into a career outside of academia. And today most colleges are selling their ability to credential students for the workforce.

So let’s be honest about what we’re trying to achieve. For some students, a liberal arts college degree is exactly what they want. It’s who they are. They thirst for knowledge, primarily of the book variety. And for others, that’s anathema. They want to be out there doing something! In the end, what we really want students to do is get a credential that will help them get a job. And that means we should be exploring every credentialing avenue, not just the four-year college degree program. Community colleges, certificates, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job certifications – these are all great paths for students to figure out the next step in their lives.

What was  your educational path? Would you go back and do something differently today? What would be your advice to a junior or senior in high school?

What’s the difference between Birkman and Myers-Briggs?

Most people give me a puzzled look when I tell them I’m a Birkman Consultant. I usually immediately follow that up with “It’s like Myers-Briggs on steriods.” It’s like the MBTI’s bigger, scientifically-backed older brother. If you’re not that familiar with the MBTI either, it’s the one about Extroverts vs. Introverts. People describe themselves with four letters, “I’m an ENFJ” or “ISTP.” Here are just a few differences between the Birkman and Myers-Briggs:


MBTI measures only four scales: Extrovert/Introvert, Intuitive/Sensing, Feeling/Thinking, and Judging/Perceiving. This only gives you 16 personality types total. These scales are binary or either/or choices. The Birkman measures nine different behaviors and four perspectives or attitudes on a continuum so that you can understand the differences between highly intense, strong and moderate displays of the behavior.

Bottom line: The MBTI is less nuanced while the Birkman provides deeper insights because it acknowledges greater human complexity.

Self vs. Others

The Myers Briggs asks only for your own self-perceptions. This can help them describe your usual behavior but not much more. The Birkman on the other hand, asks you questions about yourself and about other people. This way Birkman is able to assess your usual style and what you expect from your environment. Our typical behavior can be substantially different than what we need from other people so this kind of information really helps people understand how to communicate and work together more effectively. In other words, it’s information you can actually apply!

Bottom line: The MBTI measures your usual style but the Birkman measures your usual style, your needs and your stress behaviors – information that is much more useful!

Validity & Reliability

The Myers-Briggs has poor reliability and validity. Up to 75% of people get a different type the second time they take it. And it turns out that only the Extrovert/Introvert measurement has much validity. A researcher at The Birkman on the other hand, has 60 years of testing and retesting to make sure their results are both reliable and valid. Most people don’t see their report scores change much over time.

Bottom line: The MBTI is a great conversation starter but the Birkman beats it on scientific credentials.

If you want even more details how how they differ, Birkman International has a whole white paper on the topic that you can download here!

myers-briggsConclusion: Myers-Briggs vs. The Birkman

Imagine you were given a beautiful potted plant. People seem to love Myers-Briggs because it’s easy and quick. It’s like getting a nice little label with the name of your plant. Unfortunately, most people aren’t really quick easy reads. While knowing the name of the plant is nice, it doesn’t help you take care of it. The Birkman is a much more comprehensive look at humans. It allows us to resist labeling and move toward really understanding. It’s like getting that plant label AND getting a whole bunch of useful tips about what kind of light and temperature and nutrients it needs. Your Birkman reports can help you in any situation where you have to deal with people who are really different than you (wait, isn’t that EVERY situation?!) allowing both you and others to flourish.

If you want to get your Birkman report today, you can go here!