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Barbara Waxman on Making Change Easier
Since some of our listening audience may not yet know who you are, would you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in New York and drove cross-country for a one year adventure after graduating from college. Twenty-five years later I am still living in my adopted home of San Francisco, having raised three children with my husband—the instigator of that one-year adventure. I think what distinguishes my coaching work has much to do with my bi-coastal background. I have now lived in California for so long that I have become patient and process-oriented in a way I never could have if I hadn’t left the intensity of New York. I have developed tools and exercises that enable clients to uncover blind spots and get to the heart of the matter. But, at the end of the day I’m still a New Yorker and I share client’s interest and commitment in reaching concrete results. Something else that defines me is the "portfolio life" I choose to live. Those days that combine work for pay, work for the community, time for exercise and reflection, time with those I love, time to engage for at least a few minutes in one of my hobbies—those are my favorite days. A portfolio life is made up of a myriad of meaningful activities.
You are a great success. Because of what you've accomplished and where you are in life, what would you tell others to Inspire them today, regardless of where they are in their life?
Look around. Pay Attention. Knows what moves you. If you are in the midst of a standard of living below where you’d like to be, look up. Who inspires you? What are they doing? What is one action you can take today to move toward being a part of that life? One small thing? Just say Yes! If you are inspired by the great outdoors, say yes to every opportunity to connect with nature. Even if it means remembering to savor a deep, fresh breath of air. If you are inspired by art, make it a part of your regular routine. Take a class, look at great works online, visit museums. Inspiration, interestingly, does not typically come from the big things or the big names we read about. Most of us are inspired by simple acts of kindness, courage, creation. Look around.
We all know that inspiration can change lives. Can you share a personal story of someone who inspired you and made a difference in your life or a defining moment or experience that inspired you or changed your life?
I have a friend name Ileana. She has taught and inspired me in so many ways over the 18 years that we have known one another. Ileana was born in a ghetto outside of Managua, Nicaragua. With too many children to feed and no husband to support her, Ileana’s mother had tough choices to make. Ileana was sent to various places over the course of her childhood, sent to live with people who would take her in for a time. Rarely offered the chance to attend school, wear shoes, have new clothes or to have enough to eat, Ileana survived. She always dreamed of something better and set her sights on the United States. Through tenacity, patience and hard work, Ileana has made a life for herself. I proudly attended her citizenship swearing-in, and am equally proud of our friendship. She inspires me, and reminds me that so much is possible if we dream it and persevere.
You make it look easy, but I'm guessing you've experienced challenges in your life. Can you share with our listeners how that has strengthened you to reach success? In other words, how do you overcome adversity?
I have learned from the school of hard knocks and challenging circumstances that the pool of strength you mention comes not from the "win" side of the scoreboard but from the challenges. I’ll share a personal example to explain. In the fall of 2000 I had a sneaking suspicion that my daughter wasn’t well. Nothing specific—mother’s intuition. When my daughter asked to leave her own 8th birthday party, my suspicions were confirmed and she was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. Hospitalized for weeks, our highly skilled, western-trained doctors tried many approaches to heal her. Ultimately, they unanimously and strongly suggested that we immediately schedule surgery to remove part of her intestinal tract. In addition, we were told that she would need to be maintained on a series of drugs for the foreseeable future. You want the definition of adversity? We thought we hit rock bottom. But something inside me shifted. We live, as I often joke, in the wackiest county in the country with more alternative healing approaches per capita than perhaps anywhere else. We left the hospital and began our search for a different kind of cure—one that our well-intentioned and highly trained doctors strongly advised against. After an entire year devoted to finding an alternative—we did. Jill is now a beautiful, healthy 18-year old and a freshman in college. She has not taken medication of any kind for the past five years and has her whole body. What strengthens one to reach success? Passion fueled with hope and some rational thinking.
We all have ideas on how to improve our lives, whether it be a new job, moving to a new city, or finding love, but change can be a bit scary sometimes. Can you please share an experience with us where you "stepped off the ledge" with only faith, and took a big risk, based only on your belief that you would succeed?
I mentioned earlier, that what brought me to San Francisco was love. What I did not share was that my plans had to change completely in order for that to happen. And I was not someone who veered far off course. I had been accepted with a scholarship and a teaching position, to the University of Michigan for a dual Masters degree. I was thrilled! Then I visited my boyfriend at Stanford and took that leap of faith. I decided to take a risk, to defer graduate school and move to California—no job or real plan. I believed that I would succeed—in answering the question both he and I asked: Is this relationship a keeper? There was one way to find out; and I did. I never did attend University of Michigan but happily became a Trojan at USC. We have been married for almost 24 years.
How can others do what you did?
Living a life of meaning isn’t rocket science and it isn’t dependent upon fame or fortune. There is actually a fairly predictable sequence of steps one can take to work towards designing a meaningful life. I’ve developed a model I call Entrepreneurship Turned Inward (ETI) that describes these steps and is based upon the idea that taking care of the "business" of our lives is as worthy an investment as any other. I will spell out the steps here, however I want to emphasize that to be most effective a thorough understanding of the process and tools associated with it requires a deeper conversation. (You are welcome to visit my website, www.theodysseygroup.net, and contact me from there.) The ETI steps are: Self-Discovery, an Energy Assessment, Identification of Core Values and Motivators, Synching those Values with Activities/Relationships, Envisioning the Future, Developing Objectives, and finally, Building a Bridge connecting the present with your desired future.
What process, steps or exercises do you recommend that our listeners could do right now and each morning, to improve the quality of their lives?
I recommend developing an intention practice that begins every morning upon waking. It is really quite simple and takes just a minute or two. It goes like this:
- Before getting out of bed, spend a moment of gratitude for the potential inherent in every new day. Take a deep cleansing breath. It’s amazing to see what beginning each day with gratitude will do for you. Set an intention (or two) for the day. This is not your to-do list. It is a reflection of who and how you want to be today. For example, I want to really listen and be present today.
- One client set this intention and, while in line at the grocery store that day, found himself in conversation with a fellow shopper. He reported to me that it was not someone he would typically have engaged in a conversation—but he had set an intention and stuck by it. Something that person said sparked a thought that led to the development of his now successful company. True story. At night, before going to sleep review the day and learn from it. Don’t judge, learn.
- Try this practice for at least two weeks and see what shifts take place. It can be powerful.
What's the greatest joy in your life?
I am fortunate because I derive a sense of joy from many things. The greatest joy, however, is derived from relationships, those who have a place in the inner sanctum of my heart.
If you had to wrap up the wisdom of your life to leave as your legacy—call it YOUR BRILLIANCE—what important things that you've learned would you want to pass on to others?
Complexity is like fool’s gold. It makes us think that we can’t make a difference, that we can’t accomplish things, that we don’t matter in the scheme of things. But that is not the case. Complexity is made up of simple components—like atoms forming the basis of all matter. Keep it simple: Know what you value and live life manifesting those things.
If you had just one more thing that you could accomplish in your lifetime, what would it be?
If I could somehow accomplish sharing the "secret sauce" recipe of happiness I would. And the basis is to live a life of meaning and to give. If everyone on this planet could experience those two things we would not suffer from so many of the societal ills we read about every day.