Ways you CAN help when a loved one is in crisis

A few years back, before I started learning the right way to be a coach, I decided to go ahead and take on an individual coaching client. A woman at my company was letting her fear hold her back. During our first (and only) coaching session, she shared some of what was going on with her, and I experienced an overwhelming sense of knowing was was right for her. I asked questions that did result in insight, but she never called for a second appointment.

When I reflect on that first attempt, I can actually feel what it was like to be in the conversation. That “overwhelming sense of knowing what was right for her” was both palpable and familiar. It had come up whenever a friend or loved one was in crisis, whenever I could see that their perspective on the issue was part of the problem they were experiencing. Each time I just couldn’t wait to let them know how they were screwing themselves up and how they could fix it.

If you’ve ever seen the internet video called “It’s Not About the Nail,” you’ve seen someone having the same experience. (If you haven’t seen it, take a moment right now.)

Fortunately, in the last few years I have had intensive training and ample practice in effective listening, which differs from habitual listening (such as we see from Jason in the video). People who are listening like this aren’t bad by any means! We just allow our internal conversation to override what is actually needed by the person who is speaking to us.

Earlier this month I wrote a post on what not to do when a loved one is in crisis. If you read it, you may have come away with a commitment to keeping your mouth shut.That was a good takeaway. But let’s not stop there.

The Do’s

When a loved one is in crisis, we can become a source of calm, a way back into the world instead of losing ourselves in the anxiety we’re experiencing. But we can only do this if we manage ourselves.

The following list of do’s covers both what we can do when we are actively listening to our loved one as well as what we can do throughout our lives when the crisis is several hours, days, or even weeks (or more) long.

What you can do includes:

    • Manage your own anxiety. When you notice yourself feeling restless or anxious, take three slow, deep belly breaths. This increases the flow of oxygen to your blood and into your muscles, which naturally helps you to relax.
    • Be present. Notice your base level of distraction and practice letting go of distractions. Tune in to the “here and now.” Keep your attention on your own breathing, or get a glass of ice water and focus your attention fully on the physical sensation of it. As soon as you can, return your attention to whatever is most important instead of a distraction.
    • Tell them you’re with them. While it can (unfortunately) do more harm than good to tell your loved one that “it’ll all be okay,” you can help by promising that no matter what happens, you’ll be with them. “I’m staying,” or “I’m here” are comforting.
    • Be patient. If your loved one has experienced a loss, he or she may not recover as quickly as you would like them to. They may not start job hunting, dating, or enjoying their typical hobbies and work when you want them to. They are grieving, and grieving takes its own time.
    • Recognize that their rationality may be temporarily gone. Any human in crisis mode is likely to undergo occasional or frequent experiences where the feelings of loss, anger, and panic are overwhelming. This experience is called an “amygdala hijack.” It happens when the part of your brain that keeps you alive in a crisis (such as a burning building or an invasion) kicks in. Learn about amygdala hijack, including how thinking is affected. Our rational brain is not engaged during a hijack. If you recognize this is happening frequently in yourself or your loved one, get support for yourself so you can respond in ways that are safe and effective.
    • Meet your own needs (for both the present and the future). Being patient does not mean ceasing all activity until your loved one returns to normal. You continue to have needs, and you deserve to meet your own needs, including nutrition, sleep, exercise, social support, peace, safety, and even development. If you are running a business, continue marketing and getting clients. If you have a job, go back to work as soon as you are ready. It’s okay for you to be fully present at work, too. Just focus on being fully present at home when you are there. If you start feeling run down, check in with yourself to see which of your needs are unmet. Consider calling a friend to help you with meeting them.
    • Get support. Friends, family, therapists, and coaches can all be valid sources of support and information. If your income has taken a significant hit, find support from someone who can help you figure out what to stop spending money on, where to keep spending your money, and which sources of money to draw on when.
    • Take it one day at a time. The more you try to plan for (and control) what might happen in a day or week or month, the more you will drive yourself crazy. Remind yourself that this is a process that will take its own time. Some days you and your loved one will feel the same, many days you’ll feel differently — one up and the other down, in an unpredictable teeter-totter of emotion. Whatever happens, it is temporary. Focus on getting through that one day (or that one hour) and know that things will change, even though you can’t predict (or control) how they will change.

Bottom Line

When any of us experiences a sudden loss, the results can be devastating. Family members of those most seriously impacted will experiences losses of their own while trying to be supportive of their loved ones. We can easily slip into behaviors that do more harm than good if we are not mindful and intentional about supporting rather than offloading our own anxiety on others.

You can be more effective by managing your own anxiety and staying mentally present with your loved one. Don’t rush things but know that the situation is temporary. If things have been going on “too long” in your perspective, get yourself some support.

Keep your focus on making sure you are taking care of yourself during their crisis.You can support them best by maintaining your own health and wellbeing while staying connected to them.

What do you try to keep in mind when a loved one is in crisis? What seems to help the most? Leave me a comment below and add to the conversation!

Amy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with courage, humor, and compassion–even in a corporate environment. To learn more, go to CareerLeadershipAlignment.com.

To stay in the loop, sign up for the bimonthly newsletter with content from the blog, videos, and podcasts here. Connect with Amy on Facebook and Twitter, too!

What not to do when a loved one is in crisis

In the summer of 2000 I was fired from a job I loved. When I drove to pick up my husband from his job and told him what happened, barely holding myself together, he said simply, “They’re wrong.” He was intending to let me know he was on my side, standing up for me at a time when I was feeling extremely vulnerable, and yet I didn’t find his extremely supportive response satisfying. Why not?

On other occasions, my husband has been upset about some experience he’s had at work. I have offered what I believed to be support: suggestions that perhaps other’s actions weren’t intended in the way he was perceiving them, or maybe things aren’t so bad. He doesn’t always appreciate these suggestions. Why not?

When a loved one is in crisis, they may be looking for responses that they can’t describe. What seems natural or logical to us does not in fact meet the need. We feel helpless and vulnerable because we care so much about this person who is in pain, and our inability to support them properly only adds to our sense of powerlessness. (We might even try to discharge these feelings of vulnerability by blaming them for not accepting our well-intentioned support.)

Before and since my experience of losing my ‘dream job,’ both my husband and I have experienced unexpected losses of jobs, good bosses, parents, and clients. For more than two decades we have wrestled with how exactly to support ourselves and each other through crisis, uncertainty, and pain.

This post is actually disguised as a “how to.” The truth is that I can only share what I’ve learned, what I have learned to do (and not to do) when a loved one is in crisis. But this is an area for trial and error. I hope what I share here can be of use to you.

The Don’ts:

When a loved one is in crisis it’s very natural for many of us to get lost in their crisis. When we do this, we become anxious and start trying to resolve the situation in ways that ultimately do more harm than good. Here are some things to stop doing as soon as you can:

  • Don’t force perspective on them, such as proving that your crisis is or was worse than theirs, or telling them their loss “isn’t that bad.”
  • Don’t force “fine,” such as telling them they will be fine, that things will work out fine, that things are probably fine and they’re blowing this out of proportion, or that this only happened because they can handle it.
  • Don’t force logic of any kind, including the “law of attraction.” Don’t insist that it happened for a reason (no matter what reason might be coming to mind for you). This includes explanations. Even though people in crisis are prone to asking, “Why?” this isn’t really an invitation for an explanation. It’s more like a socially acceptable way of screaming, “NO!!!” If you hear the “Why” question as a “NO!!!” you’ll be more likely to respond effectively.
  • Don’t force solutions. Sometimes we might believe the situation would be resolved if our loved-one’s behavior changed, or if we ourselves intervened. This is not a problem for you to solve. Let it go.

A list of don’ts like that can make us feel pretty helpless. “If I can’t do any of those things, what on earth is left? What am I going to do? Just sit on my hands with my mouth clamped shut?”

That isn’t a bad plan, believe it or not. It’s probably incomplete, but I do have a friend who says when she paid close attention to the don’ts and really worked hard to eliminate those behaviors, she really did feel like she was just sitting on her hands, unable to say anything. She also says she got feedback that she was being “a really good listener.” So, you never know.

But you have to find your own pace–your own rhythm. The above list of don’ts are only part of the story. They are worth paying attention to because so many of us have strong habits to do all of them. Vowing to cut them out is at least a step in the right direction.

In my next post, I offer some positive actions that we can try.

Creating your coaching agenda (podcast)

If you have hired an ICF-Certified coach for career, leadership, executive, or personal development, you may have noticed that they ask you for your “agenda items.” (This can also sound like versions of “What do you want to talk about?” and “You’re in charge, where do you want to go?”)

This can be a baffling challenge for new coaching clients. What does it mean to create the agenda for your coaching session? In this podcast I walk you through five steps.



When you’re through, send me an email (Amy@CareerLeadershipAlignment.com) and ask for the “coaching agenda worksheet.”

Find the want-to beyond “should.”

June has already been a watershed month for me. Within the space of three days in the first week of the month, I finally shifted beyond “I know I should be exercising. I need to. But …”

Have you been here, too? Maybe it’s been exercise for you, too, or some other form of self care.

Maybe you “should”:

  • be more focused on your job search.
  • be networking.
  • quit smoking.
  • ask somebody out.
  • be reading a book.

Can I just say this? Life is hard. Current events are pretty much always depressing. We don’t have enough help at work. We aren’t getting paid enough. And everything costs too much. And we aren’t appreciated for what we DO. And onto all this discouragement we layer on all this stuff we “should” do.

Is it any wonder Netflix has been so successful? It’s one thing that’s easy.

But when you click the TV off, the list of “shoulds” are all still there, and right along with them are the list of helpful apps and advice sites ready to help you get your life together and finally do something for a change.

You really should look at one of them, right?

That’s exactly where I was on June 1. I knew I had lost my fitness “ground,” and I was afraid of starting up again.

“I’ll only quit again,” I thought. “I never stick with it.”

I heard my husband offer up one of these “shoulds” for himself around that time–“I really should do that core workout plan again…”

On Saturday, June 4, I spent a couple of hours in the garden. That sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. It was hard work. By the time I was done with those two hours, I could barely stand. I spent the rest of the day in bed. I thought, “Ut oh. This isn’t good.”

On Monday, June 6, I presented on the subject of personal energy management to a group of 30 professionals in Dublin, Ohio. Leading up to that presentation I was becoming extremely aware of what I wasn’t doing for my physical energy management, and between the presentation itself and the hours afterwards I felt such a crisis of integrity — I thought, “This really isn’t good.”

On Tuesday, June 7, I spent the day volunteering. By noon I was brain-dead and saying things that later made me do a “facepalm” — how could I think that was the right thing to say?  And I knew (because I’d just presented on the subject) that physical energy, strength, resilience, and endurance are foundational to mental focus.

I thought, “This is just bad. This has to change.”

I gave myself Wednesday to recover, but I talked to hubby. “Thursday morning, can we start the core workout together?” He groaned and said “yes.” We talked about what exactly this would look like — how we would make it work.

And we did it.

Friday I got on the treadmill and tried to see what I could do in 20 minutes. It was sad, but it was a start. I decided the following Monday I would start using the Couch to 5K program. And, I did.

I am now starting to feel the effects of getting going. It’s like the laces that tie my skeleton together are being pulled, and things are finally coming together after being too loose for too long.

And I do like the feeling.

I’m also noticing more ideas, more creativity, and (generally speaking) more active thought processes. It’s good to have my brain back, too.

Rock Bottom is a Beautiful Start
Image stolen outright from Evolutions Treatment Centers — see http://www.evolutionstreatment.com/about/news-articles/rock-bottom-beautiful-start

What this reminds me of is that idea of ‘hitting bottom.’ In the recovery world, there’s an idea that someone will only seek help when they’ve hit rock bottom. I guess that’s what happened with me. I finally got to a point where I could FEEL how much I needed a change.

In the pilot Think in Ink guided-journaling program that started May 16 and will be finishing June 27, we have been exploring our lives — past, present, and future. We spent a week diving into our immunity to change. I discovered that I had a big assumption that doing exercise on a regular basis was going to eat up all my free time. I assumed that I could give myself the gift of spaciousness in my schedule by skipping exercise.

There are all kinds of big assumptions that hold us back. Maybe you assume:

  • you’ll be more financially secure in the long run if you don’t spend money on _____ (pursuing your goal).
  • you’ll never actually meet someone who can help you.
  • failure (or rejection) is so painful that it means trying isn’t worth it.
  • the effort is only a cost — you won’t get enough of a reward.

When you discover your “big assumption,” the next task is to design an experiment: What’s a safe, modest, actionable experiment that you could try to test whether or not this assumption is really accurate?

My experiment was to try out exercise for a couple of weeks, fitting it in at a time when hubby was willing to join or otherwise support me, and see if it really ate up my schedule as much as I assumed it would.

Long story short, I’m not watching quite as much Stephen Colbert on YouTube as I had been. And I guess that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make so I can have this feeling that I’m not so loosely connected. So I can have my brain back.

And sharing this commitment with you is part of my accountability. Please ask me how it’s going if you see me.

What is holding you back from what you know you “should” do?  Is it a fear of failure or something even bigger? What’s one thing you can do for yourself — one step you can take — today?

Learn more about immunity to change from the experts.
Request a copy of the article by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Bottom Line: Most of us walk around with a sense of something we would be doing if we were living our lives right. And, most of us won’t make the change because we are wired to keep doing the same old thing, living the status quo.

However, we can get ourselves past the “should” and into working for ourselves instead of against ourselves. Maybe it means hitting rock bottom. Maybe it means identifying our big assumptions and challenging those. It definitely means being willing to try even when it’s possible to fail.

What about you? What has it taken for you to get back in the game? Leave me a comment below!

How to help a friend get a job with your employer

Your friend is looking for a job, and you find out that your employer is hiring. Of course, you want to support your friend, and you would be delighted if she got a job at your workplace. If it happened, you could have lunch together, dish about co-workers, and help each other problem-solve.

Once you’ve sent your friend the job description, you might feel like you’ve done everything you can do. After all, you connected them with a job you believe they can do. Isn’t it up to them now to come through?

I have been on all sides of this scenario. I’ve been the working friend as well as the job-seeker, and I’ve been the hiring manager. Now, as a coach, I work with people who are in job transition situations who are encountering the realities of today’s job search. I am happy to share with you the wisdom I have collected about how to most effectively support a friend who is seeking a job.

Three things you should know before you start this process:

First, if you have a friend who is looking for work, it’s likely they need your help. The job-transition process is usually stressful, hard work, and frequently there’s no feedback at all. Computers often make the first selection based on keyword usage and specific yes/no criteria, and a human being never even sees the application. This is discouraging for the applicant, and it only gets worse the longer the job-hunt goes on.

Second, you have the power to make a difference. Simply by offering a word of recommendation and a sense of connection between your employer and your friend, both can feel like the other is less of a mystery. Hiring managers can be grateful for your help, too. The current process can be as dissatisfying for the employer as it is for the applicant.

Finally, respectful vulnerability is the name of the game. Have courage and do what you can (outlined below), but let go of outcomes. This is challenging but important. You can’t control the hiring manager’s decision, and forcefulness will backfire. However, persistence can pay off if it is combined with respect for the hiring manager’s process and the incredible workload they are managing during the hiring process.

Before you know about a job posting

The best time to start supporting your friend is before either of you know anything about a job opening with your employer. During this time you can support your friend in these ways:

  • Share honestly about your company’s culture, products, and job functions. Don’t betray any trade secrets or your employer’s confidentiality expectations, but be as straightforward as you can without sugarcoating or exaggerating. Provide facts and resources.
  • Introduce your friend to people in your company who are doing the kind(s) of work your friend wants to do. This means understanding your friend’s professional interests and strengths as well as how those might fit into your company’s strategic needs. 

When you identify the right person, do an email introduction by sending your colleague a note and copying your friend. It’s a good idea to agree first with your friend on the content of this note, which might say something along the lines of, “Dear Arianna–I wanted to introduce you to my friend Lisa. She is interested in the work you do and would like to learn more. If you’d be willing to meet for coffee, I think you’d really enjoy hearing about her background in advertising. She always tells me the most fascinating stories about those days!”

This kind of introduction not only asks your colleague to tell your friend about the job, but also offers your colleague an idea for interesting conversation that your friend can contribute.

  • Help your friend identify their best possible ‘fit’ and path. If there is one department or team in your company where it seems like your friend would fit best, make that team your number one target. Create opportunities for your friend to connect informally with the people in that team. (Does the company host an annual picnic or weekly after-work visit to the pub? Bring your friend along if guests are allowed.)

Find out from people who work in that team what their path was like into it. Were they hired via a business-school job fair? Promoted from a lower paid role within the company? Snagged from a contracting or temp company? What would it take for your friend to follow a similar path?

These activities will arm your friend with information about the company that will make it much easier for her to market herself well, and those introductions will help your colleagues feel like they already know her. A job candidate who is known and liked on an informal basis has an advantage when the formal job opportunities come around.

When a job is posted

  • Communicate clearly and respectfully within your company’s structure. Do forward the job posting to your friend, but also mention to your own manager that you are doing so, and if the hiring manager is someone different (and someone you can reach out to directly in your company’s culture), give them a heads up as well. Send a simple note that says something like, “I wanted to let you know about a friend of mine who I think would be a great fit for that role. I’m sending her the job description. Her name is Lisa Adams.”
  • Continue communicating respectfully–stay in the game. Ask your friend to let you know when she has submitted her application, and then ask her to send you a copy of her resume and cover letter. Forward these directly to the hiring manager (or at least your own manager, if your company is sensitive to hierarchy and politics).

Your email with these two documents attached might read, “Hi! As I mentioned, I sent my friend Lisa the description for your ______ job. She submitted the application via the website last night but I am forwarding her resume and cover letter to you directly. I’ve heard horror stories about how resumes look sometimes when they go through those web systems.” (This is true–back when I was a hiring manager, I couldn’t believe how mangled the resumes often looked. I often wondered if this was a reflection on a clueless applicant or if the computer somehow had ruined it. I’ve since learned that the computers don’t read resumes well, and PDFs do not always retain their formatting.)

  • Follow up with the hiring manager. If your company culture allows for you to communicate directly with the hiring manager, allow a week to pass first (that’s important!) and then send a note to offer a recommendation and ask if the hiring manager has everything she needs to make a decision.

This follow-up note might read: “Hi! I sent you a note last week about my friend Lisa’s application for the ______ role. Did you receive that and her application okay? Do you have what you need to make a decision? I wanted to let you know how wonderful I think Lisa would be for The Company. I have worked with her before and found her so supportive and tireless! We’ve been eager to work together again, and I know you would be grateful if you got to know her.” Keep your comments enthusiastic, honest, relevant, and brief.

  • If you don’t hear anything back, keep in mind that the hiring process is hard work, frequently lengthy, and is something the hiring manager is having to do now in addition to their own job and making up for the absence of someone in the role being hired for. They are busy. Do not hound them. Keep breathing. It’s good to follow up, but never reach out more than once a week.

If you want to ask them to respond to you, your messages to them could say, “I would love if you could drop me a note to let me know where things stand, but I know how busy you must be. If I haven’t heard from you by this time next week, I’ll send you another note.” (Adapt this same message for voicemail or even in-person connections.)

This gives them the option of knowing you will follow up so they don’t have to remember to do this, and yet also tells them you won’t go away until they have responded. (They might not understand this last part until you’ve left a similar message a few times–never less than a full week apart.)

If you don’t know your friend that well…

Suppose someone you’ve met a few times asks you to help by “putting in a good word.” If you don’t know them very well, you might feel awkward about acting on this request. However, you can still offer the best word you can. I have written notes for colleagues like this:

“Hi, Paul! I hope you’re doing well and not too swamped by the hiring process. Listen, I know one of your applicants, a guy named Bill McDavies. We’ve gotten to know each other volunteering through a local nonprofit. I can’t say I know him very well, but we’ve bagged groceries together and I always thought he was courteous and hard-working. Could you make sure you get hold of his application even if it wasn’t selected for you by the computer? I have the impression he would do well in an interview. Thanks. I hope we can get together soon!”


“Hi, David. I noticed you are hiring for a new IT specialist to support the HR function in the library system. I’ve been getting to know a woman named Hannah through a community project, and she seems like a really bright, kind person. From what I know about your department’s culture I think she would be a great fit. I’ve suggested she apply. Would you look out for her application? I know you’ll make the decision you need to make but I would love if you could just read her stuff in a bit more detail than you might otherwise do. Thanks so much, and let me know if I can be of any support to you.”

Bottom Line:

The job-transition process is stressful. Computers often make the first selection, and then a human being never even sees the application. But you can make a difference by making a connection and taking mystery out of the process. Have courage and do what you can, but let go of defensiveness and don’t be pushy.

Facilitate communication between your friend and the hiring manager. Try to figure out what each really needs to know. Keep your communications honest, enthusiastic, relevant, and brief.

Which role have you been in–hiring manager, job-seeker, or employed friend? Have you experienced any of this? What have you learned through the process? What if you have mixed feelings about your friend’s job performance? What would you do?

Amy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals (like you!) to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with courage, humor, and compassion–even in a corporate environment. To learn more, go to CareerLeadershipAlignment.com.

To stay in the loop, sign up for the bimonthly newsletter with content from the blog, videos, and podcasts here. Connect with Amy on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Build a Unique Value Profile to Land a Job

One of the real advantages I gained when I decided to start my own business is that I started to develop a skillset that had been previously unknown to me. I now know some of these skills would have been a tremendous advantage in job-seeking. The most important is the process for building a Unique Value Profile.

A Unique Value Profile states what you offer as a unique and desirable solution to your prospective employer’s problems and opportunities.

You can build a Unique Value Profile by defining and researching your target, understanding your competitors and your own strengths, and matching your uniqueness to your target employer’s needs. Let’s look at what that means for each of those tasks:

Define your target. While some job hunters will aimlessly apply for jobs with any employer who is recruiting for new employees, that leads to wasted energy and a great deal of discouragement.

Let’s look at how the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin offers a metaphor for job-hunting experience. In the movie, Steve Carrell’s character (Andy) was advised by his friends to try for anyone and everyone they thought would be a “sure thing,” but their advice was terrible. Whenever Andy followed their advice, he had humiliating and off-putting experiences. We also got to see how his friends were reaping the consequences of their own terrible choices.

(“Humiliating and off-putting experiences” describes a few careers I’ve heard of!)

The shotgun approach is just as bad for job hunting. Job-seekers tend to assume that a job posting means there’s a real chance at a job with that employer, but it only means the employer has some clarity about what they want. Most likely it isn’t you. Better for you to get clarity about what you want.

Research your target employers. The specific information you want to gain through this research phase will be related to the work you believe you want to do. Within that broader category do some additional digging to find out what that company’s challenges are. What do they need?

Using our dating metaphor, this is similar to the process Bill Murray’s character Phil went through in the film Groundhog Day. From the beginning of the movie he wanted to get closer to Andie MccDowell’s character, Rita, but it wasn’t until he learned about the deepest longings of her heart that he was able to meet her there. It took him most of the movie to get to know her (and women, and life) well enough to connect with Rita’s human needs.

Understand who your competitors are. Many of us, when we are looking for a job, hate the idea that we are competing with others. When we think about our competitors, we imagine a survival-of-the-fittest scenario in which there’s one winner and lots of losers.

Unique Value Profile

One of the great lessons I have learned in the transition to self-employment is that there really is enough work to go around, but the only way for all of us to be gainfully employed is for each of us to know ourselves and our ‘competition’ well enough to be able to differentiate ourselves from each other.

The benefit of knowing the competition, therefore, is not to try to match them and prove ourselves as good as them, but rather to show ourselves as different from them. Perhaps they have sets of skills that help them meet employers needs in a certain ways, but you have a different set of skills that will help employers in a different way. That difference is an important part of your Unique Value Profile.

Understand your own strengths very well. In order to be able to describe how you are uniquely capable of meeting your prospect’s needs, you need to know your strengths. Take a look at movies like Oceans 11, where every member of the team has a unique skillset that others on the team can’t match. When one of those team members is taken out of the action, the team suffers. Get to know the unique skillset you bring to the team so you can talk about how you will prevent their suffering.

Get support. In the coming weeks I will be announcing an opportunity for job seekers to get the support they need for building their Unique Value Profiles. Through worksheets, video training, and group coaching, you can define and research your prospective employers, understand your competitors and your own strengths, and match your uniqueness to your target employer’s needs. If you are interested in such an opportunity, send me a note and say, “Tell me more about that course!” via Amy@CareerLeadershipAlignment.com.

*Looking for a “knew” job? My goodness, what a typo. And of course when I send out a newsletter with a typo in it, there is nothing I can do but acknowledge that I see it and I know it isn’t right. Here’s what I’ve learned about making mistakes.


Amy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals (like you!) to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with courage, humor, and compassion–even in a corporate environment. To learn more, go to CareerLeadershipAlignment.com.

To stay in the loop, sign up for the bimonthly newsletter with content from the blog, videos, and podcasts here. Connect with Amy on Facebook and Twitter, too!

A Simple Way to Calm Yourself When Feeling Strong Emotions

This post originally appeared at TinyBuddha.com.

“This is the root of Self. You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions…. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.” ~Michael Singer

I sat across from my colleague with a growing sense of discomfort. I had accepted an assignment from the boss, but I heard from my colleague an undercurrent of questioning and uncertainty—or so it seemed. It was so subtle that I couldn’t quite tell what was going on.

Did she not believe I could do it? Nobody else was stepping forward to meet the need. Was she saying it’s better to go with nobody than with me?

All I knew for sure was that I wasn’t hearing this outright. I decided to let it go, head on home, think about it tomorrow, and be fully present with my family instead. But the next morning as I pulled into my parking spot in front of the office, a subtle agitation rumbled in my stomach.

I walked into the quiet building and set my things down in the office, distracted by my disquiet and wishing I could focus on my task list. The thoughts prickling at me wouldn’t let go.

I laid my pen down and asked myself, “Okay, what’s going on?”

grokIn my top drawer I keep a deck of “GROK” cards that I bought from the folks at the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Each one has the name of a need or value—things like “hope,” “trust,” and “balance” show up in this deck. I frequently use these when I can’t quite put a finger on what’s bothering me.

I flipped through the cards and sorted them as I went. In the “not now” pile went cards like “freedom,” “competence,” and “creativity.” In the next pile, the “Maybe?” pile, went cards like “security,” “meaning/purpose,” and “friendship.”

I went on sorting between just these two piles until I hit one that resonated: “Acknowledgement.” That went into a new pile: “Yes.”

A couple of cards after it I found “Appreciation.” That went into the “Yes” pile too, and then I noticed something really interesting happen: I got angry.

Usually when I sort through these cards, the experience of finding the right word to put on my current needs or values results in feeling more settled, more clear. Frequently my agitation will be replaced by a sense of gratitude, or courage to act in a way that helps me meet my needs.

Typically, that is the value for me in identifying my needs. It helps me find a more straightforward and effective path toward getting those needs met. But it didn’t happen this time.

Instead, the voice in my head just became louder and more insistent.

My coworker should be grateful for my willingness to take on this new project! She wasn’t going to step in and do anything. Why wasn’t she acknowledging that I was making a sacrifice on behalf of the team?

This narrative swept me up. It threatened to pull me under.

Slowly, I started to notice another, quieter voice saying, “Why am I getting so upset? That doesn’t usually happen after I go through the GROK cards. What can I do for myself that won’t be so negative?”

I’m going to admit this was an odd experience for me. I don’t typically have this second, quieter voice. Or, if I’ve had it, I haven’t been able to hear it.

But I did hear it this time, and it called to mind Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I read it just about a month before.

“You are not the voice of the mind,” he wrote. “You are the one that hears it.”

He suggests that when we’re bothered by something, we can change what we identify with. Rather than identifying with all of those thoughts and feelings, we can instead identify ourselves as “the observer” or witness of what is being experienced.

As I felt myself getting swept up in defensiveness against my coworker, I decided to try it. What would happen, I wondered? I started up a new voice in my head that said, “I am not all of these thoughts and feelings. I am the observer who is noticing that Amy is having a powerful experience.”

It was almost meditation, but not quite the same as my usual practice. Michael Singer might say I was doing it wrong. A psychiatrist might have a lot of questions for me—I don’t know.

What I do know is what happened inside myself. As I identified myself as “the observer who is noticing that Amy is having a powerful experience,” I relaxed. I let go of the waves of negative thinking.

I realized that I could talk to myself the way I would talk to a dear friend who is feeling unacknowledged and underappreciated. I realized I could give myself compassion.

I imagined telling myself, “I’m sorry you haven’t been appreciated. That’s hard. You are still okay.”

I admit I feel extra vulnerable as I type that out. Part of me doesn’t want to admit that I talk to myself in this way. On the other hand, this was such an amazing experience!

I was able to walk myself through processing my own needs and emotions in ways I’ve never done before. As soon as it happened, I wanted to shout it out to the rest of the world, “Hey, I’ve found a path that looks like it leads somewhere good! Come check it out!”

Do you ever feel the emotional undertow of unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings? Have you tried to resist them without success? Perhaps it would help to identify yourself as the observer.

Accept that the feelings and thoughts are there, but instead of identifying with them, try identifying yourself as the observer or witness who is noticing that this experience is flowing through.

Perhaps you already know this part of the path. Have you tried a practice like this? What works for you?

Send me an email (via Amy@CareerLeadershipAlignment.com) and say “Hey, send me that roadmap!” if you’d like to receive a copy of the Roadmap to Calm, Confident Work.

Amy Kay WatsonAmy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals like you to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with humor, courage, and compassion. You can reach her via Amy@CareerLeadershipAlignment.com.