Living a Bigger Life

There is nothing like a coaching conference to kickstart the voices in your head to say: “you are not doing enough” or “you are playing small.” The first day the at the CTI Global Co-Active Summit I found myself feeling defeated. It seemed everyone else had made a better seminar choice and was more plugged into their life purpose. The amount of energy in the room was so supercharged that it made it difficult to find my emotional bearings.

Poppies along a vineyard walk in Napa.

Poppies along a vineyard walk in Napa.

The second day I chose a different seminar–one that serves my personal growth, not my business. I went to Rick Tamlyn’s workshop “Play Your Bigger Game”. We made a giant game board on the floor and we looked at the squares, such as “comfort zones” or “assess” or “gulp” with “bold action” in the middle. It served as a metaphor for life. Rick’s objective was to teach us all how to keep moving around the board and take more bold actions. It is a great seminar and I could share a lot more about his really great insights. My main insight: I am already playing a big game.

Huh. (some of you may be saying Duh!)

So, besides telling my voices to be quiet, I also need to ignore the teachers and writers who are pulling me towards doing. Tevis tells me I have reached the “Elder” stage. He is right. I want to a being who does some stuff.  Through conversations with tribemates Connie and Christie and reflection, I realized that I am right where I need to be with work, and my kids. One gift I want to be more intentional about is “agent”.  I get excited when I can connect people and resources to help someone’s dream come alive.

One of the keynote speakers Dave Logan, co-author of Tribal Leadership, talked about the strength and value of triads in relationship, and he showed us how to listen carefully to what someone says and map the good/bad words to determine their values. Then we can connect with them and connect them to others through their values. I am going to play with these ideas in my role as an agent.

I had a chance to practice it right in the moment as Tevis introduced me to Mai Vang. He thought we had a lot in common and that I could encourage Mai as she develops her leadership skills. We met for coffee and I felt supercharged. More about his later.

I recommend watching Dave Logan’s Ted Talk on tribal leadership, AND what I really want to leave you with is a hugely inspirational video by Rick Tamlyn.




Recharged at Co-Active Summit

CTI‘s co-active leadership program can take credit for inspiring and empowering my redesign.  It all started with my CTI trained coach Marj Plumb who coached me while I was Executive Director of Housing California. When I was hungry for more she suggested I take the coach training courses with CTI.  I took the Fundamentals course and committed to taking all of the courses and thought about becoming a certified coach. Then one of the instructors encouraged me to do the leadership program. I checked it out and decided it was the better fit for me.  In 2009 I was immersed in the Co-Active Leadership program and became part of the Panther Tribe.

The Panther Tribe and the learning we did together transformed my life. My co-workers saw it; my kids saw it. Whereas other leadership programs work on the outside–public speaking skills,, organization skills, etc. Co-active leadership gave me the skills to manage myself, to change the internal dialogue and gave me a hunger for living the bigger story.

#Epic; my team/prickle for debrief and treasure hunt

#Epic; my team/prickle for debrief and treasure hunt

At Level 1 the Summit was a stage for CTI to role out new concepts and products, and to showcase their faculty. They did this artfully from the 360 degree stage echoing their 360 evaluation product. They did it playfully by creating a fable with Mewe the Hedgehog and friends. We were randomly assigned to a “prickle” and given a treasure hunt challenge as a common purpose for practicing our leadership and bonding as a team. My prickle #Epic are a delightful group of people from around the globe.

At Level 2 the Summit offered amazing learning. All of the presenters came with their A game and it resulted in some very profound learning, including the new CTI Dimensional Leadership Model. Nothing at CTI is like typical classroom learning–there is always a physical activity and an element of fun. (More on this in future post.)

At Level 3 the Summit provided the backdrop for connecting with Panthers and others and to be part of the larger CTI community. Instead of banning the smartphone they embraced it. We used it to tweet, snap photos, in the treasure hunt and so on. It means we are more likely to stay connected with the people we met and in our prickle through email and facebook. And because the people in the CTI community are all so fantastic, I had some amazing conversations with people and it locked in my learning.

At Level 4 the Summit called forth this global community and enrolled them in bringing co-activity to the world. We all believe at some level that these tools are important if we are going to survive as a species. Seeing people from all over the world who have embraced this leadership ethos and hearing the amazing keynotes reminding us what is at stake, and reconnected us all to our commitment to be leaders in the world.

I will write more about this conference. Need a little more time to let it sink into my bones.



Fail, Schmail

I have been reading about the value of failure. Nothing is more counter intuitive in self-help or business literature. Authors will pause for a half second to acknowledge the importance of Steve Jobs firing from Apple  in his eventual success and then go on and on about how to avoid failure.

I am not sure if I fear failure. I try new things and take risks. However, if I am truly bad at something, like the swim team, I quit before anyone can name it a failure. Then I tried moving to New Zealand and it flopped. Sure I made super friends and good things have come from my redesign. Yet I am not actually living in New Zealand as I write this. I could reframe it as something else and not use the “f-word”. I prefer to revel in fact that I failed. And survived.

On my last visit to New Zealand, UK Sarah and I had the chance to fossick around Auckland’s High Street and I found this amazing children’s book: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty, illustrations by David Roberts. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty

Rosie was a natural inventor and was happy creating all sorts of inventions until one day one of her Uncles laughed at her and she was mortified. She stopped inventing until her Great-great aunt Rose came to visit and mentioned that all of the things she’d done, she still wanted to fly. Rosie was inspired to create a heli-o-cheese-copter.

“Strapped into the cockpit, she flipped on the switch. The heli-o-cheese-copter sputtered and twitched. It floated a moment and whirled round and round, then froze for a heartbeat and crashed to the ground.

The Rosie heard laughter and turned round to see the old woman laughing and slapping her knee. She laughed till she wheezed and her eyes filled with tears all to the horror of Rosie Revere, who thought, “Oh, no! Never! Not ever again will I try to build something to sputter or spin or build with a lever, a switch, or a gear. And never will I be a great engineer.”

She turned round to leave, but then Great-Great-Aunt Rose grabbed hold of young Rosie and puller in close and hugged her and kissed her and started to cry. “You did it! Hooray! It’s the perfect first try! The great flop is over. It’s time for the next!”

Young Rosie was baffled, embarrassed, perplexed. “I failed,” said dear Rosie. “It’s just made of trash. Didn’t you see it? The cheese-copter crashed.”

“Yes!” said her great aunt. “It crashed. That is true. But first it did just what it needed to do. Before it crashed, Rosie… before that… it flew!”

“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!” She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, who smiled at her aunt as it all become clear. Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.”

Role Model for Retirement

Kathy Kraft on Bainbridge Island

Everyday is Saturday!

Kathy Kraft is my life-long mentor. We met at Carmel Presbyterian Church in 1984 when she befriended me. I cannot remember our age difference but I had just graduated from University and she had children approaching middle school. She was further down life’s road, but not so far that we could not relate to one another. She has always inspired me. Her life has never been dull. She told me once that I should always have an older friend to show me the way, friends my own age to share life, and a younger friend to extend a hand to and help on her way. I am blessed from following this advice.

In the last few years Kathy and I have exchanged Christmas letters and emails and I knew that she and Tedd had retired to Bainbridge Island. Recently I had the opportunity to reconnect with Kathy and Tedd at their new home. I did not know what to expect. I figured it had to be pretty great to entice them away from their idyllic home in Carmel, California. Wow. It is as close to “as good as New Zealand” as I have seen in the states. (Granted it was an unusually sunny day.)

Kathy and Tedd have created a life full of volunteerism, sailing round the San Juan Islands, time with children and grandchildren, and enjoying life. They made retirement look so attractive.

I have not spent much time looking forward to retirement, in part because of a doubt that I will be able to afford to stop working until I am 70ish. And because I thought I would be bored. I have to rethink both of those assumptions. Tedd and Kathy have worked very hard their whole lives, and invested their shekels wisely. Yet I do not think it is the boat or the house that makes their retirement days so rich. It is living in a place near family, with lots of positive activities to fill their days and with interesting people to befriend. And their shekels apparently stretch further in Washington than in California.

Mom’s friend Lisa went even farther. She moved to Ohio near her children. Her cost of living is much lower than Hawaii. Not sure if her quality of life is higher in winter, but she is happy.

Since I returned from Seattle I have been paying attention to tweets about planning for retirement. I have yet to use one of those calculators to figure out how much moolah I need in the bank. Instead I have been thinking about how I want to live, where I want to live, and who I want to have nearby. I am socking money away, but more importantly I am thinking about what I want my retirement to be. Once I have that picture in my head I will find my way there. I learned this from Kathy too.



So Sad, So Thankful

This week provided a lot to celebrate with a giant emotional pothole in the middle. Is this not the way life deals cards?  Face cards with a joker.

Radar, greatest watch dog ever

Radar, the greatest watch dog ever, on road trip in December

Tevis was in Boston to launch the second Massive Open On-line Course for the Learning by Giving Foundation. (If you haven’t done the course yet it is a little more than an hour a week and you learn a bunch about your own giving, and it is fun. Sign up.)  Marcos continued to advance in his training to become a commercial pilot. Sarah Harriet got the call that she was selected for a new job with the CalPers Investment Board. And Metropolitan Water District renewed my contract for three years.

On Wednesday I made the decision to call the mobile veterinarian and he came to my home and agreed to put Radar down. After 13 years of love and friendship, it was so hard to say goodbye. I gave myself time to grieve and I needed it. Sarah Harriet was a great comfort. So was Tevis’ puppy Dozer. I am still feeling waves of sadness.

Tonight Tevis, Marcos and Sarah will join me for dinner and we will toast their accomplishments and have a wake for Radar. As so many people shared on facebook: He was a really good dog.

What Terrific Parents Look Like

Brian and Gigi Johnson are not blurry in real life. My bad.

Brian and Gigi Johnson are not blurry in real life. My bad.

Brian and Gigi Johnson and I have been friends since University. Gigi Fairchild met Brian Johnson at USC and they have each pursued an adventurous life while parenting three delightful children. The children are almost grown now and the youngest daughter is on a robotics competitive team. I thought taking snack to a soccer game was supportive. Gigi (in the dragon costume) and Brian (in pageboy costume) take parental support to a whole new level.

The FTC Robotics West Super-Regional Tournament is wrapping up at McClellan Community Center today in Sacramento. Gigi and Brian chaperone an all female squad called The Kings And Queens Team 4625. Competition is fierce among the best teams from 12 western states and Alaska. The team did well–placing 10th out of 70 teams and invited to join an alliance with the second place team. I will have breakfast with the Johnsons tomorrow when they stop in Davis for their son Evan to check out campus before heading home. I will learn if the K&QTeam4625 won a prize that qualifies them for the World Championship in St Louis next month.

Gigi and Brian share the common parent’s dilemma. Do you root for your son to make the Little League All Stars knowing that it will mess up your summer vacation plans? Do you hope your daughter’s team wins the game that means you stay till the bitter end of the tournament? Or in this case, do you hope for a good finish just short of going on to the world championship so you are done fundraising, and your students can focus on their Advanced Placement tests.  Whatever the outcome, be sure that Gigi and Brian will continue to be terrific parents.

What Will the World Miss if You Don’t Live Your Story?

I did the Storylines experience backwards.  Most people first read Don Miller’s book Million Miles in a Thousand Years, then attend a Storylines conference, then start the Storylines workbook and then sign up for the Storylines blog and community. Nevertheless, my “in reverse” experience is transforming my thinking and vocabulary for living an adventurous life.

In Don Miller’s memoir Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he explains how he learned the elements of storytelling while writing a film script. Then he began applying these principles to his own life. He realized the story he was living was less than inspiring and he began making small and big changes and transformed his life and his writing. It helps to understand how he discovered Victor Frankl’s work of logotherapy. It also connects his experience to the Storylines project that is his current focus.

Great teaching, inspiring speakers at Storylines conference

Great teaching, inspiring speakers at Storylines conference

I first read about the Storylines Conference on Don’s blog. I was not sure if it was writing conference or a coaching conference for Christians (it is both). I decided to go when I saw that on of my favorite writers Anne Lamott was going to be there. And I wanted Sarah Harriet to go with me so it would be more fun. One small challenge–it meant arriving from an all day flight from New Zealand on the same morning and going straight back to the airport to fly to San Diego. Everything went off without a hitch and that evening we were sitting with about 2000 other participants in the Point Loma Nazarene University chapel listening to Anne Lamott talk about her writing discipline. (consists mainly of putting butt in chair and writing even if the first draft sounds shitty, etc.)

The Storylines conference attracts mostly “Jesus people” though not exclusively, and mostly 20-somethings though not exclusively. We connected with another mother-daughter pair from Oregon who offered transportation to a Denny’s to get something approximating dinner on Thursday night. We connected with other people over meals in the campus dining hall including two young woman who left for a New Zealand vacation the next week! It is not easy to generalize about why people were there, I would guess that it was for spiritual growth and inspiration to live a more adventurous life. Most people had a more “millennial” attitude toward their faith–faith in action, not a spectator sport. One of the clear favorites at the conference was Bob Goff who had a line of people waiting for a word and a hug everytime he attended a session. My curiosity overwhelmed me and a I bought and read his book Love Does. Wow. I bought several copies for friends and families and gave it to them with the challenge: if you can read the first chapter and put the book down, then give it back to me. I am fairly certain I will not see those copies again.

All of the speakers were very good. The conference content was excellent, especially Don Miller’s teaching. One of the first guest speakers was the writer and director Randall Wallace (Braveheart, Secretariat) and he and Don Miller mentioned Steven Pressfield’s writing. I found his War of Art on Kindle and devoured it. It describes the problem of resistance to positive change and creativity. Jon Acuff, a blogger and speaker, was very entertaining. Nothing he said stuck except his invite to sign up for his “30 Days of Hustle” challenge. I have been enjoying his motivational emails and the 30 Days of Hustle community on Facebook.

Don Miller’s teaching focused on explaining the the Storylines workbook. I did the workbook exercises ahead of time at home. I recommend it and warn you that it can be very emotional and draining. Be kind to yourself while working through it. Some people do it with a study group. And now there is a video series available showing Don Miller and Shauna Niequist going through the exercises. The workbook is essentially like a coaching guide for examining your life story so far and determining what you want it to be going forward. It is all based on Victor Frankl’s theory that what drives people is not the pursuit of pleasure but the pursuit of meaning. Absent meaning, people will numb with pleasure.

The reading and speakers affirmed my hunch: I am on the right path. And this process is very easy to explain and does not offend fellow Christians. The best part is the community of people who are all asking the same questions and provide inspiration and encouragement along the way. If you have been asking yourself questions about how to live a life full of meaning, then I heartily encourage you to begin reading Don Miller’s book.

The title of today’s blog slightly modifies the question on the mug I bought at the Storylines conference: What Will the World Miss if You Don’t Tell Your Story?

The Great Penguin Sweater Caper of 2014

Oh what big hearts knitters have. We knit caps for kids in the cold, blankets for children who have lost their homes to fire or are hospitalized, prayer shawls for people battling cancer. I could go on and on.

Not surprising when a post about penguins in need of sweaters appears on Facebook it goes viral. Today I saw three separate posts. Aided by the animal lovers the appeal is irresistible to many.

Warning: Penguins are not in need of any sweaters!

Warning: Penguins are not in need of any sweaters!

And sort of not true.

If you are just finding out penguins slicked with oil do not need sweaters, I know how you feel.

I was in Auckland, New Zealand during 2011 when the non-stop coverage of the Rugby World Cup was interrupted to announce the Rena cargo ship disaster. In what seemed like slow motion the Rena ran aground off shore of the port in Tauranga (SE of Auckland) on the North Island. The fate of the cargo was not known for weeks but the oil on board started leaking immediately.

The local residents responded immediately. I became fascinated. The local iwi (Maori tribe) organized themselves and others to go to the shoreline and wash rocks! Local wildlife conservationists with oiled bird experts around the world converged on Tauranga to stage an impressive rescue operation. They quickly focused on the little blue penguin (the actual name and accurate descriptor).

Flashback to 2000 when a similar oil spill occurred 1300 miles away on Phillips Island in Australia, and knitters responded to the call for sweaters to aid the penguins. The response by knitters was so overwhelming the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation ended up with a lot of excess sweaters.

Just days after the Rena crisis someone posted the penguin “jumper” (sweater) pattern on Ravelry (a popular knitting website) and the Skeinz wool shop in Napier offered to collect them. This was all based on “a friend of a friend” hearsay about the rescuers’ need. Too late, it went viral and hundreds of sweaters poured in from around the world.

I was so fascinated with the plight of the penguins I even wrote it into my mystery novel as a sub-plot. I also fell in love with penguins. So fast forward to December 2012 and I am on a road trip with UK Sarah and we are staying at the Mt. Tutu Ecolodge near Tauranga. I have asked several places in town for more information about the penguins and come up with no leads. I mention this to my host Tim Short. Serendipitously he was integrally involved in the rescue. I naively and enthusiastically ask him about the sweaters and then I learn the truth. They did not use any of the sweaters. The birds were understandably under duress and dressing them up in sweaters increased their stress. Instead they used warm water and heat lamps and lots of baths.

I had to let go of a cherished belief that knitters made a difference for the penguins. Nonetheless, the rescuers’ results are inspiring. Every time I watch this video I get emotional.

The response to the call for penguins jumpers is always met with terrific enthusiasm. It gives us something tangible to do when confronted with uncontrollable circumstances. We can not stop using oil and oil byproducts so we all bear some of the guilt from any spill. Knitting a wee sweater allows us to help our “neighbor” the penguin and feel a little bit better.

It is easier to knit a sweater than stop deep sea oil drilling.

It is easier to knit a sweater than stop deep sea oil drilling.

This latest call for sweaters is not a prank. Remember the Phillip Island Penguin Foundation in Australia?  They used their excess sweaters from 2000 on toy penguins and sold them as a fundraiser. Recently they asked for help in knitting more to continue to use them on plush penguin toys. Somehow that was lost in translation as the story went viral.

People mean well.

This blog post first appeared on Adventures of American Julie,, by Julie Pieper on March 7, 2014.

Recalibrating in Queenstown

Can you spot the rainbow?

Can you spot the rainbow?

I had high expectations for Queenstown on South Island. Even so I cannot stop gaping at the beauty. So glad that it is only 1,013 feet above sea level. (Seems like every other visit to an alpine lake has been accompanied by altitude sickness.) I could just keep taking pictures all day from my window as the light and window keep changing. The mountain range is aptly named “The Remarkables” and they all look photoshopped. The quality of the air and water are so pure and fresh and clean. It is rejuvenating.

I so needed this refreshment. This holiday is a break in work. Although because I brought my Mom and her two friends Lisa and Nancy it has not been restful, until now. I was the only driver, and they thought of me as their tour guide. Here in Queenstown there is a little more space to relax and let RealJourneys take charge of their days.

Visiting New Zealand is always a touchstone to my redesign. I was driving around the East Bays from Parnell on the first day in Auckland and I started to cry it was so beautiful. Also so bittersweet. I love to reconnect with my friends and it reminds me that I am not living here.

My work-life balance got a bit wobbly in January and the first half of February as I worked so many hours. The money is great and the work is meaningful, yet some of my physical stress-related symptoms returned (from Housing California days). Time to rebalance, recommit to my redesign and begin again.

I also teamed up with Sarah (with a design assist from Marcos) to help me with some of the blog housekeeping.  I love what they have done to the site. It has also been refreshed.

Finally, traveling with three 78/79 year old women who have a variety of health challenges has shaken me up. I am going to buy a stand-up desk like I saw at Google so I sit less. And I am going to ride my bike even more. I saw a Twitter post from NPR that said there is a strong correlation between number of hours sitting and likelihood of disability (even if you exercise everyday).  I am so thankful for this time to do a little course correct. And breath in the amazing molecules that make up Queenstown.  I am truly blessed.

Why I Do What I Do

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. This one speaks paragraphs to me but you may require more explanation.

Experimental fish ponds at Knaggs Ranch,Yolo Bypass

T Experimental fish ponds at Knaggs Ranch,Yolo Bypass

There are the experimental fish ponds at Knaggs Ranch in the Yolo Bypass just on the other side of the Sacramento River from the Sacramento International Airport.In the winter these ponds host salmon fry from the Feather River fish hatchery for about 6 weeks as part of an experiment to see how fish will benefit from floodplain habitat. Multiple state and federal agencies cooperate with the rice farmer, John Brennan, and UC Davis Watershed Sciences Center.  I coordinate the public outreach for the project and it is a huge dose of medicine when I can get out there for a couple of hours. It reminds me why I do what I do.

I can imagine what this flood control bypass will look like when the Bay Delta Conservation Plan moves forward and up to 10,000 acres of floodplain are seasonally flooded (with cooperation from the farmers) for native fish–mainly salmon.  It restores a critical habitat for their life cycle that has been obliterated until now.  And it will build some resiliency into the system so the salmon have a better chance of coping with climate change.

Floodplain fatties on the right.

Floodplain fatties on the right.

We call them floodplain fatties. The salmon on the right have spent 6 weeks eating zooplankton 24/7. This food is abundant just by holding it in the ponds for a short period. The fish in these experiments (this is year 3) have set new records for weight gain. As a fish biologist with Cal Trout Jacob Katz says, “They are packing a lunch for their trip to the ocean.” And they are delaying their arrival in the Pacific to a time when the ocean is ready to provide more food.

It is an honor to be part of this team. I can hardly believe I get paid to do this work!