Thursday, January 27, 2011

M...My Life Coach

I'd mentioned earlier in the month that Team Jo might include a Life Coach.  And now it does.  And her name is M (well, okay, that's not her real name).  When I started out a few weeks ago, I wasn't exactly sure what a Life Coach is or what they do.  Actually, I still don't entirely know.  But it can't hurt, right?  I'm only a few days away from sabbatical commencement and still don't have an entirely formed plan.  But, I'll tell you, I'm already having some pretty interesting insights based solely on my "complimentary" sessions.

How did this whole thing go down?  Well, to start, I have to tell you I'm still not sure what I need them for.  Or what I want them to do.  Or if I need one.  But, since they're a life coach, I'm hoping they can help me answer these questions.

A couple weeks ago I'd had AskSunday (virtual assistants) try to find some Life Coaches in the area, and a bit about the certifications that exist.  I called a few that they found and was interested to learn that they pretty much do all the coaching on the phone.  So, while it was fine that I found coaches like 10 miles away, it doesn't actually matter. I didn't hear back from all the folks I called, so decided to expand my search nationally.  I found to be super helpful.  It seems like they pretty much all do an initial complimentary consultation, so I decided to interview three of them.  I'd set up the calls for every few days over the past couple weeks.

J1 talks.  A lot.  About herself.  I know this is a complimentary session and so not truly a "coaching" session, but doesn't she actually want to know anything about me?  After 5 minutes of me sharing, she spends another 40 talking about all the things she could do for my career.  While I could see a career coach being super helpful (and most of these guys do both), I really want to focus on the whole life part.  My career is great.  My personal life, however, appears to have some holes (more on that coming up below).  So I'm pretty disinterested by the end.  $395 for three 45 minute sessions.  My text to a friend afterwards reads something like "Life coach sucked.  WTF.  Hope next is better."

I may have met my twin.  She's relatively aggressive from the start which, ironically, makes me a bit uncomfortable.  But I'm thinking maybe someone who challenges me a bit isn't a bad thing.  I'm used to manipulating situations, so perhaps someone who can call me on my bullshit would be a refreshing experience (albeit annoying at times).  And then she asks me "what's the biggest thing missing in your life?".  And a weird thing happens.  I actually tear up.  Huh.  Something's going on here, and I'm thinking that I'd better go find those therapy phone numbers I'd filed away temporarily under "unnecessary".  Team Jo may need a therapist after all.  This is a healthy, but irritating, revelation.  And, without much pause (other than composing myself from the tears), I answer "a relationship".  Seriously?!  This is a bit of a surprise to me.  That's the biggest thing missing?  But I'm the one who always has it together.  Who doesn't need anyone.  Who's blissful in single-dom.  I'd recently written down a goal for my six weeks around figuring out a career plan for the next 12 months and beyond.  And I'm talking to a life coach about not being in a relationship?  Whoa.  This is now getting interesting.

She does have a couple of good tidbits worth sharing. 
  • Coaching should be about "asking thought provoking questions"
  • Clearing out "tolerations" should be an early task.  These are things that you deal with, but annoy you.  She gave an example of a guy who's sprinklers would go off every morning when he was in the shower, and he'd get a seriously cold blast of water.  But he never took the three minutes to just change the sprinkler timer.  Apparently clearing these things out will help clear the mind for better focus.  I'm going to be making a list.
  • In the coaching relationship, I let her know what I want to accomplsh and then she'll help me focus on that.  I'm still having a hard time with defining what I want to accomplish, but sounds like she can help.
  • Light the "should" list on fire.  If it's important, you would be doing it.
  • Goals are great, focus is better.
$300/month for three sessions (with one week off).

I go into the M session thinking I'm going with J2.  I mean, in 40 minutes, she has me reeling thinking about ditching all this career focus and figuring out what's the deal with my personal life.  M gives me time to introduce myself without interruption, which is lovely.  "What's one thing that if it changed would make time with a life coach successful" she says.  Still struggling with this one.  Then she gets spiritual on me.  "We know the answers.  But we need to stop and hear them".  Strangely, this totally resonates and I'm starting to get interested.  "Why can't you find what I'm looking for", "Why is it eluding you".  These are the questions she says she can help me answer.  To which I reply, "Can you help me figure out what I'm looking for?".  I'm advised that, yes, a life coach can come in during the introspection process. 

I'm sold.  About $300 for four sessions in February.  So, let me formally introduce you to my new life coach, M.  My first assignment?  Emailing her three limiting beliefs.  Hmm.  Will have to come back to that one. 

Do you have limiting beliefs?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Asking for time without freaking office dudes out

For all intents and purposes, I have three bosses.  To whom I seemingly report to all directly.  Though, on paper, there's meant to be a structure to these things.  But since I figured out they don't actually speak to eachother, and then get all worked up when they don't know what's going on, I'd taken the reigns and meet with each of them directly.  Then I attempt to reconcile their conflicting desires.  It's a freaking blast (insert sarcasm here).  Perhaps this is why I need six weeks?

I'd been waiting to blog about how I approached getting the time until I knew that I was actually approved.  But, today it's official.  I am approved.  By all three boss-men (you didn't actually think they'd be women, did you?).  And my sabbatical will start on February 7.  I'll return March 21.  And I'm quite proud of myself for apparently accomplishing this in a way that they don't seem to be judging me for taking the time.  This was, in fact, one of my greater fears.  What if I got the time off, but had these three sort of freaked out that I'm some fragile woman who couldn't cut the mustard and needed a break?  I've watched this happen before and it looks hard to recover from.

So, how'd I do it?  For starters, I did have one thing on my side.  My firm has a formal sabbatical program that allows those who are highly rated to apply for an unpaid one month sabbatical.  And I'm allowed to request an additional two weeks of vacation for a total of six weeks.  Upside was having this program available.  Downside was that these three didn't actually know anything about it.  Here, essentially, was my approach:
  1. Educate them that there are two options to this formal sabbatical program.  One month, and 3-6 months.  Then tell them I just want the one month (lucky them!).  Further educate them that this is a formal program that I can apply for if they're supportive, which will require no extra paperwork or general thinking on their part.  They just have to say "yes".
  2. Tell them as little as possible about what I'm doing with the time without seeming suspicious.  Do not, under any circumstances, use terms like "find myself", "finding a relationship", or anything else that could be remotely taken as I don't have my entire life under complete control.  I used phrases they could relate to like "get shit done", "knock out my to-do list", "catch up on some outstanding matters with a rental property".  This proved highly effective.
  3. Ariculate clearly why the six week period I selected was the best possible six weeks for them based on current happenings in the office (and do your research to know that's really true).  I got the sense they really appreciated this.
  4. Have a plan for how this is going to have little to no impact on them.  I walked in with a plan for how all of my work tasks would get covered while I was out and just needed their buy in on it.  Everything I said and did was about how I would make this as easy as possible for everyone involved.
At one point, one of my bosses actually shared that they turned someone down with a similar request.  I get the sense they walked in with a "I need this attitude" vs. a "I'd appreciate your support for me to do this and here's all the things I've considered to ensure it has as little impact on you as possible".

If you're thinking of getting time off, how can you make it as easy as possible on the boss-men?  Game on.  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Cancer. Or No Cancer?

Had a chance to meet up with that Breast Cancer Surgeon my Dr. was wanting me to see.  Unfortunately, this surgeon doesn't take my insurance.  The PPO will cover 70% after I meet a $500 deductible, though, so I guess I'm not totally screwed.  And I figure this is my health, so probably not an area to skimp if I can help it.  So, I arrived in the office.  There's one reception area for the whole practice, and a separate area for just this surgeon.  Apparently she's doing okay for herself, but I'm taking this as a good sign.  I waited for like 50 minutes passed my appointment time, mammogram films and ultrasound results in hand.  Getting slightly more nervous by the minute, and thinking I'm going to be seriously pissed if this fucks with my time off.  Finally, I'm called back.  She walks in, does a quick breast exam, and tells me she's looked at my films.  History of breast cancer?  Nope.  Age?  31.  "Yeah", she says.  "I think you're fine".  Sweet.  She goes on for a few minutes about how mammograms are a pretty imperfect science.  That most people will recommend a biopsy if they can't tell what something is, just to be safe.  But she thinks it's really unlikely and totally up to me what I want to do (I sort of hate when they say this - what would you do if it was you).  Option A is a giant needle stuck in both breasts; Option B to return for another mammogram in four months to make sure nothing is growing.  I go for Option B.  And after 50 minutes of waiting, and seven minutes with the surgeon I fork out $260.  What the f?!  And I get to do it again in four months.  I'm not sure if I want to be grateful, annoyed, or perhaps a bit of both.  But I'm putting it out of my mind for now and focusing back on the sabbatical.  If nothing else, it is reminding me to go into this time off focused on me and my health so I can go on kicking ass for a long time.  What are you doing to make sure you do the same?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Perfect Day

I'd been thinking a bit about what my daily routine should look like during my sabbatical.  So, I decided to outline "the perfect day".  Now, let me define "perfect".  This isn't Utopia.  This is real life.  So, "perfect" means what I think would be a productive use of my time off, while allowing me the break I think I need.  Here's what I'm thinking:

  • 7-8 Wake up and job with the dog (poor thing never gets enough love)
  • 8-9 Pick up the house
  • 9-10 Attend an appointment (therapist, trainer, whatever)
  • 10-1 Focus on my career
  • 2-3 Gym
  • 3-4 Hiking or the park with the dog
  • 4-5 Grocery store (hoping to cook more)
  • 5-6 Creative (writing, painting, whatever)
  • 6-7 Cook and eat
  • 7-9 Relax (or date?)
  • 9-10 Read and off to bed
Some other random notes I've made are to think about volunteering, art or dance classes, fitness classes, and spending time reaching out to friends and people in my network.  Will be interesting to see if this is how things play out.  It feels pretty far away.  If you could build your perfect day, what would it look like?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

sabbaticaljo = creativejo?

I've always liked to write.  But it's not something I actually sit down and do intentionally very often.  This blog was one foray into the written word.  Then I was checking out the Princeton Adult School catalog last weekend and ran across a fiction and memior writing class.  And I was intrigued.  So, I pulled the trigger.  For $100 or so, how can I go wrong?  And the timing is sweet.  It starts one week prior to my requested sabbatical start date of Feb 7.  It would run for a few weeks when I return to work after six weeks, but the class is at night once a week from 7-9 PM so I can definately swing that.  The problem is that I need a work in process.  Which I don't really have.  I've been thinking about taking this whole experience and writing it in a format other than a blog, but I'm not sure that really fits the memoir category.  Or if anyone would actually want to read it, for that matter.  This got me to wondering if anyone's written a book about taking a sabbatical from their career, particularly a relatively short one like me.  But I should have known that was a stupid question.  Of course someone has.  So, I downloaded Time Off for Good Behavior to my Kindle.

Admittedly, the book was a little fluffier than what I would envision writing about.  It was more a reflection back on how women changed their lives through time off.  But I want the plan.  The tactical.  The step by step.  That's what drives us Type A's anyway, right?  But I did take a few good pointers away:
  • Book some spa time/massages (I already have Ghouse to thank for this)
  • Maybe I should consider a trip towards the end of my sabbatical.  I've initially opted to stay grounded in NJ during my time off since I travel pretty exstensively for work and personal trips.  I sort of view this as a distraction from potential introspection time, but I'm not ruling it out completely.
  • Set aside time for nothing and resist the impulse to use time to catch up on chores and errands.  Going to have to put this one in huge letters throughout the house.
 A couple other interesting tidbits:
  • Two cardiologists in the 1950s studied heart attack patiens and noted several shared traits.  Impatience, a sense of time urgency, unrelenting urge for recognition and power, unusual preoccupation with work, unusually competitive and aggressive attitude.  So, turns out I may be fucked.
  • Apparently us Type A ladies have some common traits.  The "I can do anything" mantra, often first borns, and typically worked as teens.  Check, check, and check.  At least the author clearly knows her audience.
  • She looked at her sabbaitcal in quadrants: personal, family, community, and business.  I'm not sure I'd categorize my time off with the same four areas of focus, but I like the concept.
I will say that thinking about all this writing is getting my creative juices flowing.  I really want to get back into painting, and am dying to re-learn the piano.  I've put "buy a keyboard" on my preparatory to-do list for my six week recess.
This all got me to thinking about how much I miss having a creative outlet.  I work for an audit and accounting firm, which is about as un-creative as you can get.  I've worked myself into a niche of training and professional development, which does afford more creativity in my firm than most other roles.  But I've always had creative inclinations, and I come from a family of creatives.  Musicians, artists, general free thinkers.  I just haven't expressed my inclinations very often.  So, I'm starting to form a bit of a potential goal for my sabbatical: Express some creativity.  Tap into the other side of my brain for a change. 

What creative instincts might you be suppressing?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Monday, January 3, 2011

Meet Ghouse, My Virtual Assistant

Over the holidays I read a couple books by Tim Ferriss.  Interesting reading.  He's basically a self-proclaimed experimenter and data head who tries out all sort of things, keeps track of success in meticulous detail, then pulls together his wisdom and packages it for these books.  I started with The Four Hour Body, since I was interested in dropping some pounds.  That led me to an earlier book of his, The Four Hour Workweek.  The premise of The Four Hour Workweek is setting yourself up with an income stream that requries very little maintenance and interaction (e.g., four hours a week) so you can dick around traveling the world, following your bliss, or just plain do nothing. 

One of the areas he talked about is outsourcing time-sucking tasks in your life.  I've always been a big fan of outsourcing and it currently takes shape in the form of a periodic housekeeper and dog walker.  He talked about the idea of a virtual assistant, and referenced a company called AskSunday that has a pool of assistants in India.  You basically pay a fee for a bundle of "requests" that can be then used over a period of three months.  I'd read about this a while back in a Time Magazine article (here's another good article from ABC about Virtual Assistants).  I'd found it interesting, but couldn't figure out instant applicability in my life.  This time, though, I was thinking of all the things they could help me do to get ready for my sabbatical, and maybe assist with during my time off.  So, today I signed up.  I immediately received an email from Ghouse, welcoming me to AskSunday.

My first requests?  I figured maybe they could help me assemble Team Jo.

1) Book an appointment with my primary care physician to get this whole mammogram issue figured out
2) Find Yoga classes within 5 miles from my house and get info on schedules and pricing
3) Book a weekly massage @ Massage Envy for my six weeks
4) Call Salvation Army and schedule a pickup for the bags of clothes on my porch
5) Make a Vet appointment for my dog to get her Rabies shot
6) Find life coaches and hypnotists in the area
7) Make weekly appointments with my trainer

If this works out, Ghouse and the whole AskSunday team are going to be my new best friends.  Or at least a key part of Team Jo.  If you could off-load some tasks, what would they be?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Team Jo

Now that I've officially requested the time off at work (tell you more when it's officially approved), I'm starting to think about a plan.  I bought a new journal and have decided to use it religiously to document my planning and journey through my six weeks off.  I've requested leave to start February 7, but we'll see how that goes.

I've always had a hard time asking for help.  I seem to have a *slightly* easier time asking professionals for help.  Which got me thinking.  Who do I need on my team during this six week adventure (which still has a pretty nebulous objective)?  Here's what I've come up with:

(1) Therapist.  Having a therapist isn't a new concept for me.  I'm from California where the Therapist is as common as your Esthetician (google it if you're a dude), Nutritionist, and Spirit Guide.  And I've always talked about it freely.  If there was some sort of rewards program for getting people into therapy, I'd have won a new car by now.  My first therapy experience was in California after getting dumped five weeks before my wedding about five years ago.  I was having a "well, shit.  this sucks.  what do I do now" moment and a therapist seemed like a pretty good option.  It took about two sessions before it became clear that I'd likely be in therapy for a long time, and my family's pretty fucked up.  A few years later I was living in Michiagn and my best friend died at 28.  Pretty devastated, I re-entered.  Just as before, I talked for a couple sessions about my best friend, then spent the next year trudging back through my mommy/daddy issues.  It was also during this time my mom was officially diagnosed as bi-polar...which my therapist had actually guessed at during our sessions together.  So, fast forward to the present.  After declaring myself mentally healthy, I'd not continued therapy when I moved to New Jersey about 18 months ago.  Now that I'm looking at six weeks of potential introspection, I'm wondering if there might not be some value in recruiting a new therapist.  The thing that blows is that you've got to start that relationship all over again.  So, we'll see.

(2) Breast Cancer Specialist.  Dude.  This one was not part of the six week plan!  I had a breast reduction back in April.  In prep for that, I had to get a mammogram.  They found a couple funky looking things, but my boobs were huge, so they had a hard time getting a good look.  And with no history of breast cancer in the family, we decided it didn't seem overly concerning.  I opted to come back in six months instead of getting any kind of biopsy.  So, I returned in December with my new, perkier, breasts.  They saw a couple odd things, but didn't seem too freaked out.  So I wasn't super worried, until my primary care Doctor called over the holidays and said to get my butt into a breast cancer specialist she knows.  Awesome.  I'm hoping this is more of a "to do" than someone I actually need on the team.  That would sort of skew the six weeks, eh?

(3) Hypnotist.  I don't really know what to say about this one.  It always seemed like a cool thing to do.  And I'm dying to lose some weight during this time off (and in general), so maybe it's worth a shot.

(4) Life Coach.  This may officially push me over the edge as either a hippie or a yuppie.  I haven't decided.  I'm not exactly sure what they do, how they do it, or how much they cost.  But they're on the list.

(5) Trainer.  See Hypnotist above.  Plus, I have like seven previously purchased sessions I haven't used, which will align nicely with my six weeks off.  I'm thinking I'd also like to get back into Yoga, and maybe take some fitness classes.  I'm putting that one on a "preparatory to-dos" list I'll blog about later.

Well, that's the starter list for Team Jo.  Maybe I should get some t-shirts made.  Who would you put on your team?  Hasta, sabbaticaljo