2 Minutes of Authenticity


Authenticity. People who love what they do, have created the life they were born to live, are people who have explored and developed their passions. They’ve answered key questions about who they are and incorporated the answers into their lives.

Lessons from a Life: Courage


Lesson #1: Be a Visionary

I love the process of creating a goal, of doing something I have never done before, and following through. The process is challenging, and often creates fear, and is always rewarding. As a coach teaching others to take risks, the effort is always a great story for my clients, even if I tank.

When I was young I had the chance to practice courageous visioning in sports including gymnastics and skiing. When I was 14, I had a dream of going to the Cornell Hotel School and was able to fulfill that dream when I was 18. As a professional in the hotel business, I was able to create new offerings, never attempted before such as a Thanksgiving Dinner for 900 people at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver that included waiters carving turkeys’ tableside for each family.

In my early thirties I biked 1200 miles down the west coast of the US that one of my best friends and I envisioned when we were 20. In my late thirties, I took a 12,000 mile car/camping trip to find a new home town and ended up in Taos, New Mexico, for three years.  This car trip came from a vision I saw several years earlier in a meditation while on a spiritual retreat.

Currently, I own and operate a business I developed through a Native American Vision Quest where I was left alone to pray and meditate for four days. As an entrepreneur, I am always trying new ways to grow or diversify my business, some make it and many more that fail.

My tolerance for being a visionary and going after my dreams is well developed, and in truth, continues to be my focus because I have to practice what I preach for clients. This process takes tenacity, courage, and resilience.  Most importantly, it takes a deep commitment to creating visions or pictures of the future and not giving up the process of dreaming, no matter your age or circumstance.

Earlier this year, in Chicago I led a team at a phenomena called Startup Weekend–a great place to practice the principles of courage and being a visionary. The event, which is held in cities around the world, launches a business from an idea to market validation in one weekend.  So far, they have had over 1000 events in 400 locations.

My weekend began as one of 60 people who had one minute to pitch their idea. I was hoping that the 100 participants would vote for me and move it into the development round. For me, it was the most difficult part of the weekend. Despite having some speaking experience and a passion for my idea, I was nervous, and getting the idea down to one minute took me most of the day. I was surprised and relieved when I squeaked into the top 16.

My next task was to recruit others to work on creating a tech demo and a process for developing a business plan for the final pitch. I did attract new members and the rest of the weekend was a roller-coaster ride of pivots and emotional highs and lows. By Sunday evening, the team created a tech platform and a great rationale for a new tech business called Dream First that helps teens have a career dream and a practical path for making it real.

If you are trying to create a new career path,  I recommend putting yourself into situations that will help you develop your courage and vision muscles.  This may be as simple as asking your boss for direction on how to get a promotion or something more complex like registering for a Startup Weekend in a city near you.

You may also want to consider signing up for our Virtual Career Masters Small Group Program that begins on September 30, 2014. 

Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Laurel’s mission is to help people find their home in the world of work. She has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia.  To request a private half-hour coaching session with Laurel, e-mail us at info@brightlivelihoods.com.

Wisdom Series – “You’re Fired!”

linda curtis pic

Meet Linda Curtis, who is kicking off a new series where people I admire will share their wisdom with us:

“What is the one piece of advice you would give my friend who just got fired?”

People often ask me this question once they learn that I mentor executives toward honorable closure when a career phase has ended. It came up at a birthday party last week while I visited with my friend, Iris.

As this story goes, the executive was beckoned to HR where she received her walking papers. It wasn’t a complete surprise, though her release was not performance-based. There had been tension with another executive, and that executive “had the bigger budget and trendier product line.” This person wasn’t prepared for the embarrassment of being escorted back to her office to collect her personal items and then be accompanied to the door. Oh the humiliation!

This drama plays out every day in corporate America. Most successful executives know it could happen to them, regardless of how well they perform. Office politics, a new CEO, or poor quarterly earnings can bring swift, sweeping change. The strong-arm exit is driven by fear that a spurned executive will impact morale or share the recipe of the company’s secret sauce with a competitor. This feels like an insult to anyone with integrity. The stakes are high and it can be shocking to find yourself on the outside.

To anyone going through similar circumstances, here is more than one piece of advice, because I can’t help myself:

Consider the possibility that this could be the best thing that ever happened to you. That may sound harsh and insane, but I wish to jar you out of any self-pity and have you start expecting Lady Luck to come around. Lucky people expect to be lucky and they live in alignment with that expectation.

If this suggestion angers you and the termination is still fresh with feelings of fear, embarrassment, a sense of betrayal, so be it. You’re probably worried about your bank account, kids college fund, or being diminished in the eyes of others. We’d be worried about you if you didn’t have those feelings and concerns. Take time to mourn and rant and process. Go ahead and binge watch an entire season of Scandal, because, if not now, when?

Maintain perspective. Give as much attention to what you have, as to what you have lost. Anne Lamott once said that her mind is like a dangerous neighborhood; she should never go there alone. When boogey-man thoughts arise, bring yourself back to the moment, This Moment Right Now, and notice that you have everything you need. Truly. You live in the first world and can afford chocolate bonbons.

To support living in the moment and being grounded, continue—or begin—a spiritual practice like meditation and prayer. Neuroscience now confirms these practices really work, which is why they’ve been around so long.

Be a compassionate witness to your experience. How would you speak to your best friend if she were going through this? Speak that way and say those things to yourself. Do you feel disrespected by your former employer? If yes, write down what it looks like to treat yourself with respect, then do those things.

Now, come back to this question: how might this work out even better for me, even if I can not see it right now?

Being terminated often propels people into overdue soul searching; it brings clarity to where they stand and what contribution they want to make. I see this often in my work and admire the grace and grit that emerges. Maybe you’ve been secretly yearning to pursue another direction but were afraid to pull the trigger. Here’s your chance. Don’t wimp out.

Regardless of the direction your career takes, bring Honorable Closure to the past. Integrate the learnings from this experience and you will open the way for deeper satisfaction in your next job.

My Four Steps for Skillful Endings are:

1) Tell the Old Story in a New Way

2) Resolve any Regrets

3) Let Go and Let It Be

4) Invent the Next Story

As we nibble on dessert, I tell Iris, “I should be fired for giving more advice than requested,” which is my queue to check-in with Olivia Pope.

Linda Curtis is an executive coach, writer, speaker and mentor for Honorable Closure who lives in Sausalito, California. She’s a hiker, a yogini and an avid cyclist who loves celebrating life surrounded by friends while enjoying lively conversation and the jammy notes of a fine cabernet. She spent twenty years in the corporate world and held a variety of leadership positions. For more than a decade she has worked with hundreds of executives, high-potential leaders and successful entrepreneurs. She mentors individuals, executives and teams who are going through major life or work events to experience Honorable Closure and move into the future, unencumbered by unfinished business. You can learn more about her wonderful work here.