Firebirdlifecoach's Blog

Pursuing a Passionate Life

Misery does love company, sort of… January 29, 2010

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My teenage son and I are both home sick today. I honestly can’t remember the last time that either of us have missed work or school because of feeling poorly but here we are today, both home, both resting. Neither of us are suffering from the same symptoms or ailments, but both of us are feeling pretty lousy. So for a brief interlude between the naps and tea and tissues – I thought I would steal a minute to post a quick blog.

I don’t like being sick, and I really don’t like it when my kids don’t feel well. There is nothing nice about the aches and pains and discomforts. Yet nonetheless, I feel kinda grateful. Grateful that we are both unexpectedly here, on a quiet, cold, winter day, sharing in a little camaraderie as we fight off our colds with the chance that we can spend a little quiet time in each other’s presence, just resting.


Hey! Who’s steering this boat, anyway? January 28, 2010

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There is a term in psychology called, “Locus of Control” which describes the degree to which people feel that they can control events that affect them. The concept was originally put forth in the 1950’s by Julian Rotter and remains an important piece in the understanding of personality today. Basically, the concept refers to whether a person believes that the control for the good and bad things that happen in their lives resides within them or outside of them. Per Wikipedia, “One’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) can either be internal (meaning the person believes that they control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their environment, some higher power, or other people control their decisions and their life).”

It is not an either/or proposition, there are times in our lives when we are more in control of the circumstances we find ourselves in than others. And in these difficult economic times, there are a lot of people who are powerfully affected by forces and trends way outside their sphere of influence. Nonetheless, the pivot point is what and how we face these circumstances. We may not control everything that happens to us, both good and bad, but we can for the most part, control how we respond to it. The response itself may also be impacted by external factors, to some degree there is a measure of privilege at work here in even the mere pondering of the question. But there is also a pretty heavy weigh in on the spheres of personality, resilience, confidence, responsibility, commitment and courage.

There will always be things that impact us that are outside our control but how we allow them to impact us is within ours. When you allow yourself to take responsibility for how you live your life it can be both daunting and liberating. Too many factors exist to predict the positive outcome for all of your endeavors, but you efforts are never truly wasted. It is your life – what are you going to do with it?


Where’s that Reset Button? January 27, 2010

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Today has been a real challenge so far and without going into detail, let me just say that it has been a rough start. What I really needed was to feel energized and not drained as I faced the list of tasks that I had hoped to carry out. Fortunately, I have been able to reset myself and though I am sure that the day will wind up being less productive than I had originally intended due to some unexpected curveballs – I am back on track with at least making the best of the time and energy I do have at the moment. This got me to thinking about what strategies we use to get ourselves back on track when life and all its myriad of possible distractions knocks us off.

I know that for me, at least this morning what got me refocused was a chat with a friend, that allowed me to vent a little bit and to re-engage my mind in a more productive way. In this case I think the reset was simply – human connection. I say simply because clearly this isn’t a profound ground-breaking concept here, and yet sometimes I think we forget the power of it. Being able to connect with another person, share in that empathy and understanding – combined with a mutual concern for one another’s well-being was the magic bullet. Additionally, I think that HOW you approach the solution is just as crucial.  I was open to the being reset and was not invested in staying in the negative space I was in. I may not have been able to control all the events that made my morning feel so stressful – but I was able to control how I let it affect me. (This leads me to another topic which I have thought about a lot – locus of control – but I will get to that in another blog.)

In any case sometimes having a friend to talk to isn’t an option and even if it is, coming up with ways to clear our own heads and refocus ourselves is an almost indispensible need. So, what are your strategies for resetting yourself? When you are feeling the weight of life’s stressors how do get yourself back to calm? The temptation here is to list off a myriad of possible suggestions, and maybe that would be useful to some extent, but I believe it is a primarily an individual process, and what would work for you might not be found on my list of options. Nonetheless, just as there is a value in knowing what your resources are in other arenas of your life, taking time to access those internal resources is just as valuable. So, make a list, go ahead, and think about what buttons you need to push when clearly the situation calls for a reset.


Weaving a Tale of War, Wine and Wonder January 26, 2010

I have been watching the re-broadcast of HBO’s, Band of Brothers, having missed it the first time around. It is an excellent series, poignant, realistic, and thought-provoking. The personal stories of the soldiers and the atrocities of war that they endured are extremely moving. The series has caused me to think a lot about my father who passed away over 17 years ago. He was a WWII veteran who spent time during the war in Italy and Germany and watching this series has given me a glimpse of what that experience may have been like for him, or maybe not. My father would often tell “war stories” when we were growing up under the right set of circumstances. By that I mean that he was not one to go into a tale about his time in the service at just any old-time – usually his storytelling was more of a “treat” – something that happened on special occasions – like when he was holding court at the head of the table during Christmas Eve supper. And let me just be clear here – I loved hearing my dad’s stories – he had a way of telling them that was animated and alive – whether it was about some mischief he got into as an adolescent – or a delicious dinner he had at a favorite restaurant – my recollection was that he could really hold your attention. His army stories were some of the best in the collection. But my dad’s war stories were nothing like those seen in Band of Brothers. My dad was a cook in the army and his stories would be about things like; finding some wild mushrooms in the woods and cooking up a special meal for his buddies, or meeting some warm locals who shared their homemade wine with my father and his friends. To this day, I honestly have no idea if my father ever shot off a round of ammunition or saw the bloody skirmishes of war. If you asked him directly, he would say that he never did any real fighting, but I don’t know if that is true or even possible given where he was stationed. In fact, it is just as likely that he was protecting us from hearing the stories that we would never forget for reasons other than their entertainment value. There are all sorts of ways that we protect the people we love. I will never know the real story – but I guess I will go with the one that I was presented with by my dad. Sometimes in life you just get lucky – and maybe during his tour of duty in Europe my father was spared the atrocities of war. And whether or not that is 100% true – the fact remains that we were spared them in the retelling.


This Evening’s Special is… January 25, 2010

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When I was growing-up, every night my family would sit-down to dinner together. Both my mother and father were excellent cooks, and being Italian-American, food and all its many wonders and pleasures were a real focus in our family lives. Even though she worked full-time as I got older, my mother would come home every evening and prepare some wonderful home cooked meal for the family. My father often joined in on Sundays with dinner preparation and one way or another there was always a thoughtfully prepared meal on the table. Food was (and is) for my family a very real expression of caring for each other – as they say “Food is Love”.

In my current life, my days and evenings are full with work, clients, groups and classes – often leaving me little time for regular meal preparation for my two sons. They’re teenagers now, and perfectly capable of making meals on their own, which by necessity they do several nights a week. But when I can, usually on my days off or on evenings where I can squeeze something in – I like to make them dinner. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, too. I have to consider a vegetarian option for one son and often am trying to fill-in the nutritional blanks for the week’s meals. Sometimes, my offerings are pretty basic, other times more complex in my never-ending quest to expand their culinary palettes, but I always try to come up with something and look forward to sitting down with them to eat our meal and share in some conversation.

There is something about it – it’s like a gift, a ritual, a responsibility and a treat all wrapped up into one. I hope that when they grow up they will remember those times with a similar fondness to what I have experienced and the understanding that it’s a lot  more than meeting their basic nutritional requirements. It is a simple expression of love, only one of many that often go unrecognized on a daily basis. Tonight is pasta, with or without Italian sausage and salad, pull up a plate and “Mangia”!


Congratualtions – YOU are the Next Big Thing! January 22, 2010

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Americans are obsessed with trends, and though that may be true for folks living in other countries as well, the fact is I don’t live there so I can’t really say for sure if they are infected with the same fascination, and besides I am quite sure “we got it bad”. Sometimes the “next big thing” is a pop culture persona who through constant media attention becomes someone who we all know about, whether we want to or not. Occasionally, it can be an idea, an expression or a glib catch-phrase posing as an idea. And often it is a material object – a new electronic gadget or “must-have” fashion accessory.

The funny thing is, while many of these things are touted as new or revolutionary they very often are just a merchandised manipulation – promising to be special and unique but really not so extraordinary at all. When you’re the first kid on the block to get a new bike, with a hot paint job, super funky handle-bars and a new-fangled seat – you feel pretty darned cool. But after a few months, several of your friends have one too, and when you see your mom come home with a new, adult-sized version, you know your day in the sun has truly passed. Trends, by popular definition are time-limited, some short and some long, but none truly timeless.

I think that sometimes personal improvement is also vulnerable to the same fate. Encounter Groups, fad diets, personal fitness regimens and other ideas for enhancing and improving our lives come and go – which is not to say that they aren’t worth trying. When yoga first gained popularity in this country as a form of physical, spiritual and mental exercise a lot of folks “jumped on the bandwagon”, and though many fell off over time, for a great number of people, regular yoga practice is a constant part of their daily existence. We can’t always know today what we will still want to have as a part of our lives tomorrow, or next month, or ten years from now – and there is no harm (well mostly) in trying new things – but before you buy that new exercise machine or enroll in the next self-improvement class – it may be useful to understand whether the choice you are making is right for you. Know thyself, be thyself, because YOU will never go out of fashion – now go out there and expand your horizons and try something new.


Snowplows, Chickadees and Roses January 21, 2010

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So it’s my day off and I have a list a mile long of things I want and need to do. I know that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done and some of the items will surely carry-over to my next list. I am sorry to say I am going to have to add shoveling the driveway to that list – because I know it will be time-consuming and given the current state of circumstances it will be impossible to do a really good job with it. Over the last couple of days we have had a steady covering of heavy, wet sloppy slush, and though “my plow guy” saw fit to plow 2” of light powder a couple of weeks ago that I could have literally blown off my driveway with one deep breath, apparently he didn’t think a few inches of heavy slush was plow worthy.

So today I awoke to what is now a frozen, lumpy mess, packed down by the wheels of my car and the footsteps of my family – it will be difficult to scrape away with a shovel. Likely, I will have to give it several goes, hoping to do both an early and later pass when the temperature rises this afternoon. I went out on the porch to survey the situation and muster the energy needed to give it a go, feeling more than just a bit overwhelmed and cranky about the need to take on this added, highly undesirable task I sat down for a moment just to take it all in. As I was sitting there I couldn’t help but to hear and to see the myriad of birds that were flitting around the yard. Starlings, Sparrows, Chickadees, Juncos, a Tufted Titmouse and a pair of Cardinals were all busily hopping around from tree to bush doing whatever it is that birds are doing when they mount their seemingly disorganized search for food among the snowy branches. And I have to tell you – I began to feel a noticeable shift in my mood. Sure, I still was aware of the shoveling that lay before me – but I was also enlivened by the simple beauty of those crazy birds.

Every day in our rush to get things done I think we often overlook the little, simple gifts that surround us. I think we forget to notice all we do have when we are focused on what we don’t. “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses” they come in endless varieties.


Beauty and Excellence – Ignition January 20, 2010

“Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence”, according to the VIA Survey of Characteristics which I took again yesterday after writing about it in my blog, is currently my top Signature Strength. I say “currently” because the strengths do move around a little bit. The last time I took “the VIA” about a year ago – I got similar results, in that my top five strengths were the same as they were this time, but they did shift around a bit in their ranking.

Per the survey, Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence is defined as; “You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.” And in fact, it is true, I most certainly do. But I want to add that what I experience goes beyond appreciation and attention – I notice these things because I find them inspiring. I have thought a lot about inspiration (and plan to write a blog about it when I can gather my thoughts on what exactly I would like to say) – nonetheless this little reminder of my “Top” character strength brings it to the fore.

I had thought about the idea that I believe inspiration is the fuel that ignites our passion. And I do get very energized when I see something that is beautiful, or hear an idea that is exceptional – no matter what the context. There is something about the simple awareness itself, of something exquisite, unique and extraordinary that fills me with a sense of wonder and excitement. So though at first I was a little surprised to find this at the top of my list of strengths the more I think about it the more I become sure that at least for now, that seems to be the right place for it. Beautiful how these things work out sometimes, isn’t it?


The Strength of Strengths January 19, 2010

Positive Psychology seems to have found its voice in popular culture. The branch of psychology founded by Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania which focuses on positive psychological emotions, personal strengths and personal health is getting a lot of airplay these days. And why not? For too long, the field of psychology has been fixated on dysfunction, mental illness and pathology and Seligman’s drive to look at the “up-side” is a refreshing and much-needed break that takes in a fuller, more complete picture of psychological experience.
In my opinion, one of the best things to come out of this branch of psychology is the classification of 24 specific character strengths. See: Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman. In this handbook and classification manual these two researchers set-out to define and classify strengths under a broader range of virtues which transcend various cultures and historical time periods. They are: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Under each of these virtues fall a number of personal strengths that are widely valued as positive traits.
I have found in my work as a coach, that having my clients take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths questionnaire is a useful tool in helping them to move forward with their goals. The survey under the Engagement Questionnaires header can be taken for free online at
Knowing what your personal strengths are and actively engaging them in your life is a powerful intervention. So go ahead, take a look it may take a few minutes, but it’s worth it. Maybe you will be surprised, maybe not, but aren’t you just a little bit curious to see what it says?


Taking in the Big Picture January 18, 2010

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Life is relative, but the need for perspective is undeniable all the same. We are each fully in our own lives, dealing with the pressures, wishes and dreams that affect ourselves, our families and our friends. Sometimes we feel like we are making great strides, moving forward, building a life of enjoyment and meaning. At other times we feel stuck; maybe our job is grind, money is tight, or there are pressing issues at home. Though there is absolutely a matter of degree – we are all relatively self-absorbed. But at times it is important to get a little perspective on life.
Events like last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti really drive that home. It is almost unfathomable to imagine the situation down there. Watching some 12-year-old boy on the news last week, who had lost his father and who was screaming “why” as an aide-worker attempted to help him with his broken leg – broke my heart. The thought of my 12 year-old son in a similar situation was too painful to imagine. But this boy was someone’s son, and he was only one of thousands who were experiencing similar catastrophes. The pain is palpable even at this distance.
I know this may sound a little like “eat your supper – there are children starving in the world” but really, it’s true isn’t it? We have a lot to be grateful for no matter how difficult things are, there is always someone out there who is having a harder time. The grass may be greener in many cases, but it is browner too. So go ahead – do the best you can do – be gentle with yourself in the process – remember to be grateful for what you do have. Begin with what you do have control over – your self – and work your way out from there.