Doing What You're "Supposed To" Will Get You Nowhere (+ top tips to find your passion)

There I was... sitting on the floor, alone, crying, lost.


It was my sophomore year of college and I was spending spring break on campus by myself (depressing, I know).  I'd just gotten off the phone with my mom, pleading (begging!!!) my case to take a year off of school to travel and find myself.  I tried to explain to her that engineering school didn't feel right - this wasn't where I was supposed to be - but she wasn't having it.


"Get your degree and then you can do what you want."


The be responsible, be the "good girl" part was implied.


Have you ever felt that way?  Like you're being pushed into something you KNOW isn't right for you?  And even when you speak up you're told to just wait it out - as if you don't know what you want or need for yourself?


Fast forward 2 years and I graduated with my BS in Environmental Engineering and a massive student loan debt (I'm SURE you know the drill here).  At this point, sure, I could've (and should've!) gone off on my own to do the soul searching I knew I needed... but responsibility slapped me square in the face, AGAIN.  Student loans don't just pay themselves.  


So, off I marched to the first of many jobs where I played the role of the good girl.  (I mean that's what we're all taught right?  Play by the rules, don't speak out of turn, raise your hand, let the boys go first).  


Outward success came easily, but inside, I felt empty.  I felt unfulfilled.  And my work felt inauthentic. I went into Environmental Engineering to "save the earth", but all my clients wanted to skirt regulations and kick the ball down the field.  My heart sank every time I submitted a report saying we were doing nothing for another year.  This was NOT what I signed up for.  And I knew, that if I kept playing by their rules, this was the game I'd always play.  


I decided it was time to play by my own rules... FINALLY!  Fast forward (again!), to today, and I've job hopped and traveled and soul searched and learned lessons on my yoga mat and off, and I've defined the rules of the game that work for me.  I've found work that meets all my needs: my technical mind, my creative and altruistic spirit, and my bipartisan need for structure and freedom.


Have you defined the rules of your game yet?  If not, here are a few of my favorite tips to give you a kickstart:


1. Identify How You Want To Feel

In her amazing books The Firestarter Sessions (literally changed my life) and the Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte flips traditional goal setting on it's head... in a nutshell, it goes like this:

You have a goal to get a big fancy car.  Let's say a chic black Lexus with leather interior and all the bells and whistles.  You get the car and on Day 1, you feel great about your accomplishment, but by Day 2, the buzz has already worn off.  So you start in on the next thing - what will you buy/do/see next?

But, what if, instead of focusing on the getting of things (whether material possessions or experiences), we focus on the way we want those things to make us feel and aim to feel that way everyday?  

You wanted that car to feel POWERFUL.  How can you feel POWERFUL today?


2. Define Your Non-Negotiables

I believe each woman should have a non-negotiables list - it's one of the things I work clients through in my 1-1 coaching.  Explicitly stating what we want and don't want is so LIBERATING, but for so many women it's foreign territory (remember - we've been taught to play by the rules!).

What are your non-negotiables?  An 8 hr workday?  Working from home one day a week?  Hitting up your favorite gym class on Wednesdays?  Spending Sundays in bed until 2 pm?  

Write 'em down.  And then start LIVING THEM.


3. Scream Your Praises From the Rooftops (if only for your ears)

Self appreciation fuels manifestation.  Let me repeat that: self appreciation fuels manifestation.  
 
Yet again, those good girl rules come into play.  Did you know that research has identified a major discrepancy in the praise that men and women give themselves?  Men are WAY more likely to take personal credit, whereas women generally share credit with the team.  

It's time to sing your own praises, gorgeous!  Like today, right now.  I dare you to reply back to this email and tell me 1 thing you've totally kicked ass out in the last 48 hrs.  (and if you're not comfortable with sharing it with me - share it with someone you love or just right it down for yourself).

Make bragging and loving in yourself a daily practice and it'll change your whole world.

 

I'll be sharing more about this all week on Periscope (download the app and follow me @stephcookwell) and in my private Facebook community >>> pop over and join us.

Would You Turn Down A Promotion?

About a month ago, a dear friend of mine reached out to me with JUST this problem.  She reached out to me for advice, feeling that I'd definitely understand her situation.


I did.  But, I'm not really in the business of giving advice.  


I believe we all know (sometimes deep, deep down) EXACTLY what we need to do, but we get stuck allowing ourselves to do it.  Sometimes we need to let go of the beliefs that are holding us back from what we really want, sometimes we need to let go of what other people think of us, and sometimes we need validation that what we want is OK.   

 
 


So, here's how are conversation went:


HerI was wondering if I could throw a situation at you and ask your opinion? I feel like I know what the "right" decision for me is, but I may be too concerned with how others will perceive it.

Me: Of course!

HerIn January I had applied for two promotions, one in the section I currently work in and one in [a different] section. I had my [different section] interview (the one I was really hoping to get) and found out that I didn't get it. I have an interview schedule for my section on Tuesday. Problem is, I don't really want the job. I'm really happy doing what I do now and that would TOTALLY change. It would be more money, but I really don't see myself being happy... I know there will be another opportunity in my section soon, and there's also a transfer possibility to another section that I'm interested in. I guess maybe I know what I want to do, but I'm scared of how it will look to supervisors and peers if I cancel the interview. Does any of this make sense or am I just crazy? I was just so unhappy and not satisfied at work for so long, and to have that, I don't really want to risk losing it.

Me: That makes total sense. I think you should just be honest. What's your relationship like with your supervisor?

HerI have good relationships with all the people who would be on the panel. I think my concern is mostly that I know a lot of supervisors think I'm a good candidate for the position and don't understand where I am coming from. But they are literally all miserable in their jobs. Why would I willingly put myself in that situation?

I worry too much about other people and how things are perceived and I'm trying to worry more about myself and my happiness. Because ultimately I'm the one who needs to be happy. I'm slowly realizing that.

Me: That makes me so happy to hear. I'd tell them as soon as possible if you're sure, but if you feel like you need the weekend then take it...Also, I'd tell them exactly what you told me. That you are interested in a promotion/ higher position but you just don't think this is the right one for you.

HerOr the right time. It just doesn't feel right, right now.

Me: At the end of the day, all you can do is be honest and true to what you want. They can choose to agree with it or not, but there's nothing you can do about that.

Her: Exactly! Thanks so much!!

Me: Let me know what you decide!


This is exactly the type of stuff I help clients work through in my 1-1 coaching, so if you're feeling like you need support, let's hop on a Discovery Call.


By the way, a few weeks later, I received this follow-up message from her:


"My boss got back to me on Monday. Didn't say much but did say that she respected and understood my decision and how much of an asset I am to our section. A lot of people didn't quite get my choice, but I am 100% confident that I made the right one."

Oh... and get this:

"When I got home from work today a friend who was still at work told me they sent out an email for a transfer opportunity to [a different section]. That's where I want to be. I can't help but think it's fate that the position is open....Everything happens for a reason, right?!"



The morale of this story, my dear?  Do what's right for you, right now.  You're the one that has to live with those choices.  Opportunities abound (really and truly, they do!  My resume is proof of that), so know the right opportunity will show up for you at the right time.

Tips for Seamless Weeks After Traveling Weekends

It's my absolute favorite time of year.  It's HOT (I LOVE the heat!) and everyone is zipping around on weekends - especially me.


My hubby and I are traveling throughout most of July - upstate New York, Atlanta (any recommendations for things to do?), and Nashville - and I'm hoping to be firmly planted on the beach through much of August.



As much as I love weekend getaways, they used to kind of stress me out...  weekends are the time when I tend to get all my "house" stuff done and run errands and generally make sure my weeks are seamless.  So, what's a girl to do when her weekend is spent galavanting around?  (tough life I know)


Well, I've got a system down now and it makes transitioning back to real life seriously easy, breezy. You like easy, right?


Here's what I do:


Before:

  • Do a quick house cleaning (including your fridge)
  • Wash, dry, and put away 1 load of "can't live without" laundry
  • Outsource, outsource, outsource - What can you have delivered or done for you?  This week I had my groceries delivered (no extra charge!), I'll be scheduling a house cleaning in July, and might even look into a laundry service.


During:

  • NADA!  Enjoy your time away.  You've earned it!


After:

  • Before you do anything else, when you get home, invest in at least 30 minutes of exercise.  I love yoga after a long flight or car ride, but a walk or run will work too.  Note: don't bother with hitting the gym unless you've got lots of time!  Search youtube for workout ideas if needed!
  • Eat a big salad with dark leafy greens for dinner and drink LOTS of water (at least 60 ounces)
  • Spend 1 hour max prepping for your work week - make a healthy lunch for Monday, food prep, fill out your weekly planner...
  • Get to bed extra early, so you can wake up refreshed


As you can tell, I do most of my "work" when I get back on Sunday night, but you can easily squeeze some of that stuff in beforehand, too.


So, where you off to????

4 Food Rules Every Woman Should Live By

I’ve never been one for rules.  I’m an Aquarius and a serious rebel.  Most of the time when someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s the one thing I’m going to do.  In a lot of ways, the idea of “food rules” seems totally unnatural to me. 

 

But lately I’ve been focusing  A LOT on what is going into my body and how I’m supporting it and I have this comforting sense of control.

 

I’m not talking about the type of control that limits me to 1,500 calories a day.  (You can read more about what I think about counting calories here).

 

I’m talking about knowing that if I eat something good for me, that I will look and FEEL good: maximum energy (aka no afternoon crash!), glowing skin, zero bloating.

 

But what is “GOOD FOR YOU” anyway?  There’s so much hype out there its hard to know (and honestly so many BAD food rules)…

 

Before I was a health coach, when I was struggling through life working 80 hours a week and not really caring for my body, a lot of the time I thought I was eating healthy.

 

In the morning, I’d be running late (having overslept after tossing and turning all night), so I’d grab a CLIF bar or yogurt and the largest coffee I could find, and off I’d go.  Read: SUGAR CITY.

Lunch was often a take-out salad loaded with dressing or a quick, microwave 200 calorie Lean Cuisine.  Officially the mayor of SUGAR TOWN, USA, with a side of serious restriction.

Obviously an afternoon latte was in order to fight my impending crash – I had big work to do!   But it was sugar free, no whip – not too bad, right?

Dinner was pizza (wouldn’t life be grand if pizza was a superfood?) or pasta – something FAST that took zero thought, as I was totally spent mentally spent by that time.  CARB HEAVY, NO VEGGIES.

                                             

Some of those things on the list are definitely considered “healthy foods”, but was I healthy?  HECK NO.  Did I feel GOOD? NO WAY. 

 

I was loaded up on sugar, caffeine, and simple carbs.  I had trouble sleeping.  I was amped up and then crashing 20 minutes later.  I was bloated with a severe 9-5 muffin top. 

 

But beyond that, I was totally absent from the whole food experience.  I was more than happy to buy anything that read healthy on the label and would take zero time or thought.

When I started to really explore and learn about food and my body, I realized it wasn’t just about WHAT I was eating that made it healthy or unhealthy.  It was about how I approached my plate. 

 

Insert >>> my food rules

 

These aren’t hard and fast rules, like:  do this or else.  But they’re the guiding principles I use when I approach my plate and I think everyone woman can benefit from them.

 

1. Just Eat Real Food

Simple and to the point: drop the processed crap with crazy ingredients you can’t pronounce and eat an (organic) apple instead. 

Does all of it need to be ORGANIC, FREE RANGE, GRASS FED, LOCALLY HARVESTED, IN SEASON??  Those things can be beneficial, but don’t let their lack hold you back.  Start where you can.  (and if you want my recommendations for what organic produce to always invest your $$ in, check out this year’s Dirty Dozen list).

2. Be Mindful

So often we’re absent from our eating experience.  Recently, I heard the beautiful Sarah Jenks share a story about her daily habit of eating Tasty Delight:

One day, she decided to sit down and mindfully eat her treat in the park – focusing solely on the eating experience.  Turns out, she didn’t even LIKE Tasty Delight.  It tasted gross to her when she actually stopped to pay attention!  But she’d been eating it daily for who knows how long, because it was a “healthy” treat she’d allowed herself. 

3. Don’t restrict yourself

Food is fuel and medicine – it’s very utilitarian.  But it’s also something to be ENJOYED.  Allow yourself to enjoy the things you really enjoy – while mindfully questioning if you actually like what you think you like (see above if you're confused by this paradox!) - and leave the rest. 

 

4. There are no “food rules”

The most important rule of all: THERE ARE NO RULES!  Ultimately, you are 100% in control of what you put into your body – don’t let anyone else (even me!) govern what you eat or how you feel about it.

 

I want to hear from you: Do you have “food rules”?  Have you abandoned rules in favor of freedom?

5 Ways I’m “Doing It All” With a 9-5

I haven’t been too shy about the fact that I started a new full-time, “go to an office and set a desk” job just a few weeks ago (tomorrow wraps up week 3).

 

Overall, I am really enjoying it – my work hours and commute are fantastic, my team is incredibly welcoming, and there’s tons to learn… but I’ll be the first to admit the transition has been a bit of a struggle. 

 

During the first week, I came home and face-planted on the couch totally exhausted and ordered oodles of fattening take-out.  I was totally freaked out, thinking I was falling right back into my old rut and worried that everything I teach was TOTALLY WRONG.  

 

Could I really "have it all" with most of my time tied to someone else's schedule?

 

So, I did something that old me would never do… I took a step back, approached myself with kindness and said,

Self, it’s only been one week.  Give yourself some space to create the structure you’ve been craving.”

 

And – thankfully – the shift was fast and immediately tangible.  I was right all along!!! {{{ pats self on back }}}

 

I’m still working out the kinks and not quite at full capacity, but here’s a handful of the things I’m doing to create more space and ease:

 

1.       Have Fun “First”

It might sound crazy, but I’ve been “scheduling” some of my social engagements over the last few weeks – it’s helping me keep things light and fun!  Honestly, I feel like it was not having anything fun planned that kept me running to happy hour for all those years. 

 

2.       Cook Once Eat Three Times

Over the weekend, I spent an hour food prepping. It’s saved me so much time trying to make lunch in the morning and figuring out what’s for dinner and who’s cooking.  Here are a few of the things I did:

-          I cooked a 2 lb. pork shoulder in my crockpot and used as pulled pork for dinner, salad topping for lunch, and filling for cinco de mayo enchiladas.

-          I washed, chopped, and stored all my salad veggies – perfect for throwing together a quick lunch in the morning.

-          I hardboiled a half dozen eggs for use in salads.

-          I finely chopped and massaged (sounds weird, right?) a head of kale with olive oil, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and Himalayan sea salt and stored overnight.  It will keep in the fridge all week (unless, like me, you gobble it up in 2 days!)

Now, if someone could just help me figure out how to get my dishes to wash themselves, I’d be all set!

 

3.       Hit the Snooze

One of the things I’ve been fantasizing about (longtime friends and especially my mom will laugh at this one) is consistently getting up at 5:30 am.  I have NEVER been a morning person, but 2 years ago, my husband and I started hitting Crossfit at 6 am, and the early morning became this whole new world that spiked my productivity like nothing else.

But lately, I haven’t been able to make that happen consistently.  A day here or there, sure, but that snooze button has been my BFF.  Here’s the thing, though: I’m hitting the snooze most frequently after later nights or intense evening workouts.  My body needs rest and I’ve been finding a certain calm and clarity in that morning silence.  So I’m just gonna let that sleeping dog lie.

 

4.       Lunch Break!

“Lunch Break” is a bit of a new phrase in my vocabulary.  When I was working like a maniac, I never took a lunch break; I’d sit at my desk, shovel food in my face, and work, work, work.

Well, I’m turning a new lunch leaf… I’ve been stepping away from my desk (usually outside to the park across the street – lucky me!) to eat lunch for the last few weeks and honestly IT’S LIFE CHANGING.  I have an opportunity to disconnect, sort through problems, and eat more mindfully.  Even on days when I can’t get out for lunch, I’m making a point to consciously step away from my desk for at least 20 minutes.


5.       Get Sweaty Often

Even with my schedule in a bit of a flux, getting to Crossfit and yoga and PiYo several times a week (I’m shooting for 5) has been a non-negotiable.  Movement and sweat equity has been critical to maintaining my sanity and keeping my momentum.  Enough said.


Now, I want to hear from YOU: what do you do to create more space around your 9-5?

The #1 Thing I Do When I Travel

It’s definitely not what you think…

 

I listen to Eat, Pray, Love.

 

Ugh… that book… don’t you just love it? It makes my wanderlust swell to crazy proportions and reminds me of all the things I love about travel: eating, culture, freedom, balance, immersion, and disconnecting from the “regular world” to reconnect with myself.

 

But it does something else for me too – It takes me back to the first time I read that book…

 

I was in the midst of aggressively driving my career forward, working 80 hours a week, while going to grad school part-time and seriously, seriously hating my life.  At that time, my husband and I weren’t married and we were actually living 2.5 hrs apart (on a good day) and I missed him terribly when he wasn’t around, but when we were together, we just worked ourselves to the bone renovating a house he was trying to flip.  I seriously don’t know how I made it through that time in my life.  (actually, I do… very little sleep, lots of beer and coffee, and just generally being an emotional train wreck)

 

I read Eat, Pray, Love and I took one thing away: I desperately wanted to escape my life. 

 

Seriously, there is NOTHING I wouldn’t have given to take a year to find myself again.  I felt so lost.  So tired.  So uninspired.  So angry and so embarrassed that I was doing all the “right” things and yet I was so unhappy.

 

Although several years passed between reading Eat, Pray, Love and finally taking myself out of my toxic work environment, healing myself from burnout, and really investing in supporting my marriage, reading that book put me on a path. 

 

 

Eat, Pray, Love sent me on a 9-week volunteer trip to Honduras in 2008… probably the true first step I took toward healing myself.  On that trip, I found solace on my yoga mat.  I finally understood how truly independent I was and that I didn’t need anyone else to dictate my path for me.  For the first time, I started to appreciate what eating real, whole foods did for my body and mind.

 

I grew so much in those 9 weeks and I returned home knowing I was ready for my life to change.  I returned fully committed to taking my relationship to the next level and knowing that if I couldn’t change the way I worked, I would have to leave… and a year later, I did. 


There’s a reason I’m sharing this with you and it’s not because I think you need to escape to the third world to find yourself. 


It’s because I want to show you that sometimes the simplest, seemingly insignificant thing (like a book you read for fun) can be the thing that finally allows you to open up to a change.


Maybe it’s just reading this post… that would really make my heart squeal!  What will that insignificant and yet monumental moment be for you?

Stuck In a Rut? The Simple Test to Tell If It’s Time to Make a Change

We all have bad days.  We all feel stuck.  We struggle to know when “bad” is just a phase or a new normal.

 

It can be hard to know when ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  When is it time to walk away and start something new?

 
 


I recently shared about a nightmare contracting gig that was totally wrong for me, but if I’m being totally honest, that wasn’t the only thing that’s felt hard over the last few months.


This winter I was totally uninspired by my coaching work. 


THIS is my passion – the work I feel called to do and, yet, it didn’t feel right.  Honestly, it led me to question EVERYTHING and to use every tool in my arsenal to find my truth.  I tapped into my inner guide, I meditated, I prayed, I sought guidance from my own coach and mentor, I read, I drank – searching for the answer to the question: is it time to walk away from this?


I was torn up inside and the answer just wouldn’t come.  And then, as luck would have it, the “answer” floated across my Facebook newsfeed.  Welcome to the Steve Jobs’ Test:


"For the past 30 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."- Steve Jobs


Using this simple self-exam, the answer became almost immediately obvious to me: YES – this work is my heart and soul and I want to do it for as long as I can.


I think sometimes things feel bad so we can be reminded of how GOOD they really are.  Adversity and growth are our biggest teachers – those who grow from challenges are the TRUE LEADERS in this world – and without them we get stale and complacent.  (Seriously, who wants to work with a stale, crusty old coach ;) ?)  This was a gentle reminder for me that I need to keep growing and challenging MYSELF so that I can continue to help others do the same.


Are you struggling to know if you should stay or go?  If you’re torn between knowing the difference between an uncharacteristic string of bad days and a bottomless pit that you won’t ever be able to dig yourself out of, I challenge you to do the Steve Jobs’ test for 7 days. 


Don’t just think about it – be about it.  Take action today, gorgeous!