Guest Blog: The Question That Changed My Life

This was the topic of my first blog and I issued an invitation for guest blogs on the question.  Below is our first guest blogger!

The Question That Changed My Life

Hmm… the question that has changed my life was posed to me a few weeks back.  I was invited to write on this topic, and I thought to myself what an easy subject.  Why I know I have a profound question that has driven my life, I’m sure of it!  Boy, oh boy, I have never been so off track and so gloriously wrong in my entire life.  Trying to capture this answer has instead turned into a quest, not unlike that of rereading a book to get a better understanding of the characters.  Or in my case, perhaps using stronger reading glasses to see if there was anything that I missed; a common thought or word, but as usual, I’m always complicating simple matters.

Then today, I attended the funeral of a kind and generous family man. As I was sitting in church, misty-eyed, I thought of his kindness, love of family and his joy of living.  This prompted me to begin reflecting on my life and note when a stranger, acquaintance or a family member sent a kindness my way or radiated happy contentment.  Surprisingly those instances had a powerful impact on my emotional health and strength.   Providing me with that extra shot of confidence and grit when I needed it.  In trying to unearth the question that has changed my life, I discovered I have been attempting to be generous with my words and actions to others.  Most days successful other days not so much.  I face each day in the content knowledge I am loved and have family, friends, and creatures to love – total bliss!

The simple question I now ask consciously at the start of each day is “what can I do to be kinder to myself and others, how can I bring contentment and joy to my own life.”   A powerful thought that gently leads to shedding light on other areas of my life, unearthing new questions that nudge me to grow.  When I was a child, I remember something my mom once told me: “Be kind to those you will meet, you don’t know the burdens they may be carrying.”  She treated everyone with compassion wherever she went, and I am happily striving to do the same.

Meet our guest blogger!

IMG_2741Hello there!  My name is Susan Smith (really that’s my name).   I am fortunate to have a husband who has put up with me for over 34 years, an incredible son, a dream come true daughter in law, and a precious granddaughter who gets that I’m a sucker for her every whim!  We live with a dog who believes she is human, a cat who plays mind games, and a cat who thinks she is a dog.  I love experiences that are creative, challenging and a little bit messy.   What a life I have! 


Do you have a question that changed your life?  Let me know if you would like to be a guest blogger!


Life Lessons From Mr. Pickles

There’s nothing like a new puppy to give you a new perspective.  When Mr. Pickles came into our life, we weren’t sure we were ready to open our hearts to another dog – and certainly not sure we were ready for the demands of a puppy.  But there he was, looking sad in his cage at the shelter and a wriggling bundle of love when they let us hold him. A ten pound Chiweenie – half chihuahua, half daushund.

His full name is Dillon Pickles, Jr. – Dill Pickles for short – or Mr. Pickles when we are being formal.  He doesn’t mind that he was given a silly name.  He only cares that he has found a warm home, with plenty of food, walks, and toys – and lots of love and attention from two humans.

But I sense human characteristics in Mr. Pickles.  I like to think he was reincarnated from a human to a dog, destined to live out another lifetime to teach humans some lessons.  I try to picture him as a human – a man small in stature, with the hint of a mustache that never completely grew in.  I think he was a mid-level businessman – perhaps a department manager.

What lessons have we learned from having Mr. Pickles in our life over the last few months?

Bloom Where You Are Planted and Live With Joy

Although I like to think we are providing an outstanding home for a dog, I’m pretty sure that Mr. Pickles would have found joy in any home that he went to.  A dog bounces out of bed in the morning full of gratitude for just having a life.  As the old saying goes, if you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude.  Mr. Pickles embraces his circumstances.

Humble Yourself 

Mr. Pickles has no ego – he is here to please us. The success of his “pack” depends on him taking ownership of his place in it.  If he makes a mistake, he promptly turns up on his belly and asks for forgiveness. It’s a lesson we could all learn, to promptly admit our mistakes.  But we can probably skip turning up on our belly.

Why Worry?

Dogs have a wonderful lack of worrying.  Yes, they might be at the door when we get home looking like they have spent the day fretting about us in our absence, but you know they were really sleeping in our favorite chair all day until they heard the car turn in the driveway.  Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, but it seems we humans can’t help but do it.  This is one lesson that I particularly need to work on.  As the saying goes, “Every problem has it’s price, but if you worry you pay double.”

Self-Care Should Come First

Dogs are amazing at making sure they take care of themselves.  Play time, meal time, nap time – all done when they are needed.  Mr. Pickles can’t be the loving family pet without enough sleep.  We humans push ourselves to put other’s needs first.  But like the oxygen mask on the airplane, if we don’t put our mask on first we are not going to be able to help anyone else with theirs.

Sometimes It Is Better to Ask for Forgiveness Than Permission

Mr. Pickles knows he is not allowed on the human beds in the house, but sometimes he just can’t help himself. He wants to embrace every wonderful thing life offers, so sometimes he just has to go for it.

I aspire to be more like Mr. Pickles.


Lee Ann Pond is the founder of Engaging Leadership, which provides training and support for business leaders, with a focus on employee engagement.  She has an MBA, 15 years “C” suite experience in finance and HR, and is a certified executive coach.
















Can You Read Your Own Label?

How do you see yourself?  As human beings, we tend to have a view of ourselves that is probably different than others see us.  As Shakespeare said, “Oh, would some Power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us!” It is said that perception is reality, so the way others perceive us is reality – or at least the reality that we need to accept.

Our self-reality is the picture we have of ourselves in our head.  It is summed up in a great little saying, “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.”  We are in our own bubble, living in our head – inside the jar – so we can’t see ourselves as others do.

So what? We are living our life, trying to be the best we can be.  If others can’t see it, is that our problem?  Yes, it is.  Because other’s perceptions of us affect every area of our life – from our career to family to friends.  There is another saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  When we are too close to a situation we lose perspective.  Other’s perception is reality because they can read the label on our jar.

At the beginning of our coaching engagement, I take my client through some self assessments, so that they can begin to see themselves as others see them.  The most eye-opening is a 360 degree assessment, with feedback from 10 to 15 of the client’s peers, supervisors, and staff.  This is where there are often surprises for the client.  The feedback about the client’s perceived strengths and weaknesses from this group  is usually consistent.  Those co-workers all read me the label they see on the client’s jar – and they all pretty much read it the same way.  When this information is shared with the client, he/she is often surprised.  They don’t recognize these perceived weaknesses or strengths as others do.  This gap in the way they see themselves versus the way others see them is a topic we then can explore in the coaching sessions.

How can we make sure we are reading our own jar labels? One way is to work on our own emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence is a term coined in 1995 in a book by psychologist Daniel Goleman.  It’s defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”  I think of emotional intelligence as what our parents called being mature – understanding and exercising self control in our own emotions and in our relationships with others.

To succeed in our relationships, we can’t blindly disregard how we come across.  We need to make efforts to see how we are viewed and make adjustments when there is a gap with how we want to be seen.

So, get out of your bubble, away from that forest and take a look at your jar label.

Shakespeare will approve.


Lee Ann Pond is the founder of Engaging Leadership, which provides training and support for business leaders, with a focus on employee engagement.  She has an MBA, 15 years “C” suite experience in finance and HR, and is a certified executive coach.




Being Present, Presently

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about being present in the moment.  Like many people in this age of devices and social media, it’s easy to get distracted.  Or, maybe, I want to be distracted.  When facing a challenging task, it’s too easy to pick up the phone to see the latest cute kitty post on Facebook and put off the work.  Many studies are showing that we get “high” on dopamine when we interact on social media.  I think of it like eating a piece of candy – easy to grab, feels good while you are doing it, but it doesn’t give you the fuel that you really need.

I had a sweet visit with my 3 year old granddaughter, Zoë, this week.  She asked me to go into her playroom and play with her, but what she really wanted was for me to sit beside her while she played – just to be present next to her while she was in her own make-believe world with her dolls.  It wasn’t easy to settle in.  I was itching to grab my phone, since she didn’t seem to need my interaction.  But she wanted to feel my presence, focused on her and what she was doing.  So I hunkered down and sat on the floor next to her and was there for her.  The gift of being present.

My husband and I love to entertain.  I also set up events for various groups.  In both of those scenarios, there are the inevitable “no shows” – those who accept the invitation, but neglect to attend.  As the host, I find this frustrating and rude.  A lot of preparation goes into an event.  I am not sure why people do this, but my theory is that something comes up or they just don’t feel like coming at the last minute and they think their presence won’t be missed.  But they are missed.  Their presence was to be a gift – and they have yanked it away.

When I was growing up, we had a family friend we called Aunt Fran, who had the most amazing ability to be present.  When she was around it felt like she had all the time in the world for you.  She wasn’t rushing around to the next task.  She could just  be in the moment – or in the afternoon, or in the day.

Part of my business is coaching – coaching leaders, executives, entrepreneurs.  Coaching is the ultimate “be present” activity.  I cannot be thinking about myself, the time, or my next appointment.  A good coach needs to be totally in the moment with their clients – listening, curious, and asking the right questions.  As a coach, I don’t need to know the solutions to the challenges being discussed.  The client knows the answers.  I just need to ask the right questions, until they realize they knew it all along.

Fred Rogers said: “If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that what’s important.”

Being present in the moment.  Sometimes it takes awhile to get there.  But as I learned from Zoë, Aunt Fran, and Mr. Rogers, I can do it. Presently.



Baby Steps and Training Wheels

As we get older in life – gaining experience, competence and stature – we can become complacent.  Things we’ve done a thousand times, in our jobs or our lives, get easier.  Tasks go more easily, the rough edges smoothed like a river stone with repeated use.  We begin to take processes for granted. Things are comfortable and pleasant.  Who wants change?  We’ve got life figured out.  Besides, why fix what isn’t broken?

A study published in Psychological Science tested adults ages 60 to 90 who were assigned to either doing simple mental activities, like crossword puzzles, or learning a complex skill, like digital photography or quilting.  After 3 months, the complex skill group showed much more improvement in memory than the crossword puzzle group.  The scientists concluded that the improvement was due not only to the tasks being complex, but that the tasks were novel to the participant.  Learning something new keeps us sharp.

What the study didn’t mention, but I am surmising, is how uncomfortable and clumsy those participants probably felt learning that new skill!  Some may have even given up, not accustomed to feeling like they were a kid on training wheels.

Lately I have been feeling pretty clumsy myself.  I have taken on the enormous task at age 60 of leaving a familiar career and entering the world of the entrepreneur.  Culture shock.  Every day I am learning something new – and struggling!  Not a comfortable feeling.  As an example, I’m not sure why I chose to change to a MacBook from an HP at the beginning of this journey, but I find myself at the Apple store on a weekly basis with a bunch of white headed seniors, teetering on industrial stools and staring at the training screen while a Gen X’er patiently explains how to use the power button.  (Ok, it’s not quite that basic, but – note to Apple – change out those stools for something more suited to the demographic of your students.)

In addition to the new laptop system, on a daily basis I am teaching myself, watching YouTube, reading online – or sometimes just begging for help on the following:  Website content management (as you are reading here!), business networking (never really had to do much in my old job), Small Business Association workshops (our tax dollars at work), and – most vexing – social media.  Luckily I have three daughters that are giving me lots of help with the latter, but like a kid with the training wheels, I want to learn to do it myself.

The end result of learning all the new complex skills (just like I surmised about the study participants) is that I have been feeling uncomfortable, clumsy and incompetent these last couple months.  But recently a new, unexpected feeling has started growing.  Not all my baby steps are clumsy these days.  Some days aren’t so bad.  I feel some progress is being made – a glimmer of hope that competence for these new skills is in my future.  But the biggest surprise is that I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long time.  Something that long since left me in a job that I handled competently for 11 years.

I feel ALIVE!  I feel reborn, excited for every day, loving learning and the challenges ahead.

So, as I head off to my future competent self, I want to remember this feeling and never fall back on the crossword puzzles and simple tasks.  Feeling uncomfortable  – learning something new and complex – is the way I want to march into the future of my Scintillating Sixties and onward.  I’m taking off the training wheels, folks.  Here we go!

Who wants to come along for the ride?!