I Got It…Again

shutterstock_182397509.miscommunicationFor years I have written and talked about personality type (what I call our behavioral DNA–our inborn wiring that helps make us who we are) and the impact it can have on our lives. Yet I know from my conversations with my career coaching clients and workshop participants that sometimes we don’t readily see how these principles can make a practical difference in our everyday, non-work lives. I thought it might be helpful to give an illustration of one instance outside the workplace that has improved the quality of my life and especially my marriage.

The underlying concepts of personality type are relatively easy to accept within the context of work.  That is:  we feel most satisfied, effective and valued when we work in a job where the majority of our daily tasks play to our strengths in an environment where we can flourish (i.e.: with a boss who knows how to supervise us to maximize our performance in a workplace where we are comfortable—physically and emotionally) . What’s sometimes harder to see, however, is how these concepts play out in our daily lives–how personality type impacts the way we communicate, how we approach relationships, what stresses us and how we can best deal with stress, how we make decisions, etc.

My “aha moment” came as I was designing a new workshop some time ago about how understanding personality type can provide insight into communication and help us develop tools we can use to communicate more effectively.  As I was thinking about concrete ways to illustrate some personality type differences and how this information can impact communication, I thought of my own marriage. B-O-O-O-I-I-I-NG, it hit me!

My husband and I have been married a long, long time—more than four decades. Although our marriage is a strong and happy one, over the years I have often found myself feeling resentful, rejected and invisible by what I perceived as my husband’s lack of caring, detachment and quietness. You see, most of the time I like to chat, share ideas, interact and engage. On the other hand, most of the time my husband prefers to spend time in his own head, reading, doing complicated puzzles and not interacting with me or anyone else.  Historically, my way of dealing with my feelings about our different styles (and what I now realized was really a difference in our personality types) was to personalize his conduct and tuck my hurt feelings and anger deep into the back of my brain until there was no more room and all hell broke loose. My temper, like that carnival game where you try to make the bell ring by hitting a lever with a mallet, would go from 0 to 60 in a flash.

As I was designing my workshop on that special, consciousness-raising day, I saw first-hand how knowledge about my personality type and the personality types of people in my life could really improve the quality of my life.  Like with many of my workshops, I was using my proprietary personality type identifying tool, G.E.M.S.—A Guide to Exploring and Maximizing Strengths, as the basis for understanding personality type and how it can improve communication. Put very simply, G.E.M.S. breaks personality type into four basic categories—Garnets, Emeralds, Moonstones and Sapphires—each with its own particular inborn strengths and challenges. Each gem, each personality type, also has either an introverted preference or an extroverted preference, depending, among other things, on how the person prefers to restore his or her energy. Basically, the introverted personality type prefers to turn inward, withdrawing from interaction with others to regain his or her energy while the extroverted personality type prefers to look outward, seeking the company of others in order to recharge.

According to the G.E.M.S. construct, my husband is an introverted Sapphire. I am an extroverted Moonstone. We could not be temperamentally two more different people. He tends to be logical, analytical, cool, calm and collected with a preference for focusing on ideas or concepts. To relax and regain his energy, he turns inwardly. While I also am analytical, I tend to be excitable and love to think in anything other than a straight line.  I prefer to focus on how things affect people and tend to be outgoing, interactive, and enthusiastic.  To relax and re-charge my batteries, I look for engagement with others.

So back to my epiphany…. As I was designing my workshop I began to think about how my husband and I communicate–or rather sometimes don’t communicate–and I realized that my husband’s actions—his quietness and withdrawal—weren’t about me. He wasn’t ignoring me. He wasn’t trying to put a distance between us. He was just doing what came naturally to him. He was being comfortable in his own skin. His going into his “cave,” the quietude of his own company—reading his book, playing poker on line, doing a complex Sudoku—was his way to re-charge his batteries. I realized that I too had a role in the disconnect of how we had been interacting for all those years. I also was doing what comes naturally to me. I was trying to create harmony, connect and engage, figure out what wrong so I could “fix” it. I was personalizing something that wasn’t personal at all.

That night I shared my epiphany with my husband…but differently. Rather than follow my usual style and hit him between the eyes the minute he walked into the house, I waited until he had had some time for himself. This time, as I watched some of the same behaviors I had seen for so many years, I did so without anger, without charge and with the inner peace of knowing that I had really learned something new and important.  When the time was right, I used the communication tools I had identified as effective with Sapphires to share my observations with my husband.  I was cool, calm and prepared with clear and concrete examples to illustrate my points.  In addition, I was ready to discuss and answer his questions concisely and without judgment or anger.

Of course, life still is not perfect. It never is. But whenever I find myself beginning to get angry or hurt by my husband’s actions, instead of immediately taking it personally, I now try to pause and do a reality check to see whether it is based on something I’ve done (or not done) or whether we’re just acting true to type. That insight and self-awareness has made all the difference.


Mind Matters

shutterstock_212996167(1)I’ve always heard that there is a mind-body connection that impacts all aspects of our lives—both at work and at play. Over the years my yoga teachers said so; my healer-colleagues said so; my more athletic friends said so. According to them: When your mind and body are in balance, working together in harmony, you are at your best no matter what you choose to do.

In his book Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, John Sarno writes about the potentially painful condition he has identified as Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) which he believes is at the core of much of the back pain (among other things) diagnosed by doctors. In a nutshell, Dr. Sarno believes that the tension caused by repression of common emotional issues such as anxiety, stress and especially repressed rage leads to pain in the muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments resulting in back and other pain. While Dr. Sarno’s theories are controversial, he has presented clinical data which supports his conclusion that when patients focus on and deal with what may be upsetting them in their unconscious, their pain will dissipate.

I guess I “believed” all of those experts or at least I knew that they believed what they were saying. It was that way for years…. until the day after my last birthday. My birthday this year knocked me for a loop. No real reason. Everything in my life seemed to be going great.  My son and his wife had moved geographically closer. I was helping my daughter and her fiancé plan their wedding. My husband and I were looking positively at our next steps. I was refocusing the direction I wanted my business to take and I was re-writing my website as a move to make that happen. Yet, somehow, none of that seemed to matter. I was blue…very, very blue.

Now for me, birthdays (mine and others) always have been times for celebration. As a matter of fact, I would start to celebrate my birthday in mid-January (right after my husband’s birthday) and go right through the months until mine. Not this year…and it wasn’t even a “big” birthday.

So, what does all this have to do with the mind-body connection? Well, this was the first time in my life that I really recognized the mind-body connection at work. It was remarkable and I’m going to do whatever I can to remember what I’ve learned and share it with anyone who will listen.

Over the past year or so I have had a number of foot surgeries and have been in physical therapy to rehab my feet. (I will hike again!!!). One of my exercises required me to pick up about 18 marbles (big and small) with my toes—pick up a marble, hold it for a few seconds, cross over my other leg (still holding that marble) and drop it into a small container. I was supposed to do the exercise (picking up all the marbles each time) for three repetitions with each foot. After six weeks of physical therapy, I had become a pro and was very pleased with myself—except for the Wednesday before my birthday.

Although I went to physical therapy on that day, I was in a funk. I started my PT and even the easiest of exercises—the ones I could basically do on Day 1 of PT were a struggle. It was finally time for the marbles. Ok, I thought, this will give me a boost. It always does. Except this time I couldn’t do it; not one marble. Try as I might, and believe me I was trying, I couldn’t pick up a single marble with either foot, not even the easier small ones. I couldn’t believe it. I kept trying, first one foot, then the other, over and over again. I couldn’t get one damn marble up off the towel. After 15 minutes, with sweat dripping down my face, I gave up and moved onto something else.

Dejected, I went home after physical therapy and looked at my task list. It was overwhelming. Easy, everyday tasks seemed just too hard. My mind-body connection was askew and now it was really interfering with my life (although at that point I didn’t know what was getting in my way.) I just felt like I was not in control; I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything—not even the tools that I knew could potentially help. Boy was I down!

That was Wednesday, the day before my birthday. I woke up on my birthday still feeling blue. My coach called to wish me a happy birthday and I talked about what this birthday, this point in my life meant to me. I realized that I was about to enter a new phase in my life—one not governed by scheduled surgeries. Now it was about me and what I wanted in life. I was at yet another transition point and I was a bit scared, overwhelmed and confused about what I wanted this next period to look like…and I was frustrated that I was back in transition, having to chart my own course once again.

The next day, Friday, two days after my birthday, I woke up feeling better. The world wasn’t bleak. I no longer felt like wallowing in whatever I had been wallowing in. I felt good. I went to PT wondering about whether my toes would work. Would I be able to pick up the marbles? I did my beginning stuff and now it was time—me against the marbles.

I looked at my toes, I gave them some words of encouragement and I reached for the first marble. I chose the biggest one, the one that usually is most difficult for me, and up it went. I held it; I carried it across my body and I sent it to home. I smiled. I did it again and again until I had done 3 repetitions (all 18 marbles) with each foot. No marbles dropped; none rolled across the floor. I WAS BACK! Talking about my frustrations and anger had released something. Suddenly, without my even realizing it, my mind and body were in balance. They were connected; they were working together and I could count on that synergy.

So, I’ve become a believer. Now, when I see the visual cue that I am not performing at my physical best, I know that I ignore that message at my peril. Similarly, when I feel blue, I know that figuring out what is getting in my way is really important. Sometimes it can be addressed by doing something physical that I like—taking a walk, gardening, even cleaning out a closet. Sometimes it takes writing in my journal, talking to my coach or getting whatever help I need. Bottom line, I remember that there is a connection between how I feel physically and what’s going on in my mind and I use that information to take steps to improve my well-being. I know that I can regain control and make choices about how to deal with the situation. I know that getting my life in focus—my body and my mind in balance—will definitely help—whether I’m at home or in the office.

Marbles anyone?



It’s Time We Learned

It seems that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/12/women-act-like-men-masculine-job-study_n_5671415.html) recently reported on a laboratory study showing that women who exhibit so-called “masculine” traits (assertiveness, independence and achievement orientation) are more likely to be seen as “fit” for jobs in male-dominated fields. (All quotes are mine) Call me naive but what about competence, confidence and some right-brained thinking (a la Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future)? As women become more of a presence in the technical and professional workforce (they now represent over 50%), there’s hope that the hiring world will catch up.

Given the state of the world, where people kill each other in the so-called name of God, children go to bed hungry or without a safe home, borders have to be closed to prevent the spread of the now incurable Ebola virus, petty battles for power derail the efficient and just operation of our government and beloved people like Robin Williams are so depressed that death seems like the only option, it is time to add some of the so-called right-brained, “female” traits to the hiring equation—empathy, creativity and intuition. The competency calculus of both the workforce and our political leadership must change.

Sometimes it takes evolution, not revolution to change the world. Kudos to those who mentor the leaders of our future (male and female) to have courage, vision, flexibility and the skill to withstand the poison of mean-spiritedness, intolerance and closed minds.  What we are doing now is not working. It’s time for things to change and not to stay the same.

Watch out for Gremlins


I recently learned an interesting lesson.  It was a few months before my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding and I was making a montage of photos from both families as a gift for the couple.  It was a wonderful process that allowed me to focus on the 30+ years that had passed—the sweet memories, the silly celebrations as well as the painful reminders of people I loved who wouldn’t be sharing our family’s delightful new stage. This process also gave me the pleasure of checking something off my “To Do” list—the long delayed ritual of sorting through old pictures and tossing the blurry ones, the five copies of the Grand Canyon vacation with the cousins and the snapshots of people you can’t even remember. But perhaps the most important thing that I learned from this process was realizing how much our emotions can control how we perceive and live our lives.

What struck me like a blow to the gut was a picture from 1992.  It was a photo of my son taken at camp visiting day for my daughter.  He is wearing his then-favorite purple shirt and his teeth are pointing every which way (it was a time before braces).  He is leaning against a tree. Suddenly I am shot straight back to that time of my life. In the bottom of my stomach I remember the anger and the disappointment that colored those days. I remember the feeling of being on edge and impatient so much of the time.  I remember seeing all the flaws.

1992 was a difficult year for me.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt the demands pulling at me from all sides–from work, from my family and especially from my kids.  Everyday seemed to be a battle…a battle that I was losing. I was stressed and short-tempered all the time. I felt as if I was doing nothing well: I was giving only half the effort needed to overcome the challenges at work, failing as a parent and resenting the pressures that my parents and husband were putting on me. I was at a low point and those dark green gremlins–those keepers of judgment, expectations and negativity that lurk in the corners of our lives waiting for our defenses to be down–had conquered me.

As I looked at that picture of my 10 year old son in his purple shirt, I suddenly was vaulted back 20 years to the day it was taken.  In the bottom of my stomach I once again feel the anger and the disappointment that colored those days. Yet, before me was this lovely picture of  a sunny summer day with a delightful, impish little boy hugging a tree.  There is a twinkle in his eyes and a small turned up smile on his face.  He looks adorable and possibly even angelic.  He is not demanding.  He is not pushing my buttons. He is not waiting to pounce and charge me with everything I’m doing wrong.  He’s just this young boy on the cusp of adolescence–charming, gawky and cute beyond belief– enjoying a beautiful day with his family.  The challenging, maturing, testing the waters, growing up process that marked the days of 1992 is now just a memory–one that makes me smile.

I suddenly realized how my gremlins—my self-doubt and my expectations of myself as a mother and as a professional woman trying to do it all—had colored my reality and unfortunately negatively impacted the flavor of my life.

Without the negative emotions, the invasion of my personal “oughts” and “shoulds,” my personal gremlins, I could now see more clearly.  I could celebrate life and laugh at the awkwardness of maturation.  I could enjoy how it feels to just “be.”  I can smile and laugh and remember the good times—and there were mostly good times. So, as I face the next stage of my life, I intend to keep that picture of my 10 year old son front and center in my focus especially when I feel the gremlins lurking. I will use that charming image as a reminder not to lose those special times by allowing my negative emotions to reign over what’s really important to me—being mindful, positive and living in the present.  Armed with my happy image, I will not let the gremlins color my reality again…at least not without a fight.  I hope you will do the same.

I’m not going to get you a job

I’m not going to get you a job

You will.

What is the most common challenge for women (or perhaps anyone) unhappy in their careers?  They  feel “stuck”, unfulfilled, frustrated, unsatisfied.

So what do they do? Initially they simply sit and complain.  When it get’s bad enough, they sometimes they act out and run into problems at work.  They are disappointed in themselves and in their situation.’

When they finally decide to take action, they embrace a “hit or miss” approach.  They don’t know what they want.  They don’t know  how to proceed.  They don’t have a plan.  Instead, they  go out searching for the path of least resistance — networking, job boards, you name it.  Their mantra is: “I need that break”  and they spend time and money setting the stage for that break to come.  But, for most of us, that strategy doesn’t work.

Why? Because nothing in life is that easy (breaks, luck, the universe doesn’t deliver just because we wish it would).  Nothing can replace hard work, some self-exploration and a plan. When it comes to your career, the “business” you, is closely tied to the “personal” you.  To find work where you will feel satisfied and fulfilled, you need to know what makes you feel that way.  Without that insight, you spend way to much time spinning your wheels or worse, moving from one wrong job to another.

The hard work in career transition is not looking for that great job posting or the perfect LinkedIn introduction. The hard work is getting to know “you”. The intimate and often painful journey of self-discovery.  At the end of the journey, YOU know what career you should be pursuing and you decide, once and for all, that compromising who you are, your beliefs, skill-sets and what makes you happy, is not going to happen again.

When you are ready to start on that journey, to take those first difficult steps, I am available to help you.  As you learn more about who you are and what you want to do with your work time, I am there to help you make those hard decisions.  I am there as you put all the steps together so that you can authentically express your wants, needs, beliefs and skills during the interview process.  I won’t get you a job…but I will be there standing right beside you as you do what it takes to create your career, your way.

When you skip the hard stuff, your just wasting time–marking a big “x” on the calendar but making no progress.


Feeling stuck sucks


I don’t mind change.  In fact, there are times when I create chaos in my life just to prod me from one place to another.  What I hate, however, is feeling stuck.  That’s why shortening the time between deciding to take that next step and actually moving forward is a great idea.  Understanding your personality type, your inherent wiring, what I call your “behavioral DNA” can help.

I know what it’s like to be stressed, worn out and short-tempered at work and at home.  Angst, guilt and the feeling that I’m not doing my best anywhere are no strangers to me.  That said, I also know how it feels when you can’t wait to face the new day, to have your life in focus and like what you see. Let me tell you, on any day, I’d choose the latter.

Over the course of my career, I wasted a lot of Sundays wishing Monday wouldn’t come. After law school I worked at a large Wall Street law firm.  It was a coveted job and I was miserable.  I couldn’t believe that I had incurred debt and added inordinate stress to my family and myself to be helping people do things that I didn’t care about or sometimes, didn’t even believe in. Although I tried to make it better—switching from litigation to corporate, choosing the small, quirky clients, nothing worked.  When my son was born I opted out for a year, returning to the workforce as an in-house lawyer at a company then in its infancy—Cablevision.

Don’t get me wrong, Cablevision was a great gig.  During my 20 year career there, I had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people doing a broad spectrum of jobs.   I learned an incredible amount and was at the cutting edge of a creative, life-changing industry. I was able to hone my strategic thinking and analytical and advocacy skills. And, every time I felt like it was time to move on—generally every 5 years, I was able to restructure my legal job and try something new—from being a general operations attorney to specializing in employment law and business ethics issues. Yet, for me, something was missing.  I felt like I was working harder, not smarter. While I, like others who are in careers that are not consistent with their personality types, could be very successful by other people’s standards, I usually felt stressed, overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It wasn’t until after leaving law, becoming a career management coach and specializing in understanding personality type that I realized I’d been in a career for 30+ years, where I was unlikely to find the fulfillment I sought, the benefit of doing something that is consistent with who you inherently are.

So while I am the type of person who likes to build consensus, think “outside of the box;” “do the right thing” and look at challenges and see opportunities, I was in a career (and a job) that often required to me to be adversarial.  I worked in a world where past practice was king (even if it didn’t make sense); where everyone had to be treated in exactly the same way (even if it wasn’t right for them); where I had to look at things with an eye for what could go wrong (not what can go right); and where I had to approach every situation as a possible lawsuit (and guard against it.)

I now know that there are fields in law for which I might have been better suited, as there are jobs in every field where people with different personality types can flourish.  The key is to understand how you’re inherently wired and choose jobs that work with who you are. The research is clear.  If you “go with your grain” (as opposed to against it), if you work with your natural tendencies, you will be less stressed, more comfortable, more effective,  more energetic, and more motivated.  Ultimately, you’ll have a more satisfying and happy life.

In some of my future blogs, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned developing G.E.M.S.™–A Guide to Exploring and Maximizing Strengths,™the proprietary personality type self-assessment tool that helps my clients better understand who they are, how to flourish in their work and personal lives andlive a life where they feel satisfied, competent and valued.

And so it begins

I’ve finally landed in the 21st Century and this is my first blog. My kids are proud of me and I’ve gotten out of my own way enough to finally do this.  My intention as I start this next stage of my career and life as a Career Management Coach and a part-time blogger is to remind myself, as I remind others, that “Life is a journey, not a destination”.  If it isn’t satisfying, fulfilling, fun or however you define what makes life special for you, find another journey.

96,750. That’s the average time we spend working in our lives if we work 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year for 43 years—assuming we work 9 to 5 with an hour commute, an hour for lunch and 2 weeks’ vacation a year.  It doesn’t include time we spend checking and responding to emails at night or on the weekend.  It doesn’t include the work we take home because we didn’t get to finish it in the office.  And, it doesn’t include the time we spend in the silence and dark of the night thinking about our deadlines, our ideas—good and bad or office politics.  I don’t know about you, but a 9-5 week, 96,750 hours, would have been a semi-vacation for me when I worked as a lawyer. Upon reflection, I know that I would have liked to know earlier some of what I know now.

So many of us started working when we were young and didn’t have a clue what was going to keep us satisfied for over 96,000 hours, or even what would make us happy for a week or two.  Certainly some of us got lucky and found jobs we loved (and in many cases, still love), but so many of us—myself included—looked back at some point and realized that we are in soul-sucking, energy-depleting careers where we spend way too much time feeling drained, guilty and not doing our “best” work—either in terms of quality or substance.

My name is Barbara Kessler and I’m here to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying my encore career as a Career Management Coach working with women who are like I was–professional women who are unfulfilled in their current career or women who want to return to the workforce after opting out to raise their kids.  I worked for 30+ years as a businesswoman, lawyer and working mom and I want to share some of what I’ve learned along the way. This is now my life’s journey and I hope you will join me.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.