Career Wisdom

Backwards Advice? Keep Your Clients “IN” Their Comfort Zone!

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

We’ve heard for years that “results come outside the comfort zone”! “Stretch yourself!” “Think outside the box.”

To some degree those statements are true. And yet, from what we know about brain-based research, there’s evidence that urging people to shift outside of their comfort zone may actually be less effective. Here’s why.

The Red Zone

blog post 1Our brains translate the phrase “Beyond the comfort zone” as “risk, threat, danger.” Risk, threat, and danger puts the brain into a fight-flight state. In that fight-flight state:

  • Cortisol and adrenalin are released,
  • Blood pumps to the large muscle groups so that we can fight or flee,
  • Blood flow is reduced in the executive function of the brain.

In short, it puts folks in what I call “the red zone”!

When blood flow is reduced to the prefrontal cortex (our executive brain), we are robbed of our ability to think as creatively, clearly, and strategically . . . the very thing we need to do when we are in an unfamiliar situation (aka, outside our comfort zones)!

The Blue/Green Zone

blog post 2Conversely, if we can help clients shift into the blue/green zone, they will be operating with full-functioning capacity of their brain. When all of this happens, “happy” neurotransmitters are pulsing through the brain and the body—dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, etc.—and, in turn:

  • Ideas flow and insights comes
  • Possibilities and hope increases
  • Energy rises, which gives rise to courage and confidence

So, the next time you’re working with a client and you notice they’re feeling out of their comfort zone, shift them into the brain’s “comfort zone”—that blue/green space of creativity and confidence first! In doing so, you are creating new neural pathways that will make the new thing (the change, the challenge) no longer outside the comfort zone, but part of it! That’s powerful!


Life’s Vice Grip, or Life’s Hugs?

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

Have you or your clients ever felt like Life had you in a “vice grip”? A vice grip is something unpleasant that you (or your clients) would love to get out of, and yet you can’t! For example:

  • shutterstock_212341042The uncertainty of how long a job search will last
  • Bills that need paid and not enough money
  • A relationship that’s causing angst
  • A job that is killing you, but feeling like you can’t quit
  • New skills that need mastered without the hope you can learn it all
  • Important projects that need done and not enough time, focus, or energy to finish

The vice grip can feel like an intersection of uncertainty, pain, fear, lack, and loss of control. You want things to change. You want it to be fixed. Or you wonder if it’s possible to be fixed. Or you wonder if anyone even knows what you’re going through, or cares.

Being a student of emotional intelligence, I’ve been acutely aware of how my current vice grip is causing me to react (I’ll skip the details—suffice to say that I can claim several of the bullets above … and I’m probably amongst good company!).

I vacillate between being nervous and scared, then kicking into action to control whatever controllables I can, then back to being nervous and scared, then wondering if things will work out, then back to being nervous and scared, then taking action, etc. It’s a bit of a roller coaster.

shutterstock_97094300In the midst of all of this, I stumbled on an article about why hugs are important. Hugging allows us to relax, and enables us to be more resilient. The writer suggested an exercise, for example, that when a spouse comes home from work, the other spouse should greet the partner with a full-frontal hug—and hold the hug long enough until each feels the other relax. (Absent a spouse, look for a friend, family member, or even a pet to try this out—it works!).

And then I saw a bigger-picture connection. Maybe life’s vice grips are really Life’s full-frontal hugs—circumstances allowed into our lives that cause us to hold tight to our values, tap into our strengths, believe it will all work out . . . and relax.

And like the full-frontal hug exercise, we must hold on until we relax. And with that relaxation, we find the calm-connect and energy-action to meet the possibilities in front of us. With gratitude. With creativity. With perseverance. With love.


Do You See What I See?

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

shutterstock_138535850My daughter passed along a You Tube video to me recently that really caused me to stop and ponder. Dove (the soap people) hired a talented forensic artist to create sketches of ordinary women based on verbal descriptions only. Separated by a curtain in a loft filled with beautiful light, the artist asked one woman at a time to describe herself. “Tell me about your hair. Tell me about your chin… your jaw … your most prominent feature…,” he asked.

Prior to entering the artist’s loft, each woman had been introduced to another woman—a stranger who was given instructions to simply get to know the person. The stranger, unaware of the sketching experiment, was ushered into the studio a bit later. The artist once again began his questioning to draw a second composite of the original woman, this time from the perspective of the stranger: “Tell me about the woman you just visited with … her hair … her chin … her jaw … her most prominent feature.”

The two sketches were later revealed side by side. In each case, the self-description sketch looked harsh and less attractive, while the stranger’s description was softer, gentler, and more alive. Clearly, the strangers saw a uniqueness and beauty that the women couldn’t see or own.



If you’re working with clients who see the worst in themselves (and shoot themselves in the foot in the process because of it), consider this coaching idea:

Give your client a comparison assignment: Ask the client to describe him/herself in just 1 word plus and then list 3 of your best professional skills. Next, have the client ask some close friends to “describe me in just 1 word, and then 3 of my best professional skills.” (As a variation, a tool such as the 360Reach can also generate some positive feedback.) If the client operates from a faith-based dimension, ask how a loving and merciful God would describe him/her.

Once the results come in:

  • —  Explore the comparisons.
  • —  More importantly, explore what it would take to “own” the compliments and accolades that come in … or the motives/rationale for not believing the good things that others say.
  • —  Offer “stretch requests” by asking the client to be grateful for those specific attributes!
  • —  shutterstock_131955923Look for ways that the compliments translate into part of the client’s value to employers and gift to the world!

All of these activities can add to your client’s confidence and resiliency!

P.S. Here’s the Dove video!


Lessons Atop a Paddle Board

By Susan Whitcomb | 1 Comment »

pic for aug blog2Hawaii held lots of fun new adventures for me this summer—one of which was Paddle Boarding. We stumbled on an amazing fellow, Ian Foo, who has a paddle board/surf shop called Hypr Nalu right by the harbor. Ian is a former investment banker who worked on Wall Street and lived all over the world. Now he spends his days building his own beautiful surf boards, designing surf apparel, and teaching people how to surf. And he’s really good at it.

When my husband first looked into paddle boarding, he told Ian we didn’t want lessons—that we’d just take the boards out and have some fun. Ian persuaded him to start with a lesson, and I’m glad he did. Without a lesson, I would’ve been swallowing lots of salt water, and miserable!

So here are some lessons I learned from atop my paddle board:

paddle 1Always look up. Whether it’s paddle boarding or work/life, if you’re looking down (at the turbulent waters, at your problems), there’s a really good chance you’re going to fall. Look up (at where you are headed, at your vision, or, from a spiritual stance, at God).

  • So where is your focus?
  • What do you want to look at?
  • What we focus on grows!


paddle 2Stay balanced. Ian taught me to balance with feet shoulder-width apart, stay in the middle of the board, and use my core to power the arm strokes. In life, we know when we get out of balance—too much of one thing, not enough of another, or even over-using our strengths, which can turn into a weakness.

  • What allows you to come back to center, where you’re strong and secure?
  • Is it a tried-and-true routine?
  • Is it the discipline of executing on key priorities?
  • Is it staying true to your niche clientele?
  • Is it self-care?


Keep paddling. When you see turbulent waters coming, keep paddling! Keep taking action. Keep doing the right things. If you don’t, you’re guaranteed to fall off the board. (I know from experience!)

  • What do you need to do more of?
  • What do you need to do less of?
  • What do you need to do differently?


And, most important in my paddle boarding lessons, I learned to stay focused on the experience and enjoy the journey. Even when I fell and swallowed seawater, I reminded myself, you are alive—enjoy the journey!


The Myth of One-and-Done

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

“I tried networking once. It didn’t work.” These are the words of a job seeker who was convinced that all the hype about networking was underrated. He tried it. Once. And it didn’t work. And so he was right. Right?

Wrong! The truth is, there’s not much in this world that is a “one-and-done.” Here’s why: we rarely learn a new behavior or habit in one try.

o   Kids don’t get on a bicycle and nail it on the first try.
o   Students don’t learn a new language in one sitting.
o   Even the most gifted artist can’t master a new technique in one attempt.

Likewise …

o   A job seeker cannot master networking in one try…
o   A coach doesn’t perfect the art of powerful questions in one session…
o   An entrepreneur won’t get the many nuances of closing a sale in one attempt.


Why not? In a word: WIRING.  Neural wiring, that is. Our brains need repetition to get it right.

brain wiring 2When my daughter was young and taking roller-skating lessons (the kind where she learned to do fancy jumps and flips like the ice-skaters do), her coach would make her do certain moves over and over and over again. He would drive her crazy with his line, “Just one more time.” As soon as she did it, he’d give her feedback, and then repeat his request, “Just one more time.”

Of course, no kid wants to know ahead of time that she’s going to have to do 27 toe loops or Salchows in one lesson, so perhaps his “just-one-more-time” mantra was wise. Regardless, this coach knew that it would take repetition to get the “muscle memory”—the wiring—needed to master those jumps.


Your New Thing

next best thingWhat’s the new thing you are learning, or the not-so-new thing you want to take to the next level of mastery? If you’re coaching others, what’s the new thing they are learning, or that they want to take to the next level?

Write it down. Maybe it’s getting in shape, maybe it’s learning a new specialty area, maybe it’s acting more confident. Whatever it is, write it down using a pen or pencil. Find a Google image that represents the new thing. Express it with your body. All of these things add to the neural wiring.

Now, here’s an idea for strengthening neural wiring, a la the acronym “W.I.R.I.N.G.” which stands for:

Want It, Repeat It, and eNjoy the Gains

Here’s how it works:

  • Want It: We must want/desire the behavior or the outcome of the behavior in order to stretch ourselves to do something new, different, or better. There must be meaning behind it. If not, the brain won’t make sense of things, and our brains are loathe to do things that don’t make sense.So name your “want it”—why will this be meaningful to you?
  • Repeat It: Repetition is king in creating new wiring. Giving focused attention to the behavior, over a period of time, with intention and repetition is critical. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a psychiatrist, researcher in neuroplasticity, and internationally recognized expert in obsessive-compulsive disorder notes that “focused attention wires the brain, for good or for bad.”List your “repeat it”—how will you start small? How will you practice? How will you repeat it? How will you sustain it? Who will help you be accountable? (Social activity adds to the neural wiring.)
  • eNjoy the Gains: Rewards help rewiring. Give yourself positive feedback to encourage your brain to keep with it. The reward might be a treat you give yourself, or a compliment that someone else gives you, or a sense of accomplishment from having done what’s meaningful.How will you reward yourself? Is it tangible? Intangible? How will you celebrate?

Warning: when you get in the rhythm of “wanting it” and “repeating it,” you’ll begin to feel and think differently on the inside, even if your new behavior isn’t fully observable on the outside. Don’t succumb to the temptation of thinking, ‘this isn’t really working.’ It is! The fact that you feel different inside is evidence of that new wiring starting to form.

Join me in dispelling the myth of one-and-done. The reality of often-and-accomplished is more accurate, and brings lasting gain!


X-Men, Coaching & Rewriting the Future

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

x-men-days-of-future-past-professor-xMany moons ago when I married my husband, I was NOT a sci-fi fan. It was about last on my list of favorite movie genres, right above horror films. Give me a British drama or chick-flick any day of the week, but “no thank you” to sci-fi.


How things change. I soon learned that if I wanted to see a movie with my husband, I needed to be open-minded to what he liked. And so I’ve learned to appreciate movies like the X-Men and Inception and 2001 Space Odyssey. Last weekend, the whole family went to see X-Men’s latest release, Days of Future Past. Without spoilers, the movie points out how our choices today can impact not only our lives but many others’ lives in the days to come.


shutterstock_29017780(1)As a coach, you can imagine that “I’m all over that!” Choices create change. We all know that choosing to eat healthy today (and every day) will help create health in the decades to come. For business owners, choosing to spend time on marketing today will help create new business in the months to come. For job seekers, choosing to pick up the phone and have meaningful conversations with networking contacts today will create trust and more job opportunities in the weeks to come.


For change to happen, we need to create an environment conducive to change (the “helpful how’s”), and we need “inspiring why’s” associated with the change. Let’s start with the latter. Let’s say you want to change your financial situation for the better.


  • shutterstock_88446508(1)The Inspiring Why’s: We all have reasons for why we want something. To achieve significant change, go beyond the obvious. For example, perhaps you want to boost your finances because your child needs braces for her teeth. That’s a valid reason.

    But stretch a bit to think beyond this. What do those braces represent? Is it a life of greater confidence for your child? More opportunities for her? Better dental health down the road? Or maybe some of the “inspiring why” has to do with you: The opportunity to feel like you have provided well for her? The ability to learn something new (how to market better, how to provide a new service, etc.).

    If you really, really want to create change, go deep with your “why’s”!


  • shutterstock_150769385(1)The Helpful How’s: How does your environment need to change to help create change? Is it that you need to surround yourself with experts, mentors, and role models who inspire you? Is it that the television or Netflix needs to get turned off? Is it that your calendar needs to get rearranged so that activities that bring the highest income and highest impact take priority? Is it that you need to clean your desk so you’ve got room to create and hear yourself think?

    All of the inspiration in the world (the “why’s” above) won’t create change. It must be paired with meaningful action!


So think about what you want in the future. Then consider: What’s your “inspiring why”? What’s your “helpful how” to conduce change? Share your story!!


Leveraging Gratitude in Career Coaching

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

infographic gratitudeNumerous researchers in the field of positive psychology have learned that gratitude impacts many areas of our lives, as the infographic to the right shows:

•        Happy people’s income is roughly 7% higher

•        Grateful people on average give 20% more time and dollars.

•        Grateful people will have 10% fewer stress-related illnesses, be more physically fit, have blood pressure that is lower by 12%.

•        Grateful people are 20% more likely to get “A” grades

I wish there were statistics on how gratitude impacted job seekers’ success rates! If there were such stats, I’m confident they would show that grateful job seekers network more easily, get jobs faster, and negotiate bigger salaries (this last one is borne out in the first bullet above, with happy people having incomes 7% higher).

Gratitude ushers in the concept of provision. It causes us to view the world through a lens of possibility instead of problem, to believe “I have everything I need … right now.” The negative emotions of fear, anxiousness, and worry are based in anticipation of not having enough …  not having enough control, certainty, time, money, energy, health, protection, resources, wellbeing, wisdom, appreciation, acceptance, trust, ease. Simply put:

half full half empty•        Lack of enough is scarcity.

•        Plenty of enough is abundance.


Practical Application

So how do you leverage gratitude when coaching your clients? If you are working with someone who is bummed out over a job loss, be cautious about coming straight out and saying “what are you grateful for?,” because it can sound insensitive.

Instead, first acknowledge the pain. For example:

“I hear the frustration… not what you were hoping for.”

And then, consider saying something like”

“Without denying those feelings, what do you hope this situation will open up for you … make possible for you?”

This is a way of tapping the gratitude emotion without using the word “grateful” or “gratitude.” So, dear colleagues and friends, what do you hope your current situation will open up for you?! :)


5 Myths & Misconceptions Students Often Have About Landing Their First MBA Job

By Susan Whitcomb | 3 Comments »

Are you working with a coaching client who is attending business school (or even earning an undergraduate degree)? As I collaborate with MBA career coaches far-and-wide and hear the challenges they have in working with students, these common themes surface when it comes to students landing a summer internship or job after graduation. I call them the 5 Myths & Misconceptions students often have about landing their first MBA job. Perhaps you’ve heard them too?


“My Degree Will Do It”: An MBA degree is a huge asset, and yet it shouldn’t be relied on as the Golden Ticket. Those that do may have to stand in line behind candidates who have an MBA plus more years of experience than you have. Ultimately, it’s about one’s ability to connect with the company decision makers and deliver remarkable value based on the MBA (or any degree!).

Potential Powerful Coaching Question: Knowing there are many other candidates out there who have both an MBA and more years of experience than you, how would you describe your value as a differentiator?


“My Alumni Network Will Do It”: One’s alumni network is also a huge asset. And yet, as with all relationships, trust takes time. Start early in building and nurturing relationships. Networking master and New York Times bestselling author Harvey Mackay said it well, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”

Potential Powerful Coaching Question: How long would it take you to trust a stranger with something important like your reputation or sharing your network?


“My Career Coach Will Do It”: The MBA Career Center teams I am aware of are among the most competent industry experts in the nation and are a source of insights, information, introductions, and inspiration. Nonetheless, they cannot secure a job for someone else. Just as no one can take finals for another or choose a mate for another, no one but the student/graduate can secure his/her own job!

Potential Powerful Coaching Question: As a business leader, you’ll make decisions about what to execute on yourself and what to delegate to others. Although you can team up with others, job search is one of those “execute yourself” tasks. What do you see as some of the benefits of “owning” your search?


“I’ll Wait Until I’m Done with Classes”: The early bird catches the worm! Meaning, success comes to those who prepare well and put in effort. To land early, start early and work smart. Create and nurture relationships over the course of time so others get to know you, see you, and trust you.

Potential Powerful Coaching Technique: The BLS stats are showing average job search periods of more than 36 weeks, and our school data is aligning with that as well. With those numbers in mind, let’s map out a ‘storyboard’ of how many quality meetings with contacts you’ll need to be making each week and how/when that will happen so that you can reach your goal.


“It’ll Be Easy”: Joe Girard is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Greatest Salesman. One of his most well-known quotes is this: “The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs… one step at a time.”

Potential Powerful Coaching Technique: There are many steps in the job search and the only short-cuts are getting a head-start on your competition by beginning early, working steady, creating trust, and delivering value. What would SMART goals look like in each of those areas?


You Have Everything You Need — Right Now

By Susan Whitcomb | 1 Comment »

The Academies Grads @ CTL 2012

The annual Career Thought Leaders Conference was in Baltimore this past month, and it was a blast to BE WITH colleagues who are normally confined to social media communications. (Although a good substitute, nothing compares to face-to-face, twinkle-in-the-eye, hug-sharing networking!) On Coaching Day, I spoke about new coaching concepts. Perhaps my favorite is the “Everything You Need” technique.

I told the story of how moved I was when learning about Randy Pausch, the Carnegie-Mellon professor who wrote The Last Lecture as part of his battle with pancreatic cancer. ABC’s Diane Sawyer did a special on Randy and his wife, Jai. I’ll never forget part of that conversation when Diane asked Jai, “How do you deal with this, knowing that he’ll soon be gone?” His wife responded, “by remembering that I have everything I need.”

That was a salient moment for me as a coach. I began thinking of powerful questions associated with that thought:

  • What shifts for you when you think, “I have everything I need?”
  • What does “I have everything I need” mean?
  • What’s the truth in that statement?
  • What do I have that I didn’t realize I already had?

As I pondered this, I added two words to the “I have everything I need” phrase: “Right Now.” Those two words cause us to look for, embrace, and utilize the resources that are already there for us. Those resources can come in varying forms:

  • Material provision
  • People provision
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Wisdom
  • Perspective
  • Ideas
  • Courage
  • And much more!

I’m on a mission to implement this concept – I Have Everything I Need—Right Now! – into my life on every level. Will you join me? What will be different when you do?

In support of your significance and success,



The Movie The Vow-Waking Up to a Life You Don’t Recognize

By Susan Whitcomb | No Comments »

If you were to step into your life with fresh eyes, would you love what you see? I saw
the movie “The Vow” recently. The premise of the movie is that a young husband
and wife are in a car accident. The wife awakens with amnesia.

She doesn’t recognize her free-spirit husband (who runs a small recording studio),
her apartment, her neighborhood, her closest friends, her art studio, her talent
as an artist . . . nothing. She reverts back to her life pre-career-change some five
years earlier, when she was a sweater-set preppie-type, enrolled in law school and
engaged to an attorney.

It made me wonder: how many of us are living a life we don’t recognize . . . where we
don’t like our careers, don’t relate to the people we work with, or worse? Sometimes
it happens because we’re like the “frog-in-the-hot-water”—not aware that the
temperature has slowly increased to the point of injury or death. Other times, we
are painfully aware that things are desperately off-kilter.

As with making any change, the first step is awareness. Try this exercise:
Watch your life for a few days as a curious bystander … notice what brings you joy,
what you procrastinate on, what you wish would go away. Ask others you trust to
offer their observations, as well.

Analyze your observations. If something pops up that brings concern, simply make
note of it (without beating yourself up!). Once you are aware of what’s not “right,”
you can start making changes … even if slowly, the sheer act of taking action will put
you in a state of control.

So how about you? If you were to step into your life with fresh eyes, would you love
what you see?


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