Key Changes Leaders Need To Make Now To Help Their Organizations Thrive

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”

Errol Gardner: Over the past 6 months of remote work, we have solved for or adapted to many of the challenges that initially arose– technical, logistical, getting the right people connected with their clients and internally there are still some unavoidable challenges. Our younger staff may not have as much space at home to work effectively and those with young children or with home schooling, may have a harder time committing to a predictable work pattern. At this moment, we and our clients have a degree of stability when it comes to working remotely—which underscores our human resiliency and ability to work in a dynamic state.

In a way, remote work has eased some work burdens for us. In the past, you had to find a way to physically be in the same place or be prepared to lose intimacy through a phone call. Now, the norm is to take video calls allowing us to see people’s facial expressions and respond accordingly. By doing so, you can broadly emulate what happens in most face-to-face situations, particularly if you have an existing relationship with the person and can understand their body language.

I think the biggest challenge we are facing is managing new relationships. So far, we have adapted many of our existing working relationships both internally and with clients to function virtually and many continue to thrive. However, over the next 6 to 12 months we will have new hires, new managers and managees to connect. This type of relationship building—forming trust and ultimately teaming is what will be hardest to achieve in the virtual world. When we meet in person, we spend the first few interactions getting to know each other’s personality and working style. We develop bonds and collaborate with a level of trust that will be difficult to replicate from a solely virtual starting point.

Caprino: How can leaders overcome those challenges, and helping remote employees and teams collaborate closely and thrive?

Gardner: As social creatures, humans still crave connection and friendship, even at work. Making time for virtual games or team bonding exercises is still important when remote in order to form those connections. Various studies tell us that a large proportion of an individual’s behavior is driven by their manager, so it is important to maintain those relationships.

Moving forward, depending on government guidelines, it will be important for us to come together again and invest time in our teams to the extent that it is safe. I feel that once a month or once a quarter it’s important to make time to get everyone in the same location—perhaps outside given the challenges of the pandemic, to build a baseline that is needed to continue the momentum of working remotely.

Caprino: Talk about great leaders who are tackling the tough conversations we need to have today, about issues that are at the forefront of people’s minds. What are leaders doing well and not so well, in helping people feel heard and understood?

Gardner: The hallmark of a good leader is deep listening and transparent communication. If you look at various studies that are created its often the case that only a small percentage of employees think that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. So, in regards to the pandemic, those leaders that shared information across their company, prepared offices and individuals to face the challenges ahead but then also took a step back to listen to their employees’ needs were the organizations that have adapted more quickly in these challenging times.

Now more than ever, making conversations accessible about mental health is vital. At EY, we have put a focus on investing and making sure we have the right facilities available to support people if they’re struggling with the impacts of working in this kind of environment, or if they have experienced Covid-19 first hand or through their family.

Another conversation at the forefront globally is the racial unrest and inequity we are all grappling with. Companies who addressed the issues head on and made organizational commitments to being anti-racist are faring the best. At EY, for instance, leaders in the US and globally came together to take a stance, contributing $3M to organizations fighting social injustices and $4M to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and evaluating internal talent and business processes to further advance equity across race. Organizations need to articulate clearly what they think is right and what they cannot support.

For leaders across all organizations, it is important to host listening events to hear the lived experiences and injustices colleagues have faced. Some experiences happen within the work environment and exposing those to the highest level of leadership does allow real and genuine change to develop.

Caprino: How important is it today that leaders do what is necessary to move managers out of the organization who are toxic, narcissistic, abusive or otherwise harmful to the culture?

Gardner: If a manager is not aligned with the values of an organization and is stifling the growth of their colleagues, it should be a quick decision to remove them. Increasingly, there is recognition among leaders that a candidate’s fit with organizational culture is as important as their skills and experience.

At EY, we always try to take our people through a process of education and enlightenment in order to increase awareness and understanding. We have found many missteps come through lack of knowledge or lack of self-awareness as very few people get up each morning wanting to upset fellow human beings. But, if that doesn’t work, it is important to send a message. We are a values-based organization, and inclusivity is at the heart of our organization. Effective leaders embrace diversity to challenge the status quo. Making it a comfortable, safe and equitable environment to get work done is of the utmost importance to us.

Caprino: How can leaders better identify when their own behavior and communication as a leader and manager needs to change?

Gardner: Having the self-awareness to look internally at your own behavior and communication is one of the trickiest parts of being a good leader. Something I think the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates is that most leaders really didn’t recognize—and may still not be aware of—just how unjust the society is for people of color.

By listening to colleagues of all levels in an unfiltered fashion, engaging in reverse mentoring and frankly just giving people the opportunity to share their lived experience, leaders can go on an educational journey and act as a catalyst for behavioral change.

Leaders need to be comfortable to get uncomfortable seeing their words and actions from a different perspective. A lot of leaders have very little exposure to the prejudices societally entrenched against people of color or the LGBTQ+ community. Without exposure there is a lack of understanding and a lack of self-awareness. So as a leader, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, ask questions and take feedback graciously on an ongoing basis in order to change when needed.

Caprino: What must leaders do differently today than ever before and how will that strengthen their leadership, communication and ability to inspire action towards a shared vision?

Gardner: We’ve talked a lot about empathy, but it is also about connecting with people. Leaders need to communicate to a certain extent and then be active listeners. Managers are used to being brought into conversations to offer advice and opinions but that means it can sometimes be easy to forget to listen to what people are saying and capture the sentiment of employees and even wider society.

At EY, for instance, we talk a lot about keeping humans at the center of everything we do. That means our employees, our customers, our stakeholders matter most. If you don’t understand them, what is motivating them, making them happy or sad, it is really hard to move the business forward.

In an era where uncertainty and change are the norm, it’s imperative for leaders to create a compelling story framed in the future—and you can bring employees together this way. And the future is all about transformation and being comfortable with it.

By focusing on realizing transformation from the inside out, leaders can unlock meaningful change for people, customers and other stakeholders.

Learn more about the EY transformation journey here.

To build your leadership and career strength in today’s times, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and subscribe to her LinkedIn newsletter The Finding Brave Circle.

5 Shifts That Can Help You Expand Financial Well-Being And Happiness

recent study found that happiness among Americans has dipped to its lowest point in half a century. It’s no surprise since 2020 has packed a punch for many of us. There has been upheaval and uncertainty in nearly all aspects of our lives.

But in my work as a career and leadership coach, I see every day that there are two potent ingredients to living a happier, more successful and rewarding life even amidst uncertain times, and those are expanded bravery and power. According to my research and my recent Power Gaps Survey, 98% of professional women are facing at least one of the 7 damaging power gaps that keep us from thriving at our highest level in our work. The research has shown that when we expand our bravery—which in my view is the courage to address what isn’t working and take accountability for what you can change—and when we consciously and intentionally build more internal and external power to become a true change agent for ourselves and for others—then happiness and other aspects of our well-being and success (financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.) expand as well.

To learn more about how mindset can directly impact our financial well-being and happiness, I caught up this week with Michelle Gielan. Gielan has spent the past decade researching the link between happiness and success. She is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change and was named one of the Top 10 authors on resilience by the Harvard Business Review.

Gielan began analyzing data on individual and collective happiness at the University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago, and has since worked with professionals at organizations including Google, Merck, and NASA on how to strengthen a resilient mindset in the midst of challenges. Her research shows higher levels of optimism and resilience are connected with better health and business outcomes, including greater energy, productivity, and profitability, as well as better financial health, according to recent research Gielan conducted with Frost Bank.

To learn more about how key shifts in our mindset can improve your financial well-being and happiness, I spoke with Gielan about what we can all do in the midst of continued, unprecedented uncertainty, to achieve more peace and happiness.

Here’s what Gielan shared:

Kathy Caprino: Michelle, you and I met soon after you had left your job at CBS News as the host of the CBS Morning News. During your time there, one of the biggest stories you covered was the Great Recession. Now we are seeing a similar economic downturn, which is surely contributing to our overall unhappiness. Money is on everyone’s mind. A new study you conducted can give those who are worried about finances some relief from financial stress during this time. What did you find?

Michelle Gielan: Too many of us have been bottling up our stresses about money alone. In a previous study I did in partnership with Frost Bank, we found that pessimists stress about their finances 145 more days each year—that’s almost 5 months!

This year, we conducted research to understand how we can leverage key behaviors of optimists to help people improve their financial discussions. Our study found those who talk about money (largely optimists) are twice as likely to have better financial health. We also found that while nearly all optimists (94%) talk about their finances at some point in their lives, pessimists are 3 times more likely than optimists to never discuss their finances. Pessimists think the conversations are unhelpful, and they often feel upset, dumb, ashamed, judged and guilty. That follows right along with our definition of optimism and pessimism. Optimists expect good things to happen and believe that their behavior matters, including having conversations about money.

Caprino: While the study identified roadblocks for pessimists, it also found actions of optimists that can help overcome challenges. Is that right?

Gielan: That’s absolutely right. While pessimists tend to get caught up in challenges of their current situation, optimists put one foot in front of the other and work toward their goals. For example, in the Frost study, optimists gave us a picture of their ideal conversation: short and sweet, aspirational and complete with goals, and with people we trust.

Optimists are also two and a half times less likely to monopolize a conversation, opting instead for more open-ended and inclusive conversations. Leaving room for others to share their perspective allows for productive financial conversations and approaching conversations with optimism encourages people to turn challenges into opportunities. This applies to other conversations and aspects of our personal well-being, beyond money.

Caprino: This is good to know, as money is clearly not the only stressor Americans are facing these days. Tell us about another study mentioned that found happiness at its lowest levels in 50 years. While that’s not necessarily surprising amid the pandemic, you say it points to something even more important?

Gielan: It does. The study found only 14% of Americans consider themselves “very happy,” which is less than half of what it was in 2018. Happiness being low now is to be expected, but this is not a trend that started in February. We have witnessed a steady decline in happiness for decades, even during times of financial prosperity and less political strife. I am concerned we are going to collectively keep trending in this direction, even when the pandemic is over.

Caprino: If it’s not the pandemic alone that has been the cause, in your research what have you found to be the main thieves of joy?

Gielan: The answer to that is far from simple. In our work with professionals at hundreds of organizations, we’ve found it to be a combination of a handful of reasons including negativity on social media, longer work hours , social isolation and loneliness, overscheduled kids, leaving vacation days on the table, and not enough time for meaningful social connection. I know for my own life, when I am running around too much, hurrying from one activity or project to the next, days are a blur at best.

Caprino: One thing I find very interesting is that there are many people in the midst of this pandemic (including many of my clients and course members) who indicate that they’re very or somewhat happy right now, and that can be an uncomfortable place to find oneself, especially when others are suffering. They’ve discussed how the shifts they’ve experienced because of sheltering at home and working remotely have yielded some true positives in their lives, but they’re very careful in sharing that with friends and try to be sensitive to what other people are experiencing as so many families are suffering right now. How do we hold both of those truths at the same time?

Gielan: What you’re describing is what some people have admitted to me almost like they are telling me a dirty little secret, and I totally get it. Even if life is not perfect, there have been these beautiful moments during this period of time. I’ve experienced a lot of them myself. I became a teacher to our 6-year-old son basically overnight—which was not always easy—but it brought with it all these blessings. We set up “Hogwarts Academy” to bring him the magic of the world, complete with a gratitude practice first thing in the morning.

I got to know a new dimension of my child and see the world through his eyes. It’s hard to reconcile that joy with news of suffering from hospital wards and in families around the world. When I feel that tension, I think to myself, how can I leverage this positive mindset to help others? Negative news tricks your brain into paralysis and overwhelm as you start to believe behavior doesn’t matter. Taking action reminds us we have control over the world in some ways, and we can make a difference.

Caprino: So with people struggling very hard today—to balance what’s on their plates, deal with their financial and job worries and the uncertainty of so much—when is it appropriate to start talking about happiness more openly, especially at work?

Gielan: I say right now. Leaders not having those conversations are fiscally irresponsible. My husband and fellow happiness researcher Shawn Achor and I just shared a case study in Harvard Business Review on our work with an organization that prioritizes happiness. Genesis Healthcare, alongside our partner training organization ITLN, implemented work routines that created happiness, fueled connection and encouraged positive expressivity at work. Following the implementation of these new interventions, Genesis Medical Center-Davenport achieved profitability during the first part of 2019, moving from an operating loss of $2M to a profit of $8M.

Right now I am leading a happiness challenge with 30,000 college students in AT&T’s “Extern” program. It could sound like a “cute” idea to do with students before they hit the working world, but these are the kinds of tools that will scientifically prepare them for any bumps in the road ahead.

Caprino: It’s interesting how connected optimism, happiness and control are with one another. I talk about this in my upcoming book The Most Powerful You, but can you share more about what your research has revealed about how the more we take the reins and control what we can in our lives and work—especially now when it feels like things are a bit out of control—is a key to happiness? And can you offer a few key tips to help us grab those reins on our life and work?

Gielan: Absolutely! Here are five small steps you can take starting today:

Start a conversation: In a time when much is out of our control, we can control our thoughts and actions, and they’re proven to make a difference. While a pessimist might choose to navigate challenges alone, optimists tend to strike a conversation with the people they’re most comfortable talking to. For example, 67% of optimists are most comfortable talking to people around the same age or those with about the same amount of money as them.

Seek progress, not perfection: Don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect, especially in today’s world. We’re all working toward individual goals, and the research I did with Frost shows that optimists take time to celebrate the small victories, leading up to major milestones.

Get aspirational: Optimists are more likely than pessimists to focus on setting and achieving goals. In fact, the Frost study found that when dealing with finances, 58% of optimists have conversations that are goal related and half believe going into a financial discussion with goals in mind makes them most productive. It’s important look beyond the current situation and work toward long-term aspirations.

Expect the unexpected: Optimists don’t anticipate bad things will happen, but they’re more likely to have a plan in place should the unexpected surface. Take the pandemic for instance. Optimists tend to have a rough plan in place, such as an emergency fund, that would help navigate the repercussions of an unexpected event.

Find perspective: Optimists are 2.5 times less likely to monopolize a conversation. Listening to the perspective of others allows a person to expand their mindset and learn from the success of others.

In the end, the happiest among us see the meaning in the work they do, feel connected to other people, and see potential each day to make things better—in whatever aspect of their lives. The more we exercise that control through small acts, the more we remind our brains that our behavior matters—the very definition of optimism. And the more optimism you cultivate for yourself, the more it expands.

For more information and to test your optimism, take Gielan’s scientifically validated Success Scale, and for ideas on how to improve your optimism, try the #optforoptimism challenge.

To take the reins on your career and build a happier, more rewarding one, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

One Mental Shift That Will Increase Your Courage And Resilience Today

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “The Most Powerful You”

I was speaking recently to a client who is struggling intensely with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on her life. The changes she’s been forced to make have been extremely difficult to navigate, and include needing to refocus so much of her time to help her three young children with their remote schooling and managing their time, while struggling in her chaotic, high-pressure job. This job has become unsustainable given her company’s poor leadership and lack of organization and a systematized work flow. On top of all that, she is facing the fear and trauma of trying to support her 89-year-old father who now has Covid-19 but is many states away and all alone.

In times like these, our mental capabilities and the strength we possess internally, become far more apparent. When crisis hits, and when we’re faced with deep challenges that we haven’t been trained to deal with, how well do we do?

Do we fall into a deep depression, unable to get out of bed, or are we able to face the challenges head on, with strength, positivity, and resilience? For most of us, it’s almost always somewhere in between—we might have good days when the sun is shining, things are looking up and we feel we’re able to tackle what’s in front of us. But on other days, we find ourselves slipping into despair and hopelessness.

Years ago, after leaving a very unhappy corporate life behind, I embarked on a three-year training process and Master’s degree as a marriage and family therapist, and later co-founded a therapeutic practice. When I look back on that training and experience, what I learned and how it changed my life, I’m forever grateful for all the challenges that led me to leave my corporate identity behind, and make that change, although at times it was very tough.

Of all the therapeutic concepts and strategies I learned during that time, there have been several approaches that have been true game-changers for me and now my clients. One approach that stands out as particularly helpful in fear-inducing and challenging times is the positive reframe.

The positive reframe

Simply put, the positive reframe is a way to look at the experiences and situations of your life in a realistic way that fits the facts well, while at the same time allowing yourself to see greater possibility, positivity, hope, control and expansion in what is happening and what has transpired.

The reframe shifts your “frame” of reference and helps you see your current situation differently so that you can recognize—and act on—new positive opportunities and changes that are possible. And it focuses on what you can control, not everything that is outside of your sphere of influence. Instead of doubling down only on the dark and terrible about what has transpired, and what you’ve lost, the positive reframe lets you recognize—and believe in—the potential future benefits from what has happened. And it helps you focus on what you can take action on that makes you feel less powerless.

As an example, another client of mine who recently reached out for career change help, shared that she has been mistreated and disrespected in her job for many years, but the pace of the job was such that she felt that she could never carve out the time to do the work of getting a better job or changing her career.

Despite the challenges that this new remote work situation has created for her, and a heap more mistreatment she’s getting, she finds that working from home and reducing her daily commute by 2 hours has given her a brand new perspective on life. She has more positive energy and critical breathing room (and additional control over her own time and how she manages that time) so she can finally engage in the necessary steps to pivot her career to leverage her talents to do more meaningful work with people she respects. She has reframed her thinking about this difficult time, and embraced the potential positive—the concept that she can finally now take the reins on her career, and commit to doing something proactive to change her situation.

Other examples of positive reframes that can change your perspective and trajectory:

Pervasive negative thought: My teen son had such a great summer trip planned that he was so looking forward to. Now it’s all canceled and he is completely derailed and lost.

Positive Reframe: Even though Dan’s summer plans have had to be canceled, perhaps there’s a summer internship that he can do online that would move him forward in an exciting way, that might even be better for him. I’m going to help him with the process of exploring that.

Pervasive negative thought: I hate my job but with the pandemic there’s no way I can look for a new job now. I’m too scared about losing my paycheck.

Positive Reframe: Even though the pandemic has changed the face of employment for many people, others ARE landing great new jobs, and are expanding their networks online and finding great mentors and sponsors that can help them find terrific new roles, now or in the future. I’m going to start doing that today.

Pervasive negative thought: I feel so isolated and alone right now. I hate this! I miss my friends and my days just go on endlessly.

Positive Reframe: While I can’t physically see my friends as I used to, or do the social activities like singing or going to the gym together that made me so happy, there have to be things I can do that would fill my day with more meaning and joy. Where can I help out, connect with others, and offer my talents and abilities to people who are in need? What new ways can I be of help?

Pervasive negative thought: I’ve interviewed for 10 jobs and I don’t move forward to the next round. I’m obviously a loser—I don’t have anything going for me.

Positive Reframe: Do I actually, really, want these jobs? Or am I pursuing them only because I think I have to? Maybe I’m not getting these because in my heart I don’t want to do this kind of work anymore and it would be more wasted time in my life if I got them? If that were true, what type of work do I really want to pursue at this stage in my life? Let me do some work now to figure that out.

The key steps to achieving and acting on the positive reframe are:

Gain greater awareness of what exactly is stressing and upsetting you most now and where you feel helpless (the “cost” of this situation)

Understand and recognize what you feel you’ve lost and why you are so upset. What is causing you the most distress? And how is this situation making you feel “less than” or unable to cope? How is it making you feel that you don’t have what it takes to thrive? What have you lost?

Be open to seeing the potential “benefits” of the situation

OK, so you’re clear on the negatives of this situation. What are the potential benefits? Perhaps you’ve been longing to write that memoir or start your blog or podcast. Could now be the perfect time? Perhaps your child lost her chance to go away to summer camp— could it be possible that something better is waiting in the wings for her? Perhaps those jobs in marketing that you’ve interviewed for and didn’t get are exactly the jobs you don’t want and wouldn’t thrive in. What roles call to you now to pursue?

Focus on what you can control

Viktor Frankl, in his groundbreaking book Man’s Search for Meaning, shared this:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

When we feel helpless, out of control and hopeless, we falter, and life because extremely hard to endure. But when we shift our attitude and consciously “choose our own way,” mustering the bravery and power to take the reins and say, “There IS something I can do here, to better my situation, to improve my attitude,” our lives transform.

Decide how you want to feel, then do the things that generate those feelings

My daughter recently shared with me the powerful Isolation Journals—a daily creativity project to help us make sense of challenging times, from Suleika Jaouad (watch her amazing TED talk What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living, for powerful inspiration). One of the journal exercises — Day 51 — was to write a “To Feel” list rather than a “To Do” list. The idea is to name your deepest yearnings and aspirations. Then take time with each of them, “teasing out the nuances of what each contains with depth and specificity…” Then review your list again.

Jaouad asks:

“Are your priorities, habits, and rituals serving these feelings? What steps can you take to honor the items on your “to-feel” list.”

What do you want to feel in your life, and how can you reframe the way you are perceiving your challenges so you can recognize the potential positive and do something different that uplifts and enlivens you? What can you do today to take the control back on your life, and help yourself feel better, stronger and more powerful, even in the face of what you’ve lost?

For hands-on help to build a happier and more rewarding career, work with Kathy in her Amazing Career Project course, and read her new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying And How To Live Differently To Avoid Them

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Finding Brave To Build Your Happiest and Best Life and Career”

Each year for my work, I review and study a large amount of material—from blog posts and articles, to research studies, books, papers, TEDx talks and more. Much of it shares important information aimed to help people overcome their challenges and live a happier, more fulfilling life. And a good deal is beneficial for us. But every once in awhile, I come across something that’s even more impactful and life-changing for me than all the rest, that makes me stop in my tracks and think (and rethink) very hard about my own life and how I’m operating in the world, and what I truly want. And even more rarely, I’m moved to actually change how I’m living.

Bronnie Ware’s Regrets of the Dying blog post did that for me. When I first read it, I found it so simple yet so powerful and poignant. It was imbued with critical life lessons that most of us just never seem to heed or understand until it’s too late. After reading it, I was compelled to do some research of my own about The Top Five Regrets of Midlife Professionals, and wrote a now viral post on those regrets and what they mean for me and many of us in midlife.

Six years ago, I lived through watching my beloved and brilliant dad slowly die of cancer that had metastasized throughout his body, and it was a devastating experience for all of us. To see this vibrant man suffer from dementia and cancer and lose everything that had made him who he was in life, and to spend time in an amazing hospice facility that cared for him so beautifully, I saw firsthand what the dying feel and think as they’re nearing the end. I heard the questions he asked me over and over again (forgetting that he had just uttered them a minute before) and I saw what he was most worried about.

Ware’s post grabbed me by the collar and made me want to change some things about how I showed up in life. Her powerful book that followed, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed By the Dearly Departing became an international bestselling memoir, read by over one million people in 32 languages, with a movie in the pipeline. Ware, who lives in northern New South Wales, is also an inspirational speaker and a passionate advocate for simplicity and leaving space to breathe. Her book is a courageous, life-changing memoir inspiring you to embrace your power of choice and the sacredness of time.

I was thrilled to catch up with Ware recently on my podcast Finding Brave, and hear the lessons she personally learned from her years of working with and supporting those who are dying. These are messages that need to be heeded if we’re to live the lives we truly long for and to ensure we come to the end of our time here without painful regret.  Click the image below to listen to that Bronnie’s powerful interview:

Below are some key highlights from Bronnie’s beautiful work, messages and insights: 

Kathy Caprino: 
Bronnie, how did you find yourself compelled to write a book about the top regrets of the dying?

Bronnie Ware: I’d just finished working with dying people for 8 years and had set up a songwriting program in a women’s jail. A music magazine asked me to write an article about it, which inspired me to start a blog. As the regrets of the dying had changed my life so much it was the first thing I was called to write about. More than a million people read the article in its first year (and at least 10 million since).

Some of my patients had asked me to share their learning onward, to ensure others didn’t make the same mistakes. So when I was contacted by an agent to write a book and share more about the regrets, it was an honor to be able to tell the stories more fully. It was only as a memoir showing how the regrets of the dying transformed my own life was I able to fully articulate their power and to make them more relatable.

Most people cannot truly imagine themselves on their deathbed. So giving real life examples of how you can apply the learning now was the most powerful representation of the message I’d been bestowed.

Caprino: What are these top five regrets and how do they keep us from living a happy life?

Ware: They are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

(Read more about each of these regrets here.)

Caprino: How were these lessons transformative for you personally?

Ware: The regrets of the dying helped me understand how sacred time is. I realized that the pain of breaking through any amount of resistance would never be as heart-wrenching as lying on my deathbed with regrets. This has propelled an ever-expanding habit of courage that has shown me how we are all so much more capable than we realize. We just need the courage to get out of our own way.

The third regret of wishing I’d had the courage to express my feelings has also liberated me enormously. Silence and introversion used to be my coping mechanisms. But unexpressed feelings just eat away inside. Witnessing the pain of this regret on numerous occasions gave me the courage to become as fully honest and open as possible, which has completely changed who I am in the best ways. It has not only brought me a deeper sense of peace and pride in who I am, but has also added immense richness to the quality of relationships I now enjoy both personally and professionally.

Caprino: If you could share what you’ve seen as the one most painful and heart-wrenching regret that the dying have, what would you say it is?

Ware: Wishing you’d live a life true to yourself, not the life other people expected of you.

Whether those other people are family, peers, or society, makes no difference. The utter heartache of dying with that regret, because you didn’t bring enough courage to the choices you made, is a painful way to end your life.

Witnessing this regret on repeated occasions, in people from all walks of life, was powerful beyond measure. To grasp that you made the wrong choices (or didn’t bring enough awareness or courage to the choices you did make) and then be too ill to do anything about them, is a shockingly difficult realization to accept.

Caprino: You talk in your book about how living with harsh judgments of others and ourselves hurts us and keeps us from being happier. What instead can help our hearts and lives be happier and freer and more rewarding?

Ware: By realizing mistakes are a part of life. They are how we learn. None of us are perfect, nor are we meant to be. So the more you understand this, the more patience and compassion you develop for other people and yourself. We’re all just doing the best we can with individual gifts to contribute to the whole picture. There is no set formula for how you have to live your life.

When you stop using the successes or failures of others as a gauge, you set yourself free to live how it makes the most sense to your own heart. We are all different and the more you embrace those differences free of judgment, the more your own heart feels confident to be heard and honored. It is tempting to try and ignore it by thinking you need to know all the answers straight away. But when you find the courage to let go of living a life not true to your own heart, you naturally become kinder to others too as you recognize their own struggles.

Caprino: You also mention that, “What if we gave ourselves permissions to have courage, to feel safe to express our feelings, and to go to where our heart guides us, with vulnerability and bravery?” Can you say more about how that would transform our lives for the better?

Ware: The braver we are to be ourselves the more we permit others to do the same.

While some of our individual talents may be similar to others, our expression and delivery of those vary. We all respond differently, too. So the more real you are in your expression of self, the more chance people have of connecting with someone specific (you), rather than a standard theme or delivery of a message.

Vulnerability and so-called “failure” should be supported not discouraged. How do you know what does work if you don’t know what doesn’t? It is only through mistakes we learn. So the more we can support others to have a go, knowing they will only be encouraged not judged, the more confident they become to push through further resistance bringing them ever-closer to their own potential.

Rather than seeing people as fools for having a go and failing, we can look at them with admiration for their courage and wait with joyful anticipation to see what their next attempt will be, since it will come with the wisdom of past learning.

Caprino: In the end, what is the most compelling message you’d like to share with us, based on your work with the dying?

Ware: Life is sacred. Bring as much consciousness to the choices you make on a daily basis. Take courageous action. And know you truly are worthy of joy.

For more information, visit and Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

To learn more about how you can live and work without regret, join Kathy’s Breakthrough programs and her Amazing Career Project 16-week course. And stay tuned for Kathy’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, coming July 2020 from HarperCollins Leadership.

My Theme For 2018 Might Inspire You As Well

Part of Kathy’s series “Finding Brave To Build a Better Life”

Every year at this time, I love to identify a “theme” for the coming year – a word or phrase that represents what I want to cultivate more of in my life, work, relationships, and in the world directly around me. I’ve found that what we focus on truly expands, so focusing on an exciting and meaningful new element in my life brings it closer to me, and in greater abundance.

My theme for 2018 is “finding brave.” It’s amazing that, from the minute these two little words came into my sphere (and I thank my dear friend and author Avril McDonald for that), I’ve truly experienced more bravery, resilience, strength and hope, and I can see more clearly how I’m on the Finding Brave path.

I remember just when this term was birthed. It was in Mykonos, Greece this past September, while I was co-hosting a women’s retreat Light From the Dawn with Avril, Miisa Mink, Kaisa Peltola, and Charlotte Gillbanks. For the past year, I had been using the term “Brave Up” extensively in my work, writing, TEDx talk and other places. But in September as I was working on launching my new podcast (hope you’ll check it out on January 4th), I discovered that someone had trademarked the term.

I felt so angry and truly gutted. But there was no one to blame but myself. Even though I had been using this term for a full year and had made my mark on it, I hadn’t protected the term legally (this is something we all should learn from.) The year before, I had even published a great interview with business and branding attorney Ashley Brewer on my blog about not waiting to protect your intellectual property, but failed to take my own advice! Now I’ve learned.

I was with Avril in Greece talking about wanting to come up with a new phrase that represented my work at its core, and Avril said, “What about ‘Finding Brave’?” And it hit me right between the eyes. Yes! That’s it. As I got thinking about bravery and what we need to cultivate in order to be our true selves powerfully and transparently, I realized It’s not about “braving up” in one isolated moment, and then falling off the brave journey. It’s about Finding Brave every week, every day, every minute. [tweet_quote hashtags=”#FindingBrave” ]It’s a holistic, heart-and-soul journey that grabs you by the collar and won’t let go[/tweet_quote], and keeps fueling you to be and share more of yourself, in open, honest, and transformative ways.

In 2018, I’ll be focusing on Finding Brave even more, from what I choose to do in my business (stretching out of my comfort zone and starting new ventures and expanding my focus), in my relationships, with how I invest my time and money to ensure growth, and in seeing my own potential more powerfully.

Here are three core ways I’ll be focusing on Finding Brave in 2018 that might be of help to you in your life:

Brave Sight
While I have a good bit of confidence in myself and my work, I realize (if I’m really honest with myself) that I’ve hesitated moving in some new directions because of fear – fear of failure, fear of success and overwhelm, and even a bit of fear around how “hard” this new work will be. But my focus on Brave Sight helps me see myself in a different light – as someone who has reinvented herself numerous times throughout life, relished the process, and grew exponentially throughout it.

I’m ready to see myself as more competent, confident and ready for more. I hope you are too.

Are you ready to tap into more confidence and trust about what you’re capable of?

Brave Service

While we hear every day (and I teach and coach) that “the riches are in the niches” – meaning, you need a very tight and narrow focus to be profitable in your business – I feel that it’s also important to be of brave service in ways that might stretch you out of your tight niche. For me, for instance, that means that I can be of help to people not only with career growth strategies but also by offering them all that I’ve learned, about psychology, marketing, client development, business growth, management, writing and thought leadership. So why wouldn’t I do that?

I’m going to put a new stake in the ground in 2018 and offer more of what I’ve learned throughout my 32-year career, leveraging my corporate and marketing background, therapy training, and business development experience. I can’t wait to stretch to new domains that I hope will serve others in a brave new way.

What can you do in your work that will stretch you beyond how you see yourself today?

Brave Love

I recently divorced, and this experience has opened my eyes and my heart to so much. I’ve experienced firsthand what society views is the “right way” to live, and the negative projections other people put on you about their judgments and fears around divorce. I’ve seen too what it is to live as an independent individual outside of marriage, and how enlightening it is to begin to understand yourself more deeply in a new context of being single.

I have a great deal more compassion now for single people, and the challenges we/they face in loving and accepting themselves fully when the world pressures us to see married people as the model to aspire to (even when so many marriages are miserable and harmful to the couple and to the children, and in fact should end in divorce).

In 2018 I’m committed to expanding my experience of love, compassion and connection – with myself and with others. I’m ready to become braver in loving, and letting out into the world the most authentic, real and honest version of myself than ever before, which I hope will help others do the same.

I’ve seen that when we feel forced to hide, suppress or alter our most authentic, real selves and our most loving, positive spirits in order to be accepted or appreciated – that’s when we suffer the most.

How can you love and connect to yourself more deeply this year, and start letting out the more authentic, real version of who you are?

In 2018, I hope that “finding brave” in your life will also be a theme that will pave the way for more joy, fulfillment and meaning in your life, career and relationships.

Happy 2018 to you, with (brave) love.

For more about Finding Brave in your life, tune into my new podcast at  starting January 4th and work with me in a Finding Brave Life Mastery program.


3 Steps To Building Stronger Boundaries and a Happier Life

Part of my series “Finding Brave To Build Your Best Life”

One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned in my life emerged from my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s about boundaries – the invisible barrier that separates you from the world around you. Boundaries define who you are, and they keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Having well-developed, appropriate boundaries ensures that you’re protected from behaviors and actions that are injurious, disrespectful, or invasive. People with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to enforce them with quiet strength and authority. Healthy boundaries—well-established limits regarding what you expect and need from others and what you will and will not tolerate from others’— allow you to move forward on a fulfilling and satisfying path, both at work and at home.

Those who have insufficient boundaries, I’ve found, have almost always experienced some form of emotional manipulation or trauma in their childhoods and upbringing. Children who’ve been abused or mistreated (emotionally, sexually, physically, etc.), for instance, experience a violation of their boundaries before they had the power or ability to advocate for or protect themselves. Unless we recognize this later in life, and do the necessary work to strengthen our boundaries, we experience ongoing mistreatment from others, and a great deal of pain, confusion, and unhappiness as a result.

Of course, we can’t control other people’s actions and words, but we can control our responses to them, as well as our actions in the face of language and behavior that violate who we have defined ourselves to be in this world.

If your boundaries are weak, others can and will find a way to get under your skin and hurt you, invade your privacy, suck your energy, drain your resources, and wreak havoc on your life. Another way to say this is that without strong boundaries, we allow people to drain us parasitically, taking from us whatever we’ll allow them to.

Healthy, strong boundaries ensure that you:

• Experience and demonstrate self-respect and respect of others

• Understand and articulate effectively the limits you’ve set for yourself

• Know unequivocally when your limits have been overstepped

• Determine with surety and confidence the actions you wish to take when your boundaries have been violated

• Live and relate well with yourself and others, and build a rewarding life that matches what you value and believe in

A few basic steps are required to strengthen your boundaries, and for many people I’ve coached and spoken to, particular those who had narcissistic parents or emotionally abusive childhoods, these boundary-strengthening steps aren’t easy or at all comfortable. Boundary development requires courage, strength, patience, and time, but it’s an essential step toward a happier, more rewarding life and livelihood.

The 3 key steps developing stronger boundaries are:

#1: Gain Awareness Of What You Need More Of

First, it’s critical to understand more deeply what you need more of in your life and work, and what isn’t working today.

Ask yourself:

What do I desperately long for? Perhaps it’s more time, energy, honesty, compassion, respect, care, commitment, or power?

Begin the process of exploring when you feel thwarted, angry, resentful, drained, and undervalued. Most likely your boundaries need bolstering in these situations. Is your boss demanding that you’re available 24/7? Is your spouse refusing to do his/her part of the necessary work at home to help raise the children or manage the household responsibilities? Is your friend demanding, selfish, and critical, unable to relate to you in a caring way? Is your parent horrible to you?

Once you recognize exactly what you need that you’re not getting, and what you’re allowing that is no longer tolerable, start setting clear and unwavering limits – both out loud and to yourself – as to what you desire and need from others to feel respected and valued, and what you will no longer stand for.

Take some time this week to think about your boundaries, then write down what your rules will be going forward in terms of what you expect, need, and will allow from others. Then communicate these limits to the outside world calmly, clearly, and unemotionally. Know in your heart and mind what the consequences will be if people don’t respect your limits. And don’t be surprised when people react negatively to your asserting your boundaries. After all, they’ve become very used to being able to walk all over you.

Here’s a personal example: I remember in my 30’s, I made a decision to finally walk away from the habit of gossiping or speaking negatively of others in the chronic and mean way I had done previously.  I realized that in my life, I would habitually engage in  triangulation –  an emotional manipulation tactic where one person who is not comfortable communicating directly with another person or dealing directly about something challenging, uses a third party to relay communication to the second individual, or to intervene and get involved somehow. This allows the first person to relieve his/her own anxiety by complaining about the situation, but prevents the individual from actually taking the brave, direct action necessary to remedy the problem. Instead a triangle is formed.

To ease my own anxiety, I’d speak critically about one friend or colleague who was upsetting me, to the other. I realized finally that this was a destructive habit fed by my own insecurities, and I knew it always came back to hurt me. But since I’d been doing it for years, the people in my life were used to engaging in this with me, and I needed to change that.

The next time a friend spoke ill of another in front of me, I said, “I know I used to do this in the past, but I’m working really hard not to speak ill of my friends, or gossiping like I used it.  I’m just not comfortable speaking about Terry this way. Would you mind if we changed the subject?”

While a few people got annoyed or offended, most not only obliged my request, but also seemed to respect the decision and began to realize themselves how speaking ill of their colleagues, friends or family members just didn’t feel right or helpful. In fact, it made them feel worse.

#2: Stop Pleasing Others In Order To Feel Safe

Many hundreds of women I’ve worked with, especially those who grew up with parents who were emotionally manipulative or narcissistic, discover that as adults they are striving desperately to please others as a way to either feel safe from punishment or to fulfill their own neediness.

Accommodation to others can be healthy and caring in the right situations, but for those who’ve been culturally trained to be pleasing and self-sacrificing (as many women are today in our society), it is a self-demeaning act, and can destroy our chances for a happy, rewarding and empowered life.

Why do people overly accommodate and acquiesce to another’s wishes?

The key reason is fear. People are afraid that approval and acceptance will be withheld if they are their most authentic, truthful selves. They’re deathly afraid that others will become angry or reject them for being honest (because it actually happened to them again and again in the past).

Many people fear too that they are not worthy, smart, or strong enough to stand up for what they believe. They believe that if they stop giving in to the needs of others, they’ll cease to be loved, needed, cared for, or accepted.

We learn this acquiescence in our early lives. Many people have adopted this behavior to survive their childhoods. Narcissism is now rising in epidemic proportions, and thousands were raised in homes that did not allow expression of true thoughts and feelings. Punishment, sometimes severe, ensued when individuals asserted themselves and enforced their personal limits.

Sadly, I’ve seen as a coach and therapist that if you don’t address your habitual pattern of over-accommodation to others, it just won’t change. This damaging pattern will remain for a lifetime, forever tripping you up in your relationships, work and personal life.

#3: Get Help To Break The Cycle Of Mistreatment Or Abuse

When mistreatment is occurring, we often need outside support to help us recognize what’s really going on, and to explore what needs to be changed, and get help to take safe, appropriate action.

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind, help is available. Reach out and get the help you need. In the workplace, if you’re experiencing mistreatment, stop in your tracks, and make an evaluation of what’s transpiring. Also look at how you may be contributing to or allowing the situation. If any of the statements below are true for you, then proactive, empowered action is called for.

• I’m being harassed and made to do things that feel wrong.

• I’m being passed over or not treated fairly continually because I’m ___ (female, gay, African American, middle aged, disabled, pregnant, on leave, etc.).

• I’m being back-stabbed and maligned.

• I’ve been promised things by my supervisors that I’m not getting.

• My work is being sabotaged.

• Money is being withheld from me for no reason.

• I’m being punished or blamed for things I didn’t do.

• I’ve been forced into a position that I don’t want.

• I’m being excluded from meetings and other informational sources and networks that are essential for me to succeed at my job.

• My reviews have been great, but I’m not being rewarded as promised.

• I’ve been asked to do unethical/illegal things for the job/company.

• I have to work around the clock to get my job done, and I don’t want to.

If any of the above is happening, mistreatment possibly is occurring, and proactive measures are needed. But first, try to get in closer touch with who you are, what you will and will not accept, and understand with more clarity what you value in life and work, and what your limits are. Before you can act powerfully, you have to gain awareness of what feels wrong and right. Become very clear now—evaluate in detail anything that feels like a violation, and why, and document it.

The next critical step is to understand the role you may be playing in this negative situation.
Have you communicated clearly your discomfort or your lack of agreement with what’s been happening? Have you said “Yes” when “No” was the real answer? Or have you shared your discontent in ineffective ways (gossiping, self-sabotaging, passive aggressive actions, etc.)? How are you potentially participating in this situation, and maintaining the cycle by not standing up for your convictions or enforcing your limits? What pieces of yourself are you giving away, to be liked, accepted, or rewarded?

Once you have a clearer idea of where you stand, reach out for help to get a fresh, informed, neutral (outside) perspective. This could be a discussion with a mentor, a sponsor, a lawyer, a therapist, coach, your Human Resources representative, your city’s Social Services Department — whatever is called for in your particular situation. Once you share your situation with them, evaluate their perspective honestly and openly. If it resonates as true, then decide what action is called for. If not, seek another source of support. Find help that feels right for you, but make sure you’re open to the truth, even if it’s very difficult to hear.

In the end, strong, healthy boundaries are essential in giving us the strength and power to design our lives and careers as we want them. Knowing what’s critical to you to lead a happy life, then braving up to take the necessary action to enforce those needs and values, is the difference between building a happy, satisfying life versus struggling continually with dismal disappointment and mistreatment.

To develop stronger boundaries, work with me in a personal growth program, read my book Breakdown, Breakthrough and tune into my new podcast Finding Brave.