Shame vs. Guilt

untitledA few months ago, I wrote a blog in which I likened parenting to playing a game of Whac-A-Mole.  Just when we think we’ve got one facet of our child’s life under control, up pops another mole (or challenge).  Perhaps the biggest mole throughout our parenting journey is the presence of consistent disrespect and/or irresponsible behavior on the part of our child.  Unlike the game Whac-A-Mole, where we can simply knock the mole back into its original place with one swift blow, responding to a mole as a parent can be extremely difficult. 

I read an article today about a parent who chose to address one of these moles by publicly shaming both of her children.  As I glanced at the follow up comments, I was shocked at the number of parents who expressed their full support of this action.  Click here to read it.

Although I clearly don’t agree with her parenting choice, the intent of this blog is not to condemn or criticize her.  That wouldn’t serve any of us and would only add fuel to the fire.  My goal is to highlight a critical distinction in the world of parenting, which has far reaching implications for our children.  It’s the difference between shame and guilt.

You see, each time we discipline our child it’s easy to overlook the fact that our chosen form of discipline can have a lasting impact on his/her psyche.  As parents, we sometimes resort to quick-fix, punitive measures because they tend to fix a behavior almost immediately.  Unfortunately, this fix is short lived and often serves as a band-aid with regard to future behaviors.  The end result is a child who’s ill-equipped to deal with future challenges because of the shame they carry with them.     

Below are three key differences between shame and guilt. 

Shame implies “I am wrong.”  Guilt implies “I did something wrong.” 

Imagine that I received a note from my daughter’s teacher informing me of her erratic behavior over the past few days.  Upon entering the house, still somewhat embarrassed by receiving this note, I say to my daughter, “You’re a bad girl for the choices you’ve made at school.”  Regardless of my intent, can you see how destructive these words can be?  It’s likely that my daughter would immediately feel shame and perhaps apply this statement to every facet of her life.  In other words, her internal dialogue would constantly repeat the words, “I’m a bad girl.”   

An alternative response to the identical circumstance would be, “You made a mistake at school and I’d like to talk about it.”  This statement clearly implies that she’s done something wrong, yet it leaves room for ownership and learning.     

Shame is internalized and shapes our sense of who we are.  Guilt is often short term and doesn’t define us. 

I’ve had the great fortune of participating in various personal development workshops over the years.  A common practice in each of these workshops is to introspectively look at our past and discern whether or not certain events may have shaped who we are today.  On several occasions, I’ve heard grown men and women describing a specific event in which a parent, teacher, or coach said something in a critical way, which literally shaped the way they saw themselves.  This is a testament to the long lasting nature of shame. 

Shame is synonymous with pain and suffering.  Guilt is associated with accountability.

In the example I mentioned earlier, my first response (You’re a bad girl) is clearly a way for me to divert the pain I may be feeling.  In order for me to avoid feeling the shame of having a daughter who is acting inappropriately, I can simply pass it on to her.  Of course as parents, none of these thoughts occur to us as we’re in the midst of punishing our child.  Remember, a quick-fix approach is designed to eliminate the behavior immediately.  What’s left, however, is the pain and suffering of shame.

My second response (You made a mistake) creates an opportunity for my daughter to be accountable for her choices.  Mistakes are a part of being human and it’s normal to feel a little bit of guilt following each of them.  However, when we teach our children to own and clean up their mistakes, we are empowering them with a sense of accountability.

No one ever said this parenting journey was going to be easy, right?  If we attempt to see beyond the narrow lens of punitive discipline, we may begin to understand that each of the choices we make in response to our child’s behavior is an opportunity to equip them with tools and strategies that will serve them well in the future.

Empowerment > Punishment

An invitation

imagesAs graduation ceremonies begin to take place at high schools throughout the country, I had it on my heart to share this poem with any and all graduates.  This is a critical moment in their life journey, so I wrote this poem with the sole intent of helping them to see beyond just a diploma. 


Congratulations, graduates!  Your special day is here.  A new challenge awaits you.  Your future is near. 

As you prepare to receive that precious diploma, in the company of your family and friends, I invite you to reconsider what this coveted document really represents. 

Sometimes the word graduation implies that you’re finished, or that your education journey has come to an end.  It’s easy to rest on your laurels and fail to recognize the tremendous opportunities that are  just around the bend. 

So, when you finally move the tassel on your cap, to mark the end of your graduation, I want you to think of the document you hold in your hands as an invitation that signifies a beginning, not an end. 

An invitation to share your gifts with the larger world in which you live.  People desperately need the gifts that only you can give. 

An invitation to embark on a new kind of education, which involves learning about self.  Wherever you go, there you are.  So work on you, because the books you’ve gathered over the years will remain on the shelf. 

An invitation to follow your passion, not your bank account.  The world will inundate you with messages of material worth, but if it’s happiness and joy you’re looking for, then fueling your passion is paramount. 

An invitation to be the change you wish to see in the people around you.  Change doesn’t happen as a result of force or manipulation, it happens when you make a commitment to be the change and to live your truth.   

An invitation to honor your parents and embrace the love they’ve poured into your heart.  Leaving home is no easy task, so find comfort in knowing that it’s your parents who’ve been with you from the very start.   

An invitation to be innovative and to develop an entrepreneurial mind.  While some may pressure you into a certain career path, they don’t hold the keys to your future.  It’s yours to explore and find. 

An invitation to communicate authentically in a world dominated by text, apps, and video games, just to name a few.  Put down your phone, look into someone’s eyes, and nurture the skill of true communication.  People don’t want to see your phone.  They want to see you. 

An invitation to shine your light on a world filled with dark and dreary events.  Wherever you go, there will be darkness that surrounds you.  Choose to shine your light and positive change will commence. 

Most of you who are reading this, I will never have a chance to meet.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that I believe in you and your potential accomplishments and great feats.

Hold that diploma tight and cherish it for all the days.  Although it symbolizes your graduation, let it also be an invitation to the world you’re about to enter and the lives you’re about to change in countless ways. 

I believe in you!


Mike Sissel (1990 high school graduate)  



Your value never changes.

10314029_10203621224999265_1298266057471554029_nAs young kids, my brothers and I were avid baseball card collectors.  It was quite common for my parents to take us to the local Dari Mart to buy a coveted pack of Topps cards for the meager price of $0.25.  For my younger brother (Tim) and me, I think the gum that came with each pack was equally important to the cards themselves. 

One day, our neighbor decided to generously donate several boxes of his old cards to the Sissel boys.  Apparently he had outgrown the card collecting phase and was ready to move on.  In an effort to maintain a certain level of fairness, my parents gave Mark, my older brother, the dubious honor of dividing the cards evenly amongst the three of us.

The distribution process was akin to the annual sorting of Halloween candy.  Mark would slowly chip away at the huge stack by methodically placing each subsequent card in one of three separate piles.  I proudly gazed at my pile as it continued to mount with each passing minute.  My mind raced as I thought of all the things I could do with these cards, not the least of which was taping them to the spokes of my bike. 

I can’t speak for Tim, but I’m fairly certain that we both viewed the cards as just that – cards.  Regardless of whose face was on them, they were all of equal value to us.  Mark, on the other hand, knew something we didn’t.  He was armed with the knowledge that each card had a different value, depending on the significance of the player.  So, while our piles consisted of cards with names that even die-hard baseball fans wouldn’t recognize, he discreetly placed the most valuable ones (i.e. Mickey Mantle) in his own pile.  Why?  Because he had a much different understanding of the word value than we did.  While he saw each card for its relative monetary worth, we saw them as just cards, each of which carried their own intrinsic worth, or value. 

Today, as I reflect on this moment, I can’t help but wonder how different our world would be if we made a collective effort to view other people in much the same way my younger brother and I looked at those cards.  Rather than drawing our attention to the name, race, statistics (accomplishments), or physical traits of others, we would value our peers for their inherent, intrinsic beauty.  Unlike a baseball card, which may rise or fall over the years in terms of monetary value, people are born with a value that is unchangeable and incomprehensible.  While numbers will continue to measure the value of material goods, a number will never be able to capture the value of a human.      

My definition of respect is to value each and every person you meet, regardless of their differences.  Unfortunately, this definition can be easily misconstrued as we sometimes place a value on others.  In other words, a certain friend may become worth more than others.  Let’s face it; in a world that is constantly feeding us with messages of material worth, it’s easy to apply the same concept to humans.

Think of the homeless man on the side of the road.  While his monetary worth may not be equivalent to yours, his intrinsic worth is identical.  You see, God created each of us in His likeness and image; therefore we are all inherently valuable.  We all have a heart with feelings and a spirit that longs for love.  He didn’t intend for us to value others according to the stuff they have or the way they look.  That’s all on the surface.  He wants us to love with no judgment, including loving ourselves. 

Simply put, nothing can change your inherent value.  So… 

The next time someone labels you, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you make a mistake, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you let your emotions get the best of you, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.

The next time you raise your voice with your child, remember that nothing can change your inherent value. 

The next time you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, remember that nothing can change your inherent value.    


P.S.  Tim and I are still negotiating with Mark to earn a fraction of his baseball card sales, should he choose to sell them.  Meanwhile, my cards are probably still attached to the spokes of my dirt bike.   

P.S.S.  I invite you to watch a video I created, which explains the essence of inherent value, using a dollar bill.  Click here to watch it. 

If not now, when?


That’s the question we’re left with when someone tragically takes their own life. 

Last week, I read a heartbreaking story about a University of Pennsylvania track athlete who seemingly had it all, yet chose to end her life at the young age of 19.      

Today, the same thing happened, although it was much closer to home.  A track star at Corona Del Sol, a high school located less than a mile from my home, took his life on campus. 


This was the first question that came to mind when I read the tragic news.  I’m certain I wasn’t the only one asking it.

It’s normal to search for answers when something like this occurs.  Unfortunately, as part of the searching process, it’s easy to get caught up in a rush to judgment.  Did his parents know that something was wrong?  Did his friends sense imminent danger?  Why wasn’t he taking medication? 

Perhaps we’ll never know the answers to these questions.  However, I believe it’s absolutely necessary that we ask another question – What can we do right now to ensure that young people will never reach a state of complete hopelessness, which may ultimately lead to suicide?

Below are three strategies that I encourage ever parent to use with their child. 

Assure your child that emotions are part of being human.  Anger, sadness, and jealousy are not bad emotions; they are simply energy in motion.  We must empower them to use the energy in a meaningful way.  Whatever is repressed gets expressed. 

Acknowledge any emotion your child may be feeling.  As parents, it’s easy to dismiss what our kids say and perhaps label it as unnecessary whining or complaining.  However, the deepest need of the human heart, regardless of age, is to be understood.  When we acknowledge their emotions, we are seeking to understand.  The ultimate outcome is a foundation of trust. 

Tell your child you love them.  I know it sounds clichéd, but it’s easy to overlook these powerful words.  Don’t just say it once out of obligation; say it all of the time out of commitment. 

My heart aches for the family of the young man who took his life today.  I pray that we use this moment as an opportunity to educate, empower and encourage our youth. 

Let’s not wait for tragedies to occur so that we can address topics like emotions and unconditional love. 

If not now, when?

Dear 5th grader,

photoTeaching is one of the few professions that have a definitive start and stop each year.  The start is typically in August or September and the stop occurs in May or June.  The summer months afford teachers an opportunity to prepare for the next transition, whether it’s teaching the same grade level or maybe even moving into an administrative role.  Nonetheless, the transition from one school year to the next is often full of optimism and hope as teachers return with renewed minds. 

For students, the start and stop nature of school means one thing – summer vacation.  A chance to hang out with friends, sleep in, or go on frequent family trips are just a few of the countless perks of summer.  Unlike teachers, students don’t spend a lot of time during the summer transition preparing their minds for the upcoming school year.  However, as the start of another school year draws near, there’s a certain level of mental preparation taking place and it’s often ripe with emotions like worry or fear. 

While some student transitions can be more stressful than others, I believe that the single most important transition a student will ever make is the move from elementary school to middle school (or junior high).  I often refer to the middle school experience as the formative years; a time when their brains and bodies are experiencing consistent change.  In addition to the awkward physical changes that come with puberty, there are certain parts of the brain (i.e. prefrontal cortex) that are incurring significant growth as well. 

Prior to speaking to a group of fifth grade students today, I had it on my heart to equip them, as best I could, for this monumental transition.  Below are the four things I shared with them, which are written in an open letter format to all fifth graders. 

Dear Spectacular Student,

You are about to embark on a journey that is unlike any other you’ve experienced.  I’m guessing you’ve heard a lot of stories about what to expect: more homework, bigger kids, and difficult teachers.  While there may be some truth to these, each of them is clearly out of your control.  However, the one thing that you’ll always have the power to control is yourself. 

As you leave elementary school and prepare for this new journey, I invite you to consider the following thoughts.  I’m confident that if you allow these thoughts to resonate in your heart, your middle school experience will be much more enjoyable.    

Know who you are.  Identify a set of core values which will help you honor who you are.

I’m not talking about knowing your name.  Of course you know what it is; at least I hope so.  What I’m referring to is your character.  You see, middle school is a time when your peers will try to tell you (directly or indirectly) who you are.  It’s called peer pressure.  For example, if you’re unaware of what you value, then you’ll most likely go with the flow, which as you know always moves in a downward direction.  On the other hand, if you have established who you are with core values such as loyalty and honesty, you’ll remain strong in the face of peer pressure.  When you see other people gossiping or telling lies, you can simply say to yourself, “That’s not who I am.” 

Your ripple matters.

Regardless of what you look like, the number of friends you have, or the grades on your report card, there is one thing that will always remain constant – YOU MATTER.  While some students may place a tremendous value on popularity or fashion, I encourage you to focus on the choices you’re making.  You see, everything you say or do will have an invisible ripple effect on the people around you.  Simply put, you have the potential to influence hundreds of lives without even saying a word.  That’s true power. 

Your mistakes will shape you. 

Guess what?  You’re going to make mistakes.  You’re human.  At times, you may feel like there is a certain amount of pressure to be perfect.  The fact is that no one is perfect.  While I’m not encouraging you to intentionally make mistakes, I want you to recognize the fact that mistakes are part of the learning process.  The key to being a successful student is not about avoiding mistakes, but rather your ability to own them and learn from each mistake you make.  Only when you admit your mistakes can you begin the process of learning from them.  Thomas Edison made over 1,000 mistakes when he invented the light bulb.  Each time he made a mistake, he saw it as a stepping stone toward success. 

Success = IQ (school smarts) + EQ (self smarts)

There will always be other students who will want to show off their report card as a way of professing their intelligence.  While you’re grades (school smarts) are important, I also want you to spend some time working on yourself (self smarts).  Always be aware of your thoughts and emotions, and consistently ask the question…“Is my current way of thinking helping or hurting me?”  You are the driver of your life and are always just one thought away from a new emotion.  You will certainly have moments of anger or sadness; we all do.  However, when you learn to change the way you think, these emotions won’t hijack you and cause you to make choices that you end up regretting.  You are in charge, not your emotions.

I believe in you.


Mike Sissel – Former 5th grader

P.S.  If this letter speaks to you, I invite you to share it with other students.

Dwell in possibility

untitledEach week, I post a video on my Facebook page as part of what I refer to as A Quote With a Call.  My goal is to share a simple quote, yet provide a tangible call to action that will transform the words from head to heart.

This week’s quote was from Emily Dickinson, who said, “Dwell in possibility.”  Click here to watch it.

On a cerebral level, it’s easy to comprehend the nature of these words.  It makes sense to focus our thoughts on what’s possible.  Unfortunately, what prevents these words from resonating in our hearts is all of the messages we’ve received (direct or indirect) regarding what isn’t possible.  These messages eventually become beliefs, and it’s these beliefs that have us dwell in impossibility.

I’d like to share a blog I wrote in 2013, which speaks directly to the idea of possibility thinking.  You see, in order for us to see what’s possible, we have to unlearn some of the things we’ve learned.  Read for yourself.


What if I told you that a fundamental component of our success is the ability to “unlearn” many of the things that we’ve already learned?  I know.  I know.  You’d probably say I was crazy, right?  Let me explain.

Most of you are probably familiar with the work of Michaelangelo, considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of all time.  Each year millions of tourists flock to the Italian city of Florence to see Michaelangelo’s greatest masterpiece, the Statue of David.  Upon its completion in 1504, this 17 ft. tall statue, with its incredible precision and overall beauty, generated an immediate buzz amongst the townspeople.  Many were left wondering how Michaelangelo was able to create a sculpture of this magnitude, and with so much detail, out of what was once a huge slab of marble.  When asked this question, Michaelangelo would smile and humbly reply by saying, “Actually, it was quite simple.  I didn’t create David, you see.  David already existed concealed within the stone.  All I had to do was chip away at what wasn’t David.”  His response serves as a perfect metaphor for the process of “unlearning” that I mentioned earlier.

When I look into the eyes of my seventeen-month old daughter, I see a world of infinite possibility and an unbridled curiosity for the world around her.  You see, there is no such thing as doubt, suffering, guilt, or any other limiting beliefs that exist in her mind.  This is certainly evident in the countless attempts she has made to climb over our protective gate, still exhibiting that “I can do this” smile that is a fixture of her being.  The fact of the matter is that she hasn’t “learned” the concept of doubt yet and therefore can’t even comprehend “not” being able to do something.

Let’s fast forward 10-15 years to the age of most of the students I work with as a leadership coach.  Why is it that many of these students exhibit behaviors that are consistent with low self-esteem?  Why don’t they possess that same resiliency and absolute belief that my daughter now has?  The answer is simple.  Throughout their childhood, they were educated about their limitations.  Whether it’s a television show that sends a message of inferiority or a friend telling them that they won’t amount to anything, these messages serve as “learning” experiences that generate limiting beliefs such as “I can’t do anything right.”  While there is clearly no truth in this statement for any human being, we begin to accept it as the truth and it ultimately shapes our choices.

Now let’s apply the metaphor in the story of Michaelangelo’s response to the creation of David.  It’s clear that the finished product was a thing of absolute beauty and brilliance.  However, let me remind you that Michaelangelo referred to this magnificent sculpture as something that already existed concealed in the stone.  His job was to chip away at everything that wasn’t David.  Just as Michaelangelo was able to chip away at the various layers of marble that represented who David wasn’t, we too can chip away, or unlearn, the various layers that prevent us from achieving our true potential.  We are NOT doubt, fear, guilt, discouragement, or suffering.  These all originated in the mind as a response to outside stimulus; we learned them.  The “unlearning” process begins with a commitment to self-discovery and willingness to change a set of beliefs that quite honestly have been running on auto-pilot for years.

The hidden difference

imagesOne of the greatest joys of being a classroom teacher is the opportunity to connect with former students, via social media, email, or in person.  I’m always amazed at the things they remember me saying.  Many of their crystal clear memories are somewhat fuzzy in my aging brain, but they are special nonetheless.  At the end of our conversations, it’s common to hear these words – “You really made a difference for me.”

Although it’s humbling to receive praise, it’s the hidden difference that teachers make in their student’s lives which often goes unnoticed, or unexpressed.  I use the word hidden because unlike words of affirmation which are clearly spoken, the hidden difference may forever remain buried in the heart of the student.

I’m certain that every teacher has had a particular student (or students) who demonstrated behaviors that required extra care or attention.  For me, that student was Joseph (not his real name).  Of all the kids I had in my 10 years of teaching, Joseph was the most challenging and rewarding, all at the same time.  He was constantly trying to push my buttons and always seeking attention in various ways, many of which were disruptive to the class.  Joseph wasn’t the type that would ever share words of affirmation, so when he moved prior to the end of the school year, I was left with the question that I’m sure resonates in every teacher’s mind – “Did I really make a difference for him?”

When I walk into classrooms today and witness the emotional exhaustion on teacher’s faces, perhaps because of students like Joseph, I can’t help but wonder, “Do they really know what a difference they are making?”

Below is a poem I wrote shortly after Joseph left my classroom almost 8 years ago.  It speaks to the notion of the hidden difference. 

Another school year is coming to an end.  The stress I feel now will soon have time to mend.

I can’t help but reflect on the memories that are now a part of my collective past.  Each of them brings with it vivid imagery that is sure to last.

It seems that every year is highlighted by a single life event.  For me, the birth of my daughter fills the pages of this year’s story and the joyous time I spent.

So many things have changed since beautiful Emerson blessed us with her embrace.  Each time I hold her in my arms, it’s impossible not to feel the tremendous power of God’s grace.

One change I hadn’t quite expected was the relationship I would now have with my class.  For when I returned from my leave I saw them from the eyes of a father, something I had never experienced in the past.

I remember the struggles of a particular student in my class, who I challenged daily to make the right choice.  Unfortunately, he was without a father and felt as if he had no real voice.

I think of my daughter and the tremendous love I shower her with every day.  How could this student survive without this same love from his father?  I was determined to find a way. 

So I set out to change his reality by being the father that was absent from his life.  What a daunting challenge it was, like cutting cheese with a dull knife.

That student has since left our class and perhaps I’ll never see him again.  For if I do, I will celebrate his growth as a person and reflect on what was then.

I find comfort in knowing that I will never stop loving my daughter and always keep her in my sight.  With regard to this student, it pains me as his teacher to wonder what could have been or just what might.

I may never know the difference I made in his life, but I find solace in knowing that I cared deeply from the start.  Every teacher leaves a special gift with their students, which will forever remain embedded in their hearts.

For every teacher who doubts whether or not they make a difference for their students, let me be the first to say, you absolutely do.  I invite you ponder the hidden difference you’ve made and to be at peace with the reality that you may never know for sure what exactly that difference was.  Unlike the standardized testing culture you work in, which requires that you collect evidence in order to prove academic gains, the difference you’ve made in their hearts requires no evidence.  Heart change can’t be quantified with numbers or percentages.      

You don’t need to know the difference you made in order to confirm that you made a difference.

Thank you for the wonderful work you do in shaping young minds and hearts.       

Keep Smiling

photo 1 (2)“Folks, we’re going to pull back into the terminal so that maintenance can check out what appears to be a malfunction on the plane.”

Exhausted from a long weekend and anxious to return to Phoenix to hug and kiss my girls, these weren’t exactly the words I wanted to hear.  Nonetheless, I remained somewhat optimistic and closed my eyes for a brief power nap prior to departure.

“Folks, maintenance still hasn’t arrived, so we’re going to ask everyone to de-board the plane and we’ll notify you of any further instructions once you’re in the terminal.”

By now, all internal signs indicated that I was walking into a giant pity party.  My initial thoughts of optimism were replaced by powerless thinking.  The kind of thinking that almost always lead me to my default, introverted space.

“Why does this have to happen to me?”

“Why can’t they just bring in another plane?”

“This can’t be happening.  I’ve got stuff to do.”

If my thoughts were public domain, I may have been arrested for excessive complaining and whisked away by the Whambulance.  However, as I took my seat in the terminal, I was reminded of the words I had shared with a group of 7-11 year-olds just two days prior in one of my youth leadership workshops.

You can’t control your circumstances, but you can always choose the lens through which you view them.

At that moment, I decided to choose my curious/creative lens and gave up trying to control the plane, the pilot, the mechanic, or any other circumstance that was beyond my control.  Almost immediately, I felt a sense of tremendous peace and contentment.  Knowing full well that God was ultimately in control, I began to observe (not judge) my surroundings.

Minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a familiar face, Mrs. Jean Riley, the wife of legendary Oregon State baseball coach, Jack Riley.  In order to appreciate this, you need to know that I grew up attending Beaver baseball games with my family, always admiring the intensity and focus of Coach Riley.

Had I chosen to accept an invitation to my own pity party, my face would still be buried in my phone, looking for any extrinsic opportunity to run away from reality.  Instead, I looked inward and let my curiosity guide me.

I introduced myself to Mrs. Riley, unsure of where our conversation would go.  What followed was a three hour dialogue which is difficult for me to put into words.  There were tears when she talked about the love she has for her grandkids.  There was laughter when she recounted a few of the endless stories that only a wife of a long-time baseball coach can portray.  There was determination when we talked about the work I do with children.  Throughout it all, one thing remained constant; our communication was authentic.  We were sharing from our hearts, not our heads.

As the speakers blared in the background, occasionally notifying us of any updates regarding our delay, we chose to stay upbeat and positive, not letting the circumstances control our mood.  After all, it was beyond our control.

“Folks, unfortunately, this flight will not be leaving tonight.  We are rescheduling the flight for tomorrow morning and will be handing out hotel vouchers for anyone who needs accommodations for the evening.”

By now, the pity party invitation was a distant memory and nothing was going to stop us from maintaining our positive attitudes.

As I walked downstairs with my precious new friend to obtain our hotel vouchers, I couldn’t help but notice the contagious smile on her face.  Even though we’d only known each other for a few short hours, it was as if we had been friends forever.  Our flight may have been cancelled, but our newfound friendship was alive and well.

Just as we were about to receive our vouchers, a man near us, who was clearly frustrated at the series of events, began to extend an invitation to his own pity party.  It was clear that he was hoping we’d join him in commiseration.  However, in a moment of pure beauty, Mrs. Riley looked at me and said, “Keep smiling.”

Minutes later we took the above smelfie (selfie with a  smile).

Thank you Mrs. Riley for reminding me of the power of a smile.

P.S.  As I type this addendum to my blog, I’m on a plane, finally headed home to see my girls.  Scrolling through the many pictures on my iPhone to pass the time, I’m reminded of another beautiful person in my life who possesses a similar, contagious smile, my Grandma Mimi.

I believe with all of my heart that God is love.  Furthermore, I believe that He communicates with us in mysterious ways.  I’m beginning to wonder if each time I see someone smile, it’s God’s way of saying, “I love you.”



All I Really Need to Know About Emotional Intelligence I Learned in Kindergarten.

11020266_10206328754245804_1015717233852755520_nWhen I started my leadership business six years ago, my intent was to work primarily with pre-teens and teens.  Having taught fourth and fifth grade for ten years, I recognized a tremendous need for this age group with regard to social and emotional development.  In my opinion, the transition from elementary school to middle school is one of the most challenging stages of adolescence, thus my push to reach this demographic. 

Last Spring, I was approached by the dynamic duo of Julie Fischer and Michelle Willis at Magical Journey Learning Center, a Pre-K and Kindergarten school in Phoenix.  They were interested in contracting my services to teach emotional intelligence to 5-6 year-olds.  While I was certainly humbled by the fact that they believed in my program, a number of questions occupied my mind as I considered working with this age group.

Will they really get it? 

Can I teach these deep, cerebral concepts to 5 and 6 year-olds? 

Will I be able to explain emotional intelligence to someone that is just beginning to understand what emotions even are? 

Despite my initial apprehension, I accepted the challenge and the answers to the above questions have been a resounding yes.  What I’ve realized is that while the core content I teach remains the same, the context of their life is obviously much different than a pre-teen or teen.  Therefore, my job is to teach these concepts using language and metaphors that resonate in their developing minds. 

Yesterday, when I walked into the school, I was greeted by a list of 10 things the children have learned as a result of my lessons, in kid language of course (see picture). 

I was amazed at the comprehensive nature of the principles they identified.  These are the exact principles I teach to adults.  The only thing that changes is the language and the context to which we apply them to.    

Therefore, I present to you All I Really Need to Know About Emotional Intelligence I Learned in Kindergarten.

#1 – The Ripple Effect

Regardless of my age, everything I say or do has an invisible ripple effect on the people around me.  I don’t need to be a part of a certain group or look a certain way to make a difference.  Simply put, I MATTER.

#2 – Roots from the tree

While society places a major emphasis on the appearance of the tree (image), it’s the roots of the tree (character) that matter in the end.  When I focus on cultivating my roots, my tree will grow exactly as planned. 

#3 – Driver / Back Seat

Each day I have a choice.  A choice to be a driver or passenger in my own life.  When I choose to drive, I am in control of my thoughts, feelings, and actions.  When I assume the back seat I become a passenger and other people are now in charge of how I think, feel, and act. 

#4 – Trampoline

Everyone is going to have bad days.  Everyone is going to experience emotions such as anger and sadness, which move us below the line.  However, I have a choice in terms of how long I am going to stay there.  My trampolines allow me to move above the line.  Whether it’s a peaceful walk or reading a good book, I get to choose. 

#5 – Tattle Tongue

I am not in charge of other people.  Unless someone is in physical or emotional danger, I seek to be a problem solver, not a tattle teller.  While the urge to tattle will always be there, I know it only perpetuates the problem.

#6 – Volcano Mouth

My words are powerful.  There will be times when the words that resonate in my mind are hurtful or condescending.  Rather than letting the volcano explode, I can choose to manage it with deep breathing.

#7 – Bucket fillers and dippers

Everyone walks around carrying an invisible bucket, which serves as a symbol of our self-esteem.  All day long, we are either filling buckets or dipping from buckets as a result of the things we say or do.  I want to be a bucket filler, not a bucket dipper. 

#8 – You get to choose

My attitude is contagious.  Every new day is an opportunity for me to choose my attitude.  If I choose to be negative, I will spread my negative germs.  If I choose to be positive, I will spread my positive germs. 

#9 – Good Wolf / Bad Wolf

Each one of us is fighting an internal battle.  It’s a battle between the good wolf (positive) and the bad wolf (negative).  Which one wins?  Whichever one I feed the most. 

#10 – Fountain / Drain

When I choose to feed the good wolf, I become a fountain of joy, love, and hope.  When I choose to feed the bad wolf, I drain the energy of the people around me. 

Imagine what this world would look like if each of us, regardless of age, attempted to live these principles. 

My mission is to be a spark that ignites positive change in the lives of others.  Will you join me?  

If you’d like to learn more about any of my services, I invite you contact me at   

What disempowering beliefs have you downloaded?

imagesOur beliefs influence our thinking.  Our thinking influences our feelings.  Our feelings influence our actions or behaviors.

Simply put, everything we say or do is rooted in what we believe, about ourselves and the world around us.  Therefore, in order to create lasting change, we must practice the skill of self-awareness and assess the effectiveness of our belief systems.  

Where do our beliefs come from?  While there isn’t a single answer to this question, I want to highlight one source which can have a devastating effect on the choices we make.  I refer to it as OPO’s (Other People’s Opinions).

From the time you were a child, you’ve received, directly or indirectly, countless opinions of others.   These opinions fall into two distinct categories: disempowering or empowering.   Whether it was a friend in elementary school who mocked you for fumbling the ball at recess (disempowering) or a teacher who professed her complete confidence in your ability to pass a Math test (empowering), each of these opinions has the potential to shape your beliefs.

Here’s how it works.  Imagine an OPO as a piece of computer software that can be downloaded into your mind.  If it’s downloaded, it changes your operating system (beliefs).  If you choose not to download it, your operating system remains the same.  Herein lies the power of self-awareness. 

Let me give you an example.

Joe is a fourth grade student whose self-confidence is fairly stable.  One day on the playground he is in the midst of a highly competitive football game with his classmates.  With a chance to win the game just as the bell rings, Joe lets a perfect pass slip through his hands.  While some of his teammates immediately console him, he hears a voice in the distance say, “Joe, you never do anything right.”  When he looks to see who uttered these words, he notices that it’s his friend Kyle, whom he was very close with.  Joe walks back to the classroom, his head held low and his mind racing with negativity.  Over the next several days, Joe refrains from playing football as his internal dialogue continues to replay the words, “You never do anything right.”

It’s clear that Joe downloaded the disempowering OPO software that his friend Kyle had offered him.  Without proper self-awareness and the ability to choose whether or not he would accept these words as the truth, Joe’s belief system was altered and his self-confidence was diminished. 

Just as you can uninstall computer software programs on your computer, so too can you uninstall disempowering beliefs that are the result of OPO’s.  Let’s face it; each of us has programs that we’ve downloaded that aren’t serving us well.  For me, I spent years holding on to the belief that “I’m not good enough” and it kept me safely in my comfort zone for many years.  Only when I was able to uninstall this program and replace it with a more empowering belief did I start to realize more freedom and joy in my life. 

Here are some real life examples of OPO’s that could have greatly altered various lives.  However, because these individuals chose not the download the disempowering beliefs, the rest is history.

“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”

OPO of Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the audion tube and father of radio, on Feb. 25, 1967.

“We don’t like their sound.  Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

OPO of Decca Records rejecting the Beatles in 1962.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

OPO of Charles H. Duell, US Commisioner of Patents, in 1899.

“You lack imagination and have no original ideas.”

OPO of a newspaper editor informing Walt Disney that he was fired from the newspaper.  Date unknown. 

I invite you to consider the beliefs you’re holding onto that are a result of what someone else has told you.  Remember, you’re beliefs influence your thinking.  Your thinking influences your feelings.  Your feelings influence your behavior.

If you’d like to learn more about the process of self-awareness, I invite you to watch a webinar I presented last week as part of Vitality-EQ Week, sponsored by Six Seconds.  Click here to watch.