How Not To Make Yourself “Difficult”

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?


“I hope the rain is nice to you this weekend,” so wished a Starbucks barrista as I headed off with my latte. I thought it was an oddly worded wish – which made it rather charming. Later that afternoon I met with a client who needed more than friendly rain!

Greg (names changed) was clearly upset when we met and with little prompting he blurted out that his daughter is finishing sophomore year of high school with a less than stellar GPA. Disgusted with her report card, he texted her that she should drop out of high school and get a job at McDonald’s. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t and told me that she’s such a loser he can’t believe she’s his daughter. This man needs more help than I’m capable of offering – and I told him so.


As shocking as this story is, I realized he is not the only client I’ve had who was crippled with dark feelings.

Sally came to me because she was tired of being ‘mean’ (her word) to herself. She knew she needed help when, on her last date, she beat herself up for being a bad date because she wasn’t able to help the guy fix his problems at work. She knew it was irrational and still she felt guilty for not being able to come up with a solution to her date’s problem with his boss.

Kirk, another client, revealed that he’s unhappy in his marriage. He admitted he married his wife not out of love but out of a desire to punish himself. He’d been a playboy in his youth and had hurt the feelings of many women. Feeling contrite, he believed that his heart needed to be broken in turn and so he married a woman who treated him badly.

Tracie, who came to me a month after getting married, shared that she had wanted to write her own vows but she didn’t think she was smart enough and so she had her maid of honor write vows for her.

John hates himself for decisions he made over twenty years ago. He hates that he was naïve and impulsive. Now successful, he’s been given an opportunity to potentially reach goals he had set for himself decades ago. Yet, he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of success because of those earlier mistakes and so he’s going to walk away from this new opportunity.

Are these examples extreme? Yes and no.

I am in awe of the preposterous (though immensely clever) ways people devise to be mean and harsh and unforgiving to their own self. (And I’ll toss my name onto that heap.)

But here’s the real truth ~

  • A harsh critic prevents you from starting.
  • A harsh critic prevents you from finishing.
  • A harsh critic prevents you from learning from your mistakes.
  • A harsh critic prevents you from enjoying your success.

Harshness doesn’t create clarity and so doesn’t generate energy.

Confidence is confident because it creates clarity and so energizes.

Is there a particular way in which you’re mean to yourself? Are you tired of walking around with self-inflicted emotional paper cuts?

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Interview yourself. Identify the belief that’s sapping your energy and ability.
  2. Why do you believe that belief?
  3. What will happen if you reject that belief?
  4. If something good would happen, why would you deny yourself that goodness?
  5. If something bad would happen, why wouldn’t you be able to deal with it?
  6. Who benefits from you sabotaging your life?
  7. Choose to do the hard thing – choose to be kind to your self.

Confident people don’t make excuses for decisions that don’t unfold as planned. AND because they don’t make excuses they are capable of offering empathy to their own self

And, yes, confident people know “it” is hard to do this. They also know it is more costly than it is hard.

Recently I gave a workshop at UCLA Extension on “dealing with difficult people.” What I am ever more aware of is that sometimes – many times – the most difficult person we have to deal with is our own self!

Why? Because we can be most difficult when we are most unkind to our own self.

Thomas Edison believed that “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astonish ourselves.”

Isn’t it time YOU astonished yourself?

The 1 Thing You Need To Remember About “Doing” Confidence

Last month I was in in San Francisco to catch the performance of my friend Anthony in the riotously funny play “Speakeasy.” I was early and so popped into one of Little Italy’s many cafes. I was jotting down ideas – for this newsletter actually – when a man walked in and went over to the owner. Because I was sitting close by I could overhear their remarkable exchange. The man said, “I’ve not been back here in seven years but seven years ago I needed a cup of coffee. I was eleven cents short. You told me not to worry and you gave me the coffee. I never properly thanked you but I’ve never forgotten you.” WHOA! This guy stunned (and I think confused) the owner. He certainly blew me away.

A week later I received a surprise via LinkedIn. I had a message from Emanuela, a UCLA Extension student from nine years ago. She thanked me for helping her learn how to set boundaries and be more confident in expressing her needs and viewpoints. The class helped her change the way she does business and she wanted me to know that she hasn’t forgotten me. Once again I was blown away!

Emanuela and café guy reminded me that a confident person knows, remembers and acknowledges those who help them. There can be no confidence without gratitude.

Consider this:

Denise is hurt because Marie hasn’t thanked her for all the strategic help she’s given her at work. Denise feels taken advantage of. Marie happens to be a client of mine and she is struggling with what she wants to do with her career. At the core of that struggle are her flimsy and wavering feelings of self-confidence.

Marie wants to move into an executive position because she wants to feel valued and relevant. However, she’s unable to recognize and so is unable to give thanks for the gifts and talents she’s developed over an impressive career. Her personal lack of gratitude is crippling her confidence – and preventing her from being a gracious colleague.

Here’s the great truth – confident people know how to value others. They know how to show appreciation. In addition, they are willing to do the challenging work of shining a private light of recognition on their own particular talents and gifts.

Confident people are willing to answer the question, “What are my strengths?” Not just skills but the strengths that undergird those skills. Gratitude lets them own their powers and from the gratitude comes the confidence to put those powers to good use.

One final illustration:

Last Saturday I officiated a wedding where Nick, the groom, had big tears streaming down his face as he offered his personal vows to Teresa, his bride. I seldom see a man cry in public this way and, of course, the cliché is that a crying man is a weak man. But that wasn’t so with Nick. There was strength to his tears because they flowed with gratitude for the love of this woman. I have no doubt that Nick’s gratitude let him offer his vows from a place of confidence, loving what he knows of Teresa and trusting what he does not yet know.

A mindful “thank you” is the glue of all relationships – with self and others. Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of a confident person.

You know you are in the presence of confidence when you hear an emphatic, clear-eyed, strong-voiced “thank you!”

So the question I leave you with is –

who can you thank you this day?

This week? This month?

Avoiding The Trap Of “Catastrophic Thinking”

“I pursue nowness. That’s what I do.”

Wang Deshun,

80 year old fashion runway model


I had set my phone alarm for 7:30 AM. I woke up at 8:00 AM confused – how could I have slept through the alarm? Hmm – my phone was dead. Dead as in it wouldn’t turn on even when I plugged it to a charger. I had an immediate sense of dread – yeah, not everything is backed-up. How could I be so stupid? Easy question to answer, but. . .

I had meetings to get to and no time until later in the afternoon to pop into a Sprint or Apple store. I was both annoyed and creeped out by the arbitrariness of my phone being dead. It was so random – the phone had been fine when I went to bed.

Much of daily life is a routine. And that routine is made up of so many small things we don’t think about, but count on – like a cell phone working. Remove any one of those small things in our routine and we can be thrown off balance.

Part of what it means to be confident is not being sidetracked when something breaks our routine. Being confident means regaining balance quickly and not losing sight of the big stuff.

Now, you need to know that I’m jotting these notes down at a Starbucks. I’m early for a meeting and since I’m without my phone I have nothing to do except jot ideas down on napkins!

I’m not a happy camper.

I find myself forced to look, observe and entertain myself with my thoughts – MY thoughts. My thoughts, though, are driving me crazy:

“What if they can’t fix my phone?”

“They won’t be able to fix my phone.”

“I’ll have to get a new phone – and that will cost money.”

“I’ll lose all my photos because I never back up regularly.”

“Wait! What about my contacts?”

“Ugh! I’m such a loser!”

Ah, the Curse of Catastrophic Thinking!

What I have to remind myself is that confident people refuse to succumb to wasting time on the disastrous, “what if’s.”

No one likes disruption from routine. A confident person, though, navigates it with equanimity because they know they will find a way to handle “it” – whatever “it” may be.

The night before I was watching a movie set in the late 1980’s. There were no cell phones. The only way to communicate when out in public was by finding a phone booth. I remember phone booths quite well but looking at the movie’s characters frantically searching for a phone booth reminded me just how isolated we were back then.

And so am I in this moment at Starbucks.

I can’t check email. I can’t call anyone. In fact, I am the only customer in Starbucks not looking at a cell phone!

All I can do is mindfully prepare for my meeting with my client Niall.

I’m reminded that a confident person is grounded in self and connected to people and the world beyond any technology.

In a recent interview, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash hit musical “Hamilton,” observed:

“I think a lot about trying to meet the moment as honestly as possible, because I don’t pretend to have any answers. In fact, I have infinitely more questions than answers. That’s all I control: I can control how I meet the world.”


A few days after jotting down the above thoughts, I ran into Danielle, the daughter of a friend of mine. Danielle’s youngest child, Declan, is nine months old. About three months ago Danielle noticed he wasn’t using his left hand and was overcompensating with his right hand. She took him to the pediatrician and so began the most hellish 24 hours of her life.

Making a long story way shorter, within the span of 24 hours, Danielle and her husband Ryan were told that Declan might have a brain tumor, then were told he might have cerebral palsy until finally they were informed Declan had had a stroke while in the womb. His left-side motor skills were impacted.

While the prognosis is good for the long haul, for Danielle and Ryan it has been an indescribable rollercoaster of emotions. And yet Danielle told me that she and Ryan are stronger now than at any point in their relationship. They know they and Declan will survive – and thrive.

They refuse to obsess over the “what if’s” and instead imagine the “what can be’s.”

Like all confident people, their attention is focused on how they can meet the world – in the “now” – with determination, stick-to-it-ness and inventiveness.

What about you? Are you living in the NOW?


Are You Confident Enough To Feel Joy?

On a recent episode of “Live With Kelly!” (yes, I feel embarrassed writing those words} Jake Gyllenhal shared that being part of the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday In the Park With George,” has been a pure joy for him.


That’s a strong word.

It’s a word I don’t use often – or lightly.

Jake, though, got me thinking – what gives me joy?

Actually, I’ve been thinking about “joy” ever since I had my friends Eric and Betsy over for dinner. I hadn’t seen them in way too long and our conversation roamed all over the place. At one point, Eric shared how much joy he experiences with his work helping to preserve Yapese navigational traditions (hey, we met on an island in the South Pacific!). He then asked Betsy what gives her joy. I thought it was an odd question given how long they’ve been married. Then I realized how touching it was – he didn’t want to presume he knew her answer. She said hanging out with the grandkids gave her joy. Then he asked, “What gives you joy, JP?” Not – “What makes you happy, JP?” He wanted to know what gives me joy.

I’m not sure why I felt uncomfortable. Perhaps, because joy is something deeper and more intimate than mere happiness and I didn’t want to give him a cheap answer. Or maybe it’s because I don’t give joy much thought and I didn’t have a ready answer.

I considered for a bit and then told him that witnessing a coaching client have a break through gives me joy. It is why I do what I do – BUT I seldom think of what I do in terms of “joy.” I’m constantly pushing myself, seldom slowing down to experience anything near joy.

But now along come Jake and Eric each energetically and gratefully talking about joy.

They challenge me – is there a connection between joy and confidence?

My godson Finn is a sophomore in high school and is beginning to focus on college. Applying for college has become a process of presenting yourself through essays and interviews. While the GPA and the test scores are critical, a college is equally interested in knowing what makes a student light up – what gives them joy.

Over the years Finn’s father has guided him with iron-clad focus. He’s never taken time to learn what Finn would like to do – he’s only told him what he wants him to do. Finn has not been permitted to explore what gives him joy and I can already see how this is going to hamper his applications.

But I don’t think Finn is unique in this challenge. When is the last time you had a conversation with a friend or partner about joy? When is the last time you talked with a colleague or boss about what gives you joy in your work?!

Joy is a rare topic for conversation.

I’ve periodically taught at various colleges and as I reflect on those experiences I realize that teaching gives me joy. College, in its essence, is a time to discover where your deep joy intersects with the world’s deep needs. I’ve found joy in helping students make that discovery.

And yet, there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust “joy.” And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I think about my clients who are in the process of changing jobs or careers. Fear and anxiety nip at their heels. They crave deeper satisfaction but no one tells me that they’re looking for JOY. Few look at the intersection of joy and need.

THE question I wrestle with is this – can you be confident if you have no joy in your life?

My hunch is that wherever there is joy, there is confidence. A joyful person is a confident person (though a confident person will not be joyful in situations where the stakes are such that joy is not summoned).

Last Fall I participated in a five-day coaching leadership program led by NY Times bestselling author Peter Bregman. Peter introduced us to his protocol for executive coaching. At one point during a session, Peter shared the story of a client’s smashing break through. He was animated and then, mid-sentence, he exclaimed, “Man I fxxking love what coaching can do!” We all laughed, recognizing that we were in the presence of a man who radiated joy.

One of the program’s fellow participants, Deb, an executive coach, led us in a dance exercise. At first some of us felt self-consciously awkward, but this was part of a program she’s developed to help people align body and mind. Deb, too, felt self-conscious as she introduced the exercise – something not commonly associated with a Harvard trained professional! However, as she led us no one could resist her exuberance. Again, we were in the presence of joy.

Earlier this year my friend Anthony appeared in an off-Broadway play. A professionally trained actor, he makes his living now in the corporate world, finding various ways to nourish his passion outside “work.” I’ve seen him in many productions and as with each one, here again he emanated joy.

Each of these people was ALIVE in the doing. You could say that they each “did” joy.

There are over 87,000 titles on Amazon devoted to “joy,” which means we all want it. So why don’t we see more people embody joy? Maybe it’s because it seems safer to be a “killjoy” – to be that person who is complaining, inflexible, myopic, narcissistic, stingy or nitpicking.

I’ve struggled writing this post I’ve wanted to start over with a safer, more authoritative topic.

And maybe therein is the insight to why we don’t talk about joy – it takes confidence to be joyful. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable.

So what about you? What gives you joy?