Category: Self-Mastery

Things our dogs taught me: options and goals

Baxter and Samson are inseparable.

We have 3 dogs, meaning the canines outnumber the humans in our household. We adopted them from our local dog shelter in 2009 and 2010. They’re roughly the same age and have sorted out among themselves the hierarchy of the pack. For the most part, it’s a peaceable kingdom.

It takes only one dog’s bark at something for the other two to join in. At times, it’s beneficial, like when someone enters the front gate. At other times, it’s a problem, like when our insecure dog spies other canines while I’m walking them. That’s where the value of options has shown itself.

The importance of options

I generally keep our morning walk short in the summer because I want to get them and me home before the pavement heats up. And I have a route that I typically follow because it keeps the dogs in a consistent routine and me on schedule to start my day no later than 8:30.
I’ve learned that the best way to keep our insecure dog in a happy state is to constantly scan the area for other dogs and be ready to take any one of several alternate routes home so he can remain calm. I don’t like changing paths on short notice because it sometimes means more walking time or changing paths again and again to return the pack home in the same happy state they were in when we left. But I find it’s worth the extra effort because it also keeps me in a calm, happy state if I’m not wrangling three excited dogs before I’ve had a sip of coffee.

The value of options

Lola snuggled in her bed.

I love learning about new goals and new ideas they want to realize. I ask how we’re going to get there to hear what they have in mind for our path forward. When I hear very detailed and thorough responses, I nod and get excited with them. What I keep to myself is that this very detailed path will likely need an alternate route. Or two, or three.

To use a travel metaphor, I consider myself my clients’ navigator. I hear where they want to go and what route they want to take, and I immediately look at our journey from a very high perspective to see what obstacles, road construction, traffic, or weather might have an impact on our travel. I begin to identify alternate routes for us to consider in the event of the unexpected, which I expect to occur.

Options don’t mean failure

Knowing there likely will be changes to our route doesn’t bother me, but it sometimes troubles a client. Our natural, human response to difficulty is negative talk about ourselves, others, or situations that helps us soothe the burn of what we perceive as failure. When the difficult things occur, I am the calm voice to counter the destructive dialogue going on in my client’s head. The magic happens when my clients see the options that get us to our destination and we resume our journey.
At the time we adopted our dogs, I didn’t know they would be excellent teachers about humans. What I knew then was that we wanted to have the unbridled happiness of a dog in our home, and we have it, times 3. They’ve also allowed us to learn something of great value: alternate routes lead us to the same place as the planned routes do.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Gone Fishin’: Wisdom from my Grandfather

My grandparents showing off my grandfather’s fishing haul.

Summer reminds me of my grandfather because it was his favorite time to go fishing. He liked to wake up early so we could be on the lake by sunrise and home before the relentless Texas heat bore down on us. Our fishing trips included lots of conversation, which is probably better described as me talking and my grandfather listening. More importantly, they gave him a chance to impart his wisdom to me.

My grandfather was always interested to hear what I had to say, no matter what it was. I remember feeling like he truly listened to me because he could remember details about the conversations long after they were over. And I can see now he was also giving me tools to strengthen my emotional intelligence.

I don’t know that I understood some of it as a kid, but as I got older, the richness and depth of his wisdom became more apparent to me.

Nothing is one-sided

The first nugget of wisdom I remember came when I was in junior high school. I was telling a story about something that had happened that I felt was terribly unfair. His words were simple, but they spoke volumes about his understanding of me and the world around him. “Even a thin coin has two sides,” he told me.

Later I asked him what he meant by it. He told me that every situation can be viewed through at least two perspectives – mine and the perspective of the other person or people. It hadn’t dawned on my young mind that there could be another side to the story. He was a genius!

Worry is its own reward

A few years later, I had made it through my junior year of high school and was applying to colleges. I was anxiously waiting to hear where I would spend the next four years. While I was fretting over the wait, I talked with him about some of the other things I was planning once I was enrolled in college. I was worried about making friends, fitting in – the usual pre-college jitters. “Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow,” he suggested.

He knew I tended to get ahead of myself and was able to use a simple idea to get me to stop the worry. He didn’t have to explain this one to me. Its simplicity and clarity spoke volumes to me. I share his words with clients when I see the wheels of worry start to spin out of control during a coaching session. I suspect he’d like that I use his words regularly.

Be yourself

My favorite piece of his wisdom, however, caught me completely by surprise. A few years after college, I was at my grandparents’ house visiting with them. As I stood up to leave, my grandmother asked me when I was going to bring home a nice girl and get married. I made an excuse as I said good-bye. My grandfather walked with me to the car, put his hand on my shoulder, and stared directly into my eyes. “Don’t you worry about your grandmother,” he said. “You just love who you love.”

I hugged him and got in my car to go home. I had to pull over because I was crying – not because I was sad, but because I was relieved. Even though I was still coming to grips with being gay, my grandfather already knew and had made peace with it. And he had let me know I should make peace with it as well.

He died a few short years after that. Despite the passage of time, I still hear his voice in my mind when I repeat his words of wisdom, clarity, acceptance, and love.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Mothers Day Revisited

A friend of mine shared a video of her sermon to her congregation on Mothers Day. She introduced the video with a brief disclaimer stating that she wasn’t sure if her mother would approve of her sharing some of the parts of her life. My friend’s mother was a teacher, so I suspect she would be proud of her daughter’s keen insight and love of laughter as well as her ability to turn everyday situations into real learning opportunities for her congregation.

What struck me most about her words was her closing statement: “Live. And I mean really live because your story is never over.”

I’ve not celebrated Mothers Day with my mom since 2004, the year she died. Instead, I spend time reflecting on all the things she was and is in my life. There are some significant things that come back year after year for me that ensure her story is never over.

She nurtured my need for independence.

The day I started kindergarten, my mother drove me to school. When she stopped the car, I opened the door and got out. And when she turned off the car, I looked at her and asked in a very startled tone, “Where are you going?” She told me very calmly that she would walk me to my classroom and I responded by saying, “I know where it is. Bye!” I closed the car door and ran off toward the school doors. She burst into tears as she drove to her office, but then what brought her from sadness to joy was her realization that no matter what life threw my way, she knew I would be fine. She then set about teaching me how to function in the world.

She taught me the importance of laughter.

Erma Bombeck was my mother’s favorite writer. She read every word Ms. Bombeck ever published and played her “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” LP every year as we started decorating our house for Christmas. By the time I was 10, I had every line from that record memorized. And what I came to realize quickly was that finding the laughter in life’s foibles was her chief coping mechanism. I use that same coping mechanism almost daily.

She was the original reigning monarch of the list and used lists for everything.

As a kid, I didn’t always appreciate the crushing burden of a list. But as an adult, there is no greater piece of wisdom my mom could have passed on to me than, “use a list so you get it all done.” Whether it’s grocery shopping, weekend projects, or managing my day, I take great joy in crossing items off my list when they are completed. Disclaimer: sometimes I put things on my list that I’ve already completed only for the delight of crossing them off. This is especially effective on days I don’t feel productive.

She never shied away from showing her emotions.

Growing up a gay young man, I hid a lot of things in an attempt to be like the other boys my age. As I grew up and grew into myself, I stopped hiding things from people with one exception: my emotions. I fought the need to express the full range of my emotions until I was well into my 40s. When I finally gave myself permission to experience all the emotions I was actually feeling, my world changed. I became more empathetic with people. I actually felt joy when they shared good news with me and felt piercing pain when they shared something sad. I’ve even cried with clients during coaching sessions when their experience moved me to the point of tears. I didn’t realize what a gift connecting with people at an emotional level could be, but now I cherish that connection dearly.

Each time I connect to the things my mom taught me, I re-energize her story in my life. I also use this metaphor in my coaching practice. Almost every person I coach has experienced the loss of someone close and we visit grief, loss, and moving on. When we talk about ways to honor that person, I see the impact and feel the great joy my clients experience. And we then connect on a deep level that makes me appreciate the gifts my mom gave me even more. Her story is never over.

How will your story live on beyond your lifetime? Let’s find out together!

Bradley K. Ward, ACC a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

On Transformation: The Value of Monarchs

The words of Henry David Thoreau may point you in a direction you need, but didn’t realize. Springtime is inspiring for many reasons, especially when you’re considering a personal transformation.

“Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten  the note of each bird, and when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence… The voice of nature is always encouraging.” – Henry David Thoreau

One of the key elements and biggest challenges of personal transformation is remaining true to yourself. I’ve you’ve gone through a transition from one part of your life to the next, you’ve probably experienced genuine excitement about realizing some of the goals you set for yourself and some trepidation about the vast changes you see in the future.


…may be a challenging word for you. It signals a kind of “out with the old, in with the new” approach to change. It sounds rash and disrespectful on the surface, but using nature as the key to understanding transformation, consider the monarch.

You probably recognize the caterpillar on the left side of the picture. Once it enters its chrysalis, it begins the process of becoming a butterfly. The same creature that entered the cocoon emerges – only now in a different form. The orange, black, and white stripes on the monarch caterpillar become brightly colored wings and spotted abdomen of the monarch butterfly.


Once you recognize for yourself how you can honor the things in your current existence that are important to you, you can take on the changes you see in next phase of your life. Maybe you’ll even get a butterfly tattoo to give yourself a way of telling your transformation story when someone asks about your tattoo. Brilliant!

Spring is the season of growth and renewal, sunshine and rainstorms, caterpillars and butterflies. It’s also a great time to begin your journey into transformation – and coaching can give you support you need to become a new you. Let’s get started on your transformation together!

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to learn how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

Seeing Things Differently

I’ve worn contact lenses or glasses to see since I was 6 years old. During a visit to the doctor, my mother took great offense when the doctor said, “Maybe you should buy him a dog. He’s going to need one to help him get around in a few years.” She didn’t fully appreciate the doctor’s dry wit, but I love retelling this story.

Today, I still wear glasses. I rely on them to help me see clearly. I also use “putting on glasses” as a metaphor to help clients see things differently.


Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard researcher and professor, conducted extensive studies on human moral development. His studies were based on the premise that moral development was a cognitive function, and that the ethic of justice was the highest-order moral we develop. Carol Gilligan, a feminist and student of Dr. Kohlberg’s, noticed that women scored differently on some of the scales used in their research. She also noticed that most of the study participants were men and boys. She began to ask questions.

Gilligan’s perspective allowed her to see the results of their work in a way Dr. Kohlberg was unable to – as a woman and feminist. She noted that women had a different imperative when approaching a moral issue: “to solve the moral problem in such a way that no one is hurt.” (Wildflower, L. excerpt) Gilligan’s contributions showed the ethic of care as an equally high category as the ethic of justice. It was through Gilligan’s lens of feminism that Kohlberg was able to see his research and its implications differently, and he quickly added more women into his study groups. They achieved clarity through Gilligan’s perspective.

Practical application

All glasses, however, are not the same. In Palm Springs, the brightness of our mid-day sun can be harsh. Sunglasses, especially polarized lenses, give our eyes some relief from the brightness and allow us to see things clearly. Reading glasses help us see small print and bifocal lenses give us the advantage of correcting both near and distance vision. Recently, a lens company invented something that gives color-blind people the opportunity to see the colors they’ve not been able to detect before.

So how does this relate to coaching? Simple: in order to give my clients the benefit of seeing themselves differently, I have to have an array of glasses for them to choose from. Sometimes we’re looking at “blind spots,” the areas that we’re unaware of until something triggers a reflexive response. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves from a different perspective and need clearer distance vision. Sometimes we need to do some very delicate work with fine materials and have to magnify what’s in our view. And sometimes, we need sunglasses to filter out the harsh things and see with greater clarity.

Many people can relate to the physical act of putting on glasses. That’s why I find the metaphor so powerful in working with clients. It quite literally changes what we see!

Reference: Wildflower, L. (2013). The Hidden History of Coaching. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

The Power of the Pause

The Power of the Pause

When I was younger, I thought being responsive was a strength. As more and more things demanded action, it became more and more difficult to respond, and more and more frustrating to me when I was unable to do so. Discussing it with my coach, I found that taking a brief pause gave me a space to make a conscious decision about how, or even if, I respond.

This is one of the ways I practice mindfulness, which I also bring into conversations with clients. When I introduce the idea to them, I explore different ways of expressing it so it feels comfortable. It’s a way of letting our old habits or reactions be present for observation rather than becoming a call to action.

Mindfulness is powerful

The pause became a powerful tool for me. I found that once I had begun to use it, the world around me was a nicer place. And I started to see other things in my life I wanted to change. I also saw the impact of sharing my experience with clients who struggled to understand.

Mindfulness isn’t a magic wand I can wield from time to time, but a decision I must make consistently in response to things that stir up frustration, anger, or disbelief in my mind. As I become better at managing those things, I notice how comfortable I am in the pause. It also means I have to be honest with myself about how easily I react to the things that stir up my unsettling emotions.

One of my clients recently told me how she had come to appreciate the pause. She is working in a new field and finds herself facing the realities of workplace relationships. When she takes a moment to pause, she sees for herself what options she has rather than defaulting to a response that’s mindless and automatic. She’s now helping others in her office see the same options for themselves. I’d call that a success!

What’s keeping you from being comfortable in the pause?

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

The Day You Discover Why

The Day You Discover Why

Mark Twain is sometimes credited with coining a bit of wisdom I like: “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you discover why.” Purpose is powerful, isn’t it?

When I served as a nonprofit CEO, I found myself asking what was important. A lot. And it seemed like each time I asked it, I had a different response because I had a different (or recurring) situation in front of me to manage. Personnel issues, budget shortfalls, board members with differing priorities, regulatory changes, and turf wars were among the many things that caused me to ask what was important.

The answer for me, regardless of the situation, was our organization’s mission. But what happens when there isn’t something so clear and present as a mission – what then? From my perspective, that’s where the fun begins!

Connecting to purpose

Your “why” may not be a career, like medicine or teaching. But it could be connecting people, writing, or making people laugh. And once you connect to your purpose, you may find some answers that elude you now.

A client’s story: A woman came to me for coaching because she had a dream and wanted to fulfill it. She had been in a career she loved for 20+ years and wanted to stay in it. But she also knew she needed to make more money to realize her dream. Our coaching conversations were often focused on time management, communications, and finances. But one day she broke down crying in my office and said, “I don’t want to be a nurse!”

I didn’t know a friend of hers offered to pay for her training program. She struggled over the decision, even resisting it. But when we discussed what being a nurse could mean for her bank account, she got inspired by the idea and found even more ways to bring about her dream. Today, she’s on her way and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

In her case, she had her purpose, but couldn’t find the path to it. Our coaching allowed her to organize, see what pieces were missing, and recognize what a career change could do to support her and her dream.

Now it’s your turn

Are you ready to live your purpose? All it takes to begin is a conversation. Let’s discover your why together!

Bradley K. Ward, ACC is a leadership and transformational coach at The Mission Coach, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you do what you do, better!

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