suc·cess: (n.) The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted

Clues for Success: Finding Answers Right in Front of Your Face

An old fable tells about a religious man and a flood. As the water began to rise, the man's neighbor came by in a boat and offered to take him to safer ground. He politely declined, "God will save me." When the water had risen up to his second floor windows, authorities came by in a rescue boat. They shouted impatiently at him to get into the boat, but he sent them off, saying, "God will watch out for me." Later, as he sat on his roof with water lapping at its edges, a military helicopter hovered above him; a rescue officer was lowered to bring him up into the aircraft. Again he refused . . . and later drowned. When he reached heaven, he was furious and demanded a meeting with God.

"God," he said, "How could you let me down like this? Why didn't you save me?"

God replied, "I sent you two boats and a plane! What more did you want?"

Do you sometimes miss the boats and the planes in your life? Many of us manage NOT TO SEE a great deal of what's in front of us! Information and opportunity come our way all the time -- and we often miss them.

Sometimes we look right past these openings because they look so ordinary. We actually HAVE what we've been seeking in our lives, but we don't "get it" because no drum roll sounds, no name glitters in lights, and the New York Times doesn't mention a word about it. My friend Cathy recently shared an example of this with me. She said, "Ten years ago, where I am now in my life felt like a far-distant dream. I don't think of my current life as a dream come true because it feels so 'regular' to me -- it's just my life. But I have really worked very long and hard for this. And here it is."

A client of mine decided that he wanted to go into private practice after doing his work within organizations for many years. He approached the decision with much fear about whether he would have enough clients. Then he began to SEE that he already had some private clients! He began to realize that he had a powerful professional referral network, a strong and widely known reputation, and great content skills for doing the work. In fact he'd been turning down private work for years. All he really had to do was to start saying "Yes."

Sometimes we miss seeing what's true in our lives because we are so stubbornly obsessed with having it look a particular way. When I first left my systems analyst job, I felt POSSESSED by my loss of income. I felt impoverished and dominated by scarcity and lack. That May when the lilacs bloomed, I felt sorry I didn't have the money to buy lilacs for myself as I had in prior years. One evening I came home from grocery shopping to find a huge bunch of lilacs in a vase on my kitchen table, twice the size I ever would have bought for myself. I was stunned and thrilled. Where had they come from? One of my daughters' friends who had been spending a lot of time at our house had brought them for me. Her family had enormous lilac bushes in their yard, and she had thought that I might like some.

This profound, mind-shifting experience opened up my eyes to the enormous abundance in my life. Her simple act of generosity helped me understand at a much deeper level that wealth isn't just about money. It helped me to grow a larger vision of my life and myself. This new sense of possibility supported me to become more of the kind of mother I wanted to be and pointed the way to finding my next career: coaching.

Other times we are oblivious to the magic in our lives because the timing is different from what we expect. A friend started looking early last spring for a fall teaching job. Seven months and 32 interviews later, she now has the perfect job; she's already twelve weeks into the school year and she absolutely loves the position. As she looks back on the long process leading up to her hiring, she realizes it unfolded as it needed to, although at the time she felt rejected and defeated. She says she wouldn't have recognized this job as the 'perfect' one when she began the application process, nor would she have felt qualified to take on the required responsibilities. But by the time the school district offered her the position, she was able to recognize it as right for her. She felt completely ready to accept the job. She now feels that she was being guided the whole time. Timing was a factor she hadn't anticipated. When the timing was right, the job materialized.

Another important category of information that we sometimes undervalue is one that elicits a "you can't be serious" response from us. When information comes with a light touch or a huge degree of coincidence, it's sometimes hard to accept as real information, but it is! Lynn Robinson, an intuition coach based in the Boston area, was having difficulty writing her newsletter after the tragic events of 9/11. However, when she read the message on her computer screen saying, "You have been disconnected," she knew SHE had to reconnect with her intuition! (For more about Lynn Robinson, see the RESOURCE SPOTLIGHTS section of this issue.)

While between careers, I was extremely impatient to know what my new work would be. In my daily meditations, I frequently saw images of eggs: ducks, geese, robins, and sparrows sitting on eggs; eggs in egg crates; eggs jumping out of crates; eggs in nests. At first I was exasperated; I needed answers here, not eggs! But eventually I realized that I WAS getting answers, just not the kind of answers I had expected. MY eggs weren't ready to hatch yet; they were still incubating. I needed to continue keeping them warm for a longer time. That was the answer: sit tight, be patient, and keep doing what you're doing. All this I did, and yes, they hatched in their own sweet time!

Keb Mo, a contemporary songwriter, created these lyrics:

You might be hip or you might be blind

She'll put the message right in your mind

Might look like a plan or a coalition

It might be God trying to get your attention.

You might be hip or you might be dumb

You'll get the answer when the answer comes

Maybe it's just news on your television

Or it might be God trying to get your attention.

Very often, what we seek is right in front of us in the form of Opportunities, Information, Feedback, and Answers to our most burning questions. The issue is not "Is it there?" but rather "Will we see it?" See if you can take off some of your blinders this month. Look for answers and information everywhere. In particular, be on the lookout for boats and planes! These sometimes well-disguised modes of travel can come from any direction at any time to help you in your transitions and passages.

COACHING TIPS: Here are some questions that may help you to see these dynamics in your own life. Write down your answers -- this helps anchor your process in the present.

  • What questions are you currently seeking answers for?
  • What KINDS of answers or results are you looking for? Are you limiting the way you're looking? How might you take your blinders off?
  • How else might the answers look? What other form or content might they have? Use your imagination here - really let 'er rip!
  • Where and when in your past have you received information or realizations from unexpected sources?
  • Where in your life do you feel stranded, stuck or at a plateau? Perhaps the timing just isn't right yet. Do you remember when something you wanted just wasn't ready to happen, but when the timing was right, it did happen?
  • Where in your life is something "just right"? Are you now manifesting something that was once a dream?
  • Copyright 2003, Sharon Teitelbaum.

    Sharon Teitelbaum is a Work-Life and Career Coach who works with high achieving women with young children, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction or work-life balance. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance, is available at her website,

    Certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Sharon works by phone with clients around the world and in-person in Boston.

    She delivers keynotes and workshops on work-life balance issues, has been in national publications including The New York Times and Working Mother Magazine, and has appeared on cable and network television. She publishes Strategies for Change, a newsletter offering practical tips for work-life success.

    Sharon has been married for 30 years and is the mother of two amazing young women. You can contact her here.

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