“How do you stay centered in the midst of your high-pressured, very busy life juggling career woman, corporate leader, wife and mother?”

That was just one question Dan “Nitro” Clark asked me when I joined him on his Calm the Beast podcast. Dan had been on my Bottom Line Advocator podcast earlier this year talking about his powerful story of resilience, and we had such a good time together that he invited me on his program.

Why do I mention it? Because his question gave me pause.

“How do you stay centered in the midst of your high-pressured, very busy life juggling career woman, corporate leader, wife and mother?”

Of course, my mind immediately ran through all those “Zen-y” things that are very trendy to combat stress and balance your day—meditation, deep breathing, gratitude journals, exercise, walks in the park, yada yada yada. You know the list, and so did everyone who was listening so I didn’t need to tell them what they already knew.

What struck me, though, was a whole different perspective on being centered. I realized that the way I stay centered is that I simply generally don’t get uncentered.

Here’s my theory…

We are all born centered (assuming no extenuating circumstances)—innocent, pure, honest, balanced and open to the universe. Yogis tell students of breathing to look to babies to teach them the art of relaxed belly breathing. Colic aside, babies in general are happy and free from the dramas that accumulate later in life. They just want to eat, sleep, poop and be loved. In return, they will smile.

As they age, children become knocked off their center by the offenses of the world—siblings taunting, absent parents, loud noises, scary dogs. You name it—the innocence of infancy becomes scarred with the patina of life, and they begin to develop defense mechanisms to protect themselves.

At school age, more patina develops as children deal with failure and rejection. Perhaps they didn’t make a sports team or were not invited to a birthday party. There are cliques and bullies…failed tests…early alarm clocks and rushed schedules. And that worst of all words—“No.”

Through the years, people develop coping mechanisms to survive a world that is out of balance. They lie or cheat to cover their feelings of inadequacy when they think they can’t accomplish something on their own. They hide to protect themselves emotionally with defensiveness or fear when they have been scorned or shunned. They place undue pressures on themselves to meet expectations—real or imagined. They have to dress right…look just right…get the right job…and live in the right house. Their kids have to behave in a certain way…be superstars in their activities…and go to the right schools.

All of those pressures create a grand lack of centeredness. People have so many demands placed on them that they simply can’t balance the stack they are carrying—kind of like a circus clown spinning plates on sticks. When perfectly balanced, they all work. Tip too much in one direction or another, and they all come crashing down.

We are all trying really hard to keep those plates spinning, but we may have spent years or decades refining coping methods to keep those plates off-balance. This pulls us away from that happy place of pure heart and intent we were all born with. We have developed habits of uncentered-ness.

While I am far from perfect, I realized when Dan asked me to reflect on my life that through  many years filled with lotsof coaching and reflection, I now live in the happy place of pure heart and intent. How so?

Quite simply…

  1. I don’t lie. I got caught by my father when I was 12 having gone to “David’s” house when I supposed to have been at “Bonnie’s” house. My neck still aches from his “tossing me around” my bedroom when we got home.If I even try to lie—even a little white lie—my neck tightens. I know people who would try to cheat the system by lying about their kids ages at restaurants, on trains or in theme parks in order to save a few dollars. Not me. Never. I didn’t want to do it, nor did I want my kids to think that that was OK.
  2. I don’t covet. I’ve been asked many times about unfairness in business, especially the plight of women and the glass ceiling. I have never worried about it, even though I started my career in the big-time, chauvinistic world of advertising and then joined the family business led by my father who had very traditional values regarding male and female roles. I didn’t worry about it. I focused on my job. I didn’t waste my energy searching for a reason to feel bad. I had great jobs…great bosses…great challenges. Similarly, there are many people who have a far fancier, flashier life than I do, with bigger engagement rings and newer fancier cars. I don’t compare. I am very happy with what we have (which is plenty). We choose to spend our money on what is important to us—not on what we think is important to “them.”
  3. I love my husband and let him know it regularly. I am eternally grateful for the life we have created—even the bad and frustrating moments…and yes, there have been some. Through it all, I have never, and would never, consider breaking my marriage vows. We love, trust and respect each other.
  4. I don’t get upset over people’s “isms.” Everyone has their annoying quirks that can be really irritating when they invade your space and presumably disrespect you. When I was young, I became incredibly annoyed by things like that. People regularly annoyed the crap out of me. Then I learned to appreciate them for their unique “isms.” They all had their greatness and their fascinating characteristics…as do I. Rather than be upset about them, I have learned to adapt to each individual—who they are and how they communicate. In fact, as a business leader and a parent, I take pride in my ability to shift my style depending on the person and the situation.
  5. I don’t consider myself a victim. One of the most off-putting things people can do in their lives is to live as a victim, acting as if they have no power to choose their path. I am never the victim. That doesn’t mean the path is always easy or that it has always been clear to pass. It does mean, however, that I don’t stop. Nothing has the power to stop me. I don’t fight…I just take one step, then another, then another. Even in the face of challenge, I still take one step, then another, then another.
  6. I take care of me. All of those things I listed about staying centered—the breathing, the meditation, the exercise, the quiet walks, the gratitude—I do those, too. I make sure to take time for me each day—to exercise or soak in a bath or watch a movie with my daughter or walk the dog with my husband. This has been a “rule” since my kids were little. Fortunately, my family has respected my requests and understood that if they gave me my little bit of space, I can come out ready to be there for them 1,000%.

By simply making choices each day that are consistent with who I am and what I want to be in the world, I avoid making choices that would throw me off that center. Lies, jealousy and victimization are distractions that throw you off balance as you worry about keeping track of your list of lies or who has more “goodies” than you. Once started, they develop an uncontrollable life of their own. They are a total waste of time and energy. One of my mentors, Jeffrey C. Zimmerman, is constantly reminding me of the strength in softness and the weakness created by misdirected energy. By staying true to my values, I stay centered and can powerfully face it all.