The Story Economy Blog

Planes, Trains, and Scenery Changes

plane to phoenixI had a little eating problem in college. You know, I’m a girl, I’m white and middle-class, and I have overachieving tendencies. Plus, I came of age in the early 1990s, when “fat free” was the big thing. Was I really going to escape disordered eating crap?

It started because I had gotten sort of chubby after I quit gymnastics. So junior year of college, I decided to lose it. And I did—I lost 15 pounds or so, and got back to my normal weight. But then . . . I just kept going. I lost another 20, and got skinnier and skinner. My curves disappeared (it pains me to see any pictures from this time in my life). I’m not sure that I was dangerously unhealthy. Just obsessed with burning every single calorie and never gaining weight, ever again. I remember feeling trapped: I wanted to eat. I thought about eating all of the time because I was, you know, hungry. But the thought of gaining weight was the Worst Thing in the World. The trapped feeling sprung from the fact that I knew that it was far too much work to maintain this super skinny body. But how was I ever going to escape this if gaining weight meant absolute failure? It felt all-consuming. I spun around in this for two years. It was terrible.

So I left the country.

I signed up for a study abroad program in London for the summer. I got on the plane on July 4th, 1996, and I thought: what am I going to eat in London? Do they have Snackwells there?

I’d like to say that the minute I stepped onto British soil, all of my problems went away. But they didn’t. I stayed weird for a lot of the summer, trying to figure out what to eat in this city of fish-n-chips and meat pies. I recall eating a lot of cereal, baked beans, and fruit. But as I was walking around, looking at the places Virginia Woolf lived and riding the train through the countryside and seeing buildings that were older than any buildings I’d ever seen before, it did occur to me that I was perhaps being ridiculous. And that there was a whole world out there that didn’t care about how much I weighed.

Being in a different environment helped me change my thoughts. Slowly. I didn’t come back completely cured. But I came back with perspective, which gradually led me to a better place.

Six Ways to Leave Without Leaving

I know that most of us can’t just leave the country when we are feeling stuck or need perspective on our work or a situation. I mean, if I could have, I would have left in August last year and sunk into one of those weird hot springs in Iceland and not come out until Christmas was over.

Physically leaving—getting an actual change of scenery—is pretty great if you can manage it. When you wake up somewhere else than you live and work, and walk around looking at different things than you see every day and talk to different people, it fires different neurons in your brain. Perspective-building neurons.

But I have channeled this change-of-scenery experience many times in my life and business, without physically leaving. The thing is, you actually can change your mental surroundings without necessarily changing your physical ones.

Here are some ways I’ve done this, and some things I’ve noticed my clients doing.

1. Go to a networking event.

This is so basic, I almost don’t want to say it. It’s sort of like the “go take a hot bath when you are stressed” tip in cheesy stories on P&G brand microsites about taking time for yourself (I should know; I’ve written them). But still, networking IS a change of scenery. And by networking, I mean going to meet people you don’t currently know. Maybe you know a few of them—that can be helpful for introductions, for sure. A room full of (mostly) strangers may sound terrible and scary. But if you can just do it, just breathe through the panic and initial awkwardness, and just start some conversations with people, it will tap into a different part of your brain. The part that says: hey, the world is full of all kinds of interesting people and ideas. One of these ideas might just be right for me, right now.

 2. Go watch a TED talk.

Again, so basic that I feel almost embarrassed to say it. But I can’t tell you the times that I’ve clicked over to and said: “Dear TED, take me out of my head for 18 minutes please.” I always find the most interesting people and things on the site. Just seeing how passionate people are about stuff—whether it’s spoken word poetry or neural hacking or self-driving automobiles—reminds me that I have cool stuff, too, and that we are all in this idea-spreading together. (On a side note: if you watch enough TED talks, you will never lack for conversation at those networking events you’re going to.)

3. Re-read something that once changed you.

I remember some author talking about how she re-reads Jane Eyre every 10 years, and sees it differently each time. There is something to this—especially for “concept” books. When you read something and it totally shifts you and makes you see the world differently, you start acting differently. Maybe you start doing your job differently, running your business differently, or telling your story differently. And then, if you go back to what you read after some months or years, you get to bring the real world experience of doing things differently and merge it back with the idea that blew your mind way back when. Example: I am re-reading Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. I referenced it with a client recently and pulled some quotes out of it for him. Just those few basic concepts helped him clarify some things about his brand. So I decided to revisit this book that completely changed how I did my job—to make sure I was still on track, for one, and to see it again through my new perspective. It’s awesome all over again.

4. Clean and purge.

If you read last week’s newsletter, you know what I’m talking about. Cleaning out my old files totally shifted my end-of-year experience. I won’t even try to say it all over again. It’s right here.

5.Have a coaching call with someone who can shift you quickly.

I had a coaching call a few weeks ago with my colleague, Tandy Pryor. We did a trade: I helped her with something, and she offered to help me, mostly because she could see I was in pain. I had been stuck in this way of thinking about a personal situation, and she challenged me in a way that I really needed. Coaching is never about telling people what to do: it’s about helping them find the perspective within themselves—and that’s exactly what she did. After that call, I started making decisions and letting some things go, and stopped pretending that my issues were about one thing, when I knew deep within myself they were about another. Nothing changed overnight. Just like with London: it wasn’t immediate. That’s a fairytale infomercial. It was a shift, and it led me to take different actions, and I can tell you: I am a world better off now than I was a month ago. Lots of people are amazing at helping you make quick shifts: just mining my colleagues alone, I can think of three more off the top of my head: the exuberant Thom Monahan (who works wonders with the corporate set) or the fabulous DeAnne Pearson, or the very first coach I ever had who changed my life, Darla LeDoux. (Want more recommendations? Seriously, email me and I will give you more names.)

6.Observe yourself as if you were someone else.

Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate, has built an amazing tool for understanding how the world sees you. Taking her fascination assessment a few years ago provided a great perspective for me (I am the Wise Owl). What I like about her thing is that it’s based on how others see you. And as much as I’m all about not getting bogged down in what others think of you, knowing what strengths they see in you is pretty fantastic. Another way to do this is to ask colleagues you trust to tell you. Or (my favorite): observe yourself as if you were your colleague (just the mind-bending of this exercise will get you out of your own head for a bit). What would a trusted colleague or your best client say about what makes you tick and what makes you good at your job? Write it down in some detail. It’s not about giving yourself a pat on the back, it’s about trying to see yourself fresh through someone else’s eyes. You don’t want to stay there forever. Just go there for a while. It’s as good as a plane ride.

Wow, this is an incredibly lengthy newsletter. I am sorry to keep you for so long. But just to finish my earlier story, in case you are worried: I am very healthy now. My body and I are at peace. In fact, we’re an excellent team. That said, I will never forget that trapped feeling. But I will also never forget that I found a way out. The sights and sounds and smells of London certainly helped. But my brain did the work.

If you are feeling trapped, yours can, too. I promise.

PS. I took the above picture out the window on a flight to Phoenix last fall—a change of scenery that came just when I needed it.


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