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January 2012
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March 2012

Diagnosing and Treating "Stuck"

Last night I did an Image Center session with a friend who is going through my Getting Unstuck course. I had her do two images--one that shows where she is now and one that shows where she'd like to be. 

Here's the image for where she is now:

Picture 27

And here's the image for where she wants to be:

Picture 29

It wasn't hard to figure out why she feels stuck. She has too much going on! That first image is just an explosion, radiating out from the explosion of fireworks in the middle. She's being pulled in 50 different directions and has a hard time putting focus into just a few of the most important places. 

Working with my friend reminded me that being stuck comes in two different varieties and that it can be helpful to know which is your personal brand of "stuckness." 

Diagnosing Your "Stuck"

In my experience, there are two distinct types of "stuck"--the stuckness of the over-thinker and the stuckness of the over-doer. 

Are You An Over-Thinker?

The first type of stuck is the muddy slog of inertia that is the domain of the over-thinker. Often (but not always) these are the introverts who are naturally drawn to thinking before acting.

When these people are stuck, it's because they are so busy worrying about making the "right" move, they make no moves at all. They are the perfectionists and the worriers, the people who need to do just one more piece of research or talk to just one more person before they feel comfortable making their next move. But somehow they never actually move. They are stuck in the reflection part of the Act/Reflect cycle

Or Are You an Over-Doer? 

The other version of "stuck" is where my friend is at. It's the obsessive do-er's type of stuck. These are often the more extroverted types who thrive on activity and being in the outer world. 

In this brand of stuckness, I find people who are constantly moving, taking no time to reflect on what they are doing or why. Action is what counts and they have a hard time creating the space for reflection so that their actions are more intentional and in alignment with what they want. These people are stuck in the action part of Act/Reflect. 

When you're stuck, it's helpful to try to figure out which camp you fall into because treating your stuckness will depend on whether you're an over-thinker or  an over-doer. Your stuckness is really an imbalance in the Act/Reflect cycle. 

Treating Your "Stuck"

 While both over-thinkers and over-doers can benefit from doing some de-cluttering, moving out of stuck is essentially a different process for each type. The over-thinkers need more action and the over-doers need more reflection. 

Over-Thinkers

If you're an over-thinker, then the way to get out of "stuck" is by bringing more action into your life. Over-thinkers need to make a commitment to just doing things, rather than thinking about doing something. And that action cannot be doing one more bit of research or asking one more person what you should do. It has to be action that is in alignment with your vision of where you want to go and that is designed to actually move you in that direction. You need to experiment with different identities and trust the mess that comes with action. You have to let go of the need to do things perfectly and just embrace doing anything at all. 

Over-Doers

Over-doers have a different task. You need to create space for yourself for more reflection so you can be more intentional about what you are doing and why you are doing it. You may need to start saying "no" more often and streamlining your life to make room for more thinking. Try incorporating some reflection rituals  to create a reflection habit. Your task is to put some real intention and focus behind your actions, rather than being caught in an endless loop of mindless activity that doesn't really go anywhere. Embrace your power to do, but put some mindfulness behind it. 

 

Being "stuck" is really about imbalance--choosing either reflection or action at the expense of the other part of the cycle. To get unstuck,  you have to restore balance to the cycle of Act/Reflect. Knowing your own tendencies towards one or the other can help you quickly figure out how to get moving when you find yourself stuck in one place.  

The next time you feel stuck, consider whether your stuckness is a result of over-thinking or over-doing and then look at what you can do to restore the balance. 

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If you need help getting unstuck, you might want to try one of my Career Clarity Image Center session packages. We can explore what's keeping you stuck, where you want to go and how you can get there. 

 


Be a Career Inspiration, Not a Cautionary Tale

Inspiration Pics

Throughout my working life, I've encountered people who made me think, "Kill me if I ever start acting and thinking that way." Generally these are people who are bitter and angry about their work, or who are so disengaged as to be practically dead. While I most notice those people who are aggressive about their career unhappiness, there are plenty of other people who simply disappear, I guess hoping to escape notice as their souls slowly shrivel up. 

At times, I've felt myself start to go down that road of deep unhappiness and pessimism. I see mostly problems, not possibilities and I focus on the suck, not the awesome. When my snark quotient goes way up and I find myself complaining constantly, I know that an attitude change is in order. 

As I continue on my journey to be more mindful and to engage in positive professional development, I find myself wanting to be more of a career inspiration, rather than a cautionary tale. I don't want people to walk away from interactions with me and think, "Please don't let me turn out that way. . . " 

In that vein, these 18 Ways to Inspire Everyone Around You gave me some good food for thought. Some of my favorites:

  • Be authentic and true to yourself.
  • Express your enthusiasm.
  • Care about people
  • Make people feel good about themselves
  • Articulate what everyone else is thinking
  • Share lessons from your successes and failures.
  • Help people heal--instead of judging people by their past, stand by them and help repair their future

These aren't always easy for me to do, but I'm committed to the idea of being the inspiration I want to see in the world. 

How do you inspire others? What has inspired you? 

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Are you looking for a way to get support and more accountability in achieving your career goals? I'm running a bi-weekly Virtual Career Clarity Circle starting on February 27 that may be just what you need. Details and sign-up information are here


Try for Direction, Not Destination

Journey

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”

                          -Buddhist Proverb

Conventional career wisdom advises that we should spend time knowing exactly where want to go and then take steps to get there. This wisdom assumes that there is some clear destination (a job) with a clear path of preparation that will take us to that destination. Our goal, then, is to figure out which destination feels best to us and then to follow the path toward that destination.

This wisdom is outdated though. It doesn't work for the majority of people and it doesn't work for the world we now live in. 

When jobs were fixed quantities and career paths were clearly defined, then figuring out what you wanted to be when you grew up and preparing for that job made sense. But we now live in a world where careers are increasingly fluid and jobs are becoming more amorphous, as much about "other duties as assigned" as the other tasks that appear in a job description.

Work is moving fast and we can't anticipate where the next opportunities will be. The paths are becoming less and less clear and the destinations can vanish almost as soon as we arrive at them. I know tons of people who prepared for specific jobs, only to find that then they were finished with their preparation, the jobs were gone. It's like preparing for a trip, traveling to your dream city and then finding that you're blocked at the entrance and can't get in. Or that the city has vanished altogether. 

I've also found that focusing too rigidily on a particular career destination--a specific job--can be paralyzing for many people. They become fixated on picking the "right" path and doing all the "right" things to follow that path. They take endless career assessments and beat themselves up over their inability to decide where they want to go. They become less able to imagine other possibilities because their minds go round and round on the same well-worn grooves of what they might do.

The problem is, they have made themselves so fearful of making the "wrong" move, they don't move at all! They remain frozen in place, trying ot make up their minds about where they should go. But real career growth only occurs when we start taking steps towards what we want. We need the experiences to tell us what does and doesn't work for us. Each of these experiences helps us make micro-adjustments in the path we are on. We move or we stand still. Those are our two choices. 

Direction-Based Career Planning
We need a new notion of career planning, one that focuses on direction more than destination. "Direction-based career planning" means: 
  • We know our gifts and the skills we want to use and we work on developing those skills. We build on our strengths, not necessarily with any particular job in mind. Developing ourselves in the direction of what we love and what we're good at is the essence of "direction-based planning." 
  • We are alert to opportunities where we can use our skills in different contexts. We are creative and flexible and open. We create our own jobs
  • We do not wait for a destination to reveal itself to us before we move forward. This is a sure road to paralysis. Instead, we take daily steps in the direction we want to go. We give ourselves what we want more of, knowing that this is moving us toward the work that we want to do, even when the destination itself is unclear. 
  • We "fail forward," being willing to experiment and try things out, recognizing that it's the experiences themselves and what we learn from them that will propel us forward. Even if things don't work out in that particular moment, it's OK because it's all taking us in the general direction we want to go. 

 Although I think destination can be a good thing for some jobs and some people, I think that for many of us, direction is the best way for us to move forward. We need to let go of having a fixed destination before we can start the journey. We need to just figure out the basic direction we want to go in and start walking. . . 

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Feeling stuck? I'm running another 7-Day Getting Unstuck session starting February 27. Details and sign-up information are here.


 


Are You Living Your Own Dream or Helping Someone Else Live Theirs?

Dream.

I was emailing with a graduate of my Getting Unstuck course about her ongoing progress since the class ended and we were discussing the issue of living our dreams. What came up is the tension between staying on our own path of exploration and discovery and getting involved in helping others realize their dreams. This is a tension I see all the time, especially with people who are "helper" types, constantly on the look-out for ways to nurture and support the people around them.

This is what happens. As we work to implement our vision for our careers, we inevitably meet and connect with people who are working on their own career dreams. Sometimes in those connections, we will find people whose dreams intersect with our own; they are pursuing a path that is similar to ours or they need our help to create their dreams. 

For people who like to support and help others, this is often a difficult moment. They see someone who could use their help and they are drawn to "fix" things or to own more of the other person's career dream than is healthy or necessary. They begin focusing on ways to help their fellow traveler and they lose focus on what they want to explore and make happen in their own lives. 

If helping another person realize their career dreams also makes your dreams come true, then by all means, go for it. You have found a situation where you can help each other travel on the same path. 

Often this is not the case though. Helping someone on their path is merely a distraction from us following our own. Sometimes it is even a convenient excuse for not creating our career vision--we are so busy being helping and nurturing other people, how could we possibly have time for our own dreams? 

One thing I think we need to examine as part of ongoing professional development is the extent to which we may be expending energy and creativity on behalf of other people in our lives. How much of how we are living our lives is in support of someone else's goals, rather than a healthy expression of our own? This includes putting all of our energy into the goals of the company or organization where we work, rather than into our own development. 

This is not to say that we should be selfish, looking out only for ourselves. But we need to seek balance, making sure that we are not sacrificing what we want in order to support everyone else. 

The next time you're feeling stuck or unhappy in your career, take a look at how you may be supporting other people's dreams at the expense of your own. Try to find a way to get more balance and to take back your own vision. It can work wonders, I've found.  

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Are you looking for a way to get support and more accountability in achieving your career goals? I'm running a bi-weekly Virtual Career Clarity Circle starting on February 27 that may be just what you need. Details and sign-up information are here


The Power of Positive Peers

Friendship

Although we don't discuss it much, one of the most powerful influences on our personal and professional development is our peer groups. The people with whom we engage in regular conversations and interactions shape the questions that we ask, the problems that we see, how we approach our work and our sense of identity as professionals.

One thing I've been paying more attention to in the past year is the quality of my peer circles and the impact that my professional colleagues have on me. I started noticing that some people were really energizing and inspiring to be around, while other people tended to pull me down into the suck. Some people exposed me to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new questions and a focus on the awesome, while others seemed to see only the same old problems and no real solutions. 

Since I started paying attention to my professional peer networks, I've started becoming more intentional about my connections. I've begun limiting the amount of time I spend engaging with people who can only focus on what sucks and have been actively seeking to expand my connections to people who want to work on creating what's awesome. This has had a profoundly positive influence on my work and my thinking.

What I've realized, though, is that if we are not consciously thinking about what is going on with our peer networks, it's very easy to be pulled into a negative orbit. This is especially problematic if we are in a negative workplace and the majority of our professional interactions are with our co-workers. It becomes mission critical for us to find and connect with people who have a more positive perspective--those who want to work on building the awesome. 

For me, connecting with positive peers has been a two-step process. First is noticing the influence that different people have on me. I pay attention to how I feel when I interact with them. Do I leave an interaction feeling excited and energized and ready to follow-up on something we've discussed? That's a person I want to connect to more. 

The second thing I've been doing is looking for new people who share the qualities of those people who are currently in my network that have proven to be positive influences. Typically this means people who are curious, creative, focused on positive questions rather than on "problems," and who want to make a real difference. If I see people like this in a LinkedIn Group or some other on-line network, I try to make a special effort to reach out to them. I'm also intentionally looking for these connections in face-to-face interactions and purposely seeking them out to connect. I even tell them WHY I want to connect--because I see and value these qualities, which automatically improves the connection. 

Throughout all of this, I've also tried to be more aware of how I am connecting to other people--am I being the change I'm looking for in my world? This shift has forced me to look at the ways in which I'm negative, problem-focused, uninspiring, etc. I have had to look at how I can shift my own habits of interaction to be a positive peer, rather than a negative one. 

This process of forming positive peer networks and looking at my own actions as a peer has been one of the more important professional development practices I've engaged in this year. 

How are you forming the connections that are going to be most supportive for you? And how are you looking at your own behavior in this process? 

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Feeling stuck? I'm running another 7-Day Getting Unstuck session starting February 27. Details and sign-up information are here.

 


3 Tips for Increasing the Awesome at Work

Awesome Stuff Inside!

Last week I wrote about increasing the awesome vs. decreasing the suck and how I think that the only way to decrease what sucks is by focusing on what's awesome. Since then I've been thinking a lot about how to increase the awesome in my work life--what is it that we can do to bring the awesome? 

Here are three tips I came up with from noticing my own practice. . . 

1. Tune into the emotions of Awesome. 

The surest route to the Awesome, I'm finding, is to tune into my emotions. Whenever I feel curious, inspired, energized, hopeful, engaged, connected, and/or like I'm having fun, I know I'm accessing the Awesome. When I feel unmotivated, frustrated, irritated or apathetic, I'm most definitely living in the Suck. 

Each day I'm trying to begin with attuning myself to the feelings I want to have during my work day, reminding myself about the feelings of the Awesome. I also set the intention of trying to notice my Awesome emotions throughout my day, acknowledging them to myself and others.

It's been especially interesting to acknowledge a shift in energy to other people. They immediately know what I'm talking about and become even more energized, tuning into their own emotions of the Awesome and wanting more of that. I'm trying to be more purposeful in in doing this, as I find that this acknowledgement increases my chances of having Awesome converations (see below). 

2. Ask Awesome Questions

In the past 6 months, I've become increasingly interested in the power of questions to move me and the people I work with toward the Awesome. I'm firmly convinced that the questions we ask are at least as important as the answers. And I've found that asking Awesome questions actually is part of what increases our connection to and feelings of the Awesome. 

Some of the questions that have been working for me:

  • Why do I care about this situation? This reconnects me to purpose which connects me to Awesome. 
  • What possibilities and learning do I see? Seeing challenges and problems leads me to the Suck. When I look at possibilities and learning, I find the Awesome.
  • What do I want more of? When I tune into the emotions of the Awesome, I also notice what I'm doing at the time. Who am I with? What is happening? If possible, I will try to tune into the moment when the energy shifts from the Suck to the Awesome. Then I try to figure out how I can get more of whatever it was that created the Awesome. How can I inject it going forward? 
  • If success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps would I take? This may be the surest route to the Awesome. Usually I find that what is keeping me in the Suck isn't that I don't know what to do. It's that I'm afraid to do it. Or at least to try. So asking this question leads me to take the bold steps. . . most of the time. 

I've also been trying to find the "big questions" underneath the smaller ones. What is the REAL quest that I am on? I look for the forest, not the trees and often this leads me back to the Awesome. 

3. Have Awesome Conversations

Although the Awesome can sometimes be a solitary pursuit, most of the time it is not. Even if I'm going to do the work alone, having the right conversations can help me better articulate my vision of the Awesome. They can also help me connect to people and resources that help make the Awesome happen. 

This year is my year of conversation and I'm finding that the more I seek out and lean into creating Awesome conversations, the better I feel and the better my work is. 

To me, the hallmark of an Awesome conversation is that it generates Awesome emotions. If I'm feeling the energy of inspiration, hope, and possibility, then I know I'm having a conversation that will lead to the Awesome. If I'm feeling like I want to stab my own eye out, I know I'm mired in a conversation that supports the Suck. 

Awesome conversations mean that I'm talking about what really matters. I'm engaging with the Awesome questions and I'm noticing and acknowledging the awesome emotions. Most importantly, I'm acting as a host, creating a space for the Awesomeness to occur, being open to what happens and giving up my pre-conceived ideas of how things should go. 

I have found that some people are more amenable to the Awesome conversation than others. While I believe that everyone wants to have Awesome conversations, I'm not as skillful as I'd like to be in drawing people into those if they aren't at least halfway there. That's actually one of the areas I want to work on--how to help people who are really stuck in the Suck to find and access the Awesome. 

 

So these are my 3 tips for increasing the Awesome. What are you doing to increase the Awesome at work? 


Tough Questions for Your Professional Development

Everywhere questions

Through a friend, I discovered the In Good Company blog and this excellent post on 5 tough questions entrepreneurs should be asking themselves.

Reading through the questions, I thought they could easily be adapted to anyone, whether they work for themselves or for someone else, so here they are. Just replace "business" with "job" if you're working for someone else.  

1: If you could wave a magic wand to instantly fix three things in your business, what would they be? 
(be honest, don’t just say “get more clients”…what do you KNOW is broken)
* What prevents you from fixing these things on your own?

2: What three things would you stop doing for the business if you didn’t have to?
* Why don’t you? What would make doing them better?

3: What are you doing only because you feel like you “should”?
* What would happen if you didn’t?

4: What important thing do you never seem to have “time for”?
* Why? What makes it hard to prioritize?

5: What have you given up for your business or to be an entrepreneur?
* Are you OK with that sacrifice?

How does answering these questions create movement for you? What new questions open up for you? 

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I have another career visioning session coming up on February 21. It's a great opportunity for you to get a clearer picture of your career in just a few hours. More information and the sign-up form are here


Emotions and Your Career

Emotions

With my Career Clarity Camp, we're entering the home stretch and starting to integrate the lessons we've learned. One of the things we're working on this week is looking at the emotions we feel about the work we've been doing, which got me thinking about the power of emotions at work. 

Emotions at Work

One thing I've learned about work is that being "professional" often (usually?) means being unemotional. On a regular basis we are asked to check our emotions at the door, especially any negative emotions we may have like sadness, fear, anxiety, confusion, etc. But positive emotions, like joy, aren't often welcome at work either.  I think it's because emotions have a way of getting messy and "out of control." They are also distractions from just getting things done.  

The other issue with emotions at work is that so often we are rushing to DO things that it's hard to notice what we are feeling in the first place. We are just dealing with the the next thing on our "To Do" lists and it's hard to stop for even a few seconds to reflect on what we may be feeling. 

 All of this blocking of emotions, though, takes a toll. Emotions aren't really amenable to blocking. They just go underground until they explode in some way we would prefer they hadn't. Or they coil up inside us, clogging our creativity and our connection to ourselves. This blockage, in turn, leads to boredom and apathy. 

Working with Our Emotions

It's unfortunate that we spend so much time keeping emotions out of our work because they can be some of the most valuable clues we have to work with. Noticing where I feel energized or inspired or where I feel frustrated or anxious can tell me a lot about what I want more of and what I want less of at work. My emotions show me where there are problems or issues I need to deal with--work relationships that aren't' working or tasks that need to be looked at more closely. 

One thing I've encouraged the Career Clarity Campers to do is to make time in their days to pay attention to the emotions they're feeling as they go about their work. I've suggested that they stop once per hour or even 3-4 times a day to check in and ask themselves:

  • What have I been doing? What activities have you been engaged in? 
  • How do I feel about it? Note particularly the things you do that leave you feeling energized and interested. These may be things you want more of. 
  • Who am I doing it with? See if there's something about the people you are working with or the conversations you are having that feels energizing to you. Or are you doing things alone? What does that tell you? 

 They then write down these experiences and their reactions and look for trends and themes over time. 

Tuning in to your emotions this way can be a great 30-day experiment.  Paying attention in particular to the things that are inspiring or energizing so you can bring more of it into your work is also one of the best ways to increase the awesome.

I've found, too, that when I focus on the emotions I'm feeling in a work day, I do a better job of connecting with people and with building richer relationships. I notice when an interaction feels particularly positive and I can acknowledge that with the person I'm talking to. This always creates an even deeper bond. I can also see where emotions like boredom or frustration are telling me that I need to revisit how I'm handling something. This often leads to more fruitful conversations on how I can revise what I'm doing. 

Our emotions should not be left at the door when we go to work each day. Not only does that not work anyway, but our emotional lives are rich sources of learning and connection. They are our authentic selves communicating with us about our experiences and relationships. We need them to do our best work and to have conversations that matter

So what role do your emotions play in your work life? Do you bring them with you to work or do you check them at the door? 

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Decrease the Suck or Increase the Awesome?

Thanks to Hildy Gottleib over at Creating the Future, I found Hank Green's video on the Webb Telescope. Not that I care terribly much about the Webb Telescope. But I do care about the first minute of Hank's video, which you should watch first if you haven't seen it before.

Here's what Hank says: 

“There are two ways to make the world a better place. You can decrease the suck, and you can increase the awesome… And I do not want to live in a world where we only focus on suck and never think about awesome.”

I do not want to live in this world either. Every day I spend focused on fixing the suck is a day I end up wanting back. Rarely do I look around at the end of that time and think, "Damn. I'm glad I spent my day fixing the suck." Mostly I just want to curl up with a glass of wine and mindless TV, possibly take a bath to cleanse myself of the stench of the suck. 

Unfortunately, for many of us, our jobs are nothing but endless cycles of fixing the suck. This may explain a lot about why we are so depressed and dispirited by our work. All we are doing is thinking about what sucks, why it sucks, who's responsible for how much it sucks, how it's never going to stop sucking, how all we are talking about is how much things suck, etc.

Frankly, it sucks. 

And here's the thing. I'm not even sure that we are truly able to decrease the suck by focusing on that.  The suck is like quicksand or a black hole. It just pulls you in and drains from your mind all memories or ideas of the awesome. When you are thinking about the suck, the awesome no longer exists. You end up spending your time moving between less and more sucky.

I actually believe that the only way to decrease the suck is by increasing the awesome. 

The awesome is inspiring. It shows you what can happen, rather than what can't. The more you work for the awesome, the better you feel. AND the better your work becomes. Striving for the awesome is building something. It's creation. 

I spend a lot of time working with people who are feeling stuck or want something different for their careers. Often their unhappiness can be traced back to exactly how much time they are spending with the suck. Their goal is to find the awesome again. 

So here's a simple career tip I'm trying to live by--if you want to change the world and feel better about what you're doing, increase the awesome. 


Working Intentionally

SINCERELY INTERESTED at Field Work

Last week I had a really energizing phone conversation with one of my Career Clarity Campers, someone who has  jumped into the activities with both feet and is swimming joyfully in the experience. 

One of the things I've told the Campers to do is to pay attention to their work experiences, to identify what inspires and energizes them and then to look at how they can bring more of that to their work.   Essentially this is asking people to work with more intention, rather than letting work happen to them. 

This Camper has embraced the idea wholeheartedly, spending the first 30-40 minutes of his day thinking about what he wants to have happen, given the calls, appointments and goals he has for the day. For example, he's identified having more meaningful conversations as being an important value for him, so each day, he looks at how he can listen more carefully, dig deeper in discussions and provide really meaningful follow-up to people. 

He also uses this  morning time to hone in on what's really important for him to get from his day. He's looking for "what's REALLY important?" and finding that frequently it's nurturing connections, building relationships and spending his time on helping people make a real difference.

 He tells me that starting his day this way is energizing and inspiring and that the good results he's seeing are encouraging him to continue the practice even when that little voice inside him says he's should be jumping into email or some other more "productive" activity. 

What's interesting to me is hearing how working with greater intentionality is creating greater intensity for him. He told me that he's "reconnecting with the pleasure of his work," even having entire days where his work felt more like leisure and fun, rather than something he's getting paid to do. 

The tasks of his job have not changed. What is changing is HOW he does his work and, more importantly, how much of his true self he is bringing to that work. The more he focuses on what he wants from the experiences he's having and the more he approaches his work with an idea of creating a different experience, the more engaged and inspired he's feeling. 

 Essentially, the more intention and creation he brings to his daily work, the better it's feeling to him. 

I've found for myself that working more intentionally and focusing each day on what I want to create in my work has great payoffs. Even on those days where I'm having to respond to what other people want from me, I try to bring my intentions for what I want to create to those interactions. It makes a difference. 

So how intentionally are you working? How does working with intention change your experience of your work?