emotional intelligence

When to Emulate and When to Originate

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In school, we’re always told never to copy a fellow student’s work. That’s cheating! It’s a forbidden, punishable, no-no. But as you move through life, you may find that there are times when imitation can be a valuable technique, especially when you’re in the process of learning a new skill. However, you’ll soon find that to reach the next level of success, you must move from emulation to developing your own expertise. 

After 35 years of working for other companies, I decided to go out on my own almost two years ago. As I built my business, I earned several certifications, received challenge and support from my coach, and was inspired by many people along the way.

I’ve been climbing a steep learning curve. Recently, I hit a plateau. After taking stock of where I had been and where I envisioned going, I saw the next mountain to climb. It was time to stop emulating the people and programs I had learned from, and start refining my own voice and style.

Imagine your teachers, coaches, and mentors as training wheels on a bicycle. If you’re going to truly have fun and excel at riding, you need to lose the training wheels! Yes, you’re going to wobble. You’re going to fall down. Then, you’re going to feel the wind in your hair and have a blast riding!

Here are tips to move from mimicry to “my way:”

Do It Your Way

Use all the material you’ve learned and then, unlearn it, and do it your way.

Frank Boyden, a founder of the nearly 50-year-old Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, envisioned a place where artists could come unlearn all the stuff they had learned in the Masters of Fine Arts programs. He knew that while an education is important, eventually an artist must develop his or her own creative voice to truly be successful.

How can you inject a bit of your voice the next time you’re practicing a new skill? For example, in becoming a better leader. What idea have you held back from sharing with your team? Share it in your way at the next meeting.

Teach, Present, Write

The best way to learn something—and to find your own voice in it—is to teach it! Challenge yourself to teach a class, present an hour-long Lunch & Learn session, or write an article or blog post.

For example, you could learn about presentation skills by attending Toastmasters meetings or watching Ted Talks. After being inspired by people who do it well, find a place to practice speaking in your voice. Volunteer to present at your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary organization, or other groups that interest you.

Good Theft vs. Bad Theft

Emulating another person’s style or work does not mean flat-out copying it and presenting it as your own. I believe it means paying attention to what you notice other people doing that sparks something inside you. For me, there’s an inner voice I sense that says something like, “Wow! That’s cool!” or “Ooooo, I’d love to learn how to do it like that,” or “Oh. I never thought of doing it that way. I like that.”

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon lays it out like this:

Good Theft                                        Bad Theft

Honor                                                 Degrade

Study                                                  Skim

Steal from many                                Steal from one

Credit                                                 Plagiarize

Transform                                          Imitate

Remix                                                 Rip off

Let’s be good thieves, not bad thieves!

You’ve Got It In You

Years ago, I said to my therapist, “My dad drives me crazy because he’s so judgmental!” To my horror, she said, “You know that when we notice something in someone else, it’s because we have it in us, too.” Nooooo! That was not what I wanted to hear, even though she was spot-on.

Since then I’ve learned that the opposite is also true. When I notice a leader who is willing to be authentic, to boldly say what he or she believes, and generously share to help others, I remind myself that I’m capable of that also.

Who are the people that inspire you? What exactly is it that you notice? Know that you also have that quality inside you. What would it look like to express it?

Create for the First Time

Does your work involve designing documents, presentations, videos, forms, systems, websites, etc.? Mine does. I deeply appreciate that building things like that takes a lot of time, energy, and expertise. (I feel the pain!) When people offer to share their work with me, I quickly say, “Yes! Thank you!”

For example, I have used another person’s PowerPoint presentation as a foundation and then customized it with my style. Often when I need to build a new system or process, I ask my Mastermind group members how they do it and then tweak it for myself. Website design inspiration comes from bookmarking websites I love so that when it’s time for me to make changes, I have fuel to stimulate my creative juices.

Wrapping It Up

Children imitate parents. Mentees mirror the style of mentors. Students regurgitate the right answers for exams. Emulation and education help us grow—to a point. Have the courage to kick off those training wheels and ride all-out! Ethically, honorably, and intentionally use the work of others and then, do it your way.


GROW • STEP OUT • LEAD • DO

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Are You Hobbling or Helping Yourself?

Pre-blog note: Hi! I took a few months off from blog-posting to re-think what I’m sharing with you. Initially, I wrote short blogs weekly, then I made short videos weekly, and now, I’m experimenting with writing longer, more thoughtful posts monthly. Let me know what you think! Thank you for being here :)

And now…on with this month’s blog post…

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Remember the three-legged race popular at family reunions and field days? Racers pair up and stand side-by-side with their arms around each other. Then the two touching legs are bound together and the hobbled racers do their best to dash straight ahead to the finish line! It doesn’t take much for them to tumble over into a giggling heap.

Are your thoughts, feelings, and actions helping you move toward what’s most meaningful to you? Or are they hobbling you, causing you to stumble and perhaps fall just short of your goals?

It’s easy to unconsciously create devices that cause us to flounder and fall. The invisible rope we unintentionally tie around our legs makes it tougher (and a lot less fun!) for us to get anywhere. Recently, I’ve started noticing how I manufacture my own pesky hobbling devices.

I thought about the way I cause my body unnecessary hardship by waiting way too long to step away from the keyboard and stretch. The muscles in my neck, shoulders, and upper back form a Union, striking as one big knot of tension in a desperate attempt to get my attention, pleading with me to stretch them back into fully functional human form.

I also noticed the way I manufacture unhelpful, fearful feelings in my mind long before I begin a project. You know that sinking sensation we can get before stepping out of our comfort zones and taking on a new challenge? We can’t believe we said yes and wonder if we’re up for it. It might sound something like this:

“You’re not a writer/leader/speaker, so why do you think you can pull this off?”

“You’re not smart/experienced/creative enough.”

I even thought back to a time when I limited myself, working too long at a job that did not fit my strengths and passions. I tangled myself up with desk-ridden, rule-laden tasks when inside, my heart’s voice whispered my desire to be connecting more with people.

Seeing our own hobbling devices is tricky because we often aren’t aware that we’re doing it to ourselves. A coach, mentor, or friend’s insight can help us uncover what’s causing our stumbles. Once we see our concealed creations, we can dismantle them.

Dismantling Your Hobbling Devices

Body Comfort

Most of us these days are laboring over a computer keyboard and struggling to do it in a way that doesn’t cause too much discomfort.

In response to my knotted-up neck and shoulders, a clever massage therapist told me, “Jalene, Jalene, stretch your scalene!” You can feel your scalene muscles right now, along the side of your neck, if you tilt your ear toward your shoulder.

Here’s a simple stretch: Stand up. With your arms resting straight by the side of your body, gently lean your ear sideways toward your right shoulder, and hold. If you want more of a stretch, bend your left arm so your wrist is behind your lower back. Go gentle and slow. Listen to your body. Switch sides.

Experiment with ways to increase the comfort level of your body.

Inner Operating System

Our inner operating system is how I think of what we say to ourselves on the inside. We’re usually not aware of it, similar to the OS in our technology devices. An inner sound track loops with words, phrases, and sentences that have the power to take us down, or build us up. Pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself. Is it helping or hobbling you?

That hurtful, critical voice can be a gremlin or saboteur. A common reaction to that voice is to do battle with it, to convince it that it’s not right. That’s wrong. Rick Carson’s book, Taming Your Gremlin, implores people to simply notice. In doing this, Carson says that it taps into an age-old change process often called The Zen Theory of Change: “I free myself not by trying to be free, but by simply noticing how I am imprisoning myself in the very moment I am imprisoning myself.”

Listen to what you’re saying to yourself on the inside, and simply notice.

Draining vs. Energizing

Since we’re often unaware of the hobbling devices we’re building, it’s tough to know where they’re hiding out. The Emotional Intelligence skill of self-awareness can help us find them.

Pay attention to when you feel unreasonably drained, exhausted, or wiped out and, conversely, when you feel energized, excited, or invigorated. Begin making two lists. One for what drains you and one for what energizes you. Don’t be surprised if some things that energized you in the past are now draining you.

You can start by making your lists now. However, I encourage you to continue adding to them over a couple of weeks to see the whole picture.

Take a look at what’s draining you. Are there any hobbling devices there? What might you think, feel, or do to help yourself? What can you let go of doing?

Now, look at what energizes you. Are there any hobbling devices there? What might you think, feel, or do to help yourself? Consider each of these fabulous items. What does it bring you? How can you do more of it?

Holding ourselves back with invisible hobbling devices serves no one—not us or the people in our lives. Break free! By simply noticing, when and where we are tying ourselves up, we can see the devices we’ve created, dismantle them, and free ourselves.


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We all get to lead our own lives. Some of us get to lead others.

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Gratefully Overwhelmed

How can we help ourselves when we love most of the activities and people in our lives but it’s all just too much? Lately I’ve been feeling tired, tense, overwhelmed and even though I also feel grateful for all of it, I needed a shift to a sustainable pace.

Doing It Your Way

“Doing it your way” sounds like a dandy idea but actually having the guts to do it is a different story. Join me as I slow down that moment in time when I decide, “Yes! I’m going to do it my way!”

Recovery Mode with Help From Emotional Intelligence

How do you recover after you've completed something big such as, an important presentation, teaching, or giving a speech? Moving from fuzzy-headedness to energized, clear thinking can be expedited by using emotional intelligence techniques.