Category Archives: Inspirational

Should I stay in Hawaii or go home?

I bet it was the Joni Mitchell song I heard that triggered this long-ago memory from the ‘70’s…

personal mission statementI was in Hawaii with a young man (well, that’s a stretch–he was a boy then, he’s a boy today) that I’d fallen “madly in love” with when I was about fourteen. His name was Jim St. Pierre (don’t you love the romantic ring to that?).

Now I was 20, he was 21. We stayed with Jim’s friend who was in the army and had the unbelievable good fortune of getting stationed in Honolulu (instead of being shipped to Vietnam!). Jim planned to stay a few months; I said I could take a week of vacation.

We spent a wonderful week exploring the island (on a motorcycle, of course). The boys were surfers and I loved watching them ride the huge waves on the north shore. We enjoyed tropical showers and vivid sunsets.

This was one of those “good-girl, bad-boy” romances. I was career-minded even then. In fact I was an assistant buyer for a luxury department store in Southern California—the youngest in the store’s history. Jim was a…well, let’s just say he was a free spirit, interested only in earning enough money to support his surfing and other recreational habits (I’ll leave that to your imagination — hey, it was the ‘70’s!).

For a week I was in carefree heaven. But vacations end and soon came the day for me to go home, go back to work, back to real life.

Then Jim asked me to stay.

Could my life get any better than that? I imagined living in this tropical paradise, going to the beach every day, making puka shell necklaces…living a very carefree life.

But I didn’t stay. I still remember boarding the plane, with tears in my eyes.

You see, in that moment, at an age when I didn’t even have the conscious awareness, let alone the vocabulary to express it, I knew what I really wanted my life to look like.

This was long before people paid life coaches to help them live intentionally, long before we wrote personal mission statements, long before the volumes of self-help books had been written.

Even though I was too young and uninitiated to have a personal life plan, I knew at some level I was making a choice that was congruent with who I am, a choice that fit my values.

So I boarded the plane, went back to my assistant buyer job and I’ve been a career woman ever since.

What do you really want your life to look like?

I know too many people who are discontent, frustrated with their jobs (or careers), or tired of relationships that drain them. They feel stuck, or perhaps lost, unable to find a path to happiness.

Last week I had a conversation with a friend who has had a difficult four years. An accident interrupted her booming career and left her with constant physical pain, plus a mountain of medical bills. Now, after surgery, which should make a major difference in her health, and an insurance settlement that will get her as close to “whole” as she’ll ever be, she’s facing big decisions.

It’s a little overwhelming.

Where does she want to live? Which career path should she pursue? What is the best investment of her time and money?

Choosing is always more difficult than not choosing, because we have to take responsibility then. But not deciding is also making a decision – a decision to let life take you where it will, instead of being intentional. In the end, it’s avoiding responsibility.

It’s easy to get lost in wondering what the “right” decision will be. But there are no right or wrong answers. You get to decide what you want your life to look like. Your answer might be different than mine. You may have stayed in Hawaii!

It’s also easy to get stuck in feeling like you’ve been shortchanged. That’s a sure recipe for unhappiness. I can’t remember who said this (if I did I’d give them credit): “You must have wanted what you have because you chose it.”

That’s a tough fact to face, because it’s easier to see ourselves as victims of life’s pitfalls, accidents and tragedies. But in the end, we always get to choose, even if our only choice is HOW we respond to misfortunes that we all encounter.

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

My friend will make the best decisions for herself if she’ll answer these questions:

  • What makes me happy?
  • What feeds my spirit?
  • What do I really want my life to look like?

I hope you’ll make your life the work of art that you desire. Just be faithful to who you are and faithful to your own values.


Take care,

Darcie Harris



P.S. Yes, I still have a bit of that carefree, adventurous spirit in me. As you read this, I’ll be enjoying two weeks of carefree heaven, exploring the coast between the French Riviera and Barcelona. And then I’ll come back to work, just like I did in 1973. Because that’s really what makes me happy.

Alpha Mare: Embrace the grace of power

P.S.S. If you’d like some guidance on deciding what you really want your life to look like, you’ll enjoy my e-course, The Alpha Mare: Embrace the Grace of Power.  It’s a deep exploration into discovering who you are, giving up the stories that keep you stuck and uncovering your most authentic self.


A “Balcony Person” made my day

Balcony peopleI could see the audience begin to rise in ovation as the full cast of Les Miserables gathered on stage to sing the powerful final refrain of Do You Hear the People Sing?

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

I suppose it’s typical for an audience to affirm the cast of a play with a rousing ovation. What I noticed, though, is that it’s always the people in the balcony seats along the side of the theater who rise first and who cheer the loudest — whistling, cheering and calling Bravo!

I love the Balcony People

There are Balcony People outside the theater too. They are the people who are cheering others on, affirming, encouraging. They offer strength, courage or a simple kind word for no reason at all.

I think it’s sad that we live in a pretty snarky world now. Look at the tabloid covers at the checkout stand in any grocery or drug store. They exploit the most painful moments of people’s lives and shove that into our faces. We, in turn, entertain ourselves reading about other people’s failures or celebrating the criticism and humiliation that’s standard red meat for most reality TV shows.

And while social media has its plus side, it’s also become a place to complain, criticize, and condemn. That’s pretty easy to do, shielded behind the safety of our computer screens. But we don’t need to let ourselves get swept into this current of judgment and criticism.

Sure, there are people who get on our nerves, annoy us, people who do things we don’t like. But we’ll likely never know the pain or the burdens that brought them to the place where they behave the way they do.

We’ll likely never know the heartaches or worries of the person in the car next to us at a red light, the strangers we pass in mall, or the work crews we see mowing lawns.

I do know this:  a simple smile, a small gesture of kindness may be the only bright spot in their day.

A Balcony Person made my day

Last week I facilitated a strategic planning session. Sounds like about as much fun as diagramming sentences, doesn’t it? And yet, the day was not just productive but happy and energizing.

The day was happy because Max, the board president, was a Balcony Person. Throughout the day, he interjected words of encouragement, appreciation and affirmation to each board member and to me. His cheerful spirit made my job as the facilitator much easier and lightened the spirits of everyone in the room.

But that’s not all. Two days later I received a hand-written note from Max, saying, “You are tremendous…guided us masterfully…your spirit shone so brightly and set the tone…”

Let me tell you, that simple note made my day. I know there will come a day when I’m discouraged, stuck or just feeling generally miserable and I’ll pull out Max’s note to lift my spirits.

Max is a Balcony Person.

Two kinds of energy

The play Les Miserables is the story of a man who turned his energy from hating to loving. It’s a story of forgiveness and redemption during a time when it was excruciatingly hard to do the former, let alone achieve the latter.

Surely if Jean Val Jean – a man unfairly imprisoned, scorned and hunted for a minor infraction of the law — could turn his heart from bitterness and hate to generosity and love, we can do something as simple as shift our energy from dark to light. Surely we can offer a few words of affirmation or encouragement to a friend, a co-worker or even a complete stranger.

Be a Balcony Person (please!)

Give the gift of affirmation. You may never know the outcome, but your few words of encouragement or appreciation may change a person’s life.

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

Take care,

Darcie Harris


P.S. Kindness is contagious

The best part of being a Balcony Person is that it’s catching! Your simple act of kindness or warmth will be remembered and passed on.

Here are just four of my favorite ways to be a Balcony Person:

  • I tell the cashier at the grocery store that I like her nails (those loooong ones, decorated with whatever the upcoming holiday is about)
  • I pause when I drive by a yard crew taking care of the landscaping and thank them for making the neighborhood pretty
  • I smile and say hello to the new person who walks into the gym so they will feel welcome
  • I always ask immigrant cab drivers to tell me about their home country and what it’s like there (they always miss it, and the families they left behind)

It feels so good to be kind! I’m sure I get more out of it than the recipient, because it lifts my spirits and brings joy to my day.


In defense of perfectionism

My son Tate has always had wisdom beyond his years.

perfectionismOne Christmas, when he was about six, he watched me struggle as I was wrapping a gift. I was using ribbon with velvet on one side, satin on the other. I tried my best to get all the loops and tails to come out with the velvet side up.

That slippery little ribbon wasn’t cooperating.

I don’t think I spewed profanity (surely not in front of a six year old!), but Tate could tell I was getting pretty frustrated. I was on my fourth try, when Tate looked at me – puzzled — and calmly said, “Mom, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t you know all that energy you use trying to be perfect could be used just to have fun?”

Well, uh…I’d never really thought about life like that.

I’ve remembered his wise words ever since and I do attempt to find that delicate balance between perfectionism and knowing when “good enough” is good enough.

And yet…I’m a big fan of perfectionism.

All you have to do is watch the documentary “This Is It” about Michael Jackson to see perfectionism in motion. Watch him bring forth the absolute best from every singer, dancer and musician.

Just listen to k.d. lang sing Hallelujah at the Winter Olympics and you’ll know what perfection sounds like. (If this isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is!)

Daniel Day Lewis is a perfectionist – when he takes on a role, he stays “in character” the entire time the movie is being shot. Yes, he embodied President Lincoln for months, never sliding back and forth from Abe to Daniel. See that movie and you’ll see perfectionism at its best.

Steven Jobs was a perfectionist, and the beauty of his Apple products (not to mention animated movies) are a testimony to his constant quest for innovation.

The Ritz Carlton hotels, Nordstrom’s shopping experience, Valentino gowns are all premium brands that shoot for perfection.

I admire the effort, the dedication, the sense of mission it takes to create these performances, these products, these brands.

Yet it looks to me like we’re declining into a culture that shrugs when things go wrong and says, “Whatever.” We’ve made it fashionable to be wrinkled, rumpled and ragged. We work so hard to protect our own self esteem (and that of our children) that we tell ourselves it’s fine to settle for ordinary, mediocre or even second-rate.

Now before you start throwing things at me, you can definitely make an argument that being an all-out perfectionist is unhealthy. Without a doubt, taken too far, perfectionism burdens our lives with compulsion, anxiety and shame.

At its worst, perfectionistic thoughts can include, “If I make a mistake, there’s something wrong with me,” or “I’m never good enough.” Trying to be perfect at everything, all the time interferes with relationships and stifles creativity.

But I’m not talking about basing your entire self-worth as a person on being a perfect human being. I’m saying, Let’s embrace the pursuit of perfection in our endeavors. Let’s quit accepting mediocrity and keep shooting for the stars.

Striving for perfection doesn’t mean you never make a mistake, it means that you look at every opportunity for improvement.

I’d like to think there’s such a thing as healthy perfectionism (I wonder how many mental health professionals will disagree with me).

Perhaps the determining factor between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism depends on where the desire for perfection comes from. Does it come from fear, from shame, or the constant need for approval? Not healthy. Does it lead to being critical of everyone or everything? Not good.

But what if the genesis of pursuing perfection is a temperament for excellence? Or an eye for the most delightful aesthetics? Or an ear for beautiful music? Or appreciation for impeccable skills? Or the desire to create the highest level of customer service?

If the perfectionistic drive comes from a true desire to be committed to your endeavor, your work or your craft – to do and be the best you can be – then I think perfectionism is a worthy goal.

Like any other strength, perfectionism overused becomes a weakness. When the root of perfectionism is conditional acceptance, we’ve got a problem.

So while I strive to give my best to every worthy endeavor, I still remember my son’s words: Some of that energy I’m using to find perfection I now use just to have fun! I hope you’ll do both too.

Take care, d

Darcie Harris



P.S.  I’m not a therapist, so if being a perfectionist is ruining your life, seek professional help please!

Candid girl talk…our emotional attachments

emotional attachmentsLast month my annual GYN exam revealed something growing where it shouldn’t be.  (That’s creepy news to hear!)  An ultrasound didn’t provide many clues, and an MRI only confirmed there was…well…a large mass near my uterus.

My doctor assured me that none of the tests indicated that scary “C” word — but it couldn’t be ruled out a hundred percent, either.  Clearly uncomfortable with the status quo he said, “You’re one of those cases that cause us docs to scratch our heads and say, ‘What do we do now?’’”

Without hesitation I said, “You know, I’m not emotionally attached to my uterus.  At this stage of my life, it serves no useful purpose.  How about if we just take it out?” 

So I had a hysterectomy on Monday (which is why my weekly blog skipped a beat).  Problem solved (and I feel great, by the way).

But as a regular reader of my words, you likely know that this post isn’t about my health.  It is, as always, about the metaphor.


Once I spoke the words “not emotionally attached” and “no useful purpose” I couldn’t get them out of my mind.  Having made the decision to ditch a few body parts with surprising ease, I began to see everything through new eyes.

For a month I’ve been asking myself, “How many other things in my life serve no useful purpose?  Am I emotionally attached to them?” 

I came upon six years of Hemingway journals, which I use for my weekly planning.  Yes, six years.  (You’re laughing at me now, aren’t you!)  And I asked myself, Do these serve any useful purpose?  No.  So why am I keeping these?  Am I emotionally attached to them?  Yes.  Why?  Because that’s six years of work on those pages!

As I swapped the winter clothes in my closet with spring clothes, I noticed a sweater I bought in Paris two years ago, and have only worn once.  (It looked a lot cuter in that Paris boutique!)

Then there’s the straw handbag I bought in Rwanda but I’m too lazy to change purses all the time, so I never use it.   But I remember so clearly the face of the woman who made it!

And my books!  I may still have every book I’ve ever read.

Turns out I own lots of things that serve no useful purpose. The problem is, I’m emotionally attached to most of them.

So I’ve been asking myself quite a few questions:

  • What meaning have I attached to these “things?” What do they represent to me?
  • What am I holding on to?
  • Am I holding on to the past?  Or preparing for the future?
  • Are these attachments keeping me from something new and different?
  • Would it free up some space – both physical and emotional – if I parted with a few of these belongings?

Now, I’m not talking about things with deep sentimental meaning, like my children’s kindergarten drawings, my aunt’s antique wooden bowl, or a necklace my mother gave me.  That’s different.  And I feel great compassion for the many women who have had to sacrifice precious body parts before they outlived their usefulness, as mine had.  That’s real sorrow.


I’m talking about things and thoughts, belongings and beliefs, which might be keeping us in the past instead of preparing us for the future.  Do these things, thoughts, belongings and beliefs represent a resistance to change or grow?

Are there things — tangible and intangible — personal or business — that you are holding on to, without knowing why?  See where these questions take you:

  • Are you emotionally attached to a certain product or service you offer, that may no longer meet the needs of your market?
  • Are you emotionally attached to an employee that can’t keep up now that the company has grown?  (I’ve seen this happen, and it’s painful!)
  • Are you emotionally attached to a client that may not really fit your business model anymore?
  • Are you emotionally attached to a belief about yourself that is holding you back?  (I call these “stories.”)
  • Are you emotionally attached to a relationship that prevents you from being open to a new one?
  • Are any of these tangible “things” or intangible beliefs taking up valuable space (in your closet, in your mind, in your heart)?
  • Is what you think and believe – about yourself or your business — positioning you for the future or holding you in the past?

I’m still mystified as to why it is more difficult for me to part with a book than it was to part with my ovaries!  But I’m on a new journey now to reexamine what I’m holding on to and what that emotional attachment might keep me from exploring.

I kissed my Hemingway journals goodbye and put them in the recycle bin.  They will become useful once again in a brand new shape and form (paper towels? toilet paper?).  I folded the Paris sweater neatly, and sent it on to the women’s shelter, along with the straw handbag and two dozen other clothing items.  To another woman, these clothes will represent the new, the future.

You know what?  I felt lighter.

I am creating space for something new to take shape.  I hope you will too!

Take care,

Darcie Harris



P.S.  I hope you’ll share your stories of creating space with me too, in the Comments section below.  And if you like what you read, feel free to share.

What’s your success formula?

Success for women entrepreneursSuccess.  We all want it, right?  Even if our definitions are different, we all want to achieve our own version of success.

And I’m seeing a lot of oversimplified clichés (especially on social media!) that imply all we need to do is “think successful thoughts” and success will be delivered to our doorsteps, wrapped up in a big bow.


Whether you’re a sports fan or not, just listen to this…

John Wooden was one of the most successful basketball coaches that ever lived.  He turned the UCLA men’s team into a winning machine.  He earned 10 NCAA titles in 12 years, racked up an 88-game winning streak, and won 38 straight tournament games.

Wow!  Whether you’re a basketball fan or not, you’ve gotta admire that impressive winning record!

But here’s what’s fascinating to me:  none of his coaching or locker room talks with his players focused on winning. 

Don’t get me wrong, John Wooden was very competitive and loved to win.

But instead of focusing his players on winning, he taught his students two things:

  • How to execute the skills that led to scoring points (because scoring points leads to winning)
  • Working and practicing to achieve their personal best

In other words, John Wooden focused on input, not output.


Coach Wooden’s philosophy is a great lesson for business success too.  I mean, think about it.  How useful is it if you say, “I want to be successful!” without focusing on the individual skills and steps that lead to success?

You have to break success down into bite size pieces.

For basketball players, that’s accurate shooting, jumping high to get rebounds, quick reflexes, and having the stamina to run up and down that court.  (I’m making this up, you understand, I know very little about basketball.)

But I do know about business.  And I know you need to ask yourself, “What are the specific skills my company needs to execute that will lead to putting points on the board in this business?” 


Imagine you run a restaurant, and you have an outstanding chef.  The food you offer is amazing.  But if your hostess, your bartender and your wait staff aren’t warm and friendly, aren’t attentive, aren’t timely, then it’s not going to matter much how great your food is.  Your customers will be disappointed and won’t return.

So let’s break this down and look at the INPUT it takes to have a successful restaurant.  Great food, great service, great marketing, great profit margins.

Now let’s get more specific.  You have to define “great.”  What does it mean?

Get very specific with your staff and train them.  Teach them exactly with “being warm and friendly” looks and sounds like.  Set standards for speed and service.  Focus your team on practicing the individual steps it takes to consistently create great food and great service.

Does your business depend on referrals?  Then focus on being the best you can be at getting referrals.  Put a system in place to get those referrals.  Set a goal for how many referrals you want each week.  Test several ways of asking for referrals and find the top three most effective ways.  Then practice using those top three methods until you become the absolute best you can be at getting referrals.

That’s what focusing on the input and achieving your personal best looks like.  You have to get specific.


So I want you to take two minutes, right now, and ask yourself these “input” questions:

  • What causes sales in my company?  (i.e., referrals, cold calls, needs assessments?)
  • What causes great service?   (i.e., speed, accuracy, creativity, hospitality, reliability?)
  • What causes wasted money? (i.e., inefficiency, wasted materials, ineffective marketing?)

Then choose ONE THING you can improve in each area and get amazingly good at that one thing.  Define it; get specific about what it takes to really excel in that area.  Teach and train your staff exactly what that looks like.  When you have mastered that skill, then move on to the next one.

John Wooden believed that little things make big things happen.  Little things in your business are what will make big things happen too.

Yes, we need to have a success attitude, a success mindset.  But putting points on the board is what adds up to a winning score.  (I’m starting to sound like a guy right about now, aren’t I?)

Focus on defining your success formula and mastering your input.  That’s when you’ll see success!

Take care,

Darcie Harris



Communication: “Can you bring me a screwdriver please?”

communication skillsEver wonder if your communication skills are as good as you think they are?  Sometimes even the simplest things get misunderstood.  Listen to this…

I’m on a late night phone call from a consulting client.  She’s had a long day of meetings, and decided to swing by a restaurant she owns and sit by their outdoor fireplace as we debriefed the day.

In the background, I hear her flag down a waitress and ask, “Can you bring me a screwdriver please?”

We talk for a bit, and soon I hear laughter.  Then I hear the waitress apologizing.  Then more laughter.  They are hysterical!

I’m so curious that I’m trying to see through the phone line to figure out what has them doubled over laughing.  “What in the world is going on there?”

She’s laughing so hard she can hardly get the words out“The waitress brought me a tool box!  I asked for a screwdriver — I just wanted a cocktail!  She brought me an entire toolbox!”  communication skills

I’m now I’m laughing so hard I have tears rolling down my face.  She’s laughing, the waitress is laughing, and I suspect they had drawn a crowd by now.

So as you can see, even the simplest communication can be misunderstood.

We all agree that good communication is one of the most crucial skills of leadership.  Whether you realize it or not, you set the tone for communication throughout your entire company.

So maybe we can’t take even the simplest communication for granted.


As a leader, how are you doing in each of these eight communication skills?

1)      Authenticity:  Nothing destroys trust faster than lack of authenticity. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Authenticity doesn’t give you license to blow up or berate (we all have those urges!).  It does mean that you can express feelings of disappointment or concern.  It means that you don’t over-promise and under-deliver.  People will remember what you say, so be very sure you mean what you are saying. 

2)      Balance advocacy with inquiry:   Much of a leader’s job involves “telling and selling.”  Be sure to balance out your advocacy with inquiry, with getting others opinions.   And listen!  Stretch to understand what each person is saying.  Just as important, what are they NOT saying?  Use “active listening” skills, which means you reflect back what you believe you heard.  You check in, “Am I understanding you correctly when I hear you say that …” Ask good questions:  There is tremendous healthy power in asking the right questions.  Ask what slows people down, what is inefficient in the system.  Ask for ideas.  Ask what they need.  Ask what they expect.  Stop selling and start listening.

3)      Context matters:  Once again, the screwdriver…here’s the back story:  that waitress knew that the restaurant owner is quite particular about the patio furniture, and had recently mentioned some of the fittings were loose.  Given that context, she seriously thought that the owner wanted to tighten up the screws in the furniture.  Hence…she brought her a toolbox instead of a cocktail!  That’s called “context.”  Check in to understand the larger context of what’s being discussed and you’ll save yourself lots of frustration(Though you might miss a few laughs!)

4)      Shared meaning:  Repeat back what you heard and make sure you clarify.  For example, you might say, “We need this project completed fast.”  Well, what does “fast” mean to you?  Does is mean right now, drop everything and do it?  Or does it mean by the end of the month?  Clarify to make sure your words have shared meaning.  (Like screwdriver = cocktail vs. screwdriver = tool!)

5)      Early and often:  When people don’t have information, they fill in the blanks themselves.  And most of the time, they fill that gap with something negative.  Especially when change is in the works, keep people informed.  Speak to the issue as soon as possible and keep people updated

6)      Disagree and debate:  You want an environment where people can feel comfortable to disagree and debate issues, priorities, strategies and methods.  Jim Collins found this characteristic to be one of the most significant factors in the most successful companies

7)      Who needs to know What by When?:  One of the biggest complaints of employees (customers too!) is that they feel like they don’t have all the information or are not kept informed.  With every project or decision, ask yourself this question:  Who needs to know What by When?  That positions your employees to do their best work.   

8)      Undiscussables:  Nearly every organization has topics considered to be “undiscussable.”  These are the very topics that can sink you.  Undiscussables sap energy and create gossip (because people are talking about them anyway, just not to your face).  Create a culture where it’s safe to draw out the very topics that people are scared to bring up.

We’re going to tell that funny screwdriver story for a long time.  (And create more laughter, which is a good thing, because we all need more laughter.)

But beyond the comedy, here’s the real point:  Foster a climate of authentic, clear and open communication with employees, with vendor and with customers.  Your employee and your customers will all benefit!

Communicate with me too, right below in the comments section.  Got a funny miscommunication story?  I’d love to hear it!

Take care,

Darcie Harris