Learn From the Entrepreneurial Experts

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Is Starting Your Own Business Right for You?

Owning a successful business is a big dream — one that can easily turn into a nightmare if you’re not fully prepared to be an entrepreneur.

Even if you’re great at what you do, actually running a business requires a lot of hard work, a variety of skills unrelated to your core service or offering, and being financially savvy enough to give your business the time and space it needs to grow.

A few years ago, Jeff Leavy created The Entrepreneurship Toolkit for Seattle Central College’s Business and Technology department, largely in response to the community’s need for more training and guidance in the world of small business. This year, he passed the reigns to one of the classes’ long-time expert lecturers, Michael Coffey, so we asked both Jeff and Michael to share more about their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives on this class.

We’ll be offering this course again during Spring 2017, so read on to learn whether or not this class is the right fit for you.

How long have you been teaching these workshops?

Jeff: Three years, then I handed it off to the very capable Michael Coffey.


Michael: I’m brand new and an old hand at this. I first got involved with the Entrepreneurship Toolkit class as a guest speaker a few years ago.

I met Jeff Levy, who created this class, when I was a Business Assistance Officer at the Washington Women’s Business Center. When I left to launch my own business as a digital strategist for small business, he asked me to come in and present some key ideas of marketing online. This also led to my designing and teaching the Marketing Fundamentals class.

I’ve been coming in as a guest speaker almost every quarter since then, but Fall 2016 was my first time as the instructor for the full course.

What inspired you to teach this class?

Jeff: The dean at the time felt that Seattle Central College had an opportunity to be a center of excellence in entrepreneurship. I am a subject matter expert in that field and also a community college graduate. It was time to give back and provide some inspiration.


Michael: Aside from simply the necessity (Jeff Levy had conflicts that prevented him from teaching), the importance of this class is twofold.

First, I think it’s important for everyone to view starting a business as a possibility for them to consider. Not every business idea is great. Not every person is ready to start a business. But there is still a lot of inequality in who starts a business, and I think our economy would be more vibrant and diverse if more people considered business ownership. And the first step toward that is helping people see that starting their own business is a possible option for them.

Second, on the flip side, it’s also very important that those who do start a business are well informed about the process when they do so. Being a hard worker is not enough. Being good at what you do is not enough. Being passionate is not enough. Jumping in without having a good picture of what the experience of entrepreneurship is leads to a huge percentage of business failures. The misconceptions about entrepreneurship can be deadly to a business venture.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

Jeff: Most of my other work are two hour seminars, and this is more hands-on and discussion-based.


Michael: Much of what I teach, both as a digital strategist and at Seattle Central, is about technical skills.

The Marketing Fundamentals class is an overview of marketing skills and concepts. I’ve taught classes about how to set up your own business website, or use Google+ as both a social media channel and to improve search engine optimization. But Entrepreneurship Toolkit is more about the entrepreneurs themselves. It’s about the bigger picture of both designing your ideal life, and based on that personal vision, thinking about business ownership as a potential way of realizing that vision. That’s very different than how most people think of starting a business.

Of course, there are also skills involved, and evaluating whether you’re ready now or if you have more work to do, and so forth, but the core of the class is the idea of whether a particular business idea will serve your life.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

Jeff: Anyone entering the work force or needing to work their way through the “New Career Economy.”

Today, 31% of the work force is 1099, contract employees and that is projected to grow to 50% over the next 15-20 years. New workers need survival skills, both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial. This class provides that.


Michael: Anyone who wonders about starting their own independent business, or buying a franchise.

This class is a great way to “try on” what it might be like to own a business, and what it would take to be successful — without the substantial costs in money and time of really starting one.

I’d love it if all the students were successful in business, it’s also sometimes a success if a student realizes, “I was about to start, but I know now that I need to learn more about how accounting (or whatever) works first.” Or that their personal goals are better achieved through traditional employment. Or that they need to prioritize building savings first before financing a startup.

Anyone who’s not sure about those kinds of priorities would get a lot out of this class.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

Jeff: When a student that was also taking a class called Art and Anarchy told me he loved my class when he realized there was no financial security in anarchy. Wow!


Michael: We recently were visited by a librarian from the Seattle Public Library, Jay Lyman.

Many of the students were stunned (in a good way!) by how much detail could be gleaned about their potential customers, competitors, and industry, using free library resources. The “aha” was not just what data was in which database, but that it was even possible to find these things out.

I could almost see thoughts like “Wait, if you can see that, I bet you could also figure out…” cross many faces.

Key Takeaways

  1. Learn goal setting
  2. Meet community resources
  3. Assess your communications style & strengths
A business should be designed to support your life goals; otherwise, you’re just in a job where you have to be both boss and employee.
There are lots of risks in business, but there are healthy ways to address those risks.
Business ownership may be right for you, but maybe not right now.
Strategy and planning are two of the biggest keys to success.

Instructor Spotlight: Gilberto Nunez-Lira

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Gilberto Nunez-Lira - Spanish Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Spanish Language Classes in Seattle WA

Spice Things Up

We’ve written about how learning a new language can change your perspective, but it’s also a great way to shake things up a bit in your life.

And who better to help you shake things up than a Spanish teacher with a love for Cuban music?!

Meet instructor Gilberto Nunez-Lira, who has been sharing his knowledge and experience in our Spanish for Travelers class for the last 10 years.

What classes do you teach for Seattle Central?

I teach Spanish For Travelers for Continuing Education at Seattle Central College.

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for about 10 years or so at Seattle Central.

What's your educational & professional background?

I graduated with two Bachelor Degrees at the University of Washington (Latin American Studies and Spanish).

I have been influenced by great professors throughout my educational experience.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching your classes at Seattle Central?

When I teach, I enjoy the positive impact in the students’ life. I love when they show interest in experiencing the language.

Seattle Central College provides a great opportunity and learning environment for the teaching of Spanish.

Tell us about an inspirational teaching moment.

It is an inspirational moment when the students participate in class.

Gilberto Nunez-Lira - Spanish Instructor | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Gilberto's Favorites

Music

  • My favorite songs are those with a Cuban rhythm

Hobbies

  • Dancing!

Travel

  • Mexico, because I have the opportunity to visit and see my relatives
There are two types of people in the world, those who are learning by doing different activities in life, and those who are just observing others.

Hands-On Guidance in Caring for Your Home

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The Home Should be the Treasure Chest of Living — Le Corbusier

How are you treating your treasure? Do you need some guidance on caring for your home?

The dream of home ownership can quickly become a nightmare if you’re not prepared in the basics of home repair and maintenance.

Knowing simple things like repairing a damaged wall, replacing a leaking pipe under the sink, and preparing for cold weather are key in keeping your home safe and comfortable.

Expert contractor Peter Marx has been guiding folks in his Basic Hands-On Home Repair and Maintenance workshops over the past two decades.

“I don’t know everything — and I don’t pretend to,” he laughs. “But what I can do is offer my opinion and experience, and show them where they can find more resources.”

We asked him to share with us more about his class, why he teaches it, and why you should join him for his next series of hands-on workshops.

How long have you been teaching these workshops?

I’ve been teaching this class for the last 23 years, and about 12 of those have been at Seattle Central.

What inspired you to teach this class?

I was a self-employed contractor and cabinet maker since college, eventually becoming a vendor and installer for Corel solid surface coutertops. One of my largest vendors was a local home improvement chain called Ernst Hardware, and when they went out of business, my business took a huge hit.

So I went to a vocational counselor, who advised me that I had a lot of great experience in building and construction, and that I should find a way to share that with others. And I love doing that — I have decades of knowledge and experience, and it’s great to give that back to my community.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

Like all of my workshops, this is a hands-on class, and I’ve developed the curriculum so that students can actually do things in the class versus a discussion of theory and simply watching a demonstration.

That’s actually quite unusual for a home repair class; usually it’s a demo and discussion, and students go home to try things out on their own. I’ve set up an environment that gives folks the opportunity to actually do the work, versus just watching or talking about it.

This means they’ll retain more of the information, and feel more confident when they’re working on these repairs at home by themselves.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

I’ve had a wide variety of students throughout the history of these classes, but here are a few of the most common:

  • new homeowners
  • older homeowners who lost their repairing or maintenance partner
  • apartment managers
  • those interested in buying a home

But everyone is welcome, regardless of their backgrounds, and it’s a fun and supportive environment.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

One of the projects that we work on is how to do basic electrical work. It involves wiring a light bulb, and when they complete the project — and the bulb lights up — they’re eyes often do, too!

It’s a great metaphor for their own learning, and teaching them how capable they really are. Electrical work can seem daunting, and learning the basics can be truly empowering.

Key Takeaways

  1. Gain a basic understanding of your house as a system
  2. Improve your understanding of plumbing and electrical
  3. Learn how to do calking and plasterboard projects
  4. Get guidance on how to work smart and safely
  5. Learn how to communicate effectively with professionals

Recommended Resources

I provide my students with a resource sheet so they’ll know who is reputable to work with in the area, but here are a few tips to consider when you’re looking for guidance online or from a book:

  • If you’re watching a project on TV or YouTube, realize that the time is condensed and your project will actually take a lot longer than how it’s presented
  • Check who is producing a home improvement show, book, or guide to ensure that they’re a reputable source of information
  • Large home improvement stores often have great how-to guides for projects
  • Your home’s design or materials may differ from what is presented in the show, book, or guide, so be certain to review it thoroughly before you start

Most importantly, don’t take on any projects that you don’t feel you have the skills to complete! But if you do, and you need to work with a pro to finish it, you can learn great skills in communicating with them in my class.

Organizing Workshops Help You Get It Together

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Simplify Your Surroundings

Organizing Workshops Help You Get It Together | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Do you have a room in your house that looks like this? Then these workshops are for you!
Do you have a hall closet that could double as a Tetris board? Are you using your garage less for car storage, and more for miscellaneous stuff storage? Is there a seemingly-bottomless junk drawer in your kitchen that needs taming?

If you answered yes to any — or all! — of these questions, then it’s time to take yourself by the lapel and deliver yourself to our Get it Together series of organizing workshops.

For the past five years, expert consultant Lauren Williams has been helping her clients get their homes and offices under control.

“While this is a home improvement class, it could also be considered personal improvement — and even a health & wellness class!” She laughs. “I can’t tell you the number of clients I’ve had who have had their asthma disappear after decluttering and organizing their homes.”

The series is comprised of three workshops that you can take together or independently:

How long have you been teaching these workshops?

I gave my first version of these classes on June 18, 2012.

What inspired you to teach these classes?

Too many reasons!

It’s another way for me to share my skills, it keeps me fresh, and I learn from my students just as much as they learn from me.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

One-on-one sessions with clients are far more intimate, and can be much more intensive.

These workshops are designed to arm you with tips and strategies that you can apply immediately at home or work.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

Anyone who wants to learn techniques to become more structured in their day-to-day home or work lives, or anyone who wants to declutter.

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

It can be hard for people to let items go, even when they need to for any of number of reasons.

One of my students developed a wonderful method she shared with me: she holds up something she is considering letting go and says to herself, “I like this” or “I liked this. Now someone else can.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Techniques to help you focus on the task of organizing
  2. Skills to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed by organizing
  3. Methods to help you assess the value of your items

Set Things in Motion with a Career Development Plan

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Is Your Career on Track?

Are you doing work that you love? If not, why not?

While it’s true that many of us are doing what we’re doing out of necessity — we gotta pay the bills, right? — creating a meaningful career can often be rooted in actually planning for it.

Where do you want to be in 10 years? And what steps do you need to take to get there — today, tomorrow, next month, next year, and so on?

Even if you’re not doing work that you love right now, charting out your career plan can bring a new dimension and meaning to your present situation. It will not only help you establish the path to your ideal professional reality, it will show you what you can do right now to help you achieve it.

Some of the elements of a career development plan include:

  • Short-term goals
  • Long-term goals
  • Timeline
  • Action steps
  • Opportunities
  • Potential barriers
  • Re-evaluation intervals

Part of instructor Yvonne Freitas McGookin‘s work is to help people define and plan for their professional futures.

“A career development plan is a roadmap that helps you to identify your desired career and directs the steps needed to get there,” she notes. “If you want to be clear about the destination — your desired career — a plan gives you an opportunity to envision how you’ll get there. First off, it will help you feel empowered! If you want to actively participate in your career, instead of being a by-stander waiting for opportunities to show up, a career development plan can help you do that. As a result, you can design and follow a plan that gets you to where you want to go when you want to get there. If you don’t have a plan, you might  end up moving from job to job without any clear path or sense of direction. It can feel like you don’t have much control or choice, which is not very satisfying.”

But how is having a career development plan different than having general professional goals?

“A career development plan helps you to create a clear vision for your career and specific strategies for achieving that vision,” Yvonne explains. “Some of those strategies may be personal as well as professional. For example, if you’re interested in shifting into a different career or industry, you should include any potential financial impacts in your career plan. Will you need to save money to pay for any education or training to support your career change? Will you need to move to a different location where there are more opportunities in this field or industry?”

Yvonne knows how important a plan can be because she didn’t start out with one herself.

“I began thinking about my career when I was a child and, at that time, wanted to become an elementary school teacher,” she remembers. “But, by the time I went to college, my vision for my career had changed and I didn’t have any clarity about my direction.”

So when did she develop her first plan?

“After taking an undergrad course that sparked a clearer vision for my career, I created a career development plan that helped me move into and advance in that career,” Yvonne recalls. “My plan included taking specific courses, volunteer opportunities, and working an extra job to finance my educational goals. I followed that plan for many years until I achieved my vision. Then, several years ago, I re-evaluated my career, decided to make some changes, and created a career development plan to support those changes.”

How often should someone plan to re-evaluate their plan?

According to Yvonne, “You should reassess your plan on a semi-regular basis, whenever you lose momentum, or need to acknowledge some changes (opportunities or barriers) that impact your plan. This re-evaluation will give you the opportunity to make adjustments that help to get you back on track.”

2 Common Mistakes in Creating a Career Development Plan

  1. Being vague about goals, timeline and actions
  2. Not building in and taking time to re-evaluate and adjust their plan

Some people treat a career development plan like a New Year’s resolution: They have an aspiration (summit a mountain,) but don’t set out a timeline with specific actions to prepare and motivate them to reach their target.

When things come up during the year that get in the way, they lose momentum and give up. The same thing happens with career development plans.

Recommended Reading

Here are a few of Yvonne’s favorite books on career development:

Career Development Plan Worksheet

Need some guidance on developing your plan? We’ve created this worksheet that will help you chart the path to your success.

Guide Your Career with Project Management Fundamentals

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You'll Love It When a Plan Comes Together

Many large organizations have positions and even entire departments devoted to planning and managing projects, but possessing these skills is actually quite beneficial for any professional.

This is particularly true if you’re in a small business or start-up environment where you’re wearing many hats; the ability to skillfully manage projects is often essential to building a successful business.

It can also help you develop your career, and prepare you to take on jobs with higher levels of responsibility.

Expert instructor Zahid Kahn recently shared his insight into some great methods and tools that you can help organize and manage projects.

When we say, ‘Your Business is Our Business’ we mean it: We’re here to help you establish or grow the company of your dreams.

Learn more about what you’ll gain by joining us for our Fundamentals of Project Management course this Winter.

How long have you been teaching this class?

I have been teaching project management for the last eight years.

What inspired you to teach this class?

I am passionate about project management and developing people; as a PMO Manager, I am continuously developing my team, and I started teaching in 2008 in order to advance my team’s project management skills.

Since then I have seen measurable improvement in project management skill.

People from other departments of my organization and outside organizations wanted me to help them with advancing their project management skills, so I started teaching various levels of project management courses.

I feel inspired when I make a difference by improving the skill and knowledge of my students.

How is this class different from others that you teach?

This class is designed to help students understand the global standards of project management and also learn how to apply tools and techniques to manage their projects.

Some of the classes I teach help student prepare to take the test to get certified as Project Management Professional (PMP®) through the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Most of the classes I teach are large in class size (between 50 to 100 students); this class size will be small and will allow for more one-on-one interaction.

Who would benefit from taking this class?

Anyone who is interested in learning the global standards of project management to advance their career in managing projects, working in teams, supervising work, and working with stakeholders.

This class will also be a good refresher for project managers.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understand the value and importance of project management
  2. Learn how to develop a project scope that meets your customers’ requirements
  3. Learn how to identify and manage uncertainties to achieve project success
  4. Learn how to measure project success
  5. Understand what it take to be a good project manager

What has been an inspirational moment that has occurred during this class?

Many of my students have had great outcomes as a direct result of learning the basics of project management.

Here are a few of them:

  • Some of the students were able to apply project management tools such as the project charter to start managing their projects immediately after the class
  • Many students recognized the importance of risk management after listening to case studies I discussed in the class
  • More than 90% of my students passed the test to get certified as PMP®
  • Several of my students got promoted within six months after completing my five day training

Winter 2017 Registration is Open!

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Your Business is Our Business

This Winter, we’re focusing on helping you establish and/or grow a successful company.

Transforming great ideas into profitable organizations takes a lot of love, sweat, and — yes, sometimes! — tears. 

We’d love to help you overcome any of the challenges you might be facing, from finances to marketing to customer service, and more.

Join us this Winter for a course or a certificate program; let us help you build the business of your dreams.

Featured Programs

Lifelong Learning

Basic Hands-On Home Repair & Maintenance
Keep your home in great shape by learning practical skills such as wall repair, weatherization, installing home security, and more.

Get it Together: Organizing Your Home and Office
New! Get tips and tools to transform your home or office into a highly organized, functional, creative, and efficient environment.

Living Healthy: Wellness from the Inside Out
New! Explore nutrition, exercise, stress management, supplements, and other methods for preventing adult-onset diabetes.

Spanish for Heritage Speakers
New! Build upon your existing language skills in this class designed for those who were raised in a Spanish-speaking home.

 
Professional Development

Certificate in Customer Service
New! Learning to provide extraordinary customer service will help you grow professionally and improve your overall productivity.

Digital Marketing Certificate
New! Seasoned experts will guide you through email marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, and more.

Entrepreneurship Toolkit
Interested in staring your own business? This class provides you with the nuts-and-bolts information you need to get going.

Fundamentals of Project Management
Gain a highly marketable skill to effectively manage projects, an essential ability that transcends industries and specific positions.

Make Balance Work for You

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Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Make Balance Work for You | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Are You in Balance?

Guest Post by Life and Career Coach Julie Morris

Many of us have heard that maintaining a work-life balance is important, but not everyone understands why.

In today’s world, with technological advances happening every day, it is getting easier and easier to stay connected to your job, even when you’re at home or on vacation.

There are often expectations to answer that email within the hour, or do a favor for your boss which extends to weekends or evenings when you’re ‘off the clock.’

The increase in working hours is putting your brain in overdrive, and as a result, your stress levels are skyrocketing with little downtime to recover.

Here’s a little more information on the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance and a few tips on how to achieve it.

Why a Work-Life Balance is Important

A good work-life balance is crucial to your personal health and your relationships, but what you may not know is that it can also improve your work performance.

Working too much can negatively affect:

Stress Levels

The occasional short stint of stress and pressure is good, because it means we are being challenged, have to problem solve, or increase our efficiency. But continuous stress is harmful, and can lead to health problems like ulcers, indigestion, high blood pressure, skin disorders, depression, and more.

Vulnerability to Burnouts

Burnout is when you are so overwhelmed and spent mentally and physically that it affects your work. When stress from work creeps into your home life, you are more susceptible to suffering from a burnout.

Diet

When you’re constantly working, you leave little time and energy for cooking healthy meals. You’re constantly going to that quick and often unhealthy option, like fast food or stopping at the vending machine — or even skipping meals altogether.

Exercise

Staying active is one of your body’s ways to combat stress, and if you’re overworking, then you probably have higher quantities of stress and less time to exercise it out of your system.

Focus

If you are still thinking about work while attempting to engage in home activities like playing with your children or spending time with your significant other, you will not remain present in your current task. Same goes with work: When you are in the office and you are completely focused on your duties, then you will be more efficient.

Tips on Being More Balanced

Finding the right balance between work and play is possible, it just may take a few lifestyle adjustments.

Here are a few ways you can be more balanced in your day-to-day life:

Communication

Anytime your home life demands your attention, tell your higher ups that you’re dealing with personal issues.

Negotiate Your Workspace

Research your company’s policy about flexible hours for things like doctor appointments, and inquire about working from home. If you could telecommute a few days a week, it would allow you to dedicate a few hours for uninterrupted, hard work. Then you can use the extra time you have for yourself.

Unplug

Sometimes that device glued to your hand can hurt your quality personal time. It makes life easier, but turn it off when you’re hanging out with the family or enjoying some peace and quiet.

Don’t Be a Yes-Man

Don’t feel guilty when you don’t commit to something. It is impossible to please everyone, so invest your time in activities that interest you and bring you joy.

Get Messy

Don’t worry about keeping everything squeaky clean. That time you’ve dedicated to scrubbing the toilet can go toward work or taking a nature walk. That said, it is helpful to make sure your home is optimized to reduce stress.

 

One of the best ways to feel more balanced in your life is to be engaged and focused on each task as it comes, whether it be a work activity or if you’re on your own time.

 

Prioritize what is really important to you.

Recommended Viewing

About Julie

Julie Morris is a life and career coach who thrives on helping others live their best lives.

It’s easy for her to relate to clients who feel run over by life because she’s been there!

After years in a successful (but unfulfilling) career in finance, Julie busted out of the corner office that had become her prison.

Today, she is fulfilled by helping busy professionals like her past self get the clarity they need in order to live inspired lives that fill more than just their bank accounts.

When Julie isn’t working with clients, she enjoys writing and is currently working on her first book.

She also loves spending time outdoors and getting lost in a good book.

To learn more about or contact Julie, check out her website.

Retrain Your Brain with Regular Meditation

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Retrain Your Brain by Meditating for 5 Minutes a Day | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education
Retrain Your Brain by Meditating for 5 Minutes a Day | Seattle Central College - Continuing Education

Free Your Mind, and Your Body Will Follow

There is a great deal of research on the positive impact that meditation can have on your overall wellness. Some of those include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better pain management
  • Improved immune system
  • Higher levels of empathy
  • Better recall and organization of information
  • Prevention of age-related pre-frontal cortex (brain) shrinking
  • Possible help with depression

One of the great things about meditation is that everyone can do it, you only need to find a practice that’s right for you.

Wellness Educator and Seattle Central faculty member Kelli Murphy has been practicing meditation for over 20 years, and offers a free weekly meditation group at the Mitchell Activity Center each Tuesday. “I do not claim to be an expert,” she laughs. “I’m learning every moment, and I collect, study, and apply new information on meditation all the time — I encourage everybody to do the same.

“Everyone can meditate, and you really can’t do it incorrectly,” Kelli says. “I’ve seen lists of over 40 different styles of meditation, with the most often referenced being Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Metta Meditation, or Transcendental Meditation (TM). My very simple definition of meditation is a practice that allows you to be fully present, so simple daily activities can be meditative, too; things like like walking, yoga, qi gong, tai chi, praying, gardening, music, dancing, running, cooking, swimming, singing, or chanting can be effective methods of meditation. The key is to find a practice that resonates with you.”

Even your work can have meditative qualities. “Painting, building, programming, assembly work, accounting, and body work can all be meditative at some point or another,” Kelli notes. “And other life experiences. Sitting for hours at my dying father’s bedside, or rocking my infant daughter to sleep were also highly meditative experiences for me.”

Through her meditative practice over the last 20 years, and facilitating the group at Seattle Central for about 6 years, Kelli has noticed that she has developed more order within her mind. “I haven’t been able to save the world or end hunger; and I seem to have the same issues and problems that most people have,” she says. “I have experienced great losses and wonderful celebrations. I have made decisions that I would change if I had another chance. And like many, I have worried over things that don’t really matter. What has changed for me is I am often able to choose peace over chaos (some of the time) and to use words and actions that help, not hurt (most of the time). Some days I am more successful in these positive choices than others, and that is why I keep ‘practicing’ meditation — over and over and over again.”

In terms of which style of meditation Kelli facilitates, she thinks its closest to Mindfulness Meditation. “We meet for 20 minutes each Tuesday, from 12:10pm – 12:30pm throughout the quarter, and I try to incorporate elements such as intentional meditations, focused meditations, self-compassion, stress reduction, forgiveness, walking meditations, and even some gong and nature sound meditations,” she explains.

Starting Your Meditation Practice

Here are Kelli’s tips on how to establish your own meditation practice.

While it’s a great idea to attend a class or group for meditation, you can definitely start meditation on your own; here’s a simple approach:

  • Start small — begin with 5 minutes and build from there
  • Ideally meditate in the same place, at the same time, every day. This gives your body and brain the signal that it is time to stop and breathe
  • Set a timer so you can relax into the experience
  • Sit in an upright, comfortable position
  • Gently close your eyes
  • Focus on the breath, breathing in and out slowly
  • Do your best to get three breaths together in a row before your mind goes sideways and you have to pull it back to ‘breathing in and breathing out’
  • End with a kind word to yourself or others

As you get more comfortable you can (or not) increase the amount of time you meditate.

Some practices recommend a specific amount of time, although the science is still out on just how long a meditation session should be to reap the most benefit. Find what works best for you.

Meditation is meant to be an enhancement to your life. It is not meant to keep you isolated from the rest of your world, spending the majority of your day alone, and separate. And while some days might be easier than others, most people report feeling better after meditating.

Remember that meditation is a practice: The more you do it, the easier it gets. You are training your brain, so be patient with yourself.

Would you like more information on meditation, or the weekly group that Kelli facilitates? Please feel free to contact her.

Recommended Resources

If you are thinking the same thoughts, they will lead to the same choices, which cause the same behaviors, which create the same experiences, which produce the same emotions, which in turn drive the same thoughts — so that, neurochemically, you stay the same.

In effect, you are reminding yourself of who you think you are — and it is reflected in your very biology.

You are NOT hardwired to be the same way for the rest of your life.

The brain is capable of change throughout our lives, creating new neural connections.

You can use your mind, to change the brain, to change your mind, to make your life better.

— Dr. Joe Dispenza, Neuroscientist

Active Listening Fosters Effective Collaboration

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Challenge Your Biases

The brain processes an enormous amount of information every second of the day, and is very adept in filtering out that which it doesn’t deem ‘important.’ This is an essential function, and it enables us to prioritize information that we believe will have an immediate impact on our lives.

But this same function can, for better or for worse, lead us to filter out and ignore stimuli that is not considered essential to our survival. Quite literally — and often — we can only hear what we want to hear.

One of the results of this process can be cognitive bias, which may in turn form the basis for how we relate to others. Through our own lived experiences, we create a shorthand that we use to interpret what other people say, using a lens that has been developed over time to make sense of the words and actions of others.

Relying solely on this shorthand can introduce conflict between people who are interpreting things from a completely different perspective. It can also inhibit effective collaboration if people aren’t willing to take a step back from their ideas and be open to others.

One way to break through our own perceptions is to engage in Active Listening. Some of the elements of this process include:

  • Try to understand before trying to be understood: In practice, this means that you stay focused on the speaker, truly listening to what they say, instead of half-listening in order to prepare your response. Ask yourself to hear not only what they’re saying, but what it means for them.
  • Be non-judgmental: Before you bring your ideas to the conversation and make a judgment about what the speaker has said, you should hear their own judgment of the topic or idea. This allows for empathetic listening, and gives you an opportunity to further understand their perspective.
  • Stay focused: Give the speaker your full attention so that you’re able to truly hear what they’re saying. Keeping eye contact and exhibiting positive body language shows the speaker that you are engaged and present.
  • Give space: It’s important to know when to speak, and when to allow the speaker the space to reveal what they are really thinking. If at all possible, don’t interrupt the speaker. How they reveal their perspective is just as important as the information they’re sharing.

Now, how can we learn and practice these skills so that we’re able to use them in our personal and professional lives? One method is through the art of improvisation.

Julian Schrenzel of Improv Alive has been helping folks hone their Active Listening skills through his dynamic improvisation workshops, such as our Thinking on Your Feet class.

“In the world of improvisation, there actually is no such thing as NON-active listening,” Julian notes. “If you are not actively listening during a scene or exercise, you are not improvising. Improvisation means that you’re simply responding to what’s happening at this very moment — no agenda, no distractions. In fact, the moment you ‘check out,’ or try to control what’s going on, is the very moment that it stops working. My goal is to nurture a safe but challenging environment where every participant can stretch themselves to listen with their entire body, and engage with every sense they have.”

Improvisation encourages inclusion, positivity, and support, which are key elements of Active Listening. “Have you ever had a conversation with someone, be it a customer service rep or a spouse, where you felt that you were not being listened to?” Julian asks. “It’s frustrating, and angering, and closes you off to a true dialogue. On the contrary, when you are talking with someone who is fully present and fully engaged, it’s energizing. Rather than digging in, it causes an opening of the minds involved. Can you imagine if every meeting you went to at work was attended by open minds and willing ears?”

Once you’ve had the opportunity to explore and practice these techniques, how can you employ them in your professional life? In addition to conflict resolution, collaboration can benefit greatly from Active Listeners.

“Many people think of collaboration and team innovation as something you can actually set out to ‘do’ — they think of it like setting out to climb a mountain or run a marathon,” Julian says. “This is not how it works. Collaboration, Innovation … these are not goals to accomplish. They are actually a RESULT of Active Listening! When each member of the team places more importance on supporting and uplifting their colleagues over achieving their agenda or making themselves look good, then anything a team does will be ‘collaborative.’ When you add to this a common purpose, passion, and skills/talent, the RESULT is innovation. But it all starts with great listening skills.”

In fact, Julian’s personal experiences taught him how effective employing the listening techniques he learned from improvisation can be. “My father and I have a Technical Recruiting practice, and when we began working together, we both would butt heads a lot!” He remembers. “He and I have a different work style, and we would often not see eye to eye. We both are also a bit confrontational (the apple falleth not far from the tree,) and we used to really get into it. It was destructive to the practice, and to our relationship.”

So how did they solve their communication issues? “We both adopted the concept of “Yes and,” which is a very famous improvisation cornerstone that means ‘Accept and Build on,'” He recalls. “In practice, this means that we made it a goal with each other to come into hot-button issues with an internal focus of responding to EVERYTHING with positivity and addition to the idea. While I can’t say we were 100% changed, we did make a fundamental shift from suborn negativity to openness and positivity, that to this day makes working together much more enjoyable!”

Learning how to actively listen will give you the opportunity to know more, to learn more, and to empathize more. It can help you break through your own preconceived notions, and help you create an environment for others to communicate more effectively with you.

If conflict and poor collaboration are something you experience in your personal or professional lives, consider how taking a workshop in improvisation could transform your skills in a fun, non-judgmental, and open way.

 

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Listening is active.

At its most basic level, it’s about focus, paying attention.

— Simon Sinek

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