Life on the Sidelines

Old habits die hard. They hang on for good reason. They’ve learned their strategies well.  At one time, they served. And, at some point, they outlive their usefulness and their effectiveness.

I find myself in a new situation, a new context that is creating some new demands on my habits.  As many of you know, Doug Silsbee, Founder of Presence-Based Coaching, received a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis seven months ago. Thankfully, he is still with us, and I have recently stepped in as the sole Principal of Presence-Based Coaching. I find myself as the leader of a body of work and business that I helped shape for many years. And I find myself without a partner in this enterprise. My particular habit shape leans toward collaboration, partnership. Creative combinations of two or more that are often a catalyst for the immediacy and fun of emergence and discovery.

The Appeal of Being #2

And within that bell jar, my preference is to be the #2. I much prefer having a #1 around, it’s so much easier! There’s a shield of protection, my role is clear (= supporting the #1). The partner can vet any of my ideas that don’t really work with where we are going.

I get to be big in this #2 role (big for me!), and still my partner takes the front seat. I’m standing on the sidelines. I don’t have to risk too much, and I feel safe and supported, productive and empowered.

Its much more comfortable being a little behind, and over toward the wall. I don’t’ have to get out on the dance floor (although I do love to dance), at least not by myself.

And there’s another upside: I have witnessed my own substantial learning and growth and development from being a #2.

I have followed, contributed, created and have made my own way sometimes. Within the safe parameters of the partnership, I know that regard and support was always there for me in an unconditional way. Even when I made mistakes. In fact mistakes seemed a lot easier when I had a partner to run to for consolation and understanding and acceptance (even if my ego was a bit bruised by what I labeled as “failure”).

Stepping Into #1: The Shield is Gone

As I’m stepping into the #1 role, it’s quite a challenge, quite an affront to my habitual stance. This being #1 means lots of different things to me, including more responsibility, more work, more decisions, more exposure from being on the front line – the shield is gone. I’m the #1 now. These are big shoes to fill!

I’ve been inquiring into this shift in identity, role, relationship. Gratefully, Doug, my former partner, is still here and can serve as a welcome sounding board. We slip into the old, familiar and comfortable roles…at times. And other times, I’m navigating on my own, finding my way. And I’m opening to new possibilities, including new perspectives, new partnerships, new collaborations, and different ways of moving forward.

There are other upsides, of course. I can do things my way. And that feels fun, and a little mischievous!

Commitment to Continuing Doug’s Legacy

I notice my own strong commitment to continuing Doug’s legacy in a way that serves his brilliance and the work we have built together. The commitment that continues the impact the Presence-Based body of work has on others – the communities we are connected to, the clients and organizations we serve, and the bigger context of the world we live in.

It’s been a stretch so far, which reminds me of another habit I’ve come to notice: to compare myself, and find myself lacking (naturally). This comparative judgment is easy to do with my former partner who is quite big in the world and my habit of taking my place a bit behind him.

Sometimes I feel like a little fish in a big pond. I hear my inner voices saying things like: “They want Doug, they don’t want you,” or “You can’t teach as well as him,” or “You can’t explain or articulate in the way he does.” And I am transported back to an old inner wound: “They don’t want me,” accompanied by a familiar whole body sinking feeling and tightening in my solar plexus.

Who Am I in this?

And despite having successfully enabled a substantial turnaround for my family business in my 30’s, this business feels like a different animal. Presence-Based Coaching and Leadership feels more aligned with who I am now. This body of work is closer to the values I hold dear to my heart and to what I deeply care about. In fact, I’m a different animal.

And I know without any doubt that this body of work is important to me.  That’s why I made this leadership move in the first place! It fits and fills my aspirations for my work in the world and brings me joy and fulfillment to witness other’s growth and development.  I relish being present for those moments when clients or students make life-altering breakthroughs or have insights or understandings that change everything.  Or even observing with delight the little awakenings that create some sense of freedom from an old habit that no longer fits (the irony is not lost on me here!).

So as I’ve been contemplating my new role, my shifting identity and what that means, I sense that I am not actually filling Doug’s shoes. That’s not even possible or desirable. I realize I am on a journey of filling my own shoes. And that feels good to my heart.

Three Questions for Self-Reflection:

  • Which of your habits might be feeling overused, or out of date?
  • What do your inner voices say to you that might limit who you are becoming?
  • Whose shoes are you trying to fill at this moment?

If you want to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above questions. I’m sure our community would too. Leave us a comment below to start a dialogue.

Note: This is my first blog post on “Doug’s Blog,” Notes from the Nexus.  It is with intention, and with Doug’s blessing, that I am doing so. May this blog continue to be of service to those who read it. 

Living at the Frothy Edge

We are all in transition. Something is always ending; something else sprouting.

For sure, some transitions are more painful, liberating, intentional, or dramatic than others. But, we can all point to things in our lives that are diminishing and to others that are taking root. Projects, relationships, health, life circumstances, the focus of our intentions and energies…. these all evolve. Nothing is fixed.

In transitions, if we are paying attention, we see signs of what is lingering and what is emergent

In transitions, if we are paying attention, we see signs of what is lingering and what is emergent

Walker and I hiked to Twin Falls on Sunday. A few days of unseasonably warm weather had gotten spring underway; a couple of very cold nights were a reminder not to be complacent. We ambled to the waterfalls with the dogs, enjoying the late March woods. A picnic lunch near the water invited a nap. ­­On a whim, I climbed up to the base of one of the falls, and found fantastic ice formations from the spray and the previous night’s chill, still melting… the last vestiges of winter. Twenty feet away down the hill in the sun, the first trout lilies were already blooming. At the frothy edge of transition, ice and delicate lilies co-exist.

In transitions, if we are paying attention, we see signs of what is lingering and what is emergent. Transitions sometimes happen to us because of forces larger than us… like winter turning to spring, we are participants in these transitions, and it’s revealing to observe the signs all around us.

As we develop, we increasingly see the possibilities of becoming the agent of our own transitions. We choose to accelerate processes that might happen on their own anyway, but to which we can bring intentionality and purpose. Here, rather than signs simply appearing to mark and reveal transitions, we seek leverage points for accelerating them.

Paying attention to what is ending and what is beginning energizes the natural unfolding of transitions. For example:

  • Declare an end to long-standing commitments that have run their course. Recently, I bowed out of an annual leadership program I had taught for 20 years. While it was fun and high quality and paid well, it was no longer the work that I was called to do, and consumed attention that I needed for other things.
  • Yesses and Noes: From the myriad requests that come your way every day, bring awareness to your choices of what you say Yes to and what you say No to. Recognize that Yesses and Noes are the very currency with which you create your future.
  • Honor what has been… it has made you into the only person you could be. Grieve what there is to grieve, appreciate what there is to appreciate. Recognizing and honoring what has been is essential to moving on.
  • We bring a future into being by prototyping new forms and possibilities

    We bring a future into being by prototyping new forms and possibilities

    Experiment. I’ve been involved in Otto Scharmer’s global community for profound social change for the past several months. We bring a future into being by prototyping new forms and possibilities. Whether fully formed or not, we engage others through these prototypes, and we learn more about the territory and how we can navigate it. We are in action towards a future.

  • Be fallow. Take time to soak, change perspective, step outside the churn produced by your web of commitments. Pause. Moving at warp speed often leads to tightening and constriction, reducing the creativity and spaciousness required for new learning. The more pressure we are under, the more likely we are to revert to what we have done before. Take time and space, even when (especially when!) you’re too busy to do so.
  • Create activators: bold commitments that establish new facts on the ground that require us to take new actions. Proposing marriage, signing a publishing contract, going public with a new offer, agreeing to a collaborative project… all of these catalyze and require new actions and thinking.
  • Clarify the shape of the transition itself. We step back to a clearer view by articulating what is ending, and creating language around the future. We take the transition we are living inside of, and place it outside ourselves as an object that can be witnessed and observed. We begin to create movement and energy when we acknowledge what we are completing, and when we engage in conversations, visioning and learning that helps us perceive the territory that we are moving into.

Consider your frothy edge, where endings and beginnings are interspersed for you.

  • What transition are you in?
  • What is ending? What is being born?
  • Which of these ways of attending to transitions speaks to you?
  • What new actions might you take?


I have been feeling the turning for some time now.

It began a couple years ago, when a combination of circumstances made it clear that we could no longer sustain what we had so enthusiastically built, and it was time to create some change. Moving to town, selling our beloved retreat center, Walker retiring, building the team that delivers and manages the Presence-Based Coaching offer, and a couple of other moves opened a distinct new chapter.

Presence-Based Coaching has reached a maturity and impact I couldn’t have imagined fifteen years ago. I work with fascinating clients, our work is rich and influential, it’s all working. Yet, there’s more.

I’m inquiring into what’s next

I’m inquiring into what’s next

I’m inquiring into what’s next. Not as in “I’m retiring and what do I do with the rest of my life,” but more like “what is worth energizing now.” My path has always been an integrative one… seeking the next edge to my own development, and folding my learning into the living work that we collectively bring forward, and that is also my expression in the world.

So, when I feel this calling, I listen.

This time, it has something to do with a more direct connection of our Presence-Based work to the crucial issues of our times. There are lots of people who are doing important work for the benefit of us all that are not likely to know about, or attend PBC training. I want to be of service to this movement… the social entrepreneurs, those contributing to the creation of life-affirming alternatives to myopic consumption, people who are experimenting with how business can benefit us all. I’m seeking new and creative means to support leaders and the systems they are working with. And engaging small systems of highly committed people that want to take their mission and purpose all the way through. I’m called to link with others who wish to experiment with Presence-Based coaching and leadership as a foundation for collaboration in service to what matters.

And, I’ve been hesitant about this. I was asked in a coaching conversation recently if I “was just window shopping, or buying something?” Great question! Here are just a few of the narratives through which my underlying fears express themselves:

  • “I’m comfortable doing what I’m doing, I’ve worked really hard to build this, it’s working…. there’s no need to change.” (Well, true. And I’m sensing a calling, and I’m paying attention to it. There’s more.)
  • “I don’t trust myself to set boundaries. I am afraid of getting out of whack like when I was younger. I’m not willing to live on airplanes and in hotels.” (Actually, I do trust myself to set boundaries. I’ve gotten really good at declining opportunities that don’t fit. Nice try!)
  • “I don’t really know what this looks like, and am hesitant to put it out until I know.” (So, who’s to say that heartfelt prayers need to be accompanied by detailed specifications? I can enter whole-heartedly, and trust what comes back.)

Underneath them all is some level of fear, and most of these little stories don’t stand up to scrutiny!

I love the experience of whole-heartedness

I love the experience of whole-heartedness

True, I don’t know what’s emergent (although I have a lot of ideas!) I know there’s more, something about the shape of it. I love the experience of whole-heartedness. Here’s some of what I’m doing to invite this future:

  • Another book is expressing itself through me. This third book will be a significant re-positioning of our work into a leadership context, and will speak to new audiences in new ways. The book will serve as an attractor for conversations and collaborations.
  • My own development has always been the animating force for my professional expressions. (OK, this is not conventional business strategy, but following the frothy edge has provided reliable guidance for the past 40 years. I see no reason not to trust it now.) Doing my practices, being in the woods, inquiring into the nature of my experience, engaging my life partners, coaches, and guides is tremendously clarifying.
  • Investing in two significant professional development experiences this year will put me in new contexts with people doing work that I deeply respect and can learn from. I will be shaped by these in ways that I can’t fully anticipate.
  • I am actively engaged in a number of conversations with younger, mission driven people about how we might partner for mutual benefit. This will increasingly become a kind of fast-cycle prototyping of new kinds of engagements, which will in turn actively create What’s Next. The right conversations continue to appear in response to my transparency.

The core Presence-Based Coaching training continues to be the place where foundations and principles emerge. Retreats are at the core and the depth and commitment of those who come catalyzes my learning as well as theirs. I am fully committed here; the retreats are where the work is evolving.

Being whole-hearted doesn’t mean needing to know the shape of things to come. It simply means being congruent and aligned with the discovery process. It means being joyful, all in, and not knowing, all at the same time.

  • What emergent future are you holding at bay?
  • With what stories are you hedging your bets?
  • What would whole-heartedness look like for you?

The Turning of the Wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel.

I have two grandchildren. My father is 85, and counting. I’m in my 60’s. Walker and I have faced significant health challenges. We sold our retreat center last year. All these are indicators of bold new territory!

In this emerging chapter of our lives, there is plenty of evidence of decline, of wearing out. And, there’s increased lightness, freedom, less and less of a sense of having anything to prove, and little concern about building business. There is much more of a sense that everything counts.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

In this turning, I sense two strong pulls in myself. One, the desire to engage the Presence-Based Coaching work more directly with the world’s pressing issues.

We have created a very strong body of work about developing humans, about holding authentic conversations, about catalyzing leadership through substantial challenges. Yet, for me, there’s a persistent question about how to best get this work out in the world to those who most need it. This invites questions of scaling, of what the bigger game is, of how to democratize the leading edge of human development. There is lots to do.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

The second strong pull is towards simplicity. While my web of commitments is getting simpler, and I say “No, Thanks!” with increasing ease to opportunities that don’t feel like a fit, there’s an aching in me for greater freedom, less to carry through the world, less time spent on things that others can do better or things that don’t count for much and don’t provide joy.

These two tendencies seem to pull in opposite directions. Yet, there is truth in both.

I don’t know what this next chapter will look like, though I know that, in five years, my work life will be significantly different. I invite that, and trust that I will both choose, and be shaped by, the future as it emerges.

I also know that collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential. I am participating in Otto Scharmer’s MOOC. The processes for profound social change that he is describing dovetail exquisitely with, and leverage, our Presence-Based leadership work. There is much more to explore here, and you can expect to hear more about the nexus of these two bodies of work.

Otto offered a lovely YouTube clip from the film Bagger Vance, in which Will Smith invites Matt Damon to sense the field, sense the one perfect shot that is calling him to it. While the specific shape of my one perfect future has yet to be revealed, it will be characterized by being both bigger, and simpler. It will be done with others. And, it will include, and transcend, the Presence-Based Coaching foundation that we have been building together for 15 years now.

This is what I’m up to at this turning of the wheel. I am sensing the future, and investing in conversations and learning that focus and accelerate this sensing. I will be experimenting and prototyping with this in the coming months and years. You are invited to the conversation.

collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential

collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential

For now, please weigh in with your thoughts:

  • How, in transitions, have you sensed future possibilities emerging?
  • How did you engage others in exploring or prototyping the territory?
  • What transition are you in now, and how are you resourcing yourself?