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Archive for the tag “Lisa Gentile”

Boundaries and Compassion: Relationships

Our thanks once again to mega-mentor Lisa Gentile, for this follow-up to Boundaries and Compassion (Part 1).

Harlee-sketchLisa’s thoughtful response to the questions at the end of the post were what I needed recently to reframe a situation with someone I trust and worked closely with in the past. We hit a couple of communication and expectations bumps that left us both at odds. (Continued at the end of Lisa’s post). 

How do you choose your confidant?

In general, confidant candidates appear randomly in my life. A client of mine recently said that when she shares a little, enters a vulnerable space, and her conversation partner then shares a little bit in that vulnerable space they can begin to build trust. It starts with a risk. It takes trust to build trust.

I am grateful to have a handful of confidential relationships. We can go to each other to share aspirations, successes, confessions, and challenges without fear of eliciting resentment or judgment from each other. But these feelings do come up, we’re only human. We try to be compassionate toward ourselves and each other and say, “Hey, this topic is awkward for me right now. I’m not up to this.”

When I need to share something specific I consider who is physically, emotionally, and mentally available and maybe who is already close to the topic at hand. I suspect that I also consider which of my friends seems to reflect the image of myself that I want to live up to through the matter of the moment. That gives me a sense of safety when I’m vulnerable. This bias is natural. However, I do trust my confidants to hold me accountable and to call me out on flawed logic or restrictive thinking.

How do you recognize and communicate the type of feedback you need? 

First I spend some time in my “cave”, in the swim lane, or on the trail trying to figure out whether and where I am stuck. I try to notice which thoughts are circling in my mind, where I draw blanks, or what I feel I need to express. The researcher in me likes to determine what information I need in order to reach an actionable decision. Then I can go to a friend and say, “I need your help in looking at blank.”

But it’s not always so simple to reach a clear hypothesis. So more and more I do myself the favor of realizing earlier in the process that I can explore these very questions with a confidant or, depending on the topic, my coach. I can bring in support sooner rather than later.

How do you recognize unjust and/or inappropriate comments or actions from others?

It starts in the gut, the heart, or the brain. Pick an organ. We all want to feel appreciated for who we are. If I feel unheard, used, or otherwise discounted I hold back. If I think that the other person is determined to project his or her own agenda rather than respect my effort to share myself and reach out, I am discouraged from sharing more at that time. It might be that the timing is bad for one or both of us. It might be habitual.

But we can be more methodical about identifying unsafe harbors. One approach is to be aware of I-statements that are really you-statements in disguise. I-statements are meant to be assertive or declarative without being offensive. An example of an I statement is, “I feel that my share of the work is too large.” This opens the conversation up for empathy, problem solving, and collaboration. An example of a cloaked you-statement is, “I feel that you are not a team player.” This statement bypasses the opportunity to solve the practical problem, puts the receiver on the defensive, and further isolates the sender. Few people will warm up to hearing “I feel that you . . . “

Especially in the creative world, I-statements can be pivotal in providing constructive criticism and even in giving compliments. The Wikipedia article on I-messages gives a nice example of feedback: “ . . . one might say, ‘I had to read that section of your paper three times before I understood it,’ rather than, ‘This section is worded in a really confusing way,’ or ‘You need to learn how to word a paper more clearly.’ (

When it comes to compliments, I would much rather hear, “I like it when you synthesize and reflect what I’ve said. I know you are listening,” than, “You are good.” The former is specific and describes a connection. The latter is a judgment.

Of course confidants can get away with more because they have trust equity. They are not evaluating the entire relationship after every sentence and they have time to elucidate messages. Furthermore, our interpretation of language is filtered by our beliefs and cultural norms so it makes sense to not be too quick to rule someone out. Deborah Tannen developed an interesting theory that we care about how the information we pass effects the receiver as much as we care about the information that we pass.

It would be nice if we all had the time, energy, and presence of mind to polish our communication skills from time to time. Short of that, if we continually encounter someone who doesn’t match our expectations of personal responsibility, it might be a good idea to keep a polite distance.

Does it happen repeatedly with the same person or people?

Difficult people have good days and easy people have bad days. I have grown close to people who initially offended me. I hope that others have given me a second, third, and fourth chance. But when it’s a recurring issue, I detach.

Specifically, what tactics have you developed to protect yourself in these situations, separating you (the recipient) from the message and sender of that message?

No kidding, when a comment catches me off guard I sometimes visualize an aikido turn that is designed to let the offending gesture roll past me and return me to my center stance.

If I must socialize or work with someone who probably means well but with whom I don’t feel mutual trust, I try to limit our interaction to group activities where there is not much pressure on one-to-one experience.

How and what do you communicate in this scenario?

It depends on the context and our relationship. Sometimes it’s helpful to “check-in.” I might ask whether there is something specific on the speaker’s mind. I might say I need a time out to sort out the issues. I might ask whether we can separate the issues together.

One conflict resolution technique that I use in the Moxie Mavericks Team Strengths Builder workshop can be useful here. Conflict often leads to mutual feelings of disrespect. Sometimes it helps to stop and share what we each value most in the situation—which signature strengths we are trying to express. Then we can appreciate each other and find a way for both objectives to be met.

How do you remain compassionate, but protect your personal boundaries?

Oh, the forgiveness I have received!

Life can be hard for all of us. At times people have assumed things about my life and therefore how I should behave. I’ve learned to try to not assume things about the lives of others. I don’t know what I don’t know. Hopefully, we don’t have to condemn others to protect ourselves. We need to nurture our own emotional resiliency.

Contracts are helpful. My sister and I are both business owners and sometimes we collaborate. When we do, we write and sign a contract. Some people think we’re silly. But we clarify and document our expectations so we can focus on collaboration. We define our boundaries for that particular aspect of our relationship.

How do you heal yourself after such an encounter?

To sustain performance, we have to manage our energies through a regular cycle of expenditure and recovery. Emotional energy is one of the four types that requires special attention. To recover my emotional energy after a difficult encounter, I acknowledge my negative feelings and show myself a little compassion. I use Dr. Kristen Neff’s guided meditations for self-compassion. They are available for free at

Sometimes it helps to make an effort to empathize and forgive, to consider the situation from the other person’s perspective. Then I do something that I enjoy in order to move toward positive feelings again.

What form of creativity helps you re-center and move forward again?

I like working in the yard or at the workbench because the projects require decisive action and the results are somewhat immediate. There are usually half a dozen projects that I can sand, paint, saw, drill, or dig at a moment’s notice. I like a walk in the woods, a swim, or a sail to really refresh. Knitting works in a pinch. These activities help me discharge energy from adrenaline and cortisol. Journaling and sketching help me sort out residual thoughts.

Lisa Gentile, M.S.
Moxie Mavericks Life Coaching


Thank you, Lisa!

Identifying your own responsibility in these interactions, and engaging with coping skills to deal with the flow –  rather than reactive response – is something I need to remember. . . at the time of encounter. I need to also remember to breathe OUT without words or monkey mind thoughts to get my bearings.

Trying to get it all figured out before asking for help is another biggie — I’m really glad you stated that here. Too often, we — the helper types — think we should be able to handle “it” ourselves, and can waste precious time, psychic energy, and generate huge amounts of destructive worry and adrenal overload when we don’t consider our resources (like trusted confidants).

I’m glad I had your wisdom before I talked to my colleague. I addressed, and cleared the air, about one of our issues in a way that was constructive for both of us. My gut kept me silent about the other at that time; something wasn’t “right” about how I wanted to talk about it. Rereading this post made me realize I was approaching the problem with pseudo-“I” statements that were really “you” criticism.

Boundaries, Compassion, and Relationships — the very heart of so much of our poetry, no?




Savoring Form and Visibility

We welcome back Lisa Gentile — she’s more like family than a guest poster! Thank you, Lisa, for joining us again today. (Please read our earlier interview with Lisa, too:

Savoring Form and Visibility

One of the many uplifting themes that I notice every time I read through this Poetic Muselings blog is that of appreciating the world around us, with all of its tragic, glorious, epic, and everyday beauty.

It hits me every time even though I shouldn’t be surprised by it. After all, that’s what writers and other artists do, right? They grasp an inspiration and artfully shape it into a piece of creative work so that they may reflect upon it, move on from it, and/or share it with the rest of us. But what really goes on? I suspect there are some answers lurking in around this blog.

Through focus on form we assemble a collection of sensorial, intellectual, and emotional experiences and string them together in a pleasing poetic form. Very often the new configuration gives us insight into the events or imaginings that we selected.

The resultant poem tells us something about ourselves, the characters portrayed, or the moment captured. The selection might seem random at first, the configuration unremarkable. A subtle change could shift the whole message. This is our creative hand at work, we trust that we have made the right selections for this particular piece and we follow them to their conclusion.

When we make visible what we have seen we create something tangible out of our interpretation. It matters that we create a unit of meaning, and beauty, that we can share with others. This is a powerful way to connect with each other. It creates the potential for a dialog.

We may be sharing a joy, a sorrow, or a casual rumination. The important point is that we are sharing, we are saying “I was there and I saw/ heard/ did/ felt/ thought this.” We are inviting others to enjoy our art, experience the meaning give it, and then to create their own meaning.

When we create, whether by focusing on form or making an idea visible, we are making an impression that holds personal value less abstract and more real in the world—we are shaping its meaning so that we may share it and appreciate it in our lives, so that we may savor it.

Research shows that this making and expression of meaning from our experiences contributes to our satisfaction in life. How do you give form and visibility to your experiences? How do you savor life?

Lisa Gentile, M.S. is a professional life coach. You can read more about her practice at

Lisa Gentile, Mentor and Moxie Maverick

We’re delighted to spend some time today with
Lisa Gentile,
the “Moxie Maverick”,
career coach, writer, poet, creative artist,
and mentor to
the Poetic Muselings.

 Michele: Well, Lisa, we’ve had a bit of history since meeting in cyberspace at the October 2007 Muse Online Writers Conference. So much has changed for all of us! Your poetry workshop in 2008 was so powerful, it literally burned out your internet connection on that last day of chats. As I tap-danced my way through a room full of writers from all over the world, we decided to let you know what we were taking back with us from the intense week. Last November, Lifelines was published, the culmination of our efforts following the workshop.

 Did you ever think we’d be having this conversation, in this way, and this time?

Lisa: I had no idea what I was starting when I signed into that first workshop. I never expected that we would later meet up in various states. Now it makes perfect sense that  we are writing to each other, with each other, and in one another’s spaces.

 What do you think helped us succeed when so many drop by the wayside?

It seemed to me that you all immediately appreciated the potential of your sharing. Our workshop exercises asked you to step back and really listen to your work, yourselves, and each other. But you trusted each other, or at least wanted the possible outcomes enough to take risks together.

 We learned so much from you — what might we have taught you in return?

I was humbled to hold an early version of your manuscript, which would eventually become Lifelines, in my hands. It was the culmination of your shared perseverance and vulnerability. I was grateful to have witnessed its creation, even from afar. You taught me to remain open-minded with respect to what others may achieve.

As you know, I see connections in even the not-so-obvious places. When people “take root” in each others’ lives, all kinds of things are possible.

For me, connection has always meant to witness another person, to see, acknowledge and respect what’s important to them. I like how Dr. Brené Brown defines connection as ‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when  they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.’ I find her use of the word ‘sustenance’ compelling. It seems like an important part of the connection between the Poetic Muselings that became Lifelines.

Tell us about Moxie Mavericks — how does one “become” one? And why should one?

Moxie Mavericks is the name of my company, my professional life coaching practice. Moxie means gumption, derring-do, etc. But for me it’s a family value with which I was raised. I come from several generations of people who stand by their principles, whether they make us heroes, antiheroes, or observers. We enjoy each other’s stories. And those stories don’t even have to be spectacular, as long as they are real. We simply witness each other’s moxie when we see it. So people with similar values tend to feel at home here.

Mavericks are the sorts who get very serious about creating personal meaning in their lives. They are, by definition, out on the very edge of the frontier. It’s important to note that the landscape might be internal. People have special needs when they shift to maverick mode. It gets lonely out/in there. Very often others in their lives don’t see the singular vision that a maverick might have or initially understand the actions he or she chooses. So in coaching we build a space where mavericks can get customized support and feel safe to experiment with ideas.

We all have access to moxie and can be a maverick. It’s in there.

I know you are passionate about the concept of transition in an individual’s life. What does this mean to you? What are you seeing that’s so exciting?

People usually expect life coaching to be about defining their dreams, about setting and reaching goals, and about overcoming challenges like procrastination. Indeed, these are some of the tactical aspects of the work we do in coaching. But what I see over and over in my clients is a desire to make meaning out of a transition, to understand what’s being lost and gained by moving. In some cases, if we rush into goal setting we miss the opportunity to slow down and reflect. Forced goals lack authenticity. They are burdensome rather than enriching. Giving clients space and time for this reflection has deepened and enlivened the experiences my clients and I share.

As we talked recently, I envisioned transition as trying to figure out what you need to put in your backpack for a journey — and more importantly, what you must take out and leave out in order to make a transition. That’s the hard part — letting go of what only weighs you down. Any guidance on this? 

We often don’t know that we are entering the journey of a transition when it begins. Sometimes we realize we are far from “home” only when we feel lost. Something has changed but we don’t know what. We also might not know where we are going next. So it can be tricky to pack in advance. Either way, it helps to have a stash of compassion, for oneself and for others. We are all doing the best we can. We need to be patient with ourselves. This is how we can safely look at what’s holding us down. I won’t pretend that it’s easy work. The second handy item is appreciation for ourselves and others. I work with clients on spotting signature strengths–the ones that offer us the most pleasure and personal meaning when expressed. They make for an internal compass of sorts, one that can be recalibrated as interests change.

Where are you going with projects and other aspects of your life these days? 

People have been asking for retreats so I’m working that out. I understand more fully now how they might be of service. This fall two plays that my husband, Nick, and I wrote will be performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. Our program is called “Weird Romance”. We have a wonderful director, cast, and crew bringing our characters to life. It’s quite a treat to have others see your imagination walking and talking under the lights. We love hearing the audience laugh.

And what about your future? What’s coming up? 

I am exploring the vulnerability of stillness. It’s a wild ride.

You can’t get away from here without a few words about one of the strangest boat stories I’ve heard in years — and I’m a (somewhat) experienced sailor!

What is the project that made you take to the seas, what’s happening with it now, and where do you see it going?

You are talking about Spirit of the Sea, a new youth sailing program for which I volunteer. This year we acquired a very special boat as our flagship, S/V Ocean Watch. In February we splashed her, cleaned her up, and sailed her from Anacortes, WA, to San Francisco, CA.

We take youth sailing on the San Francisco Bay at not cost to them. Just participating in the sailing of a boat and experiencing the marine environment can be powerful to our youth. But we’re taking it a step further by offering activities that incorporate experiential education, citizen science, and service learning to connect these kids with critical thinking, mentors, and possible career paths. We hope to instill these young sailors with a sense of agency that will transfer to other domains.

“No one makes that trip at that time by choice.” 

That’s exactly what half a dozen insurance agents said.

Why did you do it?

I no longer know why we delivered the boat at that time. To get it done, I suppose. I did it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail with an incredible group of experienced and moxie-rich sailors, some of whom had become my dear friends. I did it because I had earned it. We had worked hard to get the program to that point and sharing this adventure was a celebration. Also, I was ready for a new way to access information about myself in the world. This is the point of the adventure coaching that I do with some of my clients. This adventure was an opportunity for me to exercise different strengths outside of my daily routine.

Any highlights?

I witnessed first-hand the value of a “game-face” in sailing leadership. It keeps everyone calm and focused. There were many perfect moments. There was a perfect hour of a perfect afternoon. I felt secure with my fellow crew so I was free to marvel at the ever-changing shapes of the waves, patterns of the bubbles, and colors of the waters. And I had some chocolate. I think I felt deeply myself and connected at the same time. But I find that the more I try to look back at these moments squarely, the more they seem to shimmer and dissolve. They are prismatic.

So my work now is to remember how these moments felt and stay open to those sensations in the future.

Was this a transitional journey for you?

It offered key moments in a larger transition. The engine died one morning at dawn, just before a shift change. So everyone was up, exhausted, and busy. While others tracked the problem and rebuilt parts I stayed on watch alone at the helm. We had no wind so we were especially vulnerable. Even once we started moving again, my job was relatively simple: monitor the radar, watch for hazards, make course adjustments, and scan the horizon through the binoculars. But I was absolutely satisfied. I loved that no one checked on me. As the sun came up I studied the beautiful sky and coastline and faced the notion that I had fulfilled, in one way or another, just about every promise that I had made to myself as a kid. I decided to not even review the list, to just let it all be. Now I’m shifting my focus from doing to being.

They say you never return from a journey to the same place. 

When I left I was thrilled that I didn’t know when I would return. I don’t think I’ve quite yet returned. I am practicing patience and expressing my curiosity.

Your websites are as eclectic as you are, Lisa — so much more to talk about at a later date! 

Glad to see that Spirit of the Sea is a recognized 501 tax-exempt Public Charity  — which means that donations not only go to a very good cause, but are tax deductible. I encourage our readers to look at this site and consider a donation to the worthy cause. (Hint: the price of a couple of lattes could help float the boat.):

Your theater production is a hoot! How I’d love to be in San Francisco on Sept. 8, 9, 11 or 14 to see “Weird Romance”:

Thank you so much for joining us today! As always, we appreciate your generosity of spirit, wisdom, humor, and that sense of connection we cherish. Good luck with all your adventures.

Thanks, Michele. My pleasure, and I look forward to sharing more soon.

To learn more about what Lisa does, check out:

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