Searching for meaning


Building a life you love from the ground up
Jo Hawkins Donovan
For Small Business Times
In l997 I enrolled in Coach University, a “cyberschool” where I took a three-year program of study to refine my coaching techniques. Thomas Leonard founded Coach University, and wrote most of the materials used in the 40 or so courses I completed to graduate in l999.
One of the programs is called Personal Foundation. When I was taking that course, and every day since, I’ve felt it was a gift from Thomas. Building a strong personal foundation is like making sure you have a bedrock construction beneath a building; in this case the building is your life.
At this time when we’re all thinking of gifts for others, I’d like to introduce you to the principles of Personal Foundation as my gift to you. As always, if you’d like to know more, or have questions, you can reach me at the phone number or e-mail address listed below.
One of the first building blocks of Personal Foundation is “Zap the Tolerations”. In the February 2001 Small Business Times, I wrote about this step. In brief, the commitment is to get rid of all the things that annoy you and drain your energy, be they petty or big.
Another element is to dramatically simplify your life. Busyness is endemic in our world and I coach clients to toss out 50% of the “stuff” that is keeping them in a state of hurry. Some clients do this overnight, others might do it over six months. The idea is to create space for you to actually live in, rather than running from one task to the other, never feeling present or at peace.
Another step is to get yourself “complete,” in Thomas Leonard’s language. This means to relieve your mind of unfinished business, whether it be discomfort in a relationship you want to set right, actions you need to take and keep putting off, making steps to clear up wrongdoing on your part – whatever. The idea is to get those remnants of the past complete in your mind. It’s refreshing.
Leonard instructs us to create and use a list of 10 daily habits, little things that make a day delicious. In writing this I looked again at my list and realized that over the years they’ve become nearly automatic. My list includes leaving a clean desk at the end of my workday, calling one friend just for friendship’s sake, sending one thank-you note, etc. You get the idea.
One part of the program that I think highly valuable is the program to extend your boundaries. Leonard defines boundaries as “imaginary lines we establish around ourselves to protect our souls, hearts and minds from the unhealthy or damaging behavior of others”. While I was taking the course, we were asked to extend our boundaries at least two or three times beyond where they were. I thought that was a little ridiculous until I started paying attention to how many times I was allowing people to do and say things that were clearly not OK with me. So I started making that clear to them. I also learned that I was violating others’ boundaries, I’m sad to admit, so I became better at knowing what other people deemed acceptable, as well as telling them the standards that they must honor to be in my life.
A few of the building blocks, no surprise, have to do with self care. As part of the Personal Foundation program, we use a Clean Sweep form where clients can score themselves on how well they care for themselves, their money, their relationships and their environment. This has been a useful tool for me ever since my days as a student at Coach University, and one I give to nearly all my clients.
Part of a strong foundation entails creating a “reserve”. Leonard outlined 10 areas in which to build a reserve system, or a system that means you have more than you need. The areas are: time, space, money, energy, opportunity, love, information, wisdom, self, and integrity. It’s kind of like the good feeling when you know you have a full tank of gas (or even a reserve tank like my old Volkswagen had) versus eyeing that gas gauge needle playing around the “empty” mark and hoping you can make it to your destination.
Another lesson in Personal Foundation is to reorient around your values. I’ve found that many clients need help in bringing to light their core values; so that is the first step: finding peace of mind and a direction in your life that gets you fired up.
There are many more building blocks in this Personal Foundation work, and it may take months or years to get such a solid footing in place. Anything as valuable as your life deserves that investment, I’d say. When I work with a client committed to having a strong personal foundation, it is a privilege. Gradually they begin to fully use their skills and resources, they live more in the present, they stand tall for themselves. Thomas says with this kind of meaningful life, we can afford to look up at the stars instead of down at our feet. I wish no less for you.
Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Milwaukee, and can be reached at 414-271-5848 or
The firm’s Web site is Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column.
Dec. 21, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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