Moving on in Life and Traffic

Why is it that I find myself stuck in traffic at 10:30 PM on a Saturday?  As we crawl forward at about 10 MPH, I know the answer.  It is my love for someone.  Someone who was at one time the person I depended on most, someone who is now focused elsewhere.  I am on my way home from watching her perform.  It was an honor just to be invited.  To see her having such a great time and doing a fantastic job made my day.

When you run a small business, the people that work for you either are, or quickly become, your friends, your family.   When one moves on, the loss is deep.  Not only do you lose a valued employee, you lose the daily contact with a close friend.   That was the case with me.

I love my work. I choose this life, fully and completely and sometimes I forget that the people that work with me work in my shadow.   I am often startled when someone makes a decision to do something else.  After all, I’m doing this because I can’t think of anything I would enjoy more.

This loss was magnified because she was there from the beginning.   She was the one that helped me birth the business.  There were aspects that I thought of as more hers than mine.   I knew she was unhappy; I knew she needed and wanted so much more in her life.  Still, I was surprised when she announced it was time to go.   I was a little lost without her.  It took awhile to adjust, and even today two years later, I find holes that have remained unfilled.

There will never be someone who has been with me all along.  I am now the only common denominator in this business.   There is strength in that fact, strength and sometimes loneliness.   I have had to become stronger without her.  I have had to trust myself and life little more.

Tonight, I sat in the audience and witnessed one part of her new life.  I found myself smiling the whole evening.  What I saw was all the strength, all the brilliance I remember working with, only bigger, stronger, happier, freer.   I watched and felt the audience fall in love with her.  She was in the spotlight this time, not the shadow.    This was where she belonged.

My heart full, I creep up the interstate, reflecting on all the wonderful things that have come from both of us letting go.

Anyone Find a Wallet

“Anyone find a wallet?  I give you a reward.”

The panic in his voice overwhelms me.  I turn around to see a middle aged man, in worn clothing frantically walking around the store bellowing out “Anyone find a wallet?  I give you a reward.”

I am at the Downtown Goodwill Store.   I like to shop thrift stores, and this one is huge.  I’ve been having fun just looking at all the stuff I don’t need to take home.  Now, I am unsettled.  I check my purse just to make sure my wallet is still safely inside.  I have lost my purse before.   I know the strange sense of loss that runs through you when you lose an object that you count on.    My wallet is safe, and I feel momentary relief.

I attempt to continue shopping; he continues to wander the store begging someone to find his wallet.    He is still in the store when I get ready to leave, long after I would have stayed had I lost my wallet.  I would have been running home to call in all the lost credit cards and get the replacements ordered.  It would have been a huge hassle for me.   All it would have been was a hassle; I would have been fine.

His voice indicated that he didn’t think he would be fine.  The panic in his voice made me wonder what he’d lost.  How much cash did he have in that wallet?  Was this his rent money, his food money, his bus pass to get home?  Were there pictures of his children that he rarely gets to see?  He hovered around the store, long after any real hope of finding the wallet had passed; his mind could not grasp the magnitude of his loss.    He just kept repeating “Anyone find a wallet? I give you a reward.”

My mind raced through all the possible reasons for what I perceived as panic in his voice.  I’ll never know what the real story is.  I didn’t stop to ask.  I saw myself as helpless in this situation.  What could I do, really?  I paid for the items I’d found and fled to the comfort and safety of my car.

As I think back, it would have been so easy to help him.  I could have responded to his calls letting him know I was keeping my eyes open for his wallet.  I was keeping my eyes open.  I could have asked him what he’d lost.  I could have offered him a little money, at least enough to take a bus home.  I could have let him know that I cared that he’d lost something valuable.  Who knows, my gesture might have opened up other people that would also have helped.  Maybe, within that store there were enough of us that we could have helped ease his burden just enough.

Change happens in this world when we get out of our own way, when we follow the instinct to reach out to others.  I wonder what opportunity for change I missed that day.

Fred and the Carnations

It was a warm spring day, my freshman year in high school.  The bus was filled with teenagers and carnations.  We’d had a fundraiser at school where you could send a carnation to friend.  These carnations were our proof that we had friends.  The more carnations you had, the more popular you were.   Maybe it was the other way around.

There was laughing and yelling and flirting.  All the things you expect on a high school bus.    Other than the carnations, it was a typical bus ride home.

At the first stop, the bus driver stood up.  This usually meant we’d been being a little too loud.  We waited to see who it was that was in trouble.  Fred, our driver, was a nice old guy.  He was fair, and he’d been driving most of us since elementary school, and we didn’t pay him a whole lot of attention.   Fred was just part of your day.  He was the first adult outside your home to greet you each morning, the guy who drove you home and wouldn’t let you get off at the wrong stop.  We were rarely in trouble with Fred.  When he did stand up, we listened.  He had a quiet command of the bus.

Fred started to talk with us.  He said it was going to be his last day driving us.  Silence swept through the bus, we were not expecting this.  Then, he started to cry.  His cancer had come back and the doctor told him he had to stop driving.  None of us had known he had cancer.  If we had, our teenage minds probably would not have really thought much about it.  But, here was this guy that we were just used to, that we liked, crying.

Then, he sat down and opened the door.  The first group of kids started to get off the bus.   At the head of the group was probably the toughest guy on the bus.   He clasped Fred on the shoulder then dropped his carnation in the metal basket on the dashboard.   The next kid dropped their carnation in the basket.  My bus stop was the last stop; I was one of the last to get off the bus that day.  Every carnation went in the basket.  Not one kid failed to do this.  It was our teenage way of telling Fred we loved him.   It was our way of saying goodbye.

I’d never seen my peers give an adult such deep respect.  Fred had touched every one of us.  His quiet steady love had transported us much further than just to and from school.   We never saw or heard about Fred again.   I don’t remember the bus driver that replaced him.  When someone says “bus driver”, I picture Fred.   I plant carnations in my garden, they remind me of that bus ride and of the power love has over all of us.

Caring for Kittens

Today I sterilized the baby bottles and nipples, ran four loads of laundry with extra Clorox, and folded and sorted by size.  It’s a bit of work to do all that.  Why?  Well, it’s kitten season, or almost kitten season.  I foster for the Seattle Animal Shelter.  I am in a specialized category; I am a “bottle baby” foster.  This means that I get the very smallest of the orphaned kittens.  There are a handful of us that do this work.

How small?  Well the smallest I’ve had came in around 4 ounces.  Usually, they are more like 8-10 ounces.  Often their eyes are still closed or just barely open when I get them.  We are talking VERY small.  I like to take pictures of them next to my TV remote control, or next to a shoe, just to give my friends some perspective on their size.

As I am folding the laundry, which consists mostly of polar fleece and towels, I try to remember just how tiny these kittens are.  It’s hard to keep that in perspective when it is FOUR full loads of laundry, pieces range from a square foot up to blanket sized.  How can something that is less than one pound use that much stuff?  And yet, they do.

Being a bottle baby foster is a huge undertaking.  When they are less than a week old, they eat every two hours around the clock.  Each week, as long as they are growing, you can add an hour between feedings.   After the second week of waking every two-to-four hours to feed them, I start doing things like hanging up the phone and putting it in the refrigerator.     By week four or five they are sleeping through the night and getting ready to be fully weaned, and I’m pretty much back to my regular sleep patterns.

Why do I do it?  If you knew how many times I’ve asked myself that question…

It is the most amazing experience.  Imagine holding a living being that fits in one hand, is almost asleep, purring and with a belly that is so full it is bigger than its head.   When the purring stops, they are asleep.   When a kitten is safe, warm and well fed, it has got to be the most satisfied being on the planet.   And holding it awhile, letting it feel safe as it sleeps is a magical experience, no matter how many times you do it.

As a personal growth counselor and trainer, watching the kitten learn and grow is just natural and fun.   There are developmental markers to watch for; like the day they stand, when their eyes open, when they figure out there is a larger world than just the sofa and try to figure out how to get to the floor, the first time their backs arch and hair stands up, and the next few days as they try to scare themselves to do it again, and the day they realize that they have a name.   There are also the developmental markers that a foster mother dreads; the day they figure out how to escape from their pen, the day they learn that the wall hanging is actually a swing, and the day they figure out how to take Kleenex out of the box or unroll the toilet paper.   It all happens in a few short weeks.  Each developmental marker is a triumph for then, a triumph for life.

Every kitten is different; each has their own little quirks and preferences.  How nature makes so many varieties never ceases to impress me.   And yet, there are so many ways that they are alike.  Each life is unique, precious and somehow connected.  The kittens remind me of that constantly.

By the second day with them, they know my voice, my touch and that my presence means food and comfort.   I often forget how well they know me, until they remind me.   When they are a little older, and running around the house, they seek me out to take a nap on.  I am part of their litter, I am momma.  What species they think they are is a good question.

They come to me because they have arrived at the shelter without a mother.  Sometimes, they were born to feral mothers and picked up when their mothers were trapped and spayed (the Seattle feral cat program does an amazing job.)  Sometimes they come because their mother died and the owners brought them to the shelter, some come because a citizen found the nest and didn’t see a mother cat, many times, I don’t know their story, just where they were found (the corner of 52nd and 5th.)  In any event, they need help.

The hardest part for me is that some don’t make it.  I’ve held small kittens in my hands as they died, not being able to do anything but to stay with them in their last minutes, and I’ve sat at pet emergency rooms in the middle of the night and made the decision to put the kitten down.    When I first started to foster, I swore I would never let any of my fosters die.  I would be the perfect foster parent.   I have learned some humility since then.  It is not within my power to keep them all alive.  I am only the temporary care giver.  I am only human.

Each death has taught me more about life than I can describe.  Each death has been a different lesson.   The first lesson was the hardest.  The kitten had been sick for a couple of days, and I had been working around the clock to support him.  He was a very determined little guy which made tube feeding him an adventure every time.  When a kitten is congested, they can’t use a bottle, so you have to feed this long, very thin tube down to their stomach, the tube is attached to a large syringe filled with kitten formula.   When you fill their bellies, they start purring and fall asleep.

I thought he was getting stronger, I was still absolutely sure I could keep him alive.  Kittens can die fast…very fast.  I still remember the moment, I was holding him, and I suddenly knew that there was nothing I could do.  This little life I was “in charge of” had just slipped out of my control.   Something in me let go in that moment.  I was suddenly just a small part of this bigger experience, no longer in charge of his life.  I held him, and watched the life leave this little body, knowing I was witnessing something I really couldn’t comprehend.

What I let go of was a control of life that I had been unsuccessfully grasping for most of my life.  There are things in this world that we don’t have control of.   By letting go of what I don’t have control of, I gained control of a bit more of my life.  That little guy taught me so much, he broke my heart and he made me so much stronger.  And, he has made every kitten that does survive just a little more precious.   I only foster them, something else keeps them alive.


Carla Camou, NLP Trainer and Personal Change work:

How it happened: the sweat lodge phenomenon

How is it that some people can sit and watch someone get hurt, or even die and not lift a finger to help?  How could those folks in the sweat lodge not notice that someone was in real trouble?

Not having been there, I don’t know the exact circumstances.  But I do know what kind of atmosphere can create a situation like that.  Whether or not what I’m going to describe has anything to do with current news events, the patterns are worth all of us understanding in case we find ourselves, or someone we know, in a similar situation.

Let’s start with some basics.  Human beings need hope.  With hope, we will endure almost anything.  When we lose hope, we give up.  Humans also have a need to feel that they belong.  It is hard wired into us.  When we feel like we belong to a group, we become very loyal to that group.  When we are aligned with the group we feel good.  When we go against the group we actually feel like we are doing something wrong.  We feel guilty.  So it is natural not only to seek out people who give us hope and make us feel that we belong, but also to be intensely loyal to that group.

Powerful leaders use these innate needs of humans to create a loyal following.  They offer hope–hope that you can have it all; hope that you can be rich, successful, in love, beautiful, happy, etc.  What they offer seems possible, really possible.  So you open yourself up to have some hope.

The next step of powerful leaders is to remove fear.  They encourage folks to face their fears and demonstrate how you can’t trust it.  There are a variety of ways to do this.  The basic idea is that they push you through your fear, your doubt, and your logic and have you come out in a better place.  After a few times, you begin to doubt your fear and trust the leader just a bit more.  You start to want them to push.  The eventual goal is for you to trust the leader more than you trust your own feelings.

Once you are in the system, you don’t even realize that you are losing trust in yourself.  You may even be thinking that you are having a great experience.  You most likely feel like you are doing some important personal growth work and, you are.  Learning to face your fears is a critical life skill.  It only becomes a problem when you associate the good feeling of facing your fear with the leader and not yourself.

The experience of facing your fear and coming out in a good place is compelling.  The experience of having witnesses while you do this is even better, and when you witness others, then a group bonding happens.  At this point you have both hope and a sense of belonging.

Then, they add the consequences of giving up.  They tell you that if you back down from what scares you, you’ve failed yourself and missed out on something wonderful.   They teach you that the only reason you won’t succeed is if you “give up” on yourself.  Within this frame, all difficulties you are having with the leader or the organization are because you are being scared.  And, the way through that fear is to hang in there a little longer, until you come out on the good side.

This combination of hope, belonging and attitude that “the only way to succeed is to keep pushing forward with this group” is a powerful structure.  Stepping out, leaving the group often feels like being cast out or ripped away from the only good in your life.  The equation is now: being in the group equals hope and belonging, and being out of the group equals letting my fear win and giving up on myself.  Since most of the time when we join these groups, we are in some kind of transition and often do not have a strong support system outside of the group.  Going against the group means starting all over and this is extremely hard.

So, you are in this group where you have great hope. You are growing and you feel like you belong.  The leader often asks you to do things that are scary or hard, and you always feel better when you do them.  This time, it’s sitting in a sweat lodge.  It will be uncomfortable, hot and humid, but really nothing to worry about.  By the time you are a couple of hours into it, you are in a completely different state.  The group pressure to push through this new challenge is quite high.  And, you trust that the leader really knows what they are doing.  That is the key.  Once we hand over authority, humans tend not to take initiative.  They leave it to the one in charge.  They trust their leaders to do what is best and they don’t trust themselves to override the leader.

Now, we have a huge problem.  If the leader isn’t paying attention or is unwilling to act, people can get hurt.  People can die.  And the ones that live will have a lot of emotional damage to deal with.  It will be especially hard because from the outside we can’t even begin to imagine how the others could have witnessed someone in dyer need and not done anything.  And, they can’t even explain it themselves.  That transfer of their inner authority to the leader happened so subtly they never saw it happen.  If we had asked any of them while they were still a part of the group, they would have denied any problems because for them there weren’t any problems.  They had hope and they belonged.  They had all they needed.

A good leader will do many of the same things that the dangerous leaders will do.  Determining the difference isn’t exactly easy.  A good teacher will have many ways to challenge you and many things you can learn from them.  The main difference will be in their intent.  The good leaders are focused on what is best for you, not what is best for them.  The false leaders will put themselves first.  A true leader, teacher, mentor, will continually hand the reigns back to you.  Or refuse to take the reigns when you attempt to hand them over.  They will push you, but they will make sure that you don’t begin to blindly follow them.  They will not promise you more than they will deliver.  Often they will not promise anything, they will simply show you what might be possible.  A true teacher understands that their ultimate goal is to help the student outgrow the teacher.

The damage done by false leaders can be very deep.  It can not be measured in dollars lost or time spent.  These people gradually take away our sense of who we really are, and recovering from that takes time, patience and often some professional help.  The shame people feel when they have followed a false leader is immense.

It is very important that we all understand that this really can happen to any of us.  Many people have had an experience of following a false leader.  The duration of time that we followed varies.  It is, however, very common.  Unless you understand the combination of factors that create such a following, you are likely to follow a few false leaders on your path.

A leader’s job is to create a compelling experience, one that encourages you to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  They will provide an opportunity to feel like you belong and motivate you to keep going.  When a leader considers themselves to be more of an authority on your life or your feelings than you are, it’s time to stop following.

If you’ve been there, or are there now, take some time to think about how you got there.  Be gentle with yourself about your experiences.  There really were good things within that experience and it’s OK to take the good and leave the rest.  Most importantly, you are not the only one who this has happened to.  You are not alone.

I think that most of us have walked at least a few steps down this type of path and spent a little time with someone who crossed the line a bit too often.  When and how we came to terms with it is an individual process.  But before we get too excited about the cases that make the news, maybe we need to check out the cases within our own lives and let that serve as a reminder to us to trust ourselves a bit more and be willing to speak out when something seems wrong.  A good leader will appreciate that you are speaking out.

Carla Camou, NLP Trainer and Personal Change work:



Being Like Your Parents

One of the statements I hear so often from my clients is that they don’t want to be “like their parents”.  This is usually in response to them telling me something that they are doing that is “just like their parents.”   Of course, this causes great distress for them.    Now I get to tread a tricky line.

There is no way that we can NOT be like our parents.   We come from them, and we have learned how to be in the world from them.  Even if we do the exact opposite (whatever that is) of what they do, we are still being like them.  Give me 5 minutes and I can show you how, but that is another topic.

If we could manage to not be like them, doing so would not serve us.  When we disrespect what we came from, we disrespect ourselves.  We are, after all, half our mother and half our father, DNA wise.   You can’t take the “father” half of your DNA out of you.  Who would you be if you could do that?

Since there is no way to not be your parent’s child, I have the strange job of helping my client find ways to be OK with being like their parents.  It sounds tricky, especially when what they are asking me for is a way to not be like them.   It sounds like I am trying to get them to do something they really don’t want to do.   So many things in life seem opposite of what they truly are.

One of the very basic principals in the Family Constellation work that I do is:  In families, everyone has a proper place; no one can be forgotten, cast out or denied.  The entire family can be put into distress when someone is not given or refuses their proper place.  I’m not talking about physical details like their proper place at the dinner table.  I’m talking about their “belonging” in their family.   Belonging does not mean liking or getting along.   Each person instinctively knows where they belong and will make adjustments in their lives to stay in their proper place.   They will seek to “belong” no matter what the cost.

These are not normally conscious moves.  This is why when you are trying so hard to not be a certain way, you sometimes are.  The soul level desire to belong trumps the cognitive choice to do something else.  The argument inside that ensues usually isn’t so pretty.

When we try to not be like one of our parents, we are trying to deny them their proper place and something in us knows this isn’t a good idea.  Our unconscious then makes adjustments to set things back to where they need to be.   If we understand this process, we can use it to align our cognitive wishes with the soul level need.  Done properly, this is satisfying and empowering.

What’s the trick?  It’s a two step process.  Just because there are only two steps does not mean it is always quick and easy.  Sometimes, it requires a little outside help.

The first step is to find a way to respect each parent.  Respect them for who they are, even if you dislike or disagree with the way they live (or lived) their lives.  Respecting is not the same as liking, approving or even forgiving them.  Respect also requires that you allow them to be just as they are, and not try to emotionally take care of them.  See them exactly as they are without judgment.

A small side note:  respecting someone does not require that you actually interact with them.  In cases where the parent is dangerous to you, you can still respect them and keep yourself safe.

The second step can only be done after you find that place of respect.  In this step, you notice the qualities in your parents that you do admire; you notice their strength, love, talent, charm, tenacity.  These must be things that you truly admire about them.   Noticing these things about your parents, you own them as your own; you notice that you too have these qualities and that as you express these qualities; you are affirming your proper place in respect to your parents.

By doing these steps, you reaffirm your place in your family, and free yourself to be like your parents in the ways that you choose consciously.  This aligns your system and feels right all the way through.    When we respect and value where we came from, we can do and be what we want in the world; we are ultimately valuing and respecting ourselves.   I’ve seen my clients find a peace within themselves they didn’t know was possible, and that’s really what they were asking for all along.

Carla Camou, NLP Trainer and Personal Change work:

Essential Learnings

I was looking through my computer files and found a list that was written years ago.  It was a list that I wrote down during a session with a client.  I don’t remember all the details of the session, how we got to this point, but there we were.  She was a Kindergarten teacher, and had been for a long time.  I had a sense that she was doing a pretty spectacular job, and not totally aware that she was.  What I asked her was:”What is it that you want your students to learn?”  This was her list:


That they are worthy of being seen and heard

That they feel respected

That they know they have gifts and the time and space to pursue and share

To learn to focus on what they can do

To have a feeling of self-improvement

The ability to set their own goals

The ability to self-evaluate (not rely on someone else)

To be able to speak up, in a way that will be hear, when something doesn’t feel right

To Know they all have something to contribute

To know that it wouldn’t be the same w/out them (as good)

To be curious about each other


I sat in awe for a couple of minutes, imagining what it must be like for a 5 or 6 year old to have their first experience in school with a teacher that was holding this list in her heart.  After all, this was the year that for most children set the tone for the rest of their education.    A child who learned all this in kindergarten would be starting their education with some powerful tools.

I asked her permission to share the list.  When I shared it with others that were teaching, in a variety of venues, they were all quite impressed.  All of us who teach want this list for our students, no matter what their age.    It is what I want for all my students, although until I asked my client the question, I hadn’t thought to make a list, to set that intention.

I learn some of my most valuable lessons talking with clients.  This was one of those moments.  This list has stayed with me, in my mind and my heart ever since that session.  It is what is most important to me in the creation of a learning environment.  I teach NLP to adults, and this list helps me keep clear on what is most important.

This list is also a roadmap for all of us.  Take a look at this list.  Have you learned all of these things for yourself?  Are you unsure about any of them?  If so, these are the places in your life that are worth paying some attention.  We are all capable of learning these things, and we all deserve to know them.  Now, take another look at the list.  Do you affirm this in your interactions with others?  Can you see and know this about anyone you interact with?  I wonder, what our lives, what the world would be like if we did.

Carla Camou, NLP Trainer and Personal Change work:

Being Inspired

So, Deborah sends me an e-mail saying she can’t wait to see my fist post.  YIKES…you mean somebody might actually READ this?  What a concept.  Now I really have to come up with something good.  No pressure there, nope, none.

Deborah is just trying to be supportive and encourage me.  I know that.  She is not the one putting the pressure on me.  I am.

What is it, in us, that turns the kindest gesture from another into something that creates stress?   What purpose could this fulfill?

This is a major focus of my life’s work.  I sit across from people who have found themselves in more distress than they would like to be.  It’s my job to show them how they are doing it to themselves, then to help them do something that works better.  I love my work.

What I find over and over in my work is that what causes us the most pain is the judgment we place on ourselves.   We often don’t notice that the source of our judgment comes from within; we project it out onto others.  That’s what I did with Deborah’s e-mail.  I projected my own judgment onto her, onto anyone who might read what I write.  There isn’t anyone out there who will read what I write and judge it more harshly that I can.  Most people won’t even think to judge, they will just read and enjoy, or not.

If I censor what I write, to avoid another person’s judgment, I limit myself.  If I censor what I write to avoid my own judgment, I will completely stop myself.  How much of the time are you stopping yourself?  What is the self-judgment you are trying to avoid?  And, what would happen if you tried to see yourself from the perspective of the ones in your life that most support you?  How much of the judgment can you hold onto if you are seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you?

I’ve just met Deborah.   From what I know so far, she loves to write and to share what others write.  I haven’t posted anything yet, so she has no idea what my writing “voice” sounds like, and she is curious.  In the way that I love to work with people to help them release the self-judgment, she loves to help inspire people to write.  So, when I took the first steps to be able to post something, she was pleased, and let me know.

Now, I have a choice.  I can succumb to my self-judgment and stop myself, or I can take a deep breath and face my self-judgment by posting something.  In facing it, I find the next best place to stretch myself to grow.  In this case, it is writing and posting.  What is it for you?

So, here you go Deborah.   Thanks for the inspiration.

Carla Camou, NLP Trainer and Personal Change work: