Recalibrate, listen and explore: a mid-summer check-in

How are you doing this season?

Over here in the northwest, summer is a noteworthy season. Why? Because there is incredible fruit and warmth and no rain or snow. Everyone is out and about. It brings a particular kind of delight AND in like matter a frantic, frenetic energy. People want to do everything… sit by a body of water, drive to a mountain, eat ripe peaches and corn. See all the people they love.

I feel this delight and pressure too. And now, with a child, I have the added urge of wanting him to experience it all and feel connected to the land where he lives and the joy of being outside with people we love.

This season highlights the push and pull I feel at this time in my life. I want to be present and soak in the joys and delights around me as a human on this earth – noticing the color and texture of bumble bees and butterflies, laughter, and the feel of my feet in cold, glacier streams. I want to be in this moment of life with my child – muddy hands, skinned-up knees, a face sticky sweet, holding hands with a summer friend. I want to make spacious room for my clients to recalibrate, listen, explore, and make plans that build toward bigger possibilities. Additionally, there is a list of hopes for my partner, family, community, and self.

What are all the pieces of summer you are holding? What do you want to feel and experience this season?

I have moments of inner struggle and grumpiness because it is not possible to make all of these things happen simultaneously inside linear time.

Again, I remind myself that I cannot do it all.

So how do I find my way toward these intentions for the rest of summer without overwhelm?

Here is what I do to reset and reduce stress:

  • Name my intentions (see above)
  • Name my constraints (time, energy, other people, etc.)
  • Look for supports 
  • Simplify (where can I do less, where can I lower internal or external expectations)
  • Overcommunicate and calendar with my partner (and key colleagues or family)
  • Build in slowdowns (when am I pausing to check in with my body)
  • Offer gratitude out loud at the moment for what I am seeing and the humans around me
  • Be okay with an unconventional work schedule (as long as I have solid boundaries in place)
  • Use a metaphor for the season to remind me of my intention

It is not too late to invite in a different way to be during this summer (or the next season) – if you feel frenetic, frustrated, “blah”, or disconnected. It may be cheesy, but it is also true; every day, you have an opportunity to reset your intentions and actions.

Today I intend to dig into key client communications and connections, eat a juicy peach, and sit outside with my son in the late summer afternoon.

Want reflection questions to support your reset? Check out more below.

Here is to a fruitful summer,


If you find this info helpful, please consider joining my email list. You’ll get helpful tools and learn about the practices I use for myself and to help leaders and teams gain clarity, work collaboratively, and discover a deeper sense of purpose, connection, and joy.

Rheanna SmithRecalibrate, listen and explore: a mid-summer check-in
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How to bring in joy & intention when  building partnerships [Leaders Creating Change Series]

Thoughtfully built relationships are vital to creating long-term partnerships that support your work, mission, and also support you in your leadership. I am always looking to learn better and different ways to be in relationships and in partnerships with fellow humans – so that together we can create social change and experience joy and delight along the way.

I want to share more opportunities for you to gather and hear from thoughtful leaders building toward equity and social change in their communities.

I recently had the joy of talking with Amanda Thomas, Director, Community Partnership for Tacoma Public Schools. We spoke about how she shows up in spaces, builds community, and creates long-term partnerships. Amanda is one of my favorite leaders to work with and it was a delight to hear her talk about her leadership and work.

Hear what Amanda says about building relationships even in institutional capacities:

You can probably tell from our conversation that Amanda brings joy into her work and the communities she’s a part of, so I wanted to know how joy fits into building relationships for her. She said…

Amanda offered the reminder that it IS enough to simply be in relationship with each other. Building relationships thoughtfully over time supports your growth as a leader and your ability to create something bigger and more meaningful. Investing time in the relationship without considering what you have to gain creates trust and space for learning and creativity. This allows you to make more significant and impactful changes.

We can’t do any of our change work alone.

If we’re going to build larger solutions, we have to be in conversations with each other and hear diverse perspectives. We must be able to see and talk about the problems with people who view them differently.

It’s more than just partnerships, though. As leaders, we have to identify and find the support we need intentionally. I asked Amanda how she has built a support community around herself. She finds support in others but also in herself.

I’m grateful to have found support in my relationship with Amanda. My hope for you is that you have built or are building partnerships and communities of support for yourself, too. 

In what ways are you putting energy into relationships simply for the joy and act of being in community?

A massive thank you to Amanda for joining me and for always showing up in spaces and giving very freely to community. 

Interested in the full interview with Amanda? To learn more about building relationships and partnerships, grab it here.

Rheanna SmithHow to bring in joy & intention when  building partnerships [Leaders Creating Change Series]
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4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life

Why, you may ask, am I offering up thoughts on making a big transition in a pandemic and during economic instability?

Many clients and friends are thinking about making large (and small) life transitions.

Multiple times a week I talk with someone about changing a career or finding a new way to do things.

The pandemic, the fight for justice for black and brown people, the economic uncertainty is causing many people to get clear on how they want to show up in the world and where they want to put their efforts.

And some of us are in the thick of the biggest challenges of our lives. There is little time to think of the next hour. If you are there, this first video could still offer a place to carve a little breathing room for what happens in a few years.

Check out these 4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life.

I’ve created this guide with all 4 steps as a resource for you.

Getting ready for a transition and not wanting to do it alone?

In a leadership position striving for positive community change and in support of justice for black and brown people?

I am starting 2 new Clear Harbor cohorts this February. One is specifically focused on leaders who are contemplating a career transition. 

Let’s chat – more info here and jump on my calendar to talk more.

Rheanna Smith4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life
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Making a tiny shift

Well here in Seattle, we are over 60 days in quarantine. My days are a mix of cleaning dishes, helping with a tiny “preschool” of 3, supporting clients as they make tough decisions, reheating my coffee for the third time, and more dishes.

I know that we are all navigating new realities and changes. I am also very aware that we are not all having the same experience. This pandemic is impacting different people and different communities in painfully different ways. It is highlighting the deep inequities that already existed. Those who are asked to work even harder with less protection are often folks of color and women. Those who in more danger of not being supported if they catch the virus are also people of color. These stark differences are causing us to consider on our own experiences in connection to each other’s experiences.

I am noticing, regardless of our different experiences, most of us are in a place of reflection. If you have a lot of time on your hands you may be reflecting… well a little too much. And if you find yourself with less time, and even more to juggle than before the quarantine, you might find the reflection is in sneaking right before bed or while you wash all those dishes.

Go towards that reflection gently, don’t ignore it. 

What is that voice asking you to pay attention to?

What are you noticing… about you, your relationships, your work, our communities?

Is there a shift calling out to you? Something you want to change?
(Maybe it is not as grand as the pivot everyone is talking about.)

If you give this ask for reflection a few moments of your time you can begin to make positive changes in your own life, in your community. (Examples of people making positive changes in my own community.)

For more on my own reflection & a simple process for paying attention to the call for a shift, watch my short video. Want to go even further for a step by step reflection process below.

The first step toward a shift or change is to pay attention.

Step by step: How to make a shift in your life

If you have a little more time or capacity, here is a way to reflect on a change you want to make, without simmering in it (which increases overwhelm).

What do you want?
First, ask your self – what is the shift you are noticing, or wanting, or needing to occur? (Again, this can be internal, or in relationship to others.)

Write it down.
On a sticky note. On a piece of paper.
Whew you wrote it down! It just got real.

Now let it be for a while. Put it up somewhere you will see it.

Reflect on your role & capacity
Come back and reflect by journaling or thinking about these questions:
– What can you control in the thing you want to have change? 
– What do you have capacity for taking on right now?
– Where do you already see the shift happening? How can you increase what is working?

Start small and with you
Find the smallest, simplest step that you can take, which is in your own control, to begin the shift.
Even if you are hoping for a big change in your workplace or in your community. You can find your role within the change and start there.

Gather resources
Start paying attention to the conversations & resources that begin to come your direction in support of this change. Read them. Listen.

Talk it out
Find someone you trust who will be kind to you while you reflect on what you want to change. Pick someone who will help you see other perspectives. Ask them for support, further conversations, & accountability.

What is working
Often our desire for change can come from what is wrong and not working. Hold on to the reminders of what is good and worthy of celebration – in yourself, your life, your relationship, your work, your community, & your country.

Listen to other perspectives.
Now that you have begun your own work. Continue to reflect on what may be occurring for others in the change you want to see.
– What could be their perspective, experience, & feelings?
Listen to those around you involved in what you want to see change.
See what changes in you when you open to their viewpoint.

Repeat each step, go further toward the shift you want to make.
Watch ripples in your life, your relationships, your work and your community!

Share with others – here, in a phone call or on social media… what positive shift are you making and how?

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015Making a tiny shift
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One simple way to get unstuck

When you have a big problem and you are feeling stuck, I have a tool for getting unstuck — ask for help!

Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about taking risks and creating something new.
My biggest learning has been that I cannot do it alone.

I am someone who loves to give help. It feels good to be of use and to support someone else. Just look at my work: it’s built on giving advice!

What I don’t like is asking for help.

When I ask for help, I feel vulnerable. I’m giving up control. I can’t dictate exactly what sort of help I’m going to get. I don’t get to choose how that help is going to be delivered.

If asking for help makes you feel uncomfortable, too, here’s where that feeling comes from:

When you ask for help, you are actually saying, “I cannot do this on my own. I need support.” The dominant U.S. culture teaches us that asking for help is weak. We’re taught that we should be able to do everything on our own — that being a successful human is an individual thing.

That teaching is a lie. We are all interconnected.

Any major change in our lives is done in community. Whether we’re raising a baby, launching a project or moving into a new home, we’re changing alongside of other human beings.

We need each other.

If you have a grand plan you want to implement, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by too much work or too much life — you need help. And that’s a good thing!

Asking for help opens up a new way of seeing a problem.
It allows the weight of the work to be shared.
It increases the energy going toward a solution.

When you ask for help, you are no longer alone. And when you are supported you will begin to see new ways forward.

You can reduce stress and increase your creative potential by asking for support.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when asking for help:

Pick the right folks for the job.

Who has the experience? Likes this kind of project? Can handle it? Who is someone you would like to have around, who would probably like to help you?

Decide what kind of help you need.

Figure out exactly what you need help with. What are you looking for (and not looking for)? What are your time frames?


Make an explicit request – don’t beat around the bush. Make your request very specific and clear.

Be prepared for “No.”

Give folks a chance to get off the hook when you ask. If someone says they cannot help, don’t hold that against them. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you could not help.

Be clear and set boundaries.

Make sure your community knows what kind of support you need and what you do not need. Keep the ownership and responsibility for the task as yours.

Hire a professional.

If your own community cannot help OR it is going to put too much burden on them, hire a professional. This could be a therapist for processing an experience, a mover to help you transition to a new home, or a marketing specialist for promotions.

Say thank you.

Thank you goes a long way. Please say it! In person, via email, or by snail mail, let your helpers know you appreciate them.

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Questions for reflection:

What are you needing a little support for and who can you ask?
How can you say thank you to for support in the past?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenOne simple way to get unstuck
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Finding Love in an Old Shirt Box

Valentine’s Day. Not everyone’s favorite holiday, I know. It is so commercialized with all this external, unrealistic pressure to be in a relationship and if in a relationship, to be madly in love and celebrate that love in a prescribed way (you know – dinner, chocolates, and flowers). It is often a day of anticipation and expectation and disappointment. And even as a kid, Valentine’s Day can be cruel. Waiting to see who gave who Valentines, digging through your heart-shaped mailbox taped to the front of your desk, counting the candies, comparing the cards.

I get it – the day can be overdone, inauthentic and full of externally placed expectations of what love should look like.

And yet I still love Valentine’s Day. Yes. I do. I told a friend this yesterday and she replied, “Really? Why?” My easy answer is I love a good romance story. And of course, I do love getting presents and I absolutely adore artificially-flavored, sugar-loaded candy.

Looking deeper though, it all has to do with my Grandma.

As a kid, despite the possibility of personal trauma in the classroom, Valentine’s Day always started with a sweet gift of pajamas and candy in the morning from my parents. Then after a day full of candy, cards and crushes, I would come home to a Nordstrom’s shirt box sitting on the porch. Mom, Dad and I, each with the same level of excitement upon spotting the box, would rush into the kitchen to open it where we would find two layers of huge, fluffy, heart-shaped cookies with a half an inch of light pink frosting. These cookies, baked from an old sugar box recipe, are the best sugar cookies in the world. These cookies, sent in a department store box with no card, were Valentine’s Day to me.

Grandma was not big on words of affection. She did not, if ever, explicitly say she loved me. What she did do was bake Valentine’s Day cookies, every year of my childhood. It was in this simple act of baking that I felt her love for me, for our family.

Now I am the one to bake those cookies for my family and chosen family. It connects me not only to my Grandma, but reminds me that lots of people say “I love you” and “I care” – every day – in ways we do not always see or honor. In this way, Valentine’s Day is a demarcation in my year. It gives me pause to look up and take notice. Who has been offering me signs of care? How do I remember those that have been on the path ahead of me? How do I sneak in signs of my love and care into the lives of those around me?

How do you show those you love that you care?

Even the smallest gesture- a note, a clean kitchen, or a cookie makes a big impact on those who matter. I would love to hear how you show your appreciation for those in your life on Valentine’s Day or any day of the week. Join the conversation on my Facebook page.

I think it’s time for a cookie.

Annie Von EssenFinding Love in an Old Shirt Box
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How to Relax and Unplug

Lately I have been coming home late and I am tired. When my partner is not home, I plop myself in front of the computer to watch TV.

I have spent all day in front of a screen. I have cranked away on emails and worked and reworked drafts of Word docs and then returned to emails. Sometimes I have a day with lovely meetings and one on one conversations with human beings. I love those moments. I am a fan of human beings.

But most of the day I am clicking and staring, clicking and forgetting to blink. Click. Click. Click. I come home hating screens, and then I think “I need to unplug” and then the not so brilliant thought enters my mind…I will just watch an episode of something mindless to relax.

Here is the deal…for me TV feels good like eating a pint of ice cream at one sitting feels good. And I think sometimes it is okay to indulge in that out of control feel goodness. But more screen time is not what I really need to relax. I need to step away from the screen. I have been thinking about this for a while yet still returning to bad reality shows at the end of the night.

Until a recent Saturday morning with nowhere to go and my loved one not at home. I decided to open a book and NOT a self-help book or business book. A novel, the Living by Annie Dillard.

I proceeded to read in bed for an hour.

I know this may be basic, simple knowledge…

but reading a good book in bed is extraordinary.

And the art of a good book read in bed may be dying.
This month and into the next, when I am craving an escape, when I need to unwind and let go,
I will pick up my fiction book and find a cozy nook.
(I may even take the book on the bus with me, instead of my iphone.)
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How to step away from the screen:

1. Find a fiction book to read

Find a fiction book in your home that you have not read. Open said book and begin reading.

2. Make time

Give yourself at least a half an hour to get into the book and hooked on the act of reading.

3. Keep book with you

Carry your book around with you. Sit down with it and read. Put book down for conversations, do not put book down for more screen time.

Relax. Unplug. Turn on your creativity.

Annie Von EssenHow to Relax and Unplug
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Add Life to your Morning

At the end of a long evening, decide to make bread. Decide that you will set aside an early morning for you and creation. Perhaps it is Friday night and you will make Saturday morning yours. Or it is Thursday night and you will go into the office a tad late on Friday.

1. Make a decision to take a morning for you and for some bread baking.

Plan to make two loaves. Find a lovely bread baking cookbook at a local used bookstore. (My favorite: The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson.) Or you can grab a recipe online. (My favorite: 101 Cookbooks.)
Take the evening to knead your bread and get it ready to rise.

2. Make the bread.

Get up in the morning and make bread. Take your time, you are nurturing a living thing, preparing it to be life giving. Let the process surprise you.

3. Give a loaf of bread to a neighbor.

Take the bread out of the oven, wrap up in a flour sack cloth and head next door or down the hall. Present your neighbor with a warm loaf of bread and no apparent explanation. Watch confusion and joy spread across the face. Soak in the goodness bread provides. Head home and have a piece of toast!

Baking bread is good for:

? Neighbors going through a tough time
? Moments when life feels flat
? When you feel the world spinning and are unsure of your own creation

Annie Von EssenAdd Life to your Morning
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