GROW and POMP Your Way to Greater Serenity

By Vega Subramaniam

Last week, I shared some of my struggles around—and possible ways to deal with—heavy, demoralizing, overwhelming tasks. And I promised to come back this week with a couple tools that Mala and I have been mucking around with in order to conquer being what Brigid Schulte calls OBL: “Overwhelmed By Life.” (Hold onto that thought; I’m coming back to it later.) So here I am, with two.

Overwhelmed but Still in the Game

By Vega Subramaniam

There are times when I open up my email, and I just want to crawl under the covers and turn it all off. And mind you, I say this as an “Inbox-50” kinda gal. In other words, I pretty much never have more than 50 emails in my inbox at any given time, and mostly I have fewer.

My eyes glaze over. I scan the list, then open a crossword puzzle. I click on one of the emails, reread it, then go to Twitter.

Here’s my problem. Even though I pride myself on my low-volume inbox, even though I breeze through most of my emails, there are some emails that have hung out in my inbox for months, and I just cannot bring myself to look at them again, much less focus on or respond to them.

I’ll borrow words that my clients have used to describe such situations: it feels so weighted. Like boulders. A burden. Heavy. “It just makes me feel really crappy.”

Yes. It sure does.

Rebounding from Failure the Counterfactual Way

By Vega Subramaniam

When things go wrong, what questions swirl in your mind?

Perhaps these sound familiar:

  • “How did I let this happen again?”
  • “When will I ever learn?”
  • “Why do I keep doing this?
  • “How did I not know it would go wrong? Why did I not prepare better? What was I thinking? Why do I bother?”
  • “Why do I suck?”

Natural, perhaps? I don’t know. Does it vary by race and gender and other characteristics? Don’t know. Laudable by virtue of keeping us humble? I frankly don’t care unless someone can prove to me they’re effective for accountability (spoiler alert: they’re not).

What I do know is that changing the content of your questions will help you act differently in similar future circumstances.

Our Professional Strengths and Their Long, Dark Shadows

By Vega Subramaniam

I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about, if not in actual conversation with people about, career transitions. And when I say ‘career transitions,’ I mean in a big way. Breaking from the well-trodden course and radically recalibrating. As in, take someone with a bit of a professional history, but who’s not crazy about what they’re doing for a living, and who can’t quite figure out what to do next.

Simple answer? Figure out what they’re good at, which will naturally lead to what they’re meant to do, right? Right. So, if that person had an opportunity to (shameless plug alert) spend quality time articulating their strengths, skills, and talents, and tell meaningful stories that demonstrate those strengths, skills, and talents—that would be brilliant, right? Done and dusted.

Well, maybe.

It’s funny. You would think that discovering your strengths, skills, and talents would be an unadulteratedly positive experience.

What does it mean, then, if once talents having been unearthed, ease and confidence still don’t show up? To realize how fraught that exercise is?

It’s February, and I’m still not exercising every week

By Vega Subramaniam

ACPT 2013 D Division Award

D Division Award, ACPT, 2013

It’s mid-February. Would you look at that.

Mid-February, and already I’m not exercising every week (or ever). I haven’t finished my crochet project. To be sure, I did register for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (priorities, people!), but I haven’t been printing and solving crossword puzzles on paper in preparation.

February is a curious month. It sits there, between January’s New Year and March’s springtime, pretending to be innocuous.

Don’t be fooled: February is not innocuous. It bears the weight of all of our shattered dreams. It is the month of reckoning.

In most years, late December through January has a predictable arc. It’s cold, dark, and snowy. BUT, the days are getting longer, praise all that is good and holy. There’s the afterglow of the just-passed holidays. There’s long-term vision and alignment with purpose and passion—and the optimism that a shiny new year offers. There’s a willingness to face habit-change challenge with renewed resolve because THIS year will be DIFFERENT.

THEN. Then, there’s the impending recognition, by about this time of year, that THIS year will NOT be different.

Honoring Our Intent (…to Achieve Our Aspirations)

Working on ProjectsBy Vega Subramaniam

I was talking to my friend Janeen a couple weeks ago about the fact that Mala and I are taking a month right now of what I’m ostentatiously calling a “sabbatical.” We are on a mission to move some projects along and get some writing done. And Janeen wondered aloud what practices I would put in place for myself to ensure that I “honor my intent” and indeed do what I said I would. And she used a metaphor that’s not uncommon in self-improvement circles, “the propeller to give you the airlift.”

For some reason, uncommon though that metaphor is not, her use of it that day cut through something. It excavated a deeply-buried and, quite honestly, random memory of visiting a couple dear cousins of mine, probably more than a decade ago at this point, after they’d acquired a remote control helicopter.

If you’ve ever operated a remote control helicopter, you know how infuriatingly sensitive it can be.

As the Holidays Descend Upon Us…

By Vega SubramaniamVermont Autumn Colors

Ah, the holiday season. What is it about this time of year that I find so…unnecessary?

I kid.

I am sure there are people out there who have an uncomplicated, wholly joyous relationship to the holiday season. I can’t say I’ve ever met either of them, but surely they exist.

This post is for the rest of us. It’s mostly questions that I feel must have answers that I just haven’t figured out yet (shocking!). If you’ve found answers, or if not answers, progress toward answers, I’d be grateful to hear.

I’ll admit that I feel at least some sense of gladness as the holidays approach, because…let me back up. Every year, at the bright and shiny beginning, I imagine a meaningful year filled with meaningful connections with people who are meaningful to me. I vow to keep these connections going on a regular basis over the course of the year. And then November hits, along with the sinking recognition of how few people I actually connected with at all this year, let alone on a, haha, regular basis. The holiday party circuit gives me just this one last chance to make good on my Januarial vow. I’ll admit that I look forward to the holiday party circuit for this reason alone.

And yet.

When ‘Positivity’ Is Positively Furious

By Vega Subramaniam

Sky & CloudsI’m a born Pollyanna. As friends used to say, “Of course you’d stand up for [insert annoying colleague who did a stupid thing]; you never say anything mean about anybody.”

Fair enough. But it’s been a hard week. A hard 48 weeks. An unbroken string of 48 hard weeks. My positive attitude has taken a bruising. And yet, what other choice do I have? In lieu of cynicism, by virtue of it not being an option, what do I do with my rage and pain?

Being a disciple of emotional intelligence (EI), I’ve been struggling to understand how EI as a model can aid us in our efforts to (a) survive 2017; (b) …yeah, there is no (b), is there, if we don’t survive this year; and (c) on second thought, maybe (b) is: not just survive 2017, but keep our fight on, fully and intensely?

I therefore headed back to the primers. Wiped the dust off the URLs, pulled the PDFs back off the shelves.

And here, I share the results of my investigation.

You Tell ME: Why DO You Always Do This To Yourself?

Conowingo Dam (MD)

Reflections on the water

By Vega Subramaniam

There are certain questions I hear people ask themselves out loud a lot:

“Why do I always let the mail pile up like this?!”
“Why can’t I ever get anything done on time?!”
“Why do I do this to myself, over and over again?!”

You get the idea.

I automatically go to counter-arguments in my head. “I wish you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” “Judging yourself so harshly isn’t going to help you to stop doing that.” “That’s not true. You don’t always do that thing.”

I suppose I could tune it out and wish people the best as they crumple into self-imposed (assuming there’s any other kind) hopelessness. That’s an option. I guess.

I could take people literally. Call their bluff. “I don’t know. Why do you always let the mail pile up?” “You tell me. Why can’t you ever get anything done on time?” I mean, I’m genuinely curious. Why aren’t you inspired to tend to the mail more immediately? Why aren’t you inspired to be timely?

I could turn the mirror toward myself.

Of Brains, Databases, and Self-Affirmation


By Vega Subramaniam

What we want, a lot of us, is to face life with confidence and contentment, and to make a difference.

A requirement of building confidence and contentment, if I may posit, is maintaining an accurate inventory of our talents and accomplishments. And a requirement of maintaining an accurate inventory of our talents and accomplishments is acknowledging our talents and accomplishments.

It stands to reason. Right?

And yet! Acknowledging ourselves for a job well done makes far too many of us downright queasy.

Decision-Making, Activism, and Charlottesville

By Mala NagarajanBasketball Net

Honestly, the last time I thought deeply about Charlottesville was in the early 1980s, when the 7-foot-4-inch phenom Ralph Simpson was leading the University of Virginia Cavaliers into the NCAA’s Collegiate Men’s Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness). Now, Charlottesville is once again occupying my thoughts and, I know, weighing heavily on all of our minds: marching and shooting of another, all too devastating, kind.

Thankfully, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, a lot of folks have put a lot of effort into sharing answers to the question, “What can I do?” I’m still sorting through my own responses to this question, responses that balance seemingly oppositional realities – putting my life on the line and being needed by my family; having the greatest impact and maintaining my capacity; doing whatever is necessary in this urgent moment and aligning with my strengths; trumpeting my fury and leading with love.

As we’ve all heard, at about 1:40 pm EDT / 10:40 am PDT last Saturday, white supremacists and one neo-Nazi from Ohio terrorized a group of peaceful, multi-racial protesters, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer, a white paralegal who stood up for equality and against injustice, and injuring 19 others.

Embracing Your Winding Path

I turned 52 last weekend. One full deck of cards. As I begin my 53rd year, I get to open up a brand-new deck.

On one hand, I have a new chance to choose how I play the hand that’s dealt to me each coming year. My first hand in this new deck is pretty awesome, professionally speaking. What I do on a daily basis is just me being me. An external manifestation of my deepest purpose.

On the flip side, I have a chance to reflect on how I’ve played my hands in the past.

It wasn’t long ago that my brain was filled up with regrets, failures, and lost opportunities. Like, when I told people I was a leadership coach, I would dread the inevitable questions: “how did you get here? What did you used to do?”

Optimism is a Form of Resistance

By Vega Subramaniam

Yellow Flower

My friend Ericka said that to me the other day: “Optimism is a form of resistance.” And it occurred to me just how impossible it feels to be pessimistic right now. My entire being would reject the effort. That force inside me would be tempted to smack me upside the head and point out that we don’t have time for pessimism, what are you even thinking, Vega? That force would remind me of all the fighters who came before me and who surround me now and point out that I wouldn’t want to betray their efforts by sparing even a second for pessimism.

This is new. This smack-me-upside-the-head internal barometer.

The Person I Could Have Been

By Vega Subramaniam

This is for all of you who are filled with regret about choices you made, paths you took, your foolishness, your failures.

Some of you may have heard that the definition of hell is, on your last day on earth, the person you are meets the person you could have been.

When I first came across this quote, I was like, oh dear god, my lost potential and misspent youth. I was like, I have to shape up RIGHT NOW.

Obviously. That’s what the quote is meant to evoke.

But…wait. Not so fast, Quote. Which “me”? The “me” of my imagination at this current moment on this particular space-time continuum? The “me” of age 14 who dreamt of being an astronaut? The “me” of my first year of grad school who thought she’d be a professor, maybe?

When does the clock start ticking?

The Human Right to Have Fun

By Vega Subramaniam

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leisure. We’re witnessing, not to mention experiencing, lots of of anger, rage, activist analysis…all those things that we both take for granted and applaud as righteous. But it’s also true that leftist culture has a conflicted relationship with “fun,” “play,” “leisure” — activities not purposely done to distract or wind down; nor experienced as a byproduct of something you’re doing for another purpose (like exercise or getting into the zone or using your special talents).

Swinging!People, especially if they are hyper-aware of their privilege, are gnawed by a sense that they are betraying the movement if they take down time just for its own sake. A friend wondered how she could possibly spend time pursuing hobbies for their own sake, outside of the context of “building community” or “because it offers growth opportunities.” Another friend knows she needs self-care because otherwise she won’t be any good for the movement. So she beats herself up for not going to the spa for a mani-pedi. Another friend says she doesn’t know how to relax, that every moment she is idle, she thinks about what she could be doing that would be useful.

And this gnaws at me.

In a time like none other…

By Mala Nagarajan

In the midnight hour, evil…

In a time like none other for most of us, the injustice is staggering: the presidential election undermined; state legislatures eviscerating democracy through voter suppression and gerrymandering; government agencies meant to protect and serve us (EPA, Education, FDA…) heading for even more gutting, perhaps into non-existence; hate crimes on a dramatic rise. Hollywood couldn’t have written a nuttier political thriller (or horror story, your pick).

At sea?

If you’re like me, you may wake in the morning — or through the night — hoping this is all just a bad dream, only to be jolted back into the harsh reality. Yes, you are in the middle of a nuttier-than-Hollywood political horror story.

What are we doing again?


I’ve been agonizing, like many other folks, about what it is each of us can do. We want to make a meaningful difference. But given how crazily overwhelming it all is, how do we focus? What role do we assume? Do we lead or support? Where do we enter the resistance?

It’s All Skill Development

By Vega Subramaniam


It’s All Skill Development

“Of course you’re creative” (or “a leader” or “talented”).
“You just need to change your attitude. Don’t be so negative.”
“You’re too insecure. You should have more self-esteem.”

All things someone who cares about you might say to you.

It’s tempting to get defensive. The fact that you know this person is well-meaning is the only reason you don’t actually snarl at them. Beneath the defensiveness could well lie a hidden bewilderment about just exactly how to accomplish those things. I mean, if all it took was to decide one day to be talented, change our attitude, or have more self-esteem, I’m pretty sure we’d all be doing it.

Post-Election Reflections, Strategies, and Priorities

By Mala Nagarajan

img_8676Nearing four weeks after the 2016 election, and many of us are still angered, shocked, and disappointed. Some of us are still dealing with our reaction and emotions – immobilized like a deer in headlights, depressed like we’re free falling, angry like a boiling tea kettle. Some of us are analyzing what happened, engaging on the ground, and looking proactively to the future. Still, some of us are critiquing, judging, and name-calling.

How do we use this energy in a way that connects our mutual interests, leverages our combined efforts, and harnesses our collective power?

What Just Happened?

By Vega Subramaniam

Well. Here we are.

Foreboding CloudsAs a youth, I was clear that I was a citizen of the world. Political boundaries were irrelevant. I held that clarity while also acknowledging that I was an American and that this place was my “home.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve allowed the notion of America as my “home” to eclipse the notion that I am a citizen of the world. This election is a good reminder that I am a citizen of the world, which always eclipses America as my “home.”

There is alarm coursing through my veins, every time I step onto the Metro, walk down the street, enter a store. Now, more than ever, I need to be resilient. And I’m not even Muslim, not Black, not an undocumented immigrant, not trans.

Changing a Habit is Hard! And How to Do It Anyway

By Vega Subramaniam

Dessert!I just read Gretchen Rubin’s “4 Strategies to Change Your Habits that Actually Work” on Fast Company. And yes, the suggestions she offers would support your habit change — using a clean slate as an opportunity to break with a past habit; monitoring what you do; making a bad habit inconvenient (classic example: putting the alarm clock far away from your bed), and giving yourself treats just because.

But her conclusion gave me pause. She says, “Changing habits can be a challenge.” (So far, so good.) But then she says, “By doing the easy things first, we may find that change is less demanding than we expect.”

Hm. Maybe? Certainly, doing the easy things first will support you in breaking a habit. No argument there.

But I don’t think I’ve met anyone, myself included, who finds change “less demanding than we expect.” It’s all too often harder. It’s easy enough to *start* down the path to a new habit: going for a daily run, writing 15 minutes a day, eating a healthy breakfast every morning, opening and filing mail immediately, whatever your thing is.

But keeping at it: ugh. There will be so many reasons and ways to slip back. And if we hope that it won’t be as demanding as we expect, then we’ll feel like a failure at the first misstep.

But missteps are bound to happen. The point is less to believe that “change is less demanding than I expect” than to know that it is demanding, but I’m up to it.

So how does that happen?

How to Overcome Your Decision-Making Hurdles: Part Three (The Finale)


By Vega Subramaniam

In Part One of ‘How to Overcome Your Decision-Making Hurdles,’ we reflected on the stories we each have about our own decision-making glitches. We observed that for some of us, even thinking about good decision-making is “this-makes-me-feel-terrible-about-myself” hard. We noted that the first step toward moving into confident, values-based decision-making is to acknowledge your story.

In Part Two, we described the context for our stories: the messages we grew up with and are surrounded by. Our social systems relentlessly send us messages about what we should be doing, what is moral, what counts as ‘success,’ what we should prioritize. The static that those systems creates in our brains hinders our ability to make sound, values-based decisions.

So what’s the antidote?

Part Three: Shine a light on our own process

The antidote is to pay attention to your own best decision-making process.


Think of a decision you’ve made that you feel really good about.

A lot of people have a hard time coming up with an example. It can provoke anxiety to try to dredge up a good decision, especially because the reason you’re reading this is that you worry that you tend to be bad at it. And other people might have you focus on all the ways that you make bad decisions, what you didn’t do, what you did wrong. Truth is, we all sometimes make bad decisions, we all forget important steps, get results that are less than we hoped for.

But focusing on only those is a distraction, just negative self-talk blocking your path forward. There’s no time for that now! Move around that perspective, and take another look from another angle. You can think of at least one decision that you feel good about, or that was right at the time, even if you’ve changed since then.

Got one?

How to Overcome Your Decision-Making Hurdles: Part Two


By Vega Subramaniam

In ‘How to Overcome Your Decision-Making Hurdles: Part One’, we reflected on the stories we each have about our own decision-making glitches. We observed that for some of us, even thinking about good decision-making is “this-is-making-me-feel-terrible-about-myself” hard. We noted that the first step toward moving into confident, values-based decision-making is to acknowledge your story. Which brings us to…

Part two: Understand where those stories came from

How to Overcome Your Decision-Making Hurdles: Part One

By Vega Subramaniam

Decision making is hard

Mala and I had the pleasure of spending a couple hours recently with some Intentional Life Planning participants during our follow-up session on decision-making.VMC_Forest Path

We came to talk about what helps us make good decisions and dissect our bottlenecks. Ultimately, we hoped that each participant would identify their own process for intentional, values-based decision-making leading to choices they could be confident about. We asked participants to think about successful decisions they’ve made…and we discovered that even thinking about good decision-making is hard. Not the “should I eat in or go out for dinner tonight?” hard but the agonizing, I-feel-terrible-about-myself hard. And frankly, even the dinner question gets wrapped up in questions about our worth as human beings.

How can you possibly shine a light on your process when even thinking about it makes you feel terrible about yourself?

We think there’s a way forward. And we think there are three parts.

The Autumn That Could Be

VMC_Window_View IMG_0204_web
By Vega Subramaniam

Last week’s New York Times article The Summer That Never Was got me to wondering how common author Tim Kreider’s experience is: his sense of foreboding and gloom, lost opportunities and lost time as autumn approaches. Pretty common, I’m guessing, based on a straw poll of my friends, and the fact that I felt that way once.

I don’t anymore, though.

To be sure, autumn has melancholy built into it. But there’s melancholy, and then there’s despair.

So that got me to wondering how invested people are in holding onto those bleak feelings. What if it were different? What if you were able to consistently meet the new season with contentment rather than despair?

How to hire a contractor for your organization’s everyday work

VMC_Office_with_Person IMG_0333-2_webBy Mala Nagarajan

As a nonprofit leader in need of staff, you may be tempted to hire a contractor (aka consultant) to fill a vacancy. Maybe you think it’ll be easier to get rid of the person if it doesn’t work out. Or perhaps you don’t have secure funding, and you don’t have the heart to let a person go. Temporary positions are a great way to let the candidate check the organization out and to let you check out the candidate. And the 1099s your accountant completes for your payments to an independent contractor are a lot less burden than the administration and cost of new employee hires (e.g., I-9, healthcare and retirement paperwork, unemployment taxes, worker’s compensation fund contributions, FICA taxes, paid breaks or medical leave).

But wait! Don’t do it.

Autumnal Equinox: A Time for Rejuvenation

BLOG_Forest_webBy Vega Subramaniam

The onset of autumn always fills me with a sense of anticipation. I have a visceral response to the changes in the air that come with the start of the academic year. I was one of the lucky ones who experienced the thrill of shiny new school supplies, blank notebooks, new pencils and pencil cases. As a professor, I thrived on the energy and noise of students returning to schools and campuses. And I always hoped that this year, I’d get it right, I’d excel, I’d rise to the challenge and meet my potential.

Even though I haven’t been a student — or a professor or university employee — for years, that spirit has never left me. The autumn air still signals potential, possibility, achievement. And it’s not just me.

A True North: Building A Map to The Life You Want to Live

Sunset at WineryBy Mala Nagarajan

When Vega or I tell people that we’ve held our own personal strategic planning retreat every year for the past 12 years, we’re apt to get curious, astonished looks. And as often as not, we’re asked what our secret is and how to get started.

In 2003, our lives were out of control. Besides working full-time, our days were filled with endless commitments to community work, to our friends, to organizing Trikone-Northwest – a queer South Asian space, and more. While we could have said ‘no,’ we often felt like everything was a ‘must-do.’ The consequence? We were not saying ‘yes’ to us.

The Secret Connection Between Self-Sabotage and Self-Determination

veggiesBy Vega Subramaniam

…and what does this have to do with habit change?

Recently, I decided that I want to eat more vegetables. Actually, I want my meals to be vegetable-dominant. This is a new thing. For most of my life, my dominant food group was fried greasy things. When I would tell people that I’m vegetarian, they assumed that it was because I was ‘health-conscious.’ Um, no. The only thing health-conscious about me was…give me a minute, I’m sure I’ll think of something.

But when I went into business for myself, one thing was clear: if there was any hope for me, I had to make some pretty extreme lifestyle changes. I needed to keep my energy levels up. I needed to change my diet.

Welcome to our blog!

Glad you found us. We want to help you and your organization promote a healthy workplace culture and strong teams.

Mala tends to write about what she stays up at night thinking about: human resources, operations, and technology. Her conversations are with managers, supervisors, and movement leaders interested in fostering holistic thinking and innovative practices.

Vega tends to write about what she obsesses over: troubleshooting life and developing inspired fortitude. Her conversations are with organizers, activists, and nonprofit staff who are in it for the long haul, or would be as long as they can stay sane, feel really good about their work environment, and make a decent living.

We’re eager to engage in important conversations with you.

Mala and Vega

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