Yoga Mantra: Let Your Eyes Close (Yes, Really, Even Now)

What do this pandemic and my current mantra of closing your eyes teach us about true freedom, while so many of us are suffering on the front lines or sheltering in place? And how does that relate to what we do in our careers?

As my frequent readers know, I launched a new series this year that ties my yoga practice to my work as a career coach.

I had planned to go through the arc of a yoga class, with a new post each month that highlights one of the instructions yoga teachers often give their students. These simple phrases can serve as mantras for our daily lives, including our careers.

January – Set an Intention

February – Take a Comfortable Seat

March (this post) – Let Your Eyes Close

When I conceived of the Yoga Mantra series back in December 2019, none of us imagined we would be facing a global pandemic such as COVID-19. 

At the time, I felt as though I was taking a bold step by expanding my highly practical, hands-on coaching approach to add (what could be seen as) a less obvious angle. Would my clients and greater audience – who are mostly attorneys and other highly trained, process-oriented and results-driven professionals – find a discussion of yoga to be at odds with my commitment to focusing on steps they can take right now to get the greatest return on their efforts?

After all, yoga (like meditation, T’ai Chi, reiki and other healing practices and arts) is not intended to bring immediate results. It can, in fact, transform our lives from the very first time we try it. Yet its effects are more often the result of accumulated effort. Or rather, accumulated periods of time in which we release ourselves from effort, trying and striving. Periods of time in which we allow ourselves not to calculate the distance from Point A to Point B but instead to live the journey.

So much has changed in the world since December 2019 (three months ago) or even February 2020 (one month ago). In my case, as an all-too-common example, our local public schools have been closed and converted to distance learning since March 13, 2020. And while the school district has given us estimated dates of reopening (currently April 20, 2020), like other schools cross the U.S. and beyond, they may remain closed until the next academic school year. This is simply one change among countless to our daily lives.

On a global scale, our ability to predict what will happen next – indeed, to live a “predictable life” – has greatly diminished. At the same time, our need for adaptive skills in our careers and general lives has greatly increased:

– facing the unknown,

– rising to the occasion,

– making thoughtful decisions, and

– persevering (ideally thriving) with limited information and constantly changing circumstances.

These needs harken back to the reason I originally launched this series. I have found that too often, people want quick fixes, an “answer” to solve the problem de jour (i.e., urgent matter of the day). Yet changes that actually move the needle in our lives cannot be rushed. A quick flash of insight can create a transformative moment, but the transformation itself (almost invariably) requires a longer period of implementation to take root and create the greatest effect.

Let me give you an example. Say that you move to a bigger apartment so you can have more space. In the first few days or weeks, you might arrive with all of your furniture and boxes, unpack and feel the glory and heightened freedom of your new surroundings. You may feel a new “leash on life” and relish a home environment where so many more things are possible. But if you (quickly or over time) start to fill that space so that it is just as crowded as your old one, the realm of possibility diminishes. You will again feel constricted and constrained.

The same thing happens in the rest of our lives, including in our careers. If you move to a bigger or different role with more space to create impact in or through an organization, but you quickly crowd your days with non-impactful meetings and activities, your new position can feel just as constrained and ineffectual as the old one.

So what do this pandemic and my current mantra of closing your eyes teach us about true freedom, while so many of us are suffering on the front lines or sheltering in place? And how does that relate to what we do on the career front?

First, we cannot control outcomes. We can do our best to create what we seek, but we ultimately can either make our peace with our lack of control or continue to resist (and increase our suffering as a result). Some of us are unemployed or underemployed. Others are “overemployed,” i.e., burdened with the herculean responsibility of strategizing, leading, fixing, triaging, foraging, vetting or otherwise holding the fort during this unprecedented time.

In either case, we can only sit with what is true at this moment. That’s all we have.

Second, turning inward is a healing act. When we close our eyes or soften our gaze, we are not shutting out the world over the longer term. We are restoring our strength so that we can go back out into it. While the world needs more heroes, those heroes need to give themselves permission to recharge. In yoga classes, if you listen closely, you may notice that instructors often suggest you “let your eyes close” rather than “close your eyes.” The first is an act of allowing yourself (to do something), not an act of will.

Allow yourself to turn inward – even if it’s only a few moments of an hour or a few minutes of the day – without worry that you are missing something or failing to complete an urgent task. Changes and tasks will always be waiting for you, and your ability to rise to those changes and tasks will be greatly enhanced if you periodically take time to refresh and center yourself.

Third, our wish not to be vulnerable is illusory. 

I took this self-portrait (eyes closed, feeling vulnerable) in my office a couple of months ago, well before coronavirus dominated our daily lives and our 24/7 news cycle. As I envisioned the post I might write to accompany it, I planned to take some time to explain vulnerability and the macho (toxic) culture of many work environments that seek to stamp out any whiff of weakness.

Yet this week, as senior leaders of across all ranks and ranges of organizations took work-from-home (WFH) videoconference calls with anxious children and barking dogs in the background – and came together over it, rather than judging their colleagues and counterparts for a lack of “discretion” – our collective take on vulnerability has been momentarily suspended. Being vulnerable is a trait we all share, and we can clearly see that through this pandemic. Families are to be protected, not silenced. Lives are to be valued, not treated as something to be fit between more pressing obligations. Vulnerability is something to be recognized as part and parcel of the human condition, as it cannot be avoided.

Anne Marie Segal - eyes closed

Fourth, for a change to last, it must continue to represent our values. Many of us have learned this in other contexts, through other challenges, but what lasting individual and collective change we will carry forward from COVID-19 remains to be seen.

We know that life as usual has been irrevocably altered, but whether those alterations bring us to a better place or simply call for heightened vigilance is a matter of our long-term values. Again, by periodically softening our gaze to the whirlwind of activity, news, adversity and (in some heartbreaking cases) trauma, we can start and continue to ask ourselves where we can find meaning, experience large or small joys of the present moment and build bridges to the direction we are called (both personally and professionally) to follow next.

Be safe. Support those on the front lines. And, from time to time, close your eyes.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach and writer based in Connecticut, not far from New York City, and is sheltering at home with her family (dog, cat, husband and two teenagers who are remarkably committed to flattening the curve).

Old Dog, New Tricks: What Can You Change Before Year End?

Happy businesswoman jumps in the airport

Most of us, thankfully, do not need to learn a new form of martial arts to effectuate the change we want to see in our lives. It could always help, yes, but it’s not the natural next step.

Yet we do have something eluding us. A piece of the puzzle we have not yet fit, and we cannot reach the next goal (even one we have been desperately seeking) without finding and placing that piece.

But human beings are stubborn. I know I am. And yes, I’ll say it, some of my clients are stubborn too.

Too often, we know what will serve us – what we need to do, so we can do what we want to do – but we make excuses. We are like old dogs who refuse to learn new tricks.

AdobeStock_217290201 (old dog).jpg

So here’s what you do to change that:

(1) Take some time to chill. (Relax, settle in and create some emotional space.)

(2) Review what you wish to bring into your life, and articulate your top goal between now and year end. If your goal may not (or cannot) be completed by year end, choose a manageable goal that is a piece of a larger goal, and repeat these steps in the New Year. For example, rather than “get a new job,” your goal may be to take certain concrete steps toward that end. Focus on what you can change, without attachment to outcomes.

(3) Embrace the vulnerability that you need to move out of your comfort zone. Be prepared to fail, but also be prepared to succeed. In fact, redefine success as a series of steps, not only as an end point.

(4) Embrace the power that you can call forth, from the depths of your being, to reach your goal.

(5) Envision all of the ways you (yes, you) and your family, friends, team, community and/or others. will be better off when you have reached your goal.

(6) Build a support network for your change, even if it’s only one person. Ask them to hold you accountable at each step.

(7) Be curious about what you need to reach your goal, and take the time to explore the most efficient path for you to get there. 

(8) Focus on the present. Not what you could have done last summer, last year or five years ago. What can you do now to achieve your goal? Keeping yourself in the present keeps your emotional energy available for solutions rather than stressing.

(9) Create a realistic action plan and work your plan. Reverse engineer your possible investments and divisions of time and energy to prioritize this goal among other obligations.

(10) Be your own best fan. Cheer yourself on, and celebrate your wins in a way that is meaningful to you.

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Focus on what you can change, without attachment to outcomes.

In the career context, your goal may be to build something, such as:

  • Resilience
  • A Calmer Demeanor
  • Relevant Skills or Expertise
  • A Stronger Professional Network
  • Gravitas and/or Greater Recognition in Your Field

Choose the goal that’s most pressing for you, and stop giving yourself excuses! Feel free to drop me a line telling me what you have been able to achieve.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume writer and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She served as a corporate attorney for 15 years, including roles at White & Case LLP and a prominent hedge and private equity fund manager, before launching her coaching practice. Based in Connecticut not far from New York City, Anne Marie partners with clients internationally on executive presence, impactful communications, graceful transitions and other aspects of professional and personal development. She also offers online instruction at

Image credits: Adobe Stock.

Achieving Gratitude in a Macho Work Environment

Young woman showing her heartfelt gratitude

For professionals who work day-in and day-out in a macho work environment – where you  “eat what you kill,” and if you don’t produce, you don’t eat – gratitude is often a foreign notion.

More common are words like merit, grit, earning and climbing.

Gratitude can seem soft, vulnerable and passive.

Yet the more mature we become as professionals – and, in fact, as people – the more we can appreciate, if not “what we have been given” (which sounds as though we had no hand in it) then “what we are fortunate to have” (which is the result of luck and hard work).

While we may have made many of our own breaks, we still caught breaks.

Gratitude can indeed be strong and active, as can we when we invite gratitude into our lives. Meditation, playing with young children, hiking, singing, surfing… There are many ways to get ourselves into the right mindset to drop the macho masks we must (or fear we must?) wear every day.

When we are vulnerable, we are also open and approachable. 

We connect with others through shared purpose.

We have the capacity to create, integrate new ideas and expand from our current point of view.

We break out of the negative feedback loops that often plague us.

We can achieve change that is the necessary element of growth.

We realize that we are not in control of every detail in our lives. Rather than fighting against the current, we learn to live and breathe in the natural flow.

What will gratitude teach you this Thanksgiving?

How can you bring that feeling into the rest of your year?

Copyright 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.


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