How to Spot Fakes

I’m in an industry of charlatans.

We don’t sell toasters. We sell intangibles: happiness, peacefulness, confidence. Or at least that’s what our customers are looking to buy.

This means we’re let into peoples’ minds, allowed to look around and see what’s in the shadows. We see things overlooked. We see things that are supposed to be hidden from view.

And when we pull these things out and hold them up, it appears to be nothing short of magic. We become mystics, curing blindness, healing the body.

How did you do that?

At this point, the mind softens, lets us further in.

This is an important moment. What we do from here, as healers, as coaches, shows our hand.

You see, people will do anything to feel the good stuff again. And they will ask us to take them there, to show them more things they haven’t noticed.

But not all shadows contain treasures and no one person has all the answers. That’s the unglamorous truth.

Still, some of us, the charlatans that is, will pick things up, anything at all, and give those objects more meaning than they deserve, try to turn the simplest of items into a golden key that glows bright enough to coax a gathering.

That’s how to spot them — the ones with the cold hearts, the ones who are rummaging through your mind like a thief through a glove box — they give themselves away because they need you, even more than you need them.

They need the crowd, to make them magical, to provide the oohs and ahhs.

And that’s when it’s obvious that they don’t have what you’re looking for and never will.

Because they’re looking, too.

Abrupt Involuntary Endings

Getting let go from work is like getting hit by a bus.

And like getting hit by a bus, people who get fired, laid off, or asked to leave often experience PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-syndrome). I see it more often than you might think.

The symptoms show up in one’s work history:
–extended time off
–private consulting
–gig work
–sudden or serial entrepreneurism

A common behavior amongst people with Job-related PTSD is complete and total avoidance of an intentional job search — like a batter avoiding the batter’s box or a veteran avoiding loud noises or a driver circumnavigating busy intersections.

It’s understandable. It’s a smart reaction to a bad experience: the brain saying “hey that sucked. Let’s not go through that again.”

But it abbreviates your life. It makes you take U-turns that keep you from certain roads.

To break free of job PTSD, you have to confront it. (Ghosts hate it when you give ’em a name.) Talk about it, replay the crap-ending to someone who loves you and supports you. No need to deconstruct it or overanalyze things, just pull it into the light and let your emotions go where they go; you’ll probably cycle through quite a few of them.

Then go back before that ending and remember the good stuff too. And if it was always bad at that job, go to the one before it.

You’ve got victories; you’ve just forgotten about them. They’re obstructed. The ghosts are in the way.

Once you get them to move, you’ll see all the roads again. And the intersections will be clear.

The Infalliable Guru

Sometimes I wonder how I can possibly be well-equipped enough to guide people in finding meaning in their lives and careers when I can’t even remember which one of my laundry baskets is socks&underwear and which one is pants&shirts. I still can’t remember which side my gas tank is on without looking down at the dash.


I wore a dress to a hip hop concert on the quad
I got a writing and art scholarship and majored in math. (Then went back to English.)
I won “Class Individual”
I have kids.
I’ve driven across the country 4 times
I love with my whole heart
I’ve got an endless supply of questions
More than not, and without really trying, I’m pretty darn jolly
I’m biracial (hint: we hate boxes)
I’ve been talking with people about their work lives for 20 years. Who does that!?
I hated counselors. Then I became one.
I’ll never get tired of the sunrise.

And so here I am, standing with pajama bottoms in hand, pondering the laundry baskets one more time, excited for the appointments on my calendar.

Am I successful?

When asked in sixth grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded, “Cliff,” and then proceeded to write a 2-page paper on the importance of being myself.

Ahead of his time, that boy.

How did he know?

I guess that’s the point.

The Most Important Question of the Day

Just went on a little city trip to prague.We had perfect weather and so the city was crowded.We looked for a peaceful and calm place and found it in the castle above the city. “If European cities were a necklace, Prague would be a diamond among the pearls.”

Every morning, before the sun rises and after my meditation, I ask myself an important question:

What one thing do I want to have accomplished by the end of today?

It’s a question I ask my future self, who is always looking to feel accomplished and who can be quite a grouch come dinner time if he doesn’t get his win.

It doesn’t have to be big. In fact, for me, it really can’t take longer than 30-45 minutes to achieve, or it’s not going to happen. Normally, it’s a piece of a larger goal, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as I’m honest with myself, it’s usually pretty obvious what it is.

I’ve always been good at being present, at drifting with the tide, but I’ve also found that drifting starts to feel pointless without a sense of achievement floating alongside it…

Gratitude is important, but so is growth and development, which is why I bake on intentional accomplishment into my morning, and why you should too.


What one thing do you want to have accomplished by the end of today?

Who Are the Heroes?

Man with a gay pride flag

A cool thing happened at work.

At the last minute, a coaching client wanted to donate her coaching call to a friend who had just discovered a job that was perfect for her. We hastily transferred the session and all of a sudden I was talking with another person.

Within 30 minutes, we had an interview strategy. (She was indeed great for the job).

The interview prep was locked but her resume was a bit underwhelming and you can’t interview if you don’t get past the resume screeners. So I spruced it up, mostly formatting, some action verbs (never underestimate the power of words!), enlarging her name (I know, ridiculous but it works), and a summary statement.

She got the interview and then she got the offer – a higher salary, more growth potential.

And it all started with a friend (my original client) who believed in her. And believed in me. And her belief was so strong, she gave up something for herself to turn that belief into reality.

We all have great power, more than we realize, a slice of divinity, a chance to shape a loved one’s future.

Us everyday people, superheroes for each other.

The Hobbit Lesson

Three stacked gift boxes with different colors

In the epic novel by J.R. R. Tolkien, hobbits GIVE other hobbits presents on their birthdays.

Strange little creatures, but the logic is there: If one person GIVES to many, one day every year, then everyone receives gifts many times per year.

There’s a lesson to unwrap here.

What if we paid less attention to taking care of ourselves and put more effort into taking care of others?

You’d have millions of people taking care of you, in every moment and every interaction. An ever-expanding community where GIVING becomes GETTING almost immediately, where karma surfaces for everyone by way of simple arithmetic.

Pretty mind-blowing.

And completely possible.

The math works out. I’ve checked.

Before Our Names

four markers on table

Something that’s always bugged me: name prefixes.

Why is it that doctors and politicians and judges are allowed to change their prefixes but no one else is?

I know these folks work hard — extremely hard — but so do CEOs and sanitation workers. I know that becoming a doctor changes you forever, but so does every job anyone has ever held. Just ask them.

In the U.S., professions are (a big part) our identities. They take 8 waking hours. Aside from sleep, the only thing that we devote more time to is child-rearing.

It doesn’t matter how much you make or what line of work you’re in, you know this all too well. You work a lot, just like Sen. X and Dr. Y.

So how come you’re still Mr. or Ms.

Or nothing at all?

Perhaps we should pick our own titles, as we merge with our professions. Coach Cliff or Scribe Flamer. (please use Scr. for business correspondence. Actually, I prefer Scr. Fresh Flame to be honest.)

The better option would be to nix titles altogether, when outside of work.

We’re having trouble connecting with each other as it is — class is already a problem — we don’t need more barriers.

Besides, we already kicked ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Miss’ to the curb, so…

‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ are shortly to follow, no? And why shouldn’t they be? What’s the point, honestly, of holding on to old ideas?

Your name is the part that matters. There are stories in there, truths compressed like flowers in a scrapbook, the lives of loved ones packed inside. That’s how want to discover you: by unfolding a layer at a time.

So, please, make it easy for me.

Let’s ditch the misleading shortcuts.

And really show ourselves.


Assorted color flowers

Things I hear from clients all the time:

“I should have been a ___________.”

“I wish I didn’t stay at this job so long.”

“If only I had known.”

“It’s too late now.”

Regret is like a bitter root in your tea.

Its purpose is to help you make better tea,

not remind me you what a terrible tea-maker you are.

Acknowledge the bitterness.

Swallow it.

Then go out into the garden and try something else.

Real People, Imagined

Sunset Thoughts.My roommate and I went for a drive to capture some b-roll for a film project. In the middle of takes, he took a moment to watch the sunset. I stepped back to capture the moment, then put the camera down to watch it with him.

When writing fiction, I’ve always taken real people in my life and had them do amazing things, things maybe they’re not capable of but wish they were. I make them into heroes. I place them in impossible situations and give them a way out.

I’ve realized I do the same in my morning visualization practice: I imagine family, friends, clients – I actually picture their faces in my mind – and then I let my imagination take over.

We do amazing things together, me and my imaginary people. In my head, we’re all allowed to share the same dream that is both good and possible. There’s often glowing white light, lots of floating and flying, knowing smiles exchanged, and a softness that can’t seem to find its way into the waking world…

Which is all the more reason to make it happen in the imaginary one.

Raising Hands


During COVID, most high schoolers took the opportunity to remain anonymous in class. That is, they opted to turn off their camera and become a black square for the year. Picture 32 black squares on a screen. Everyone did this.

But not my daughter. She kept her camera on, made faces to keep herself entertained, and raised her hand a lot. It took courage, but it was worth it.

The following year, with in-person school back in session, she got lost in the halls — it’s a big school — and someone came up to her (something high school kids rarely do: go up to someone.)


They’d recognized her from the virtual classroom. After an awkward high-school hi, they pointed her in the right direction.

On the same day, in those busy halls, one of the other black squares asked her a question. Another black square waved hello. Would-be-strangers warmer than usual, coming out of the dark to connect with a face and a hand.

We can learn a lot from my high schooler. When in a crowd, at a conference, in a meeting, or standing in a line waiting for food, instead of opting to be another black square, show your face and raise your hand.

You never know who’s listening, who will be the one to help you, or who you might help.

We stay on the inside a lot, even though all the good things happen on the outside.

And it doesn’t take much to meet in the middle.