Dust Off Your Workbench and Get To It!


Build. The word evokes visions of two by fours and dusty construction sites, workbenches, mismatched hardware, hammered thumbs, steadfast swearing, uncomfortable yellow hard hats, cement trucks pouring foundations and after what seems like too much time, negotiation, and spent resources and patience, you have a finished product. A house, say. Maybe a school or a church.   Something that was once an inkling of an idea, a what-if; now built. A tangible thing, a place that emerged after many hours of discussion, labor, financial review, cost/benefit analysis, marital or board of directors infighting, architect/contractor disagreements, supply chain disasters and the like – a place to come home to, to work in, to spend time in. Maybe a sanctuary.

Not everyone is building a physical structure or product though, but the ideas that are true in construction are also true for reshaping a career or starting something new in your own life. And, like construction there can be a lot of difficult and questionable work and doubt before the THING takes shape. If you get a flutter in your chest though, at what began as a very small, almost unnoticeable idea, listen. Develop. Don your hardhat, pour the foundation and build. There will be swearing, there will be infighting, resources will be tight. The effort is worth the energy. Believe in your idea, dust off the workbench and get to it.

Photo:  toolreporter.com.

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Creating a Life Purpose Statement



Much of our Executive Leadership coursework revolved around the idea of self-leadership as being step one in the leadership readiness arsenal.   To this end, we did a lot of work on our personal and professional leadership point of view.

An excerpt from my journal, July 2014:

Life Purpose Statement

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years learning from a variety of difficult and painful life lessons as well as experiencing many joyous, inspiring and beautiful moments. From these experiences I believe my life purpose to be this:

  • Love deeply and fully and without fear
  • Lead an interesting life with rich experiences
  • Be clear in my purpose and encourage others to define theirs as well
  • Advance my expertise in Culture, Leadership and Organizational Development
  • Write about what matters most to me
  • Develop and build skills in myself and others
  • Create calm and peace in our busy world
  • Teach my child well
  • Continuously learn and have fun in the process
  • Advance the understanding of what is enough for a satisfying life
  • Celebrate what I already have and have achieved

This didn’t just roll out of my head on to the paper. This took thought, reflection, courage, patience, and an iterative mindset.  It takes many months and a willingness to refine and revise.  One question to jumpstart your thinking:  When you are at the end of your life, what do you want to not have regrets about?  What will you want to say you’ve achieved? You can start crafting yours today…you will know when you’ve gotten to the essence of what your life purpose is. At that time, you are done…until your perspective changes and you decide to edit further.  Keep it handy to review regularly.  This creates a life-long practice of staying clear on what matters most to you, at whatever stage of life you are in. Enjoy!


Change Management


I now consider myself an expert in change.  I can say this because I have moved exactly 19 times.  Places lived include New York, Colorado, California, Hawaii, California, Connecticut, and California.  Yes, I have moved to CA 3 times so far.  My good friends have several pages in their address book with this collection of addresses.  Also, the nature of the restaurant industry is one of constant movement and change – and our family has seen our share of job changes.  While all this experience has been useful, it did not prepare me for the depth of change experienced in the past 3 years as I have been seeking my place in this new chosen career.  Looking through my journal, I found this note, dated August 16, 2013.  To this day it remains on the office wall.

During this career transition

Be open
Live in the moment
Be clear
Don’t let emotions rule
Don’t settle
Improve, grow
Trust my heart
Have faith
Use your instincts
Be fierce

Change is naturally upsetting, which can have benefits and drawbacks.  There is always a period of hellish raw chaos, but from that comes new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, a stronger sense of self and usually in my case, a new beautiful place to live.

Here are some of my rules for change, whether personal or in the workplace:

  1. Remember:  it’s temporary – things always settle down.
  2. That resentment you are feeling…honor that, then let it go.
  3. Cut yourself and others a little slack – rarely are we at our best or most confident during upheaval.
  4. Create some new rituals in the new environment.  Explore your surroundings.
  5. Label your boxes – literally and metaphorically.  If it’s a change in the workplace, reorganization, a layoff, a promotion, or an office move, it is good to sort out what it is you’ll need in the new situation.   Writing down your ideas at this stage can help clarify your thinking on both what you need to do and how you feel about it.

What are your rules for change?

The Pusher, The Workbench and 9 Minutes of Inspiration

Lower SaranacThe Pusher

I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing towards my goals, and for some time now have felt a constant pressure to learn as much as possible, as fast as I can. After the past few years of exploration, schooling and inner work, I’ve found my niche at the intersection of leadership development, organizational effectiveness and coaching, and I want to be an expert, NOW!  To this end I’ve created ambitious goals in my quest to become an expert as quickly as possible.  At times this creates a low-grade panic and feeling of needing to constantly work towards these goals.  As I was talking this over with my brother, he asked me:  “What if you stopped pushing?”  “What if you just accept where you are in your life right now?”

Hmmm.  What if?

So I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and have been trying it on for size in various situations in which I’m trying to effect change.

This does not mean I abandon my objectives.  What I find happening is that when I stop actively pushing so hard towards each goal, there is an opening up of space that allows me to think differently about the problems I’m working on.  There is relief that I can step back.  This step back allows other information to filter in, other doors to reveal themselves, other opinions to be heard and my mind and heart to process the information.  What is in fact happening is that the right solution is brewing and will become clear when it’s good and ready.

The Workbench

I’ve been following Michael Hyatt of late and in one of his blog posts, he spoke about his Blog being his workbench.  I instantly fell in love with that idea because it has given me permission to write and try out my ideas, with less editing/fiddling/finessing.  I have been holding back on growing my blog – need to create a theme! Need to have posts ahead!  Need to plan! Etc!    Much can be built from a workbench, and both the process and the content can be helpful to others NOW.

An idea: Embracing the whole of what life offers means that sometimes we have to live in an uncomfortable place, with unruly emotions, anxiety, or other discomforts that we all prefer to push away; and that are for some reason deemed unacceptable in our culture.  My wise brother has shared with me a book called Radical Acceptance, which I’ve been actively avoiding reading for over a year now, but have finally picked up and begun.

Again…relief.   The takeaway for me in this book again is:  Face what is in your life right now, but without judgment.  Take a pause and look.  Feel what you are feeling, bad or good.   You don’t have to react, just…observe. Then decide what’s next.  When you allow for this pause, your actions are more likely to help you build rather than destroy.  For any of us who are involved with change initiatives at work, or have stepped into new territory in our careers or personal lives this is immensely helpful.  The “startup” phase if naturally uncomfortable; removing judgment and accepting the process can allow some peace and grace as you move through it.

9 Minutes of Inspiration

This Ted Talk by Louie Schwartzberg reminds me of how soothing nature can be and the impact of gratitude on your state of mind.    Having grown up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, one of the most beautiful places in the world, I find myself remembering how powerfully healing our natural world can be.  When you need a pick me up…watch this!  http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_nature_beauty_gratitude?language=en

I invite you to share your story…Comments always welcome!


Planning for Success in 2015!

Year from Now

I found myself still in student mode 6 months after graduation, and realized…it’s time to get building. I’ve wanted to write, to grow my consulting business, to share with others my purpose, which is to help others envision, collaborate, create and lead the lives they want.  I have as much experience and education as other experts to share with others.  Time to take focused action!

I was inspired by my friend and colleague JM; and also by Michael Hyatt, founder and CEO of Intentional Leadership.   He writes on leadership, productivity, publishing, and social media and shared an eBook called “Set Yourself Up for Your Best Year Ever:  8 Strategies Super Successful High Achievers Use To Prepare for The New Year.  Each item includes ideas from different thought leaders, making it very useful and inspirational.

Here are the 8 things:

  1. Reflect on the past year
  2. Stay positive
  3. Express gratitude
  4. Eliminate the excess
  5. Set goals
  6. Break down goals
  7. Schedule the year
  8. Unplug

This items on this list really resonated with me.  In my daily life, I already maintain a practice of reflection and gratitude, which helps me stay positive even when things are challenging.  Where I can be more effective is in eliminating the excess, setting and breaking down goals, and gaining clarity in my scheduling.

So I took some time to outline the areas that I want to focus on this year:  personal, family, finances, and growing my business.  I then spent time on each category, deciding what specific goals I envisioned for the year and then defining why.  Asking the “why” question is important; because it helps you determine what is truly worthy of your time and what might not be.  What are your motivations?  Will they be sufficient to inspire you to action on your goals through the entire year?  How does this fit into your life vision or plan?

Here are my goals for 2015: 


  • Continue my daily practice of reflection more consistently.  Include review of goals and life purpose, financial goals, and gratitude.
  • Increase my strength and flexibility for physical health by committing to swimming 3X weekly and stretching daily.  Incorporate movement breaks throughout the workday (Based on work, about every 2 hours.)  Why?  I have spent years putting my physical and mental health on the back burner, and I want to be more integrated now, and feeling fit and healthy throughout the year. 


  • Take a trip abroad with family.  Introduce ourselves and Alex to a different culture and way of thinking.  Why?  The experience of travel contributes to both leisure and learning, two things that are important for growth, which is one of my core values.
  • Continue to grow Alex’s health, independence and life skills through participation in Boy Scouts and sharing household responsibility in our daily lives.   Yes, that means chores, but with the focus on developing life skills.  Why?  I want Alex to learn the skills he needs as he moves out into the world, and to develop healthy relationships with exercise, his peers, money and responsibility. 


  • Continue to build financial health and wealth through conscious attention to living within our means, and maintaining clarity about where we spend our time and treasure.  Why?  Because attention to our financial health will allow us to build for the future we desire.  It will also be a way for us to educate our son so we can all maintain a healthy relationship with money. 

Business:  This is an area in which I have done the most planning as it is my biggest focus for 2015.   I have included the short version – the details are still in development, but will be following the SMART GOAL format.

  • Deepen my expertise in leadership development, executive coaching and organizational effectiveness through continued learning, teaching and writing
  • Expand my network by joining and participating in ATD and Toastmasters
  • Build the infrastructure for Kristina Au Consulting (website, branding, internal organization)

Why?   There are a few answers for this.  The most obvious one is that I make my living doing this.  Also and equally important:  Through coaching, I want to help others unlock their dreams and hopes and to collaborate to find effective and actionable ways for them to pursue these dreams and goals. 

An important side note:  In keeping with the idea of maximizing effectiveness, I have been very purposeful in creating business goals that feed into each other and that do double duty.  For example, joining ATD and Toastmasters will expand my network, but will also help me develop professionally, which will increase my expertise.

Sharing goals can be a very personal thing.  I feel somewhat exposed sharing this on my blog but I choose to share my goals to inspire others and for the simple sake of being accountable.  I expect and hope to report at the end of 2015 as to my success, and I share them with others in order to be accountable.   Feel free to check in on my progress and hold my feet to the fire!

 Keys to successful planning

  1. Set aside time for brainstorming your goals.  It can be a day or a week but have it be an amount of time that is realistic for your decision making style.
  2. Pick no more than 3-4 goals that are stretch goals that bring you in the direction you want to go.
  3. Reverse engineer the goals and break them down into quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals.  When this gets overwhelming, make it as simple as possible by eliminating anything unnecessary.  The purpose of creating goals is for clarity, not muddiness, so don’t create more work than necessary.  You’ll know when you have broken it down sufficiently for your work style.
  4. Be clear about your schedule.  Managing your calendar is very important.  During the week prior to New Years, I prepare my calendar for the year by blocking out the time off I plan to take, any projects, school breaks, due dates –everything I know I need to attend to.  I am fanatical about keeping my calendar clean and only putting items on the calendar that belong there.  I don’t put tasks on the calendar; however I do schedule time for planning sessions or specific work that needs attention.
  5. Review and Accountability.  We all know how easily it is for things to shift for us during a work week.  This is not an excuse to let your goals go due to lack of planning – if properly thought out in the context of your bigger life picture, it is up to you to guard and protect that time as sacred.   It is important to create a daily practice of reviewing your goals to keep them top of mind, so that when other things invariably tug at your attention, you can decide with clarity what is really worthy of your time, and what is an unnecessary distraction.  Put them on a white board, in a phone, on a list – wherever you can get to them easily and consistently for review.  Find someone to share these with who will hold you accountable.

I’d love to hear from you!  Do you do any planning for the New Year?  How do you create and achieve your goals?  What would help you pursue the life you dream of?


  • Michael Hyatt: http://michaelhyatt.com/
  • For more on managing and preserving your calendar see Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done
  • For info on important/urgent matrix see Steven Covey’s 7 Habits
  • For more on creating mission, vision and values, look for my upcoming post on January 1st!

From Kristina Au Consulting
Envision, Collaborate, Create, Lead!

Ruthless Prioritization

No, not everything is important.  It just seems like it is.  We feel important when we are busy, when things are “blowing up”, and this constant new cultural way of responding to each item, each stimulus tugging at our attention doesn’t really mean we are busy.  This is not to say we aren’t, I would never suggest that.  But aren’t you just a wee bit sick of hearing everyone use that expression each time you ask them how they are?  I really am.  I refuse to utter those words, because it is obvious, and I consciously choose to make time for the things that are important to me.

So is it possible to get a handle on this?  I believe it starts with awareness.  If you interested at taking a look at your habits and defining what is important you can start to achieve a balance in your life that will be uniquely meaningful.  Caveat:  It is an investment of time and thought on the front end that results in clarity and peace that is fulfilling, even during the most chaotic of times.

In our MSEL classes at the University of San Diego, we discuss the importance of rank-ordering your values.  This is important because, quite often, two (or more) things that are important vie for your attention, and how do you choose between them?  This is true whether you are discussing personal values or business objectives. In his wonderful book co-authored with Ken Blanchard called Helping People Win at Work, Garry Ridge of WD-40 Company lists their company values as follows:

  1. Doing the right thing.
  2. Creating positive, lasting memories in all our relationships
  3. Making it better than it is today
  4. Succeeding as a tribe while excelling as individuals
  5. Owning it and passionately acting on it
  6. Sustaining the WD-40 economy

He has specific reasons for the order they are in.  Unless you have considered the importance of each value or task, it is hard to discern where to put your energy.  If you have done the inner work to decide what level of importance you attach to these conflicting goals, it becomes easy to decide where to focus your energy.

My personal values, rank ordered are:

  1. Personal health:  sleep, food and exercise
  2. Family well-being:  health, quality time, household organization
  3. Job and Career:  bring home some bacon, continued growth

The evolution of these values began while I was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.  I LOVE this book and would say that it may have been the most influential book I’ve read while on my journey of self-discovery.  One key point that remains relevant is his Time Management Matrix which distinguishes between the urgent and the important.  The urgent things grab our attention and demand immediate action and can give us a sense of accomplishment and immediate gratification.  The important things often get neglected as they don’t seem urgent, but whole blocks of your life can go by while you put out fires, and then you realize that you haven’t attended to what is really important – what you truly value and what contributes to your high priority goals.

There are many other things that I am trying to accomplish at any given time, but if I don’t attend to these main things first, then I am not living the way I want to live.  I consciously choose personal health as my top value, because I know that if I am not taking care of myself, then I can’t really do a good job in the other areas.

I read an article recently in Time Magazine about Sheryl Sandberg, who is the author of the book Lean In which is generating some wonderfully heated discussion (ok, also some outright attitude) and that has fired up many people on both sides of the gender aisle.  What I love about the conversation is that there is CONVERSATION.  This is a good thing.  It feels like discussions of “women’s concerns” had gone underground for a while (I may have just been really BUSY) and now has erupted again.  I am learning to “lean in” to the discomfort a heated discussion creates for me.  I have become a convert to this idea that heated discussion and conflict are good, especially when everyone plays strong and fair.  It is these discussions that allow ideas to grow and that move us all forward in our thinking and then to action.

Debate and discussion aside, one of the most impactful ideas from this article came from a little sign that Sheryl has in her conference room: “Ruthlessly Prioritize”.  I wrote this phrase on my whiteboard at work immediately and have been circling around this thought since I first read the article.  I suffer from the chronic fear of “not enough time,” and so this has resonated with me deeply.  Because I am in a significant career transition in my life, and because I am a mom, wife, full time employee and grad student, this has necessarily become my mantra.

So, in the spirit of ruthless prioritization and time management, allow yourself to take the time to decide your values in rank order and consciously let the seemingly urgent but not really important stuff fall away.  It is not for the faint of heart, this discipline, but it will create a thoughtful and clear road forward in your personal life and in your work.

Thoughts, ideas and comments always welcome…keep the conversation going!

Book:  Helping People Win at Work by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge
Book:  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
Article:  “Confidence Woman” by Belinda Luscombe Time Magazine, March 18, 2013
MSEL Program Website: http://www.sandiego.edu/business/programs/graduate/leadership/executive_leadership/