Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Compassion, Empathy, Mindfulness

 23 Years Nonprofit Experience

 Certified Coach

Credentialed Mediator

 Masters Political Science

Living a life of purpose

It’s Easter weekend, and many Christians are commemorating the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One of the things that always struck me about how the event is told in the Gospels, is how reluctant Jesus was at being crucified: “Please, Father, take this cup from me”. Jesus wasn’t that excited about being killed, and I wonder if he was convinced he would be resurrected from death. His fear tells me he might not have been. To me, this is the most poignant example of Jesus choosing a purposeful life over a happy life.

Martin Seligman describes in “Authentic Happiness” a happy life as a life where you cultivate positive emotions about the past, present, and future. An engaging life is a life where you use your core strengths and virtues to achieve a sense of flow, being fully engaged with what you’re doing. The purposeful life is a life where you use your core strengths and virtues to contribute to a goal that is larger than you, even if it comes at personal cost. It is the life where you see the oneness in the fragmentation, and your motivation follows meaning.

History is full of examples of people willing to make personal sacrifices for a higher purpose. Martin Luther King and Ghandi are well-known, my grandfather and millions of others less well-known.

Jesus inspires me to live a life of purpose, pledging allegiance to love, care, and inclusion of the outcasts. Up till now I have enjoyed a comfortable life, being married and enjoying my beautiful home and loving friends. I have a happy life, an engaging life. I also believe my life has meaning: I have a strong sense of purpose in the work I do.

And yet. I wonder if I have the guts to sacrifice my comfort, when circumstances call me to stand up for what I believe is true. I am scared that I won’t be willing to follow Jesus’ example, when it comes at an expense to me. I ask myself ‘Do I need to?’, hoping the answer will be ‘no, sweetie pie, go back to sleep’.

When you ask yourself these questions, what comes up for you? I would love to read your response.

The legacy that motivates me to get up in the morning

I am born and raised in the Netherlands. As a child I saw my dad suffering deeply from his experience as a child in WW II, an experience that he never talked about till a few years ago.

2015-05-04 - Koning WIllem Alexander en Koningin Maxima tijdens de Nationale herdenking op de Dam. ANP ROYAL

Every May 4 the Dutch people commemorate those who died in WW II and the aftermath of WW II’s devastation, with 2-minutes of silence. We as a family sat together at 8:00 pm and watched the solemn national ceremony on television.

As a child the night before, every May 3, when everyone was asleep, I would sneak down to the living room, take out a book of war heroes and look at the picture of my dad’s dad. He had been part of the resistance movement that smuggled Allied pilots into safety during Nazi occupation. In September 1944, right before my dad’s 11th birthday, the Nazis arrested my grandfather. He died in prison 10 days later. My grandfather left behind his wife and 10 children.


My dad recently told me that my grandfather “stood up for compassion, inclusion and care for those who are vulnerable” and that “he died for his principles.”

As a child, I didn’t have the words to describe the inheritance my dad had passed down to me, even though my lifelong connection to compassion shows I was strongly impacted by it. As a small child, I spent hours rescuing hedgehogs and blackbirds caught in the nets around my father’s raspberry bushes. At 12, I inspired my class to “adopt” Diego, a boy in Colombia, through Plan International, and collected our monthly donations for him and his village. At 30, I joined Pax Christi to bring refugee children in Croatian refugee camps to the Netherlands for 3-weeks of peace and safety.

At 51, I now have a special dedication  to bring compassion, empathy and mindfulness to couples in divorce. I specialize in helping them maintain mutual respect.

This is my contribution to transform conflict into respectful understanding, right here, right now.

I hope I can leave the world a better place, and honor the legacy of my granddad.

Empathy in the supermarket

“Stop running around. Stay here.”

An irritated look. Something like frustration, exasperation, helplessness.

“Don’t touch that! No, we’re not getting candy.”

COSTCOThe mom in front of me in line gets more and more agitated. I see a frown on her face, her lips tighten.  I hear her voice rise and speed up. She clenches to her cart as if to prevent herself from strangling her 5-year old son. I can almost feel her suffering.

I imagine her kid is bored: He never signed up for shopping. If it was up to him he would just have fun and run around with his friends.

“Stop it!!!”

I turn to her, trying to keep a sense of acceptance and understanding of her frustration, her longing for efficiency and cooperation from her son. With a smile I say,  “He is really excited about everything in the store. I guess it is a challenge to keep him in line when he has this much energy?”

She looks at me with surprise. Then at her son. I am not sure if she ever thought of interpreting his behavior as anything other than annoying. “Yes, he is…” Her furrow disappears. Her mouth relaxes. Her grip softens.

I turn to the boy who got curious what we are talking about. “I bet you see many, many things you’d like to take home, with all that candy around?” He seems surprised, maybe grateful. As if he didn’t expect his behavior to elicit an adult’s curiosity, let alone understanding and acceptance. Perhaps it usually triggers frustration or admonishment. “Yeah!!! I love that chocolate, it’s really good!

His mom and I look at each other with a smile. Almost at the same time, we say, “We love that chocolate too!” We chuckle at our timing. He gets back in line. His mom is ready to check out. They seem more relaxed and open towards each other – I supported reconnection.

I leave the store happy and satisfied.

I could have gotten irritated over the mom’s impatience.

I easily get triggered when I don’t think children get the respect and understanding I think they deserve. I have a big “Children SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD NOT BULLIED!” in my head. This time I transformed my habitual trigger into a change of perspective of both the mom’s and the boy’s behavior. He tried to meet a universal, human need for play or autonomy. She wanted support. Because I was not entangled in their relationship, and I was able to self-connect and transform my own trigger, I could create a new perspective.

My simple offering allowed the mom to see her son in a different way.

A small gift of empathy. It served all of us.

So happy to connect with you David. Thanks for editing!

SXSW: Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall?

Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall? Did I get faster to a place I didn’t want to go? Am I being a manager instead of an effective leader?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (Peter Drucker in: Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013, p. 108)

20160312_122328As I wind down from all my excitement and focus on SXSW and reap the fruits of my investments, I wonder if I lost some of my mindfulness and compassion along the way. Was I so rushed to finish all my chores (print business cards, update website, register for Square, install online scheduling tool, post Tweets and FB messages), that I forgot it’s not about what we do? That it’s about who we are and the intention behind our action? About the values we are serving, more than about the actions we complete or not complete?

I realize that in the hassle to get things done, I neglected my spiritual nourishment. I haven’t been to my mindfulness Sangha in more than two months. I haven’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings in more than four weeks, I hardly sat on my meditation cushion since I came back from the Netherlands in February.

Reviewing all I did and didn’t do, AND all I was and wasn’t, I realize that at the end of my life I probably won’t care about the success of my business, the money I made, the fame I built. At the end of my life I hope that others will appreciate me for how caring I was, how I focused on connection, how I walked towards conflict and misunderstanding to resolve it, and how dedicated I was towards empathy and compassion.

And I make a new pledge to myself: “I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair” (Second Mindfulness Training, transmitted to me by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011 with my Dharma name “Joyful Harmony of the Heart”).

That’s all I am asking of myself: To master the art of friendship in the context of mindfulness.

You want help to be a leader in your own life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!

SXSW and sympathetic triggers

My friend is excited about his piano recital. He is anxious too. He expects around 80 attendants.



I have much more to be excited about. And anxious. Speaking at SXSW. Potentially 575 attendees. Probably national exposure. YouTube video. The same festival that has President Obama as the keynote speaker. Thàt, my friend, is something to be excited about. And anxious.


Whàt am I thinking?! (Thank God, not saying!). How did I get into this comparison game?

Nonviolent Communication calls this a sympathetic trigger. It happens when someone talks about something that reminds us of our own experience, especially when we have unfinished business with that experience or unmet needs around it. Instead of keeping our focus on our friend’s experience, our attention is drawn to our own sympathetic world. The trigger turns our attention inward with potentially obnoxious consequences: consequences that don’t include our friend’s needs, and maybe not even our own.

There is nothing wrong with sympathetic triggers per se. They are one of the many ways we can connect to others. Sometimes it brings it’s sibling one-upping, giving advice, or reassuring. Things that are not empathy. They can be a way of connecting, if our friend wants to support our style of listening and reacting.

If we’re sympathetically triggered and our friend wants empathy instead, it won’t work. There is a mismatch between what he is asking and what we are offering.

If that’s the case (which for me happens frequently enough), we have choice: We can self-express: “Hey, I hear you’re excited and anxious about your piano recital. As I listen to you, I notice that I am distracted by my excitement around my  panel participation at SXSW. Would you be willing to listen to me for a bit, and then I focus back to you?” Or: “I don’t think I can listen to you with as much presence as I wish, is there someone else you could reach out for to give you empathic support?” Or: “Are you willing to give me a minute for self-connection to support myself first, and then I come back to listen to you?”

Those are strategies that both support our trigger and honors our friend’s need to be heard. We try to compassionately recognize all needs, what’s alive in our friend and what’s up for us listening to our friend.

You want help to work with your sympathetic triggers? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!

Offering my shoulders to stand on

I feel too excited to write a post. I am booked on a panel at SXSW, the biggest film and music festival in Austin. The panel is about responding with compassion to online harassment. (Thank you, David, for recommending me.)

I have about 15 minutes to speak and my mind is racing with ideas.

  • Key idea: “Every behavior is an attempt to meet precious, universal needs”
  • Secondary idea: “We might resort to protective use of force, if the other party is not willing to include our needs.”
  • Bring jackal ears.

    Jackal ears, Image courtesy David Nayer, 2014

  • Bring giraffe ears.
  • Edit feelings-needs list with David.
  • Make mind map and review with David. (Gosh! It is all about David!)
  • Renew business cards.
  • Practice in front of mirror.
  • Rehearse with David. (David who?)
  • Be ready to be invited to do SOMETHING REALLY BIG! Become famous? Get ready for TV!


I pause and focus on my breath. I check in with myself. TRUST. My key word for 2016. Can I trust that I have more than enough inner qualities to contribute? Can I trust my inner compass to focus on what the audience needs, how their lives could be enriched? Can I trust that I can cocreate a space with the audience, where we explore how to respond with compassion and empathy to online hatred? Can we combine our collective wisdom and walk away with insights beyond our imagination? Am I willing to be humble enough to offer my shoulders to stand on, so my audience can look beyond my offerings and see what is possible in our world? Just like others offered their shoulders? Marshall Rosenberg, Thich Nhat Hanh, my husband David?

I pause. I feel super excited about that. It is a different kind of excitement. Less frantic. Less mind boggling. More open. More tender. More from the heart.

You want help to offer your shoulders to stand on? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for your excitement to collaborate on nurturing compassion and empathy in our community.