My guest, Dr. Laura Gallaher, is very familiar with change. She is an organizational psychologist turned executive coach who works with clients globally as she travels the world. (I talked to her while she was in Serbia.) Laura is the founder of Gallaher Insider Edge, a micro-learning site that teaches leadership and communication skills towards building positive corporate culture. All her clients are growing their companies, so change is constant for them and their teams.
As a coach, Laura helps her clients become self-aware, emotionally intelligent leaders. Self-concepts can get in the way of change, whether on an individual level or an organizational one. In understanding themselves, they can get out of their own way.
Three major changes stand out for Laura in her life. The first was her choice to leave her NASA job and focus on her company, Gallaher Edge. It was a hard decision, eight years into her career as a permanent federal civil servant, making six figures, with so many reasons to stay.
In leaving, she learned there’s a difference between devotion and discipline. While a lot of hard work and discipline goes into running a company, when she’s devoted to it, all decisions become easier. It’s more like running towards something good instead of away from disaster.
Another factor that helped her make a smooth change or transition was making many small decisions that ultimately made the big decision easier. Starting her business in 2013 while working full-time, she slowly built it up over 10 months, on the side, taking on teaching engagements that exposed her to clients. At some point, it became more painful to not make the change than to change.
Most people resist change because they anticipate loss, which is painful. Change can seem like a huge mountain from the distance, but with many small steps, it’s easier when you reach the threshold.
Another huge change Laura made was leaving Orlando, Florida, to explore the world. Again, she made small decisions to position herself to make the leap to travel easier. In January 2017, she gave away most of her belongings and moved to southeast Asia for three months. It was a huge leap to give up her apartment, the region she knew, and move to almost exactly the other side of the planet. Clients who worked with her in person were mystified at the move and afraid for her (and said so). But she felt confident that she would figure it out.
A Safety Net
When we change, the people who love us often project their fears onto us and share their fearful opinions. In her decision to leave NASA, Laura simply asked herself: “Do I have confidence in myself that if this doesn’t work out, I could get another job?” The answer was: of course I can! Feeling this implied safety net helped her make the leap into entrepreneurship.
Most decisions we make in life are not permanent. We have the option to change our minds. For her, that calmed her fears. She left NASA, struggled a bit, and took another permanent job for 10 months before leaping again into her business full-time in 2015.
Innate Resilience for Coping
Laura believes only one fear underlies everything: “I cannot cope with this.” It’s not fear about what will happen, but about being unable to deal with it. The reality is, however, that we cope all the time: with big changes, heartache, loss and pain, disappointment, rejection and more. We have each coped with and survived incredible changes, from our first day.
To endure change, Laura taps her inner resilience. She says: we are all so much more resilient than we realize. We don’t need to build up our resilience as much as remind ourselves that it’s there. Looking back to those times of resilience, in the depths of discouragement, can remind you: “I have been able to cope with this before. I can cope with this again.”
In a crisis, an exercise she does for herself or her coaching clients is to ask, “When have I been in a situation that was as difficult, or where I was facing a big decision like this—and how did I cope with it?”
Another option, when you notice fear, is to ask yourself what you are afraid of. What is the worst thing that can happen? Then ask: Can I cope with that? If the answer is no, ask how to increase your ability to cope. That focuses your energy inward where you CAN make change, as opposed to trying to control a situation you can’t change.
Most things are difficult before they are easy. Humans are so much more adaptable than they realize. We can adapt to a lot. Traveling feels like her new normal.
The third big leap Laura made was to start sharing her information about self-awareness for success via the Internet. She resisted it for years because she felt the media was saturated. But this venue now supports her traveling lifestyle. Though she still feels new and incompetent at times, of course, she has released the Insider Edge teaching platform.
I love that Laura had this burning desire to be who she wanted to be and to share the wealth of wisdom she has with people all over the world. Insider Edge is based on the idea of microlearning—how humans actually learn—to generate transformational experiences. Her team puts out new content each week, and people can explore the growing content base.
In 5-10 minutes per day, 30 mins a week, you can reinforce these new concepts and create change. Each week, too, Laura says, they offer a challenge. If you don’t change your behavior, then learning hasn’t occurred. The platform recreates the face-to-face human experiences she loves. People who have worked with her in person or in her workshops are raving about Gallaher Edge.
Everything happens from the inside out: leadership, culture, change. Laura teaches that the more you are aware of yourself, know yourself, and accept yourself, the less you are worried and the more you can focus on adding value to others. Focus on the value you can bring to your team, not on your self-doubt.
No Self-Consciousness Allowed
When a toddler learns something new, they lack a sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment about failing, only showing a determination to learn. At some point we develop such a fear of looking foolish, Laura says, that we allow our desire to look good to get in the way of our own learning. We let it stop us from making real change.
As Laura travels the world, she’s quite sure she’s pronouncing things wrong, but she says she’s not going to learn a language if she doesn’t practice it. In my experience, comparing yourself to others creates barriers, limitations and what I call “mind ceilings.” Especially for women and people of diverse backgrounds, limitations tend not to come from outside but from their illusions of what is happening. When they see themselves as unique without comparing, the mind ceiling disappears. And the glass ceiling.
According to Laura, we are each the only one limiting ourselves. There’s a quote that goes something like, “If you don’t feel embarrassed about your first iteration, then you’re waiting too long to start.” We can each look back at our early career and say, “Oh that was awful.” But we also added value to others. That’s what’s important.
Laura’s Book Recommendation: Transitions
Laura’s favorite book for navigating change is William Bridges’ Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. It’s about what happens within people in the face of change. What caught her eye is that he says change starts with an ending, which is counterintuitive. This book helped her to realize she could put more closure on the past chapters of her life and honor them, and that doing that will create space for her to embrace the next thing. I look forward to reading it myself!
You can find Laura Gallaher at GallaherEdge.com/join.