success skills

And a Turtle Woke Me Up

By Susan Ford Collins

Childhood dreams seem to get buried in adult realities. Early passions and talents appear to get dulled and pushed aside as we rush about being responsible spouses, parents and employees. But it doesn’t always take life-and-death experiences to reawaken us. It could be something far more simple, like a small round-shelled creature.

A roadside reawakening

A turtle woke me up as he strode clumsily across the road when I was driving home one rainy morning. Seeing that turtle suddenly woke up the child-in-me, the one who had huge dreams, who couldn’t sleep when she was excited, who would take whatever actions were needed, who would get so involved in whatever she felt passionate about that she would wear herself out.

In that moment, the-little-girl-in-me wanted that turtle, remembering box turtles she used to pick up along the roadside when her family spent summers in Tidewater Virginia, when she begged her Dad to stop the car so she could pick that turtle up and take him home.

Her Dad usually said no, of course, but when occasionally he said yes, she would rummage around in their back shed to find just the right sturdy box or crate. She would scavenge bits of hamburger from the refrigerator and cut up juicy chunks of fresh tomato to offer its new-found tenant. Then the little girl in me would sit cross-legged in awe, watching that turtle’s sharpened jaw cut into her welcome-offering with great relish. At the beach, she would dig long winding channels in the sand, just deep enough for the ocean to start filling them, and then let her turtle sun, swim and explore. After a few days, she would let him (or her) go ceremoniously.

Caught up in these childhood memories, my adult heart started pounding just as it had all those years before. I pulled over to the side of the road, opened the car door and firmly (and albeit a bit cautiously) picked that turtle up and sat him down safely on the floor in front of the back seat.

When I slid in behind the wheel and headed home again, my adult mind came back on and, like a judgmental parent, it overwhelmed my excited inner-child. “If you take this turtle home with you and let it loose in your pond, there’ll be diseases. Besides this turtle will bite your Koi. Or eat your plants. Or dig holes in your yard. Or...”

The little-girl-in-me was shocked, catching my adult-self in this fear-bound declaration. And she shouted loudly enough for both of us to hear.

“STOP. STOP being so reasonable and practical and logical and delaying and busy... AND START LIVING AGAIN!”

And, in a moment of childhood defiance and adult recommitment, I picked that turtle up, with all its legs walking mid-air, and proudly took him in my house and let him loose in my pond.

He acclimated quickly and I would regularly catch a glimpse of him as he sunned along the edge of the pond. My Koi were fine and so were my plants. And best of all, so was I!

With that turtle living in my pond as a reminder, the rest of me “came to” from errands and tasks, credit cards and mortgage payments, pre-scheduled appointments committed to months before I knew how I’d feel when that day finally came. And something inside me danced once again. And dreamed and screamed and raced... I’M ALIVE! And what do I want? What do I really want?

What had I let go of while I was in that adult trance? While I was so committed to everyone else’s wants and dreams that I had completely forgotten about mine? While I was so predetermined and disciplined that I hadn’t even noticed that my energy for living had gone down... way down. Of course, next to others I always looked energetic, not needing a lot of sleep and always cranking out new ideas. But inside I knew the truth.

And the truth was that I had rheostated down from a 200 watt bulb to a twenty. Even though I was lit, it was barely. Until that turtle woke me up to vibrant life again... to choosing what I really want and taking action for it!

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on the 10 Success and Leadership Skills, read The Joy of Success, Success Has Gears, or Our Children Are Watching.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…
the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback  $3.99 eBook or susanfordcollins *at* msn *dot* com


Your Working Life: Caroline Dowd-Higgins interviews Susan Ford Collins

The Rite of a Leader

The Manager Was Tied Up... Literally... Till He Learned To Lead

By Susan Ford Collins

It was time for a promotion and Jim was called to his manager's office for a chat. Bob smiled warmly as he congratulated Jim. "You've been successful doing your work so now I am going to promote you to leadership." But what followed next was unexpected. 

Bob pulled a sturdy rope from his top desk drawer and tied Jim’s arms together securely in front of him saying, "Every morning for the next week, I will tie your arms in front of you to remind you that your responsibilities have changed. To get ahead till now, you've relied on your doing. But from now on, you must learn how to rely on others' doing. You must rely on your team. You are becoming a leader.

If your team members don't know what to do, you are responsible for explaining it to them or finding others who can. If they don't have the skills they need, you are responsible for helping them develop those skills or find others who already have them. Whatever your people need, it is your job to provide it. From now on, you will be evaluated on your leadership results and how well you facilitate your team.

As a leader... your team's failures will be your failures;

your team's successes will be your successes;

your team's results will be your results;

your team's creativity will be your creativity. 

That first day was tough! It was busy and the rope clearly held Jim back. Oh how he wished Bob would untie it for an hour or two so he could do the job right and more quickly. But no such luck!

The Rite of a Leader was working! Now Jim could clearly see what Bob had already seen... he had "great doer skills" but "underdeveloped leadership skills." It was frustrating to have to explain in detail what he wanted his people to do. He knew how to do it himself, but he didn't know how to effectively teach it or coach it.

Jim started making changes in his thinking and communication. Day by day Jim's team successes were piling up. By Friday he realized that his successes were being multiplied, not just by hisdoing but by the doing of his whole team. Excited, Jim enthusiastically stepped into into his expandedpower as a leader.

We must each choose to "tie" ourselves to leadership, understanding that it no longer matters that we can do it all by ourselves." The challenge now is... can we do it all together? And how?

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on the 10 Success and Leadership Skills as well as how and when to use them, read The Joy of Success, Our Children Are Watching or Success Has Gears.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…

the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback$3.99 eBook

Why Couples Argue… Relationship Gears are Clashing!

By Susan Ford Collins

Happiness and satisfaction, as well as upset and disappointment, are sourced in something very few people understand… the Three Gears of Relationship!

Like cars, romances start in 1st Gear. Connecting with someone new is scary. You don’t know that person’s rules yet… his or her rights and wrongs, goods and bads, have tos and musts, preferences and dreams. You slowly get to know each other, spending hours together learning what each of you likes and dislikes, wants and doesn’t want so hopefully you will be liked or even loved. And your relationship will last.

Years later happy couples look back to 1st Gear nostalgically…“Honey, do you remember when we first met, when we talked half the night and spent all our free time together.” They keep pictures of their precious 1st Gear startup memories in scrapbooks or on their computer screens.

When the relationship shifts into 2nd Gear, things speed up. You’ve been obsessed with each other for months. Your friends have been asking whether you’ve fallen off the earth or moved out of town. But all that initial time and conversation was well worth it! You are happy together, compatible and in sync. Now it’s time to de-focus on each other and re-focus on the rest of your lives. Time to straighten up your homes, reconnect with friends, catch up on your workload, finish your now-dusty sales proposal or mid-year review. (Thank heavens relationships don’t stay in 1st Gear forever. We’d never get anything else done!) In 2nd Gear it's more-better-faster and more-better-faster still. Productive, efficient, competitive, you work longer and harder to afford your upcoming wedding or trip, to establish your home, to afford children, fund IRAs or 401Ks, buy stocks and put aside money for college or retirement. Wow, you’re accomplishing so much together!

Well, not really together. Now you're spending more and more time apart… living in different worlds, roommates passing in the night, picking up kids from school, babysitting so one or the other can attend a meeting or take a client to dinner. You continue moving farther and farther apart, spending less and less time in the same place at the same time.

Until Boom! You hit a shifting point. That 1st Gear feeling is gone! Do you love each other anymore? Do you even like each other? (Ironic, isn’t it, since all relationships shift up and down through these three gears? So, even if you start over with someone new, sooner and later you’ll be accelerating ahead in 2nd Gear in that relationship, too.)

What do you do now? Do you stay in the relationship the way it is and sink into anger or depression? Do you separate and start again with someone else? Or do you shift into 3rd Gear and get creative together? Honey, I do love you. What can we do to re-new our relationship? To make time to talk again, to get to know each other again, to plan and dream again? Maybe we need counseling?

Oversimplified but nevertheless true. Let’s look at an overview:

1st Gear is for starting anything new.

2nd Gear is for doing more-better-faster, for accelerating into efficiency and productivity.

3rd Gear is for dreaming, innovating and renewing, for becoming creative.

In every relationship, understanding the gears matters! Sometimes you’ll be in the same gear at the same time… learning together, producing together. or creating together. But sometimes you won't, and there'll be Mis-Gear-Matches... or upsets. Like when you’ve slowed your energy down to a quiet purr and finally gotten your baby off to sleep and your husband or wife rushes in (still in high 2nd Gear from his or her work or workout) and wakes up your sleeping child. Arggg!

Special note... upsets between you and your spouse frequently occur when you’re in 2nd Gear and your kids are in 1st Gear. When six-year-old Sally needs you to slow down and listen to the upset she had with a friend who didn't speak to her on the playground. Or three-year-old Tom’s frustration over not being able to fit his puzzle together. Or thirteen-year-old Harry who has just come up with a new way to run your business. Keep in mind, his creativity might even work!

Here's an important heads up... don’t expect your kids to shift gears. The responsibility for gearing up, or down, is always on you! That's what makes parenting even more gear-challenging than romance and work.

Slowing down and gearing down is challenging in today's more-better-faster 2nd Gear world. It takes high intention and tremendous caring to manage the 2nd Gear pressures Corporate America exerts on us, to constantly push longer and harder, to produce more quantity and quality and profits, to stay revved up day after day, quarter after quarter... not just 9 to 5 but 24/7!

Remember, to avoid arguments and disappointments, it’s important to truthfully and sensitively acknowledge what you can’t do, or haven't done, and arrange a time when you can do it. “Honey, I know you want me to slow down and talk right now. I know you asked me yesterday and I was busy then too. But I promise I’ll make time this weekend." Yes, that's a great start! But be sure you keep your word… or the upset will get worse. Much worse! And you won't be believed next time you promise anything else!

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on Success Skill 2, Shifting Gears, read The Joy of Success, Our Children Are Watching or Success Has Gears.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…

the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback$3.99 eBook

Your Working Life: Caroline Dowd-Higgins interviews Susan Ford Collins



Would Fear Prevent Me from Achieving My Outcome?

By Susan Ford Collins

Several years ago, I bought gas at a neighborhood station and headed home. The light was green when I entered the intersection but immediately turned yellow then red. Cars in front of me stopped short. Cars on either side came at me like raging bulls. My only safe choice was to turn left, even though I had been going straight through that no-left-turn intersection for years.

The moment I turned, a siren forced me over. A red-faced policeman demanded my license as though I had just killed several people. “That really scared me! Give me a second,” I said.  But he headed off in a huff to write not just one ticket but two: illegal left turn and failure to stop on red. When he handed me those tickets I tried again to explain what happened, but he barked, “If you want to contest these tickets, I’ll see you in court.”

When the citations arrived in the mail weeks later, I started rehearsing what I would say to the judge. The traffic flow failed me. I’d been forced to turn left. At a town council meeting weeks later, I learned that the Department of Transportation was planning to reroute traffic in that intersection because so many cars were getting trapped. I felt more certain than ever that I would have both tickets dismissed.

On the appointed day, I headed to court. But the court I walked into wasn’t the one I expected. It was a pretrial hearing: “If you plead no-contest and don’t ask for a trial, we’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse.” When I told the hearing officer “my truth,” she confirmed that the intersection was a problem, reduced the fine to a bare minimum and took away the points. In that moment, her proposed deal felt good and I heard myself say, “OK, fine. I just wanted to be heard.”

But just being heard wasn’t really what I wanted because, when I read the receipt and saw the word "guilty” printed there in black and white, I felt sick at my stomach. I had failed to get the tickets dismissed. Why? Was it because I was scared and simply wanted the whole thing over? Was it because it would be my word against the word of that red-faced, overpowering policeman in court? Was I afraid the result might be something far worse?

Then, as if to highlight my lack of persistence, as I stood staring at the word “guilty”, the bailiff came over and said, “Mam. I wouldn’t have settled my case if I were you. You would have had both tickets dismissed if you had asked for a trial.”

I couldn’t sleep, smacked in the face by how powerful fears really are. How they drown out our dreams. Whether we’re confronting a policeman or judge, the child in us goes for safety and compliance instead of our desired outcome… unless we’ve developed the 7th Success Skill which gives us the ability to hold onto our outcome and keep taking all the steps needed to get there. The next day I called the courthouse and asked for a trial date.

In the courtroom on the day of the trial, I saw that overpowering policeman sitting up front on the witness stand and my scared feelings returned. But this time, I was consciously committed to having the charges dismissed. When my case was called and the judge asked that policeman when and where the tickets had been issued, I heard him provide the wrong date. I told the judge the correct date as well as what I’d learned about traffic problems in that intersection, and joyfully heard the judge pronounce, “Not guilty. Case dismissed.”

(c) Susan Ford Collins. For permission to use this article, email

* For more on how to stay on course to your desired outcomes, read Success Skill 7 in The Joy of Success: 10 Essential Skills for Getting the Success You Want.

THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS Book Series… compact, concise and powerful…
the perfect toolbox for today’s “always-on” global world.

$14.95 paperback  $3.99 eBook or susanfordcollins *at* msn *dot* com

Your Working Life: Caroline Dowd-Higgins interviews Susan Ford Collins



Heads Up... Guidance May Arrive in Disguise!

By Susan Ford Collins

After graduation, my husband and I moved to Washington, D.C. where I interviewed to be a supervisor at the phone company. They asked me to roleplay a call with a customer. He couldn’t pay his bill on time and who wanted to pay it over time.

Simple enough now but, in my childhood world, people had to follow rules; exceptions were impossible. So I said, "I’m sorry. You have to get your payment in on time. There's nothing I can do.” And I was shocked when, with all my credentials and honors and having said what I was sure was the right thing, they weren't interested in hiring me.

That job rejection affected me deeply. For the first time I saw myself from the outside. I had learned about life from my parents, teachers and bosses, from their attitudes about what was possible and impossible, what could be changed and what couldn't.