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Beyond “I’m Fine” (Lauren Lefkowitz) Transcript

Just Between Coaches – Episode 128

Beyond “I’m Fine” (Lauren Lefkowitz)

Lauren Lefkowitz: I don’t think anybody is fine. I think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be fine. The weather can be fine. But when it comes to our careers and our lives, there is no fine. If we’re saying fine, it’s almost like a self-soothing version of there-there.

Melinda Cohan: Do you find yourself automatically saying fine when people ask how you are or how it’s going? But you don’t actually feel fine. You can’t actually pinpoint what it is that isn’t actually fine. I’m Melinda Cohen, and you’re listening to Just Between Coaches. I run a business called The Coaches Console, and we’re proud to have helped tens of thousands of coaches create profitable and thriving businesses. This is a podcast where we answer burning questions that newer coaches would love to ask a more experienced coach.

Well, today, my guest is here to tell you that fine is a trap. She knows firsthand what it means to be tired of wishing you balanced your job better or feeling you are not where you want to be in your career and you’re sick of it. So lean in folks, because this will be an interesting conversation.

In today’s discussion, I’m thrilled to have Lauren Lefkowitz on the show. Not only is she an executive leadership coach, but she’s a transformative force, guiding high achieving individuals and teams from fine to amazing. As the founder of Lauren Lefkowitz coaching, she brings over 20 years of corporate and nonprofit experience. She’s also the host of the podcast, I Could Talk To You All Day. She’ll share insights and strategies today to help you escape the fine trap and infuse joy, excitement, challenge, and balance into your career and life.

Welcome, Lauren.

Lauren: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here, Melinda.

Melinda: I’m really excited to have you on the show and to dive into this conversation. We’re going to have some fun with this, but before we dive in, would you mind sharing just a little bit of your background with our listeners?

Lauren: Absolutely. I have a 20-year corporate HR career. I was also known as the vice president of whatever you need because I was living my life as a workaholic and a people pleaser and working upwards of 80 to a hundred hours a week for many years and finally hit my wall where I just was no longer thriving in my career. And I kept taking on more and more interim roles in hopes of getting excited again, in hopes of feeling like I was contributing enough. And it never felt like enough. It never felt quite satisfying.

And all the while on the side, I was coaching. And thinking, oh, I could never be a full-time coach talking myself out of what I actually wanted to be doing. And I finally had an accident that came straight from the universe in the form of breaking both of my shoulders, which left me out of work and unable to hand raise, which was the first joke from all of my friends and family. Oh, look who can’t be a hand raiser anymore. Your shoulders don’t work. And had me really reassessing how I wanted to live my life.

And I think my philosophy has always been or had always been work really hard, make as much money as I can. Someday I’ll retire and then I’ll be happy. And what I discovered is that’s the wrong order to find yourself, your joy, what drives you first and everything else will come.

Melinda: Now, you said something really interesting. You talked about how you were doing a job and you were doing coaching on the side and you’re thinking, oh gosh, I could never do that. Like, that’s what I really want to do. But you talked yourself out of that.

So do you think that when we answer with, I’m fine, that it’s just kind of a cover because often we’re not doing the things that we really want to be doing. And we don’t want to maybe admit it to ourselves. We certainly don’t want other people to know about that. Do you think that’s part of the fine as a trap kind of experience?

Lauren: Absolutely. I don’t think anybody is fine. I think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be fine. The weather can be fine, but when it comes to our careers and our lives, there is no fine. If we’re saying fine, it’s almost like a self-soothing version of there-there. It’s this like self-limiting way of trying to appease ourselves to say, if this is all I get, then I may as well be happy with it. So. It’ll be fine.

And what’s really happening is we’re telling ourselves what we can’t have. And that’s what I was doing with coaching. I’d never really charged anyone for coaching. I felt like I was really good at it and it came really easily to me, so it couldn’t be worth all that much money. And which is not true at all. I thought that as a coach professionally, that I would have to take a huge pay cut. I thought that managing my own business was not for me, that I wasn’t qualified to be able to do that.

So I kept it as like a hobby on the side. And it was the thing that brought me joy while I was working away and using all of my energy for HR and interim managing finance or marketing or programs or you name it, I probably have done a little bit of it. And just trying to figure out how could I work better in my corporate life so that I could keep my hobby of coaching going.

Melinda: When we’re living that life that, you know, we’re putting on the mask, that’s what I call it, the mask of fine when we’re living in that place, I saw this movie one time, the Italian Job, I think it’s called great little movie, but they defined fine in there. And he was like, you know, fine stands for frantic, irrational, neurotic, and emotional.

I think they actually use different words in the movie, but that’s what stuck for me. And so whenever I hear anybody say I’m fine, I’m like, is that really what’s going on for you? And you defined fine as kind of that there-there, like I imagine, you know, uh, a grandmother patting a grandkid on the head there, there, sweetie, like, it’s like, Ooh, that’s not how I want to be living life behind the phrase of fine.

Yeah. And I find that when I live unapologetically, outrageously, and live in my truth, whatever that is, even if it’s in projects that are like, oh, not my favorite thing, but I know they have to be done. Or it, you know, it doesn’t have to be like the wild passion of everything all the time, but taking joy in whatever it is that we’re doing. When I live in that spot. excitement comes out. Fine is never part of the conversation.

Lauren: So true. Not everything has to be amazing all the time because that’s pretend and it’s toxic, right? You know, those people, I know those people who bright side everything. And that’s not what getting out of fine is about. It’s about at the foundational level of who you are, what you do, what you create, what you end up having that at that foundational level, it is better than fine.

We all deserve more. We came to this earth for some purpose and everybody’s purpose is a little bit different. And we get to be in choice as we decide how to live that out or suppress it or decide we don’t want it or change our mind. But when we say we’re fine, we’re pushing down what can be amazing. Typically it’s because of fear. Sometimes it’s responsibility that gets in the way. Sometimes our basic needs are not met, and that has to happen first. We have to be safe and loved and making enough money to live and fed and hydrated.

But if we have those basics down and we’ve done the baseline of what we have to do to survive, then we get to thrive. And I think we spend so much time in survival mode that we forget we can have more. So we justify the busyness and we say, it’s fine, it’s just so busy. And we don’t allow ourselves to dream of what could be, and then to actually dive into those things.

Melinda: I love what you just said. Spend so much time in survival mode that we forget we can actually have more, that it can be better than fine. Now, I also find that ever since I heard that movie, when they had that definition, like it perked my ears up for paying attention to this word in all sorts of different settings and conversations and dynamics between myself and just observing and people watching.

And a lot of times, what I see is people will say, Oh, I’m fine. And what’s really happening is they’re taking on this thought of, well, let me be less than so that I don’t make them feel bad or so the other person can feel better about their situation. And so we put this lid on, I see people putting this lid on and they’re using that I’m fine as a way to play down themselves. Can you speak into that or have you noticed that in your experience with fine is a trap?

Lauren: It’s one of the places I start with my clients because we are really good at telling you what’s wrong with us. I can tell you all of my faults. I can tell you where I’m disorganized, what I procrastinate on, where my weaknesses are, don’t make me do math, all of those things.

If you ask me what’s wonderful about me, I’m going to shrug probably and say, I don’t know, which is everybody’s automatic first answer. And if you really press me, I might say, well, I’m a good listener. I work hard. Right? We’re going to tell you the things we do to be good people. But when you ask somebody else about us, they see us in our essence.

They see our higher selves. They’re going to tell you that I am warm and wise and joyful and fun. And I wouldn’t have, before I was coached, I wouldn’t have said those things about myself because it’s embarrassing to brag and I don’t want to say too much. And so I would just say some version of fine. I’m nice. I’m kind. I’m helpful, right? And you can even hear in my voice when I say I’m a procrastinator. That is definitive. I say I’m nice, there’s this hesitation and this high voice that comes out that sounds uncertain. Like, do you think I’m nice? I think I’m nice, right?

Melinda: Yeah. It’s that trepidation almost. And you mentioned the word brag, which I am really glad that you did. It’s one of the exercises that I have our students do. I start every coaching session, every group call, every event, everything that I do. I start it with brags, gratitude and celebrations because they are not exercising this muscle.

And when I say gratitude’s, people are like, oh, I can do gratitude’s. I’m so grateful for this person. I’m so grateful for that. And I’m grateful for this. And we do a really good job when prompted about gratitude’s that can come natural. But when I shifted and say, okay, celebrations and brags about yourself. They’re like, I don’t want to brag. And I’m like, oh yes, you do. Now we’re not going to be boastful or arrogant or condescending, but a brag is simply like shining the spotlight on you and telling the truth about something awesome about yourself.

Lauren: Yes.

Melinda: And so we exercise that muscle of brags and gratitude’s. And when that becomes more familiar, then I find that our students, myself, I went through this as well. It’s like, oh my gosh, I’ve got the most amazing brag. You’re not even going to believe it. Yesterday I hit the submit button on my next book. It’s not arrogant. It’s not rude. It’s not putting the other people down.

It’s like, Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. I just finished my other book and I want to celebrate that. And thank you for listening. Right? And so when we can do that. You’re never going to answer, I’m fine. Like that’s not going to be part of the answer. And so I love the exercise of brags and gratitude’s and celebrations and shining the spotlight on yourself. Now you, it sounds like you do something similar.

Lauren: Yeah. I start all of my client sessions with celebrations. And I also am intuitive enough to know that if a client comes on the call and they’re in tears that I don’t start with, what are you celebrating? But when I start with celebrations at the beginning of our client relationship, my clients are always thinking about a thing that happened at them.

Oh, it was my birthday, so my friends took me out. That was really nice. That was a great celebration. They grow into, I helped somebody this week who nobody else could or I uplifted my employee in a way she’d been so down and I was able to talk to her really specifically about how she’s contributing and it absolutely made her day. And they get more and more personal and internal about what they’re celebrating.

I also end every session with self-acknowledgement where each client at the end of the session, what can you acknowledge yourself for during this session? And it’s the same thing. They start out with, I don’t know, I came, I participated, And I will acknowledge them to them so that they hear what acknowledgement sounds like.

Yeah. And they grow into that as well. And at the end of a conversation, as they get into our relationship, they’ll say, I got really vulnerable today. I told you a truth I’ve never told anybody before. And that’s so powerful to not only be able to celebrate the things that you’re doing and the things that are happening, but also to be able to acknowledge who you are and how you’re being in the room with yourself. Because when clients start working with a coach, they are not used to spending time and energy on themselves.

Melinda: Right. When they can do that and practice that self-acknowledgement, they can see, oh, that’s working. Let me do more of this. Okay. That didn’t work. So I’m not going to do that, but let me put my attention over here and now we can cultivate those traits and qualities and characteristics and actions and exercises or whatever it is. And we can do more of that.

I had a mentor that said unacknowledged good turns to shit. And I was like, yeah. And so doing the brags, the celebrations, the gratitude’s, the self-acknowledgements, it takes what’s good in our life and it like fertilizes it so that it grows and expands. And then, you know, I always think of that Marianne Williamson quote, as we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

And so when I really embody that quote, and I’m like, okay, if my clients are struggling, if the people around me in my community or audience or whatever, if they’re having a hard time, if I can model what that looks like, it’s going to be easier for them to do it for themselves. And then the ripple effect continues.

Lauren: Yeah.

Melinda: So I love that you end with the self-acknowledgement piece of it just to help them really exercise that muscle.

Lauren: Yeah. And that quote is so relevant to fine because we think if we shine our light too bright, we’re going to make other people feel bad.

Melinda: Yeah.

Lauren: But what it actually does is, oh, Lauren is willing to celebrate things out loud. And I now have a reputation for being a person that people come to to say, can I share something really cool with you?

Melinda: Yeah. Yeah.

Lauren: Because they know they can come to me. I’m going to be genuinely happy for them. And when you’re willing to say, I did this really cool thing. I achieved this. I got through my day practicing something new, other people are inspired by that. We think they’re going to be judgmental, jealous, putting us down, but they’re actually inspired by it. They see our light and they want more of that.

Melinda: How do you work with your clients? How do you guide them in recognizing when fine is becoming that limiting trap? Like what do you actually do with them to help them break free and get into that let your light shine path type of experience. How do you work with your clients in that spot?

Lauren: We start by clearing the cobwebs of what’s wrong because my clients are mostly high achievers. They want to come in and fix things. They want to come in with the problem, tell me what the solution is, and have me help them figure out what the gap is. But if we don’t actually explore what isn’t going well, what is less than fine, and what we actually want to work on, then we’re going to keep coming into every conversation with but.

I really want to do this, but here’s the plethora of things that are holding me back. Here are all of the reasons why not. So we have to explore the reasons why not first so that we can reconcile why they’re not okay, why they don’t fit, or that they are okay. There are some things about ourselves that are okay. I’m not athletic. If you ask me to go hiking, I will hold your stuff in the coffee shop down at the bottom of the mountain. It’s not something I want to improve apart.

So the next step is, what do you want to be better? Right? And what is holding you down? And if. If I had issue with not being athletic and it was all I wanted to be, well, then maybe that’s something that we work on. But if it’s something I’m willing to let go of, and it’s just sort of in my basket of things that I didn’t love, then, okay, let’s sort through what you actually want to work on and what you want to leave in that basket and just leave as okay.

Then we get to start looking at what do you actually want? And we get to start getting really granular about what we want to be doing and how we want to feel while we’re doing those things. And, you know, the being under the doing is so important and we are taught from early childhood to be doers and to be kind and considerate.

But beyond that, when I do things, I want to be filled with joy. I want to be filled with passion, even when I’m paying my bills. Now again, not to go into toxic positivity, I don’t sit down and sing songs while I’m paying my bills. But I want my bills to be organized enough that I know when they’re coming, I’m auto paying everything I can pay, sort of off my plate. I’m not going to forget about a bill.

So that can remain neutral. That doesn’t have to be my favorite thing to do. But if I am going to go out and market myself or be on a podcast or go live or go to a networking event. I want it to be freaking amazing. Feeling like I’m bringing my whole self in, feeling like I’m in full expression. And if I’m not enjoying something, I am empowered enough to step out, walk out of it, do it a different way.

And that’s the work is how are you being under all of the doing so that you Feel empowered to make those decisions, to be in choice at all times, because I think a lot of the fineness is allowing ourselves to stay stuck in how things just are without recognizing that there’s a whole spectrum of how things could be.

Melinda: Let’s talk about the other side. When things actually are not okay, they’re not good, you can’t put the positive spin on it. I know I learned a word and an experience from a program and a community that I’ve been a part of. And we call it being in the swamp. If it’s anything less than just kind of evenness or joy, like we’re in the swamp.

And so that’s become a great way to say, you know, when they, how you doing? Well, it’s kind of swampy right now. And people immediately are like, okay, not going so well. And then you can decide, you both in the conversation can decide, do you go there? Do you explore it more? Maybe not. Maybe that’s just enough.

It’s like, okay, I get it. It’s tough right now. Okay. And then you can move on. Do you have other ways that you share with your clients when it’s not great, how can they respond so that they’re being truthful without just putting that mask of fine on?

Lauren: Yeah, it is about taking off that mask. It’s about allowing yourself to have the full range of emotions. I think as children, we learn to put away the crying, you know, cry a little bit and then get on with it. Get a little bit mad and then move on. And so as adults, it doesn’t feel normal to go into work and say, I’m just really sad today everyone and receive support for that.

So part of the learning for my clients and part of the path for them is being willing to embrace whatever emotions there are, whatever situations there are, and not to bright side it, not to say, but we don’t have to talk about that. They are well within their autonomy to say, I don’t want to bring that to this session, Lauren. And that’s okay. They’re always in control of what they bring in and what we dig into.

And sometimes their situations are more therapeutic. And I have clients who have both a therapist and a coach. I have both a therapist and a coach and they’re times when I talk about the same thing with both from different angles, right? From the sort of recovery from with the therapist and the moving towards with my coach. And I think that can be really powerful.

What I don’t like to see is just shutting it down. And again, going for that bright side, going for that toxic positivity. I call it for myself. I call it my backpack of crap. I’ll just throw it in there. Eventually that backpack gets so heavy that you can’t carry it anymore and you can’t enjoy what’s in front of you because the backpack’s too heavy to carry. The best you can be is fine. Right.

So I like to use an exercise and I’m betting you have an exercise similar to this, which is what’s the step before, right? So if you’re telling me this is terrible, it’s not working, I need a new job and a new career and a new title and you know, and I ask, well, what’s the step before you’re sitting in that new seat? Well, accepting the job, I guess. Okay, cool. What’s the step before that? And we go all the way back until they decide thinking about what I want to do next is actually the first step.

Melinda: Yeah. That’s a beautiful exercise. Beautiful.

Lauren: And it’s a wonderful way to get a person to think about one thing. And I’ve had clients where they’ve gone away with commitments to themselves and they’ve come back to me and they’ve said, I’m overwhelmed by this. And we make that one step even smaller. And so sometimes that one thing is every time you notice that you say, I don’t know, because that’s your default answer to things, put a tick mark on a piece of paper. And another client might be able to handle that, then journal about it.

But one client might just need really one thing, right? Instead of the whole overwhelming thing. I worked with a client in the last couple of weeks who needed to bring something up with her manager. And she was going to put together a spreadsheet of what the things were that were happening, what the impact of those things were. If there was a change that put her in control of those things, what would the impact be that would be positive for her? What would the impact be that would be positive for her manager.

And she contacted me three days later and she said, I can’t do it. I can’t do any of it. And I said, well, what’s the actual first step? And she said, it’s that first column. And she said, but I can’t imagine talking to my boss about this. And I said, then don’t just write down what’s wrong. All you have to do is write down what’s wrong. And five minutes later, she said, I already finished it.

Melinda: That is, that’s beautiful. I bring something to my clients that I learned from my dad, actually. He’s a minister. And so I’ve always watched him. He’s so great, compassionate with other people, great listener. It’s what makes him a great preacher. And when I would see him interacting with people and you know, how you doing? He would ask, and of course they respond, Oh, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m fine. And he would just pause. And it was an always an awkward silence and he would look them in the eyes. How are you really doing?

And they would always have a funny expression and they would look around and he would just sit there and well, you wouldn’t say anything. And after just a few seconds, they’d be like, well, actually, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Inevitably they would always share whatever it was. He always did another thing when they would respond with fine. He would say, if you had to use a different word, how would you describe it?

And so I’ve brought that to my clients when I hear them use the word fine or good. If you didn’t use the word fine or good, how would you answer the question how are you today? And it’s interesting to watch them have to. So think about, wow, what other word would I use for how I am? And it’s just, I always sprinkle that in just to help them start thinking differently and own the capacity of the range of emotions and really acknowledge it.

Lauren: I also like to ask what would make today better or worse than fine?

Melinda: Oh, that’s a good one.

Lauren: And usually the answer is it is better or worse than fine. It’s a good way to catch yourself to say, oh, you know what, today actually is way worse than fine. Here’s what’s going on. Or today actually was pretty great. I don’t know why I said fine.

Melinda: Yeah. What else do we need to talk about with the fine is a trap topic? Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you’re like, oh, I really want to get this in there?

Lauren: I think the main point of fine as a trap is that we talk ourselves out of opportunity because we don’t know how. So, there’s a distinction that can be made between I want and I currently can. You’re allowed to want things that you don’t currently know how to do. And if you don’t talk yourself out of wanting those things, if you allow yourself to dream about those things and to choose that those are the things that you want, that’s the way you want your life to be.

The figuring out how you can, you can do. You have to learn how to receive support, which a lot of us are not used to, but to just dream about something and then talk yourself out of it and say, Oh, it’s fine. I’ll never have that. It’s fine. I’ll enjoy that when I retire. It’s just, oh, it breaks my heart because it’s not fine.

So I love focus on the word, but I want to make this much money, but. Stop there, write down, I want to make this much money, or I want to serve this kind of client, but stop right there, write down the first part of that. You can write your buts down on a separate piece of paper because those are the pieces you need to overcome in order to go after the things that you want.

But if you talk yourself out of wanting them, then you forget that you’re allowed to dream. And you do settle in fine, and you do have that day to day 9 to 5 job that you actually think about every day from 7 until 9 at night. That’s then really a 14 hour a day job that you’re also thinking about on the weekends, and so it ends up being 60 70 hours a week, even if you only work 40 or 50 hours a week.

Don’t live like that. That’s not the way. The way is to wake up, have authentic days where some days I love my life. I feel really fortunate that I’ve built this life this way. And some days I still wake up and I’m like, oh, I do not want to get out of bed today. Right? That’s real life. But my foundation, the core of me, my general day to day is that I wake up in the morning and I cannot believe that I chose this. And I’m so proud of that because five years ago, me never would have considered any of this because I was saying but all the time.

Melinda: I love that distinction. So let’s summarize some of the things that we’ve talked about today. We started the conversation with getting out of fine, and I still love that definition, frantic, irrational, neurotic, and emotional. And you talked about how we spend so much time in survival mode that we forget that we can have more and we forget that it’s okay to have more.

We got into how to actually work with our clients when we see that they’re falling into that fine trap and how to clear the cobwebs, how to reconcile those yeah, butts and work through those. We got to get those out of the way first and then we can get into what we actively want. And I really love when you said it’s about the being under the doing that’s so important that we have to pay attention to. We talked about how do you respond when it’s actually not okay when you’re not doing well.

We talked about being swampy and being able to put it in the backpack of crap for now until you work through it with your coach or somebody. We talked about different questions to ask. What would make it better or worse than fine? And I loved that question.

The main thing is that we talk ourselves out of the opportunities. And I also love how you snuck that in there. That the butts, those are the things that we have to overcome when we can list all the butts. Usually people are so resistant. Oh no, you’ve got an actual list of everything to work through. So get busy and get on it. Do you have any parting words, Lauren, to share with our listeners?

Lauren: The parting words that I’m going to give you are going to be eye rolly and it’s three steps. And this is the part where you roll your eyes, which is to notice, then decide, then do. The doing is last. Notice what your opportunities are, where you stop yourself, decide what you actually want to go after, and then do those things. And that’s what’s going to get you out of where you are and into where you want to be.

Melinda: I love it. No eyeballs rolling here. It’s beautiful. Thank you for listening to this episode of Just Between Coaches. And also a big thank you to Lauren for this incredible conversation. You can find out more about her at That’s And in the show notes, you’ll find links to her website, podcast, and a downloadable resource that she has, Fine is a trap. Lauren, thank you so much for coming to the show.

Lauren: Thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun.

Melinda: I’m Melinda Cohen, and you’ve been listening to Just Between Coaches. Just Between Coaches is part of the Mirasee FM Podcast Network, which also includes such shows as Making It and Once Upon a Business. To catch the great episodes on Just Between Coaches, please follow us on Mirasee FM’s YouTube channel or your favorite podcast player.

And if you enjoyed the show, please leave us a comment or a starred review. It’s the best way to help us get these ideas to more people. Thank you and see you next time.