Gail Kraft: Hey everybody. It’s Gail Kraft here from the Empowering Process podcast, and with me I have this amazing woman that I can’t wait for you to hear, and her name is Aree Bly. She is an alignment coach for the Analytical Mind and a TEDx speaker, and she is all about the analytical mind. You will hear that. Aree came into coaching after 25 years in the actuarial career, where in addition to technical work, she developed mentoring and coaching programs to support cross-functional teams.
Now, through her experience and training she enables her clients to identify and navigate their unique values, strengths, and skills in order to enjoy the freedom of sustaining success. Her speaking career has taken her to the TEDx stage where she speaks about the four F’s and we will talk about the four F’s manifesto, and her workshops on using your unique alignment to create sustainable success. She’s all about sustainable success. So welcome, Aree. Thank you for giving up some of your time and speaking with me today.
Aree Bly: Thank you, Gail. I’m excited to be here.
Gail: It’s going to be fantastic. Before we started recording you and I chit-chatted a little bit and we talked about why you gave up a successful career in actuarial, which at one point fed you, was exciting to you, but something changed, and what did that feel like, and what was going on in your life. So, let’s talk a little bit about losing your mojo.
Aree: Yes, definitely, and it’s a gradual process. It’s like the frog in the hot water. You don’t realize it until it’s beyond that line. I had a wonderful career. I loved being an actuary. I loved using that side of my mind and solving those technical problems, but I got to the point, not where I was not enjoying it, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wasn’t jumping out of bed and racing to the office to take on the next challenge and I started to wonder why.
It’s because I still was successful. I was still able to do the work. I was still pleasing the clients and getting everything done and making a good salary, and it can be hard to give up that kind of success, but what I did was, using my analytical brain, I stepped back, and I started gathering more facts. I actually tracked very carefully what I was doing for a couple weeks in a row. When was I engaged? When was my energy up? When was I just going through the motions because it was easy? When I looked back at that I started to really see the patterns. I wasn’t the technical actuary anymore.
I was focused on the people: growing them and helping others to become what they needed to be in their careers, and that was where my mojo was. That was where I was engaged and energized and having fun, so I needed to make that change. I realized that it was time to step aside and wasn’t an immediate step for a couple of years. At the end of my actuarial career, I got certified as a coach couple of years before I left and spent time working with our HR team and with individuals and teams within our organization to help them grow and be able to mentor others because it’s not a natural skill for actuaries to always be able to coach others. They’re very smart -.
Gail: Smart people.
Aree: – people. Exactly, they’re very smart and they’re very good at what they do, but sometimes those skills aren’t there immediately, so it’s helping them figure out how to work together with others and lead others.
Gail: That’s very, very interesting. My son is very mathematically inclined, shall we say, and very analytical, and I realized at a young age, I think second grade, that he was in trouble of becoming what I call a pocket protector. That [inaudible 00:04:24] shirt with the little plastic and his pens and pencils in there, but head down and not engaging with people, and I made a conscious effort to expose him and push him into situations where he had to learn to interact with others, and he had to learn physical sports because you need that roundedness. You need both.
Aree: Yes, you need to understand what the other side looks like and sounds like and feels like, because I was very shy growing up and I was very much an introvert. Luckily, I had an extroverted brother who I could follow around and learn from and participate in things with, but I think you need that exposure to understand where other people are coming from, and to be able to connect a little bit with your own experiences.
Gail: I’m an extrovert and I love introverts because I’m going to jump to the very next conclusion and you’re going to say, ‘Well, wait a minute’.
Aree: ‘Are we sure we’re right there yet?’
Gail: And ‘I see where you’re going and that’s awesome, but I think you’d want to go the other way’, and often I’ll stop and go, ‘You’re right. I hate to say it, but you’re right’. This feeling of needing to contribute, there is a point in everybody’s life, some are really young, some it takes a while to get there, where your purpose becomes a need to address, and for some you don’t even know what that is. Talk to me a little bit about not knowing your purpose yet and then getting there, and then how you came across the four F’s manifesto.
Aree: It’s funny ’cause I call it navigating. I learned how to navigate. Like I said, early in my life I just followed the person that was closest to me. I followed my brother because he was on a good path and when that wasn’t an option anymore, I went off to college, and I just drifted with what was easy. With what made sense.
I was very good at math so actuarial science seemed like the right thing to do and I was successful at it, and I enjoyed it, but when I started to really feel like, ‘Something’s not quite right. I don’t think I would be happy if I continue drifting and letting the opportunities come to me’, that was when I said, ‘I need to navigate’ and I started to make sense of my landscape. Where am I? Where is my energy? Where is my engagement? And that was where I started to understand and create the model of the four F’s, and they’re all components in this alignment landscape.
One of the F’s is fear. When I noticed that I was afraid of something it was usually because I didn’t have the skills, or I didn’t have the knowledge. I didn’t have what I needed in order to be successful, and that fear was holding me back. The fear was opposite of those skills and that’s learnable. You can overcome those fears. You can put yourself in the right environment to learn the skills to get the knowledge.
The other F that I ran up against was friction. Friction is much more permanent than fears. If you can push through it, it’ll show up again. I’m a very collaborative individual. I am not competitive other than with myself. I compete very much with my prior self and my future self, but I don’t compete with others. I want to find the win-win and if I’m in a situation where I have to be very competitive, where the team around me is talking in competitive tones, it’s very uncomfortable for me. I’m not in my value set so I have to really work to change my mindset and get out of that friction into where my values set is aligned, and then I can operate much better. I can bring forward my skills. I can learn better. The friction shows where I’m opposite of my innate values and strengths.
The third F that I saw showing up in this landscape was the flow. You’ve probably heard many people mention that state of flow where you’re just in the zone and it’s not that you’re doing something easy. It’s that you’re being challenged enough and you’re having to go past your skills, so you’re fully engaged and successful and, in the moment, and that flow happens when you’re out of your friction zone but you’re still learning and you’re still pushing.
And then the fourth F that I found that was imperative is the fun. Being able to add that color makes it easier to connect with people, to build the relationships, and to enjoy your days because you’re not always going to be in flow. You’re not always going to be in alignment. You will sometimes find yourself in that danger zone of not having the skills and not being in your values and going, ‘Oh, crap, how do I get out of this now’, but when you’re moving through all that, if you can layer in some fun, it keeps the flexibility in there. It keeps you moving and keeps you engaged.
Gail: Look, you just added an F. Flexibility.
Aree: The flexibility?
Aree: There’s a lot of F’s that I could put in here, but no.
Gail: You should do a training called dropping the F-bombs and just have Fs everywhere. Take it, keep it, and have it. Dropping the F-bombs. I love it.
Aree: I love it. Yes, definitely. I have a whole list of other F’s, but those four were the first ones that really formed the landscape that I could talk to and recognize in myself. Starting a business is not an easy thing to do, but when I can frame it and say, ‘Where are my current skills and what am I hesitating on? Where’s those fears? What can I do to overcome those? Where do I need to learn?’ and also, ‘Where’s the friction? What do I need to watch out for? What might show up that’s against my current values of connecting with people, and being collaborative, and being a helper? How can I structure it so that I’m staying in my values?’ and that helped me to be much more proactive in finding the right kind of success.
I’m a stubborn, stubborn person. I can find success anywhere I go because I will just put my head down and push like hell to get the success but that’s not sustainable. When you know, ‘I need to stay out of these certain areas so that I can find the easier success’, and then it snowballs on itself. You’re building the energy. You’re creating energy to feed into the next stage of what you need to do, and then it’s much more sustainable.
Gail: It’s fun.
Aree: And it’s fun, yes.
Gail: And it’s fun. I find being an entrepreneur is absolutely frightening and fun-
Gail: -at the same time. I’ve got a lot of notes here that I jotted down that I’d want to come back and swing back to and ask you some questions. I know that you’re an introvert. I absolutely know that you’re an introvert, and let’s talk a little bit about being an introvert. For me, I look at people who are introverts as, not necessarily being afraid of people, but their processors. They’re taking the data in and they’re churning it and they’re looking at it, and they’re lifting up the rocks and looking at the worms and making sure the worms are healthy enough for the garden. Right?
Gail: Talk a little bit about being an introvert and then having to get on stage.
Aree: That’s a good question ’cause I think if you knew me in fourth grade there is no way that you would ever put me on stage. I would not order fries at McDonald’s even though that was the person’s job to give me fries. I would not ask for them because I was so darn shy, but I think shyness and introversion are very different too.
Gail: They are different.
Aree: But you’re right. Introvert — I do need my quiet time. I need my time to reflect on what happened, and to allow my mind to slow down and see the connections between what I heard when talking with a client, and what I read, and where I see everything going, and that has also helped me to serve my clients better, but the interesting thing is a couple years ago I had an opportunity. I was in a mother-daughter group, and we were hosting the big year-end celebration and they needed someone to stand up there and MC and nobody wanted to do it, so I said, ‘Fine, I’ll stand there. I can stand up’, because surprisingly, and I think you’ll see that in the statistics around some of the actors and actresses in Hollywood, there’s a lot of introverts out there.
When you’re up on stage there is a space between you and the people around you. You’re not as much interacting with them as sharing what’s in you and putting it out there. That was what I found when I was doing TEDx, as well. It wasn’t going against my introvert self because it was actually allowing me to put my ideas together and then share them with others.
Gail: You did a lot of practicing and preparing. You did a lot of your analytical stuff.
Aree: Yes, I did a lot of preparing.
Gail: I would have gone up with four bullet points and just gun it.
Aree: I need to make sure that I’m comfortable enough that I was not going to let my nerves get in the way because it’s a very different stage. This was after COVID too. It was the Spring so it was the first live TEDx event that had happened in New York City since COVID has started, and I’ve been living in my house and working and doing everything in my little environment, so to go to that stage and step in front of people was — I knew it would be nerve-racking but it was also very exciting, and again that’s where that fear comes in.
If you can recognize what’s on the other side of that fear and be able to say, ‘Oh my God, if I can just get through this look at what new skill I will have’, and now I can build on that ability to tell a story in front of people with no script in front of me and standing on a stage with just me.
Gail: Exactly. I have no fear of being on stage. I think, in fact, I know the first time that I was thrown in front of a group of people, I was managing the training department and my boss had someone who was supposed to present to the agents from all around the country. She goes, ‘She didn’t come in today and I need someone up there’, but I’m the manager. No, no, I’m not a trainer, and she’s like, ‘You’re going to do this today’, and I got up, froze for about five seconds, and then I was fine, And that’s when I realized that this is actually something that I could do, and it really is a great way to share your gift. It really, really is a great way.
You also talked about friction, and I love friction. I will create friction and I call it chaos because change comes out of chaos.
Aree: True, very true.
Gail: I will purposely and purposefully, I don’t do it willy-nilly, create a chaotic situation, and I do that also for my clients. As you do, as well, because you ask the tough questions that make them stop and think in a way that they hadn’t before. You talked about how you see competition as friction, and I totally agree. I think that’s a feminine trait. Women collaborate and they work together. When women work together it’s phenomenal. To me it’s magic, but when I say, ‘Put the man pants on and compete’ it’s very ugly and counterproductive. That chaos is different. How does chaos play into your coaching?
Aree: I love the idea of chaos because, like you said, you need the chaos to disrupt patterns and to move you along. Where the chaos plays into my coaching is in helping people deal with that. If you know how to navigate your landscape you can respond to whatever chaos is in front of you, and you have the skills. You know what’s in your toolbox. You know how to learn, what you need to get to where you want to be, and you know how to pick the right path. I love being outdoors, so I use a lot of analogies about being outdoors.
If you’re going on a hike, if you’re climbing a mountain, there is always more than one path to get up there. If you don’t have the right high boots that’ll take you through the river, you’re not going to choose the path that goes through the river because you aren’t equipped for that. You’re going to maybe take the more meandering route that goes through the rocks, and avoid the river, because that’s where your skill set, and your tools are useful. It’s all aboutchoosing the right path given what you know of yourself and how you will operate best.
Again, that goes with the whole sustainable success. You could get there. If you don’t have the right tools, you can muddle your way through the river but you’re going to have a much harder time than if you chose the right path that fits with who you are and how you show up.
Gail: I love that analogy. I don’t think I will use it ’cause I’m not an outdoors person. I’m a [unintelligible 00:20:31], but I love the analogy. We’re so opposite that we’re excellent together. Again, talk about some of the clients that have come to you, and day one they come with this and at the end this is what they’ve gained. We had a conversation beforehand about a client that I had, and she’s doing some amazing things. Talk to me about a couple of examples of your perfect client who comes into the door, and some of the things that you help them with, and maybe some hints for our listeners. What could they do?
Aree: My clients are often very analytically minded people. They’re actuaries or they’re an engineer. I’ve had physicians, and they like to think about facts and look for patterns. One of the first things that I always do with a client is we try and establish some of the core tenets of their landscape. What are your values? What skills do you have and how do you want to show up? What frictions and what challenges always hold you back? We try and figure out some of the facts of what they have, but then we also do a lot of thinking about where do you want to be going? I know I found in my career I just followed. There was an expected path that you go on.
You get out of college, you get through your exams, and then you start managing teams, and then you move up in the organization. That’s just what’s expected, but along the way you’ve picked up so many different skills, and if you really step back and look at where you want to be spending your time and the impact that you want to be having, that’s when you start recognizing where the path is that you need to go.
I had one client who was very successful in a Medicare role of consulting as an actuary, but what he really loved to do was look ahead into what’s on the horizon for healthcare because it’s always changing, and he loved to think strategically about what does that mean? What do my consulting clients need to be thinking about?
I don’t want to be doing the same routine, yet challenging work. There’s a process for Medicare, you have to submit rates every year. It’s very regulated, and he was very good at it, but he said, ‘What I really love to do is look ahead’. So, he started finding ways to move into that stage and those roles as opposed to being in the weeds that he was very successful in, and it was finding the courage to move that way yourself but also, to allow others to fill in where you were. Giving his team an opportunity to move in so that he could free himself up to do what he wanted to do.
Gail: They need to grow. If you want to grow you need to let them grow and trust that they will. It’s very interesting, I had a similar situation with a client. He was the director of data analytics for a large healthcare organization and wanted to be a VP, and my approach is the same but different. Find the coach that works for you, man. We’re going to do the same thing but way differently.
He needed to speak strategically and not tactically because he was brilliant strategically, but he always talked the tactics of getting there, and being an analyst, as you know, that’s your comfort zone. That’s where you get the information for the strategy, but if you’re talking to senior leadership their sunglass glaze is going to come.
Aree: They don’t care about how are we going to get there? They want to know where are we going? What does it mean?
Gail: And why?
Aree: And why, yes.
Gail: And why? Why is that important for us to go there?’. And he is a VP now, guys.
Gail: [unintelligible 00:26:30] definitely there but, man, we had to work daily. I put him on a daily plan.
Aree: Just a short connection every day whatever you do.
Gail: That’s awesome. Give me another example of a client that has walked into your life that maybe wasn’t analytical, ’cause we get all kinds of clients and we find those that I’m going to refer to you because they don’t align with me and you’re going to refer to me because you’d love to help them, you know that you can, but you’re not going to mesh enough. Right?
Aree: Right, one was a neonatologist. Not as analytical, still very, very smart. Her biggest challenge that she wanted to work through was, she had gotten into some very interesting research type roles or teams, and it was morphing into something that she didn’t feel like she had the skill sets to help them from where they were and where they were headed. On one team she’s like, ‘I’m still a very integral part of the team but I don’t know that I have what it takes to move it forward’.
While on the other hand she was in a different role that had the opportunity to put her in a position where she could do some of the work that she had studied in her PhD program, as well. She wanted to do that kind of research, and it was trying to understand how do I shift over to here? How do I release and make sure that this is still successful? It was trying to help her balance and recognize why she wanted to make that shift, how she can with a clear conscience make the change because you don’t just want to drop the ball when it’s near and dear to your heart.
She’d been working with this team for a year plus on this research and it had morphed into something different, but she felt like now it had changed enough that she wanted to move on, and she was struggling with how to do that.
Gail: That’s a hard one for me. There is a huge difference between skills and capabilities. Skills, like you said, are learnable. It’s no big deal. We can all take a course, do a YouTube, blah blah blah. Capabilities are innate. Some people hit a ceiling because they don’t have the capacity to learn or do more in that particular field. It’s not that they can’t learn to do more, it’s just that particular field, so I work on identifying what’s your skill set versus your capabilities, and then I throw out the skill set which gives everyone a heart attack.
Like I said, I work with chaos, because that’s something you learned. You weren’t born with that, but you were born with this. I had a client who was born as a communicator. He’s born to lead, to write, to communicate, and he realized that that’s what he was doing as a side thing. That’s your capability. Let’s leverage that. I had another client, and we’ll talk after we’re done with this, she was doing the same thing. Leaving the business that she was in, going into something completely different, and we did some work on skills versus capabilities, and she could see how her capabilities could fit in. Therefore, not so much afraid of the skill set. Talk about some of that stuff with your folks. Capabilities versus skills.
Aree: I think you’re right. The capabilities, I almost think of it as your natural strengths or limits where it doesn’t change as much. It’s against that friction. I’m not a strategic thinker. I don’t know what it is. I just am not good at that, so I need to team up with someone. If I know I need that, I need to find someone in order to be most successful. That can help me with that. That can take that role, but I am very good at relating with other people and mediating when there is conflict, and when there are differences of opinion.
I can make sure that every voice is heard and that we get to the right answer. I think that the capability is recognizing where your limits are and knowing when it’s time to take it on yourself or when it’s time to partner with someone. Again, going back to that collaboration. We’re not in this alone. Even as solo business owners, you’re not in it alone.
Gail: No, my success has nothing to do with me.
Aree: Yes, exactly.
Gail: My success has to do with everyone that I connect with and people who help me.
Gail: Absolutely. Aree, I adore you. I love the fact that you had the opportunity to showcase on TEDx. I will put all of that information in the write-up so people can get in touch with you.
Aree: Great. Thank you.
Gail: In the meantime, if this really floated your boat, if something was triggered or navigated, make a comment so that we know. Share this with people that you think this would be of interest. Reach out to Aree or me, and Aree, if they wanted to reach out to you, how would they do that?
Aree: You can always find me on LinkedIn. That’s where I’m most active and Aree Bly is a unique enough name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else out there, so find me there, for sure. You can always email me, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org, and Alignment Ally could also read as align mentally so if you forget Alignment Ally think about aligning yourself mentally. I do have a website alignmentally.com where you can easily find the link to the TEDx or get that four F’s manifesto, which is just a one-page reminder of how those F’s play into creating the direction in your life and have some good questions for what to ask yourself for each of those areas to get you moving again. Gail: That’s fantastic, and I want to thank you, and thank you, listeners, for spending the time with us and we will be talking to her again, for sure. This is Gail Kraft with Aree Bly on the Empowering Process podcast. Thank you so much