Category Archives: Case Studies

Case study: Family dysfunction recovery action plan

I am not a therapist.

But I seem to get a number of clients who have worked (successfully) with good therapists to identify and work through their feelings about things, but are still tangled up in logistics of action to get out of harmful situations. So they come to me to pull apart the logistics and give them a path of action that allows them to honor the things they’ve identified with their therapists and the feelings they’ve uncovered.

This client was one of them. Her family of origin had huge, bad issues that had caused her to leave and to have no contact with her parents and extremely limited contact with her siblings (some of whom are adults, but several of whom are older teens living with her parents). She had worked intensely with good therapists on what had happened to her and how she could process and heal from that, how to mother her own children without being under the weight of how she was (not) parented, etc. But she was still tangled up in how she could help her siblings get free from this family legacy, both the ones that were living away from the parents but still hurt by them and the ones who were still living with the parents. There was also a part of her that thought she should be attempting to make her parents stop the harmful interactions, or at least admit that they had unhealthy ways of interacting with the family.

This one was tough, obviously, because it was all about hurt and secrets and guilt and shame. The first thing I did was let the client know that I understood that she carried this weight around with her, but that by handing her problem to me to solve she was acknowledging that she didn’t have to feel guilt or shame anymore. Giving it to me was shining a light on it, and when I accepted the task of being a witness to what happened, that took away anything she had to feel bad about. Then I set to work, and diagrammed it out. (I’ve realized that for me a lot of the diagramming process is to give ideas holding pens to sit in while I’m dealing with other ideas, and then I can circle back.) I sorted through what she could control, what isn’t under her control, what she could expect from other people, and what she had to let go (knowing that even if something is true, other people may never acknowledge it).

I sent her the threads I’d pulled apart. She took the things I said she couldn’t change and let them go. (We both expected this, and that’s why she hired me.) And then she took the plan I made for what she could do for her siblings and added on to it, with a strength and grace and trust in connection that felt like a gift to me.

I am always amazed at my clients. At how clever and astute and resilient they are. And how honored I am that they trust me with their problems.


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Problems I see again and again

Magda straightWhen people find out about Flash Consulting, there are a few common questions they ask, so I’m going to address those. The first one is “Do you see repeats of problems?” The answer is YES. I see a lot of the same problems just wearing different outfits. I’ll break down some of the common ones.

Small business problems are, in some ways, the most fun for me because they usually involve crossing disciplines. Think about it: The small business owner is very good at what they do, but a small business has all kinds of tasks and issues and problems that don’t have anything to do with the core business or talents of the owner. It’s not even reasonable to think that a small business owner would have the slightest idea how to contextualize those issues, let alone solve them. I’ve seen a lot of different business areas, so I can see that a solo-practice lawyer’s problem is about cost accounting and organizational dynamics or that a marketing consultant’s problem is about strategy, or that a small ecommerce business’s problem is about marketing. I’m not inside the business, so I don’t have any blocks about what area of expertise the problem is in.

It’s different for people working in a corporate environment. Most of those external issues that stymie small business owners are performed by someone else, so, in theory, my clients could focus only on their content area and just be awesome. Except that then there are issues of butting up against The Machine (meaning the corporate environment itself) and that’s where the problems are as an individual employee (especially in law and any client-facing positions. Also academia.). And that can feel complicated, especially when you’re trying to account for home, too. The solution to that is to cut down the noise and focus on what your actual long-term priorities in all areas are, then find the intersection of those and just ignore everything else. (“Just”–ha!)

Managers have a different problem, which is doing their own jobs plus trying to figure out what’s going on with the teams they manage. The solution to that is to set up a system with a solid framework for keeping your people on track and in a good feedback loop so you’re not taking time away from your own job to put out management fires, and your people can start working together to help manage as a team. But again, it’s easier for me to see this from the outside and know where to start than it is for someone who’s caught in too much input and too many demands to be able to pull it apart to untangle it.

Another problem I see again and again is people who just can’t force themselves to do something, whether it’s work-related (academics, I’m looking at you) or personal. Even with heaps of motivation, they’re still blocked. The solution is different for each person, but it’s never “Just do it.” (Why would you pay me $250 to tell you just to do it, when you could tell yourself that or download any of 5,000 FB graphics with inspirational slogans for free?)  People (including you) are not stupid or weak or inherently losers. There’s always something behind an inability to act. This is when I listen and read very carefully, ask a lot of followup questions, and use my experience working with parents and kids and my own kids and just being a lover of people and their issues in general to help figure out what’s going on. I’m not a therapist, so I find something that will unstick people through reframing or action first. And then if I’m sensing a pattern that is preventing them from working toward what they want, I point out that pattern with the suggestion that they can learn to change their behavior with the help of a therapist to get what they want consistently. (I love good therapists. More than I love good wine, even.)

The easiest personal problem I get is too much input. I sort it out, find the patterns, present a few options for paths to walk through the noise calmly, and prioritize those paths. A subset of that is people who are doing the wrong job for them, helping them sort out what they want to do next and how to do it without going rogue suddenly.

The final category of problem that I see a lot (and that can cross over the ones I’ve already mentioned) is people feeling guilty about doing or wanting what they really secretly want to do. The solution to that is really easy: I think your ideas are great, ESPECIALLY if they’re not what everyone else is doing. I’ll come up with a plan for you to do this crazy thing you’re afraid to admit you want to do, and that will tell you how much effort is involved. If you’re willing to put in the effort, do it. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, then don’t do it, but know that your idea is valid and it was worth having.

Next time I’ll write about the case I didn’t crack, and the few that I’ve cracked that turned out to be way different from what the client and I thought they were going in.

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1401373721615-690449374Here’s a new testimonial that came in this morning from Amy Rowland, CEO of We worked together several weeks ago when she was stuck on marketing her products online and how to increase traffic to her site:

“While I don’t know Magda well, I knew that she would be honest. She wasn’t going to sugarcoat anything, so I was eager to hear her opinions on my small business and how to market my products. She gave me an action plan with several components, but more important than that, she articulated differences between my two product lines which would have an effect on marketing. I had certainly thought of the differences before, but didn’t really contemplate how this would impact marketing efforts. I would definitely work with Magda again and will recommend her to others!”

Ha! Yes, I am honest. And I thought her two product lines (children’s products like plates and aprons and placemats) we both really interesting and delightful (and that I would buy for my own kids if they were still little*), but that they were teaching different things and in two different styles. That plus a couple other things about their old website made me think their marketing was a little muddled so people weren’t easily finding these jewels.

So I suggested marketing the two different product lines separately. Making use of any common target markets, but separating out the messages we wanted to send with each one. Then we did the classic marketing thing: who wants to buy these, where are those people, and how do we show them how fantastic the products are enough times to get them to buy. And came up with a plan for each of these questions for each product line to generate traffic to their site.

Amy just sent me the testimonial and the link to their newly designed website. You should stop over and look at how cute these are, both the ones that teach table manners and the ones that teach nutrition.

* I would actually buy a full set of the Nutrition plates if they were adult-sized and ceramic.


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Case Study: Big family division of labor changes

A 30-something married mother of two came to me because her husband’s work situation was about to change, and it was going to radically change the distribution of labor in their house, and she was afraid they weren’t going to take full advantage of this change.

Her husband had been away from the house 13 hours a day M-F since before their kids (a preschooler and a baby) were born, so she worked her fulltime job and did all on-the-scene child stuff, too. When her husband was home he was super-engaged and a full participant with the kids and the house, but he simply wasn’t home most of the time. He was switching jobs to one that would keep him out of the house 7-8 hours per day (roughly the same amount of time she spent out of the house) with some work-from-home time that was flexible.

They were both afraid that they were going to screw up the change and not make good use of this new (awesomely flexible) job to divide labor fairly.

I was in love with this problem, because who doesn’t love designing an entire family life from scratch? So that’s what I told them to start with. Instead of thinking of it as “which jobs should I shift from Wife to Husband?”I suggested they look at it as a blue ocean exercise in which they questioned assumptions, then designed parameters, and then started from scratch within those parameters. (Blue Ocean Strategy is a business strategy that I think has a lot in common with Universal Design for Learning.)

I told them what I thought they should prioritize as the first decisions about parameters, based on their interests and personalities. (One of my solution-creating principles is to honor who people are at all times.) And then once they had those decisions made, I gave them a list in descending order of what to privilege when dividing up actual jobs (both physical and mental).

I sent her my recommendations, and half an hour later she messaged me that she was crying reading them, and that it was way more than she’d thought they could expect. Three days later she sent me an email saying that she and her husband had spent time talking about my recommendations, and had then started a shared document to go through and type in what was important to each of them in all life areas (!!), and had gone back and forth over two days coming up with how they wanted their life together to look once his new job started. They created an entire plan for not only who was going to do what, but how they were going to work together for the kids and home and to support each other’s individual and couple goals. A life plan.

That’s when *I* started crying, to see that they’d taken this idea I gave them and had gone so deep with it that it had become a mission for them as a family team.

Who gets to do something that honors people so much? And that honors *me* so much? I’m just so thrilled to be able to do this.

tl;dr version:
A client came to me because her life was changing and she was afraid she was going to miss the opportunity to make full use of that change. I designed a rubric and priority tree for decision-making, and she and her husband went way deeper with it than I’d imagined, and we were all kind of amazed by that.

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Case Study: Virginia Champoux

Virginia ChampouxVirginia Champoux came to me when she felt like her life was out of control.

She said, “I was recovering from breast cancer and I’d just closed the store I owned and ran for over a decade. I was at a total loss of what to do next, and was feeling so much fear that I couldn’t even make a plan for the next day, let alone figure out how to find a job.”

I took the case, promising not only to help Virginia find a direction for her career that excited her, but to create a plan for the next four weeks so Virginia knew what to do when she got out of bed.

I focused on several things: 1. Virginia is a do-er, who needs something to keep her busy, and will ignore her own emotional needs in order to be busy, 2. Virginia has extensive experience in creating and promoting events and organizations and leading teams, in the physical world and on the internet, but her experience wasn’t neatly corporate-focused. 3. Virginia is extremely self-directed.

The first and third points were why Virginia was feeling so scared, because she didn’t have the store activities to focus her. I knew that she needed some time to grieve the store, but that Virginia processes emotions by activity, so I prescribed a plan for the next month that I knew Virginia could comply with but would never think of for herself: 2 1/2 liters of water every day (Virginia’s in Canada, where water comes in liters), yoga every day or as close to it as she could get, and work on the charity online auction she was running to raise money for women’s cancers research as if the auction was her paid job.

The next phase was to look at Virginia’s resume and figure out what the through line of her experience was. Virginia’s concern was that no company would want to hire her because she didn’t have experience that neatly fit into a corporate structure. I thought that this was just leading to fear and paralysis and that terrifying cycle in which you rethink every decision in your life, so we needed to look at what was actually going to be important once Virginia did find a job: Did Virginia WANT to work for a corporation?

The truth was that she didn’t. Virginia is more entrepreneurial than that, and knows that her skills are strong enough that she can make big changes for smaller organizations and wouldn’t be happy making small changes for a big organization. So I came up with a couple of different career paths she could work on, and told her how to adjust her resume for each one. (I don’t tell anyone what to do, I just present the options and spell out the pros and cons of each, as I see them.)

Virginia’s reaction to these plans made me happy: She was pleased but slightly skeptical of the water/yoga plan, but vowed to try it. And she was relieved by the career paths, because the revelation that she IS employable (although probably not a great fit for a huge megalo-corporation, which she wouldn’t want to work for anyway) was a big exhale moment. She said, “Releasing my problem to you allowed me to have time to breath and think about other things.”

After a couple of weeks she sent me an update. She started drinking water and doing yoga, because it was on the plan I drew up for her, and it was helping with her physical healing and emotional focus. She threw herself into the auction and raised almost $9000 in five days. She put together her resumes and has started interviewing for both in-house (with small companies) and consultant positions to help her decide which direction she wants to go in. The fear is lessened because she has a direction and knows she just needs to put in the work of searching for a job and sorting through what will be the best fit for her. And she’s started developing clients for a business that she’s growing, and can decide as she goes if this will be a side business or her primary business.

tl;dr version:
Virginia had fear paralysis and was looking at herself as having limited options. I gave her a plan to diffuse the fear to allow her to act, and reframed her as the one who decided what she did next.

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