My Story of Becoming Agile

butterflyMy whole adult life has been spent learning everything I could about what it takes to overcome chronic disorganization, clutter, and overwhelm to achieve not only higher  performance, but also a higher quality of life.  After all, who cares about productivity when you are depressed, anxious, or exhausted from feeling overwhelmed?

I have been driven to figure out a theory, but more importantly to figure out what people really need to support them in putting theory into action and practical application.

This is my story of getting unstuck and becoming agile – going from a childhood of abuse, domestic violence and welfare, to sending myself to college, to becoming an performance consultant to the Fortune 500,  to ultimately designing my life to fit me and becoming a coach, writer and organic learning facilator – aka Teacher. 

How I Came up with Agile Life Design and Agilizen

My approach to  Agile is based on a multidisciplinary thought foundation that synthesizes and integrates the best and latest thinking from the fields of positive psychology, educational psychology, multicultural communication, meta-cognitive behavioral psychology, energy psychology, mindful organizing principles for highly reliable systems operating in uncertain environments, quantum science, neuroscience, zen and taoist philosophy and my 30 years of experience working to help people learn, improve performance and implement change.

How this Unique Approach Evolved 

In my 25 years of experience as a consultant to top Fortune 500 companies and 5 years as a personal coach to hundreds of gifted, talented, creative and intelligent people many of whom also have ADHD, I’ve used just about every productivity system out there. Like most of my clients, I ended up feeling like a failure.

But not any more. When I figured out how to accept and embrace my differences and design systems to “fit” my unique needs, I discovered a whole new world of possibilities.

I discovered that you can get things done without following boring routines and without having to plan, schedule, control and structure every little thing.

In the process of coaching neurodiverse people who share these common ADD ish traits, I discovered a whole world of people who were suffering, facing the same challenges I did, and thinking there was something wrong with them.  And why wouldn’t they?  Most of the top books on organizing and productivity label our personality traits as “dysfunctional” “procrastination” “chaotic” “unreliable” and more.  Meanwhile, people with our traits and gifts are some of the most successful people in the world, like Howie Mandel, Peter Shankman, Ty Pennington, and many many more.  And most of us also “failed” at using conventional productivity systems.  How is this possible?

Because the “tools” themselves don’t matter nearly as much as the mental models and thinking habits that drive how you design, select and use productivity tools.

In my approach to Agile, I have distilled “what really works” into a framework of mindsets, skills, processes, strategies and practical tools that people can learn.

And the good news is that you don’t have to have ADHD – anyone who has trouble using other people’s organizing systems consistently will benefit from this program.

 A little more about my personal back story

I was one of those kids who learned to read at the age of 4. I spent many nights when I was supposed to be sleeping either under a blanket, or in a closet, with a flashlight reading.

Books were my favorite escape from the chaos of relentless domestic violence and having parents with drug and alcohol addictions.

Books and my ability to learn were my connection to HOPE.  hope

They gave me something to dream about and fueled my faith that life could actually be peaceful. I became determined to figure out how to make that happen, for myself and for others.

I was determined not to end up like my mother.  She had  5 kids at 28 years old and already on her third of 6 marriages, on welfare and moving every few months.

Through it all, the “dreamer” part of me (the part that other people always labeled as “idealist” or “You think too much” ) was the part of me that enabled me to survive and strive for a better life.

It has not been an easy journey – even harder than I ever thought it would be. I was not left unscarred by the traumas I endured trying to find my way to healthy relationships with myself, men, work, food, sleep, money, my body, my home, my stuff. But there is a huge difference between being “hurt” and being “defective” as a human being.

But the journey HAS BEEN WORTH IT!

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about agile is that much of the “help” I received on my journey to healing ended up making me feel worse about myself – and deeply misunderstood.

All my acting out, from compulsively over-achieving to multiple addictions to desperately trying to give people the impression that I was normal” were attempts to simply feel okay in my own skin; to not stick out, to find a place or relationships where I “fit in” and just feel like was good enough.

I can see now how I was searching to fill the empty holes in my soul that I did not know how to fill myself.

The key here is that I did not KNOW HOW to live in peace with myself just as I was.  I didn’t know what enough was.  To me, too much was never enough.

I was looking for someone to teach me a better way to live and what I got was prescriptions, advice, and people telling me “what your problem is ….”  or  “why don’t you just….”

The “symptoms” that I was  trying to “eliminate” so that I could feel “fixed” turned out to be mostly things I really couldn’t change.

I had to learn how to accept and respect myself as I was before I could truly grow into my true (not idealized) potential.

I finally got it.  I realized that I couldn’t be “fixed”  because I wasn’t broken.  I just need to learn how to get along with myself.

What I really needed was to cultivated personal agility: in my heart, my view of myself, and my ideas about who I thought I SHOULD be. 

Learning design thinking, needs assessment, the art of self-cultivation and emotional agility saved my life.  Learning how to accept, like and value myself as I am…with all my strengths AND my quirks enable me to grow in ways I literally could NOT have imagined.

Ultimately it was my intensive, may even obsessive-compulsive, drive to learn was what saved me.

Learning everything I could about human behavior helped me connect the dots and understand myself in ways that no other person ever had.

No matter what help I sought, the trouble was that no one was looking at the WHOLE me. No one else saw the connections between my clutter, debt, perfectionism, procrastination, addiction to achievement, workaholicism, sleep disorder, nightmares and more.

No one ever even asked me about my disorganization or chronic lateness, or frequent sick days at work.  Every therapist I saw gave me a different diagnosis with the disclaimer that I was a mild or high functioning case of either anxiety, depression, addictive personality, PTSD.  Some said that I just that I “thought too much” and needed to just stop it.

No one ever suggested that my challenges might just be NORMAL by-products of being highly creative (ENTP or xNxP), intelligent, sensitive, multi-talented, ambidextrous and having a naturally high speed mind that was constantly trying to make meaning of EVERYTHING around me.

What healed me most was learning about all of these labels – both the desirable and desirable ones.  Seeing what they all have in common is kinda shocking.  It makes you realize that NO ONE can be defined by one label.  One of my greatest insights was that what looks like mental illness is often actually a NATURAL result of the trauma we experience in a society that is designed to encourage everyone to “fit” into ideal standards that have been defined by others.  It’s like our culture is designed to make people feel inadequate so that we can sell you more ways to FIX all your supposed inadequacies.  And the harder you fight them, they stronger they get.It’s a vicious cycle.

So I stepped off.  I discovered the Tao of Agile and set to work trying to create a sort of “grand unified theory of personal growth and self-cultivation.”  Sort of my own Happiness project.  : )

I realized I had to EMBRACE THE OPPOSITE of everything I’d been doing.  Instead of fighting I had to start with acceptance.  (See Mantra 10)

I had to become able to see the whole me with a compassionate inner vision.

Instead of analyzing myself into bits and pieces till I was in a fetal position over how many things were “wrong” with me, I had to learn to observe myself more neutrally and see the full spectrum of my strengths and weaknesses.

The more I could see the whole, the less defective I felt. The shame started to dissipate and in it’s place has grown the drive to share my story and what I’ve learned with others that I now know are also hiding out there – all trying to seem normal.

The hole in my soul now has a bottom and is refillable.  It doesn’t stay full but neither does it ever get completely empty.  Just like eating regularly, I nourish my soul regularly without depending on any one thing outside of me to do the nourishing.

My journey to overcoming PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction and making peace with myself was a roller coaster with lots of highs and lows. There will always be ups and down in the creative evolutionary life, but I know now for sure that it is possible to live life with a LOT less drama and chaos.  I now to choose to live in what I call the Agile Zone of Optimal Functioning.


What is the Agile Zone™ of Optimal Functioning?

The Agile Zone includes your sweet spot of creative flow, as well as the full spectrum of your

  • Comfort zone
  • Alert Zone
  • Alarm Zone (The zone of discomfort  that comes before RED Zone.)

The Agile Zone is the range of situations where you remain functional without falling into what I call the “Red Zone” where you become dysfunctional.


I share my life journey with you with the intention that it might give you hope that there is another way to live.  The Agile life is one where focus learning how to surf the waves instead of fighting and trying to eliminate them.   The way of Agile is WHOLE lot more manageable, meaningful and even fun.

The 8 Dances of Life model I teach is based on the 8 transformations I personally had to make on my journey to becoming agile.  The 10 Mantras of Agilizen are the distillation of what I had to learn and still practice every day.  The Agile Mindset freed me to live life and flourish on my own terms, my own way, with love and respect for myself and for all of humanity.

To me the Agile lifestyle is about:

  • Anticipating the waves so that you can become ready for them.
  • Leaning into the waves instead of struggling against them.
  • Bouncing back more quickly from setbacks and disappointments.
  • Learning from both successes and setbacks.
  • Learning how others are different from you and stretching yourself to understand their needs, while ALSO insisting that they respect your needs and not minimize your needs just because they are uncommon.
  • Savoring the moments of personal victories – even though your hard won triumphs seem ridiculously easy to other people who don’t get what it’s like to be you.
  • Making small incremental and iterative steps instead of giving up.
  • Trusting yourself to rise to the occasion when  needed.

If you are feeling stuck, it’s most likely that you are NOT defective.  You just haven’t yet cultivated the mindset and skills needed to live with flowing agility.

Imagine trying to teach someone to drive a car by giving them pills and just talking about it.  It will NEVER work!  If you want to drive, you need to LEARN how. No amount of complaining about or criticizing or even understanding WHY you can’t drive will help.

You must decide that you want to learn to drive and put in the time and effort to teach yourself what it takes – you must be willing to practice, make mistakes, and practice some more.  It requires “going slow to go fast”.  Giving yourself the time to learn.

You can learn on your own, if you are really motivated to do the research and are obsessed like I was..cuz there is no one book that teaches what I’ve learned (but I’m just crazy enough to try to write that book – even if it takes me 20 years to do it.)

But you don’t have to do it alone.  You can try to find a mentor (series of mentors) who understand your needs and are both willing and able to customize the way they coach to fit how you learn. But be careful!

Many people know how to be happy and live in peace – their way.  But most are not able to fully articulate HOW they learned.  They can tell you WHAT they experienced and WHAT they learned.  But that is not enough.

You need to learn the HOW people learn from experience. The skills, attitudes, and process involved learning from experience are fairly SIMPLE on the surface, but they are complex and extremely hard to articulate – that’s why so many people don’t get the results they are hoping for from coaching or from classes.

You need to understand how you learn from experience and how to teach yourself things by designing safe, yet challenging experiences. The trick is that “safe” can only be defined by YOU. Luckily there actually are some universal principles and processes to guide you in learning from your own experience, but it does require a commitment to put in the time and energy it takes to learn AND to practice in SMALL ways at first.

For example, understanding the power of metaphor to facilitate and accelerate your own learning is so universally helpful that it is like learning how to walk, read and write. How to learn from your own experiences, how to agilize your own thinking, and how to design iterative solutions, really should be basic life literacy skills for everyone.

If you’ve been emotionally traumatized by life and school in particular, you also need to learn how to UNLEARN some of the crap schools taught you unintentionally.  Schools unfortunately are best at teaching you how to try to earn other people’s approval through grades.  They are terrible at teaching you how to understand and appreciate your emotional needs, resolve conflicts and cultivate emotional and mental agility.

Everyone has different things they need to unlearn in order to become more agile, but if you learn how to “unlearn” and design your own central organizing principles for life, you will have one of the most powerful tools needed to change your whole life.

In choosing your guides, choose carefully.
Ask yourself:Are they helping you find your own way or teaching you their way?That makes all the difference.  : )


Want to learn more about cultivating personal agility and how to design overwhelm OUT and optimal functioning IN?

14 thoughts on “My Story of Becoming Agile

  1. Ariane, that’s is my life’s story too, or at least the first half.
    My creative streak and love for learning has kept my head above water until two years ago when I was so unhappy and stressed out that I could hardly breath. At 42 I lost it all, especially my faith in my self.
    Currently I am being diagnosed with ADD. How could I be so wrong? How could my brain betray me after a life where I loved it so much and thought it was my biggest asset?

    Honestly, if ADD is making me a creative agile person I really don’t mind. But it has made me dysfunctional and unable to make a living.
    I know the answer is inside of me. I know I have a spark of genius. I know I love my kids more than anything. But I find it hard to love and trust in my self.
    I feel I have to start all over again, but where do I start?

    • Thomas ~
      First of all, Welcome to the club! (see/feel a “Big Hug” smilie here)
      You are, indeed, not the only one like you – though lots of us are working hard every day to “fit in” and hide how we’re different, too, and it’s exhausting – mentally, physically and emotionally!
      Where to start?? May I suggest Ariane’s articles on Agile SMART Goal Setting, or Cultivating the Power of Habit?
      You can get them and more here: – let your “Love to learn” instincts guide you through the amazing struggles and insights she’s shared there.

      If you’d rather read a book, Ariane also provides a great reading list. Sounds like Self-Compassion might be a great start as it’s the foundation of everything.

      I started my journey with “You Mean I’m NOT Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?” by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo. Cried a lot, from relief at finally feeling “seen” and “accepted” – as Not Freakin’ Broken!

      We’re six- (or twelve- or 4-1/2 -) sided pegs who’ve been trying all our lives to fit into either round or square holes – we may get into some of them, but it’s seldom been a comfortable fit.

      In the meantime, put your right hand on your left arm, and your left hand on your right arm, and squeeze (gently).

      And do please come back – you are a Valuable Human Being!
      Bright Blessings ~
      Karen (just another member of this tribe)

      • Thank you, thank you, thank you Karen.
        I’ll read it when my head get’s around to it. It’s much appreciated :-)

      • Oh, I’m so glad you “came back”, Thomas!
        ~ and I completely understand “when I can get my head around it”! :)

        A TrueFact that can definitely help with great swaths of “trust myself” to “make a living”: the whole world’s economic set-up has shifted massively in the last 10 years, and it’s become much more complicated for almost anybody to make a living – all the rules have changed! It’s far more likely that your brain didn’t *betray* you, the game changed.

      • You’re right! “The game changed”, but what if I can’t?

        What happened to follow your dreams. Be creative. Never stop playing???
        I feel like it’s a business just running your own life and you have to more than multitask at work – wich I used to be good at. In this industrialized world we are expected to produce a success and repeat for years. That is a real challenge.

        Thank you for sharing Karen :-)

  2. Karen, I’m so glad you followed me home too! I got goose bumps reading your email. I still get this surge every time I hear from someone else who is “one of the tribe” and relates to the stuff I share here. It took me 48 years to be able to release the layers of shame and go public with my story. I stand on the shoulders of incredibly courageous people like Kate Kelley, Sari Solden, Terry Matlen, Dr. Hallowell, Tara McGuillicuddy and all the others who were so brave to share their personal truth and admit publicly they had ADHD. I was so afraid I would lose respect and people wouldn’t want to work with me. EXACTLY the opposite happened. Yes, I lost some people as I transitioned my business…but I gained thousands more who really deeply connected with me. So thank you for adding your voice to the mix…the tribe needs everyone of us to stand up , tell the truth and advocate for our rights to be different.

    RE: subscribing…I just moved to Word Press a few months ago and still figuring out the subscription thing. in the past people complained about having to sign up for both a list and the blog…so I’m experimenting with sending links to blog articles via my list…I do have a feedburner account..but google has my accounts all messed up. Short answer: For now…sign up for my Agile Life Design Toolkit! : )

  3. Oh, Ariane!
    I am sooooo glad I ‘followed you home’ from Lissa’s place this afternoon!!!!! (

    I grew up before the fad for hanging a ‘diagnosis’ onto every-different-way-of-being really took off, but that didn’t make the misunderstandings and shaming and constant “Why can’t you…?” hurt any less. I came to recognize many of my ADD-ish traits, as such, a couple of years ago when a friend gave me a copy of “You Mean I’m NOT Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?” (by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo) – *that* book I cried through- relief at the recognitions in every chapter, and many useful work-arounds and ‘tricks’! Another book that’s been very helpful, and will be even more so, now that I have your space and language to explore, is Liz Franklin’s “How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson”. “Sparklebrain” are me :)
    First, I read your Jan. 29, 2011 post ( and have been poking around here for hours – wow! I will be back, and show others the way, too. It’s amazing how many folks I know, who share multiple check-offs on your “symptoms” list!
    Is there a way to subscribe to your blogs by simple email, without going through a ‘reader’? (I seldom look at the “MyYahoo!” page) –
    Bright Blessings and Happy February to you!

    Karen J (Kharmin at JME2)

  4. I was just lying in bed this afternoon with a terrible cold looking around at all of the mess in my room. So I decided I would make a list of things to do to clear out and clean up once and for all. Maybe this would be my one-hundredth list, but I always approach it like it’s a new idea. Somewhere around number 43 on the list I decided to just google “in perfect order”. Because that is what I most desire more than anything in my life, “order”!
    And I found you. I am still navigating through your website and have signed up for your email list.
    I know you already! And I know me, and can honestly say that everything here describes me.
    You will be hearing from me soon, I hope!
    Thank you! Thank you!
    Most sincerely,

  5. I love that last statement or should I say question that you made. “Are they helping you learn their way or your way?”. I am realizing how important that is. Because I had purchased several great books that teach organizing/life recovery the authors way but most times I felt lost because I didn’t hear or see myself in that story. But, I am reading my lifes story in yours. I found another site that deals with organizing while living with add/adhd, and it states for people with these symptoms you must learn to manage and succeed in that way. So, thanks for confirming it for me, and I love your site. You have a new friend/fan!

    • Thank you so much Nina! I’ve had the same experience. I realized that for “Outliers” like us, very little of the “usual” advice out there actually applies to our needs. Most advice makes assumptions about people’s needs rather than try to customize. Customizing requires design skills that most people are not taught. Especially when it comes to designing your life.

      I thank you so much for letting me know that you share my experience in life. There are a lot of us….more than I ever imagined….I’m so grateful to the internet to helping us find each other – the more of us that come out and share – the easier it will get for future generations to grow up “different” and not be so hurt or traumatized by it.

      Big hugz to you!!

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