Wondering how to navigate life's twist and turns? Meet Arla Lyles, a former substitute lunch lady who embraced the opportunities that came her way and found her passion in parent education. This episode explores Arla's life journey—how she went from being uncertain about her career path to becoming an adult educator and coach helping parents thrive. Her story serves as an amazing testament to the fact that inspiration often comes from unexpected sources—like her admiration for her mother.
The conversation takes a deep dive into the delicate balance of work, family, and self-care. Arla shares insightful anecdotes about taking risks, making mistakes, and allowing oneself grace. Her experiences highlight the importance of trusting your process and remaining open to new opportunities. Surely, finding harmony between work and personal life can be challenging. But Arla provides a fresh perspective, imparting wisdom on how to manage these facets and achieve a fulfilling life.
Finally, we delve into Arla's transformational journey of becoming an observer. It's fascinating how observing and assessing her surroundings morphed into a meditation technique for Arla, which she generously shares with us. Plus, she emphasizes the significance of continuous professional development and her excitement about future possibilities. Towards the end, we discuss resources and strategies to help you build your mid-career GPS. Tune in, and let Arla's journey inspire and motivate you in your career and personal growth journey.
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How we show up matters and, admittedly, showing up isn't always easy especially when it comes to your work-life balance. As mid-career professionals, many of you are raising your families and wondering how you can find a better balance between your work and your life. Often you hear family first, but question what that looks like when you wanna take care of your family and still be there for your team members, clients and employer. In this Best of episode, you're going to meet Arla Lyles. Arla's career has taken her across multiple industries and positions, including being a substitute lunch lady to now serving as an adult educator and coach who helps parents be better parents. You'll learn why it's important to be open to new possibilities and opportunities, how to always come from a place of value and service in your work and life, and why being mindful of who you are and what you do will help you create greater success and happiness in your life and career. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 176 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your Jo. hn Neral. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four-step formula. I've got a free guide on my website. It is called Five Mistakes Mid-Career Professionals Make and Need to Stop Doing. You can download that guide on my website at https://johnneral. com, or check the show notes and you're gonna learn what these five career derailers are and how you might be doing them, and they might be slowing your path to whatever is next for you in your career. And when you visit my website at , please make sure to check out the other guides available under the resources tab on my website. This week's best of episode dates back to January 2022. While Arla Lyles certainly has a compelling career story, arla's episode is one of my most downloaded episodes because of how she tells her story. In today's marketplace, which has a greater importance on being a phenomenal storyteller when networking and interviewing, I want you to pay close attention to not only what Arla says, but how she says it. I hope you enjoy this inspiring, motivating and powerful conversation with Arla Lyles.Arla Lyles:
My name is Arla Lyles. I am 50 years old. I live in Columbus, ohio. I work for a nonprofit agency called Action for Children. Currently there, I am a adult education program facilitator and coach, and I've been doing that for about three or four years now. It seems to be right in line with my passion in terms of being a parent and blending that with education, and it's something I really enjoy.John Neral:
It's one thing to enjoy what you do. It's another thing to be mission-driven as to why the work you are doing is essential to you at this stage in your career.Arla Lyles:
I remember when I was a parent of young children and how much support I felt I needed, and it quickly became a passion of mine to work with other parents, mostly because I needed their support and their guidance, but I quickly learned that they benefited from our interactions as well. So it's something I took a hold on of when my children were young and I've just kept that grasp pretty tight since then and it's really served me and my immediate community very well.John Neral:
If you've been listening for a while, you know I ask all of my guests what they wanted to be growing up. For Arla, this question about what she wanted to do for a job or career growing up wasn't easy for her to answer.Arla Lyles:
When I was in high school. I remember our guidance counselors wanting to help us navigate our career options, and they gave us an assessment that would help us see where our strengths were and where our interests lie, and I was surprised to see that I scored pretty evenly across the board. Nothing really stood out as a strength or a strong interest, and so I wasn't very clear about what I wanted to be.John Neral:
As a former schoolteacher and administrator, I think it's important that we give kids opportunities to explore what they want to be growing up, but at the same time, I acknowledge that it also creates a lot of pressure. It's difficult when you are confused about what you want to do. Look, when we were in high school and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to major in college, it created a lot of stress and pressure, especially if you weren't sure what you wanted to do. Or, secondly, you got there and realized that wasn't what you wanted to do and you ended up switching. Truth be told, I went in as an accounting major and I could not get past macroeconomic principles, so I got my degree in psychology and then, from there, I got my degree in education. But this is part of our journey. It's why our careers take some interesting turns and pivots. Sometimes we have to lean in on other sources of inspiration to figure out what's next for us.Arla Lyles:
I knew I admired my mother. I thought she was a strong woman and I knew I wanted to embody those qualities that I saw in her. But in terms of career, I had no idea really. So it wasn't until I think I was a freshman in college, they wanted us to choose a major. I was so nervous about doing that. I never wanted to feel boxed in or locked into a career, and so I took a bunch of classes to try to figure out, maybe, what I was interested, what I might be good at. I took a journalism class. I thought maybe I'll be on TV and do the news. I took a medical terminology class. I thought maybe I can get into medicine. None of those things seem to stick with me. So after feeling pressure to choose a major, I went with biology, always enjoyed math and science and I thought biology is the study of living things. It's a good foundation to build onto. I felt I could go anywhere from there and that was the perfect major for me. I enjoyed every bit of it all the science classes, all the chemistry classes, all the math classes. So I was relieved to land in that major.John Neral:
Arla showed up in a way where she could keep all of her options open. She strategically positioned herself academically to transfer those skills into whatever she wanted for her career. But let's not overlook something here Arla gave herself permission to explore. It's something that we can easily forget to do when we're navigating our career transition. We wonder what's next and then our brain wants to take us to this place where we question and doubt all of the things that could happen before we even get started. That's when you know it's time to slow down and take a breath If you wonder how you can transfer your skills into something else. Listen closely to how Arla describes how she went from being a bio major to launching her career.Arla Lyles:
So I was in a major I really enjoyed. I was having tons of fun learning about the different sciences. Graduated college came home I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with that, so I had a bunch of random jobs, quite honestly, and at the time I was an active churchgoer and in my church there was a program around math, science and health and they were looking for someone to coordinate the program. So I began coordinating that program and I got to work with students. I got to help them with their math and science homework and it seemed like a really good fit for me. From there I went into substitute teaching. Just from my experience with working with kids I thought, you know, maybe this is the next step. So I got into substitute teaching and it was, for me, mind blowing because I remember having substitute teachers and as a student you know how honorary students can be. We were always trying to get the substitute to run out screaming, so we would always give that substitute such a hard time. And that never happened for me, which amazed me. I just felt really led and, in the moment, guided in how to relate to the children, what to say, what to do, how much to expect from them, and so, to be very honest, I was yielding to that guidance and it turned out to be such a blessed experience for me, and apparently for the students as well, because I still run into some of those students who recognize me and want to check in with me.John Neral:
Okay, the former school teacher and me cannot let this one go, because before I got my full time teaching position, I spent time as a substitute teacher, and it's not easy and while I spent 14 years as a classroom teacher, there is something special about being a teacher and creating that bond with your students. If you ever want a lesson in receiving feedback, teach in a middle school. They don't hold back and it's one of the many things I appreciated so much from them. But let's acknowledge that in Arla's journey she felt led and yielded to that guidance. She welcomed the opportunities that were there for her and, not to sound cliche-ish, one thing led to another. When you trust your process, you gain the experience and one opportunity yields the next, and so on, and then the next opportunity comes along, whether it be personal or professional. Before Arla, she got married and started her family, and when she was ready to return to the workforce, she found an exciting opportunity that gave her great perspective, that allowed her to come from a place of value and service to her employer and the people she worked with every day.Arla Lyles:
And so I went back to the school system and began working as a substitute lunch lady, I know, and really made connections at the schools where I served. I was all about building connections and building relationships and I found my way to the principal's office each time and just thanked them for the opportunity to serve in their building. That made such an impact on those connections that I was making and I connected with the guidance counselor in this one particular school and she said we need you here, you know, with helping the parents. And so, you know, I made a connection with that school. I enrolled my daughter in their preschool program and I began working as a parent consultant at the time and my job was really just to help parents navigate the school system, navigate the school building, connect with their teachers better the staff, and that's kind of how I got into parent education. When I realized it was my niche, I went back to school and got a master's degree in adult education and training and it's really been serving me well since.John Neral:
Let me pull back the curtain for a minute. When I record these interviews, I do them over Zoom. I don't repurpose the video, but I like to look at my guests. When we're having a conversation it is the closest thing to us being in the same room. You can pick up on the nonverbal and the head nods. You sense the energy when the conversation is going really well. Here's what happened next, and we were both nodding our heads quite a bit. What I absolutely love in your story is you truly came from a place of value and service when you talk about being a lunch lady and building those relationships and finding your way to the principal's office, and coming from a place of gratitude. And we never know where our career path is going to take us based on the opportunities we get. But what I know is that when we create certain opportunities, then the doors and the possibilities open just because of how we show up day in and day out to see what we can make happen. And you've exemplified that.Arla Lyles:
Thank you for noticing that, john. I agree completely and I appreciate you saying I created those opportunities, because I don't know that, I realized that in the moment. But you know that was a skill I was building and it has really served me well to make connections with people, genuine, authentic connections. You know, as a lunch lady, it started there for me because you see these children coming into the school building and some of them are awake and some of them aren't really awake yet and some of them are very well groomed and some of them are not. I remember wiping crust off of children's faces because they just rolled out of bed and got there for breakfast just to see how appreciative they were to have breakfast. And you know it just really made my heart go out to them and want to be there for them because clearly you know they didn't get everything they needed to have a productive day at school before they left the house and I still wanted them to put their best foot forward. So it gave me so much joy to feed them breakfast, to greet them with a smile, sometimes a hug, help them tie their shoe, button up their jacket, whatever the case was, you know I could tell I was needed there. And when you leave your infant at home to go to work, you want to do something meaningful. You want to do something that makes it feel worth leaving your child at home. And you know, even though I went back to work to support my family, I needed that time away from that baby as well. So it was good for my mental health to go back to work part-time, to ease myself back into the workforce, and the school system really welcomed me with open arms.John Neral:
It's a delicate balance between growing your career and balancing the other areas of your life. Sometimes we do it really well and other times not, and whether you have kids or you don't, being a workaholic can be detrimental to your health and career. We're going to talk about this more in an upcoming episode, so I asked Arla what advice she could give to someone who was trying to find that balance between their careers, taking care of their family and ensuring that they were making the right choice, and those choices are always rooted in sacrifices.Arla Lyles:
That's a really good question. You know there's a lot of anxiety around making the right choice for your family, for yourself and ultimately, for your employer, because you know you don't want to get into a position or get into a job that you can't do sufficiently or adequately or that's going to demand too much of yourself and pull you away from your family, you know. But we do have to take risks and I don't know that I see myself as much of a risk taker. I think that I lean more towards following my instincts and my internal guidance. I think when you follow your truth you can't go wrong. And you know we're going to make mistakes. Every decision we make isn't going to be the best one for us and you know it's through making those mistakes that I've learned a lot about myself, a lot about the world, a lot about, you know, working and parenting at the same time, trying to find that balance. And we just have to extend ourselves some grace, because there's pressure from home, there's pressure from work, and you know we're going to make those mistakes and we have to allow that. It's part of the growth, it's part of the process. I knew that I didn't have a very demanding job because my heart was always at home and always with my family. I never wanted to feel pulled away from them. I wanted to feel like I was still connected to them. So, you know, working part-time allowed me to have an opportunity to give my children and my family my best version of myself and also present myself authentically at work. And so early on, I had a few part-time jobs so that I could go to the field trip to the doctor, so that I could take my kids to the doctor and so that I could be in two places at once, so to speak. And so that was a sacrifice for me financially. You know, I didn't have benefits early on, but I just knew that I wanted to be with my children. And I'll never forget my daughter saying well, mom, can't you make more money? I said, baby, absolutely, mom could make mountains of money, but you would never see me. And I knew that I needed to be there physically for my children, that just providing for them wouldn't be enough for how I wanted to show up for them. So those sacrifices were key. I don't regret them at all. They paid off in spades. My children now. My daughter will be 20 next month. My boys are 17 seniors in high school. They're phenomenal children, so all of the decisions that I made turned out for their good and, ultimately, for my good as well.John Neral:
They have a phenomenal mom, thank you. As you build your mid-career GPS, you'll make decisions, and those decisions are made with the best intentions, given what you're facing at the time. There's no judgment here. You do what is best for you and your family. Arlum had to make some tough decisions for herself, her family and her career, and she made those decisions after much thought, prayer and grace. I appreciate Arlum's story so much because she found a way to show up and use her genius, given her circumstances and pathway. Using your genius is one of my show-up-six strategies, and when we tap into our genius, we're clear about the kind of work we want to do and are called to go do it. How has Arlum leaned into that? Exceptionally well when she was figuring out her next steps.Arla Lyles:
I think it has a lot to do with how you want to be seen, how you want to be viewed. The decisions that we make have consequences. Can you live with those consequences? If I had chosen to be a career woman, I don't know if my children would be as grounded as they are. I'm their first teacher, so if I ground myself, they have a better chance of being grounded as well, which is so important. When they go out into the world as adults, they have to have a strong foundation to build on to, and I just took my role as a mother very seriously. I had an amazing model in my own mom who fought to parent us the way she felt we deserved, even through her childhood trauma, and so I appreciate her sacrifice. Modeling is such an amazing parenting style. Our children are going to embody who we are, so we must be who we want them to be. It's very important that we make decisions with them in mind, and I just think that again has benefited me and my family and the community at large, because I find that I mother a lot of my colleagues, a lot of my clients. I just have that nurturing spirit. It comes naturally for me.John Neral:
We're going to take this a step further. I want you to listen carefully as Arla describes her work and what she does, listen to how she shares, how she shows up each day from that place of value and service to the parents who need her help, her coaching and advice. She knows her genius and she's using that to the best of her ability.Arla Lyles:
I say I'm a parent, educator and coach, but I also like to think of myself as a support person on their support team. You know, sharing my story lets other moms hear that I've made mistakes and you can't recover from those mistakes. They get to hear that there's a lot of sacrifice in parenting. They get to hear that even when you are the best parent you can be, your children don't always follow in your footsteps and even though you have the right ideas in mind and the right intention, there will be challenges. And I want to be there to listen. I want to guide when I'm able to guide. I want to just support and encourage and ensure them and, at the end of the day, educate them on proper parenting styles and tools. We encourage positive parenting strategies and maybe they didn't have a good model to show them how to be a positive parent, how to be there for your children, and so it gives me such joy to share what I know with them. In fact, it was before I had this job that I kind of meditated on what job can I do right now with the skills I have right now, without having to go back to school or having to get a new certification or get involved in a new training. What are my strengths now? So to take a self-assessment and reflect was key for me, and I knew that I had this parenting knowledge that I could share so easily. And I was able to find an opportunity to do that. And what's cool about the platform where we share is I let the moms know I'm only an expert on my family and my children. I am not parenting expert on your children and your family. You are the expert on your family. So I invite them to bring their expertise to the table as well. So it's a discussion group. It's a place where we all can share what we know. We can be vulnerable. It's a safe, non-judgmental place and it really does help to ground other moms and really support and encourage them to continue on their path.John Neral:
As I've gotten to know Arla, I was curious to ask her a little more about meditation. This is an interest of hers and something she practices daily and shares in her work with her clients. I asked her how she got started meditating and why she finds it so helpful.Arla Lyles:
I want to say I want to use the word meditation loosely in this example, because there's an internal dialogue that I recognize. I like to think of it as reflecting. So, as a young child, I often found myself in uncomfortable situations, if I can be very transparent. My parents met in college. Education was very important to them. They moved us to the suburbs because in the 70s that's where the good education was. But I felt out of place. I didn't feel wanted and I didn't feel like I fit in, and so I quickly learned to assess my surroundings, reflect on what I was seeing and hearing and feeling, in order to navigate where those safe places might be. What should I say in doing these situations, to keep myself safe and feeling safe? And so the internal dialogue began. I started examining myself what am I doing wrong? What am I doing right? How do I avoid the negative attention and only receive the positive accolades? So I kept myself in check, constantly leading and guiding myself where I thought was the right path, and that really transformed into what I would consider meditation, and that's just again being an observer, listening, looking around, observing, assessing what I've seen and heard and making the best choice possible for me in every situation. I am an in-your-head type of person. I'm always there calculating and assessing. But once I started to really study what meditation is and different methods, I've learned different ways to meditate. It could be breathing, it could be humming or chanting, which is very comforting to the physical body. So when you're feeling out of sorts, humming for me can be a meditation rocking. I find myself when I'm waiting in lines, rocking back and forth. That's kind of a meditation as well when I'm walking the dog, just observing nature, listening to the trees, listening to the wind, listening to the birds and the insects, and it really does help to ground you and just bring you back to your body. When you're in your head, like I am, and can go kind of into outer space and down in any avenue, it's really been a tool that has really helped me stay present.John Neral:
Admittedly, this is something I've struggled doing. I have tried meditation over the years, but it's just been really hard for me to shut off my brain with how it fires in so many different directions at times, and certainly during the pandemic, where we've all been trying to focus a little more about taking better care of ourselves and our families and our loved ones this was something I wanted to really ask Arla about, so I asked her if she could give us some tips on how to get started with meditation, and she explained it in a way that was helpful for me and, I hope, for you too.Arla Lyles:
I can definitely relate to that and, honestly, I would start with breathing, deep breathing, the kind of breathing that fills up your lungs, fills up your whole abdomen, your belly, as much air as you can take in, you know. Hold that breath a few seconds longer and just slowly exhale. What I recognize is we don't breathe properly on a regular basis. Oftentimes we take short, quick breaths. We're not getting the oxygen to our brain, the oxygen we need to think clearly and make sound decisions. So breathing is something we already do. All of us know how to do it. But to take in more air and slow down, maybe close our eyes, I think that's the perfect place to start and oftentimes we recognize that the benefit of taking those deep breaths we have a clearer head, we feel more relaxed and I think that's the perfect place to start, to begin to learn to meditate.John Neral:
As we build our mid-career GPS. We talk to people, we gather information, we get advice. I asked Arla what's the best piece of advice she's ever received.Arla Lyles:
I think the best piece of advice someone ever gave me is just to allow yourself to make mistakes, allow your children to make mistakes, because there's so much to learn in that process of making mistakes. We all do it anyway, but oftentimes we pressure ourselves, we come down hard on ourselves when we do that, and I think that we should just allow it and learn from it.John Neral:
I was so intrigued by Arla's response here that I had to ask her one more question. I wanted to know why professional development is so important to her.Arla Lyles:
The options are endless for me. I have often thought of being a yoga instructor. Years ago I became certified as a yoga instructor, but I have not done much instructing. But I want to challenge myself, maybe to jump out there and to offer some free yoga classes. I recently was involved in a coaching training opportunity where I'm learning to be a better coach. I might try my hand at helping others learn to navigate their lives with what I've learned through my journey. Maybe I'll go back to school and get a PhD in psychology. It's a great question, john. I don't know the answer to it, but I'm eager to continue my journey. My boys will graduate in the summer and I'm going to give myself permission to do whatever it is I want to do Personally and professionally. I don't know where the road will take me, but I'm extremely excited about my future.John Neral:
The beginning of the year and your performance appraisals are great opportunities to decide what you want to learn and why it's important to you. You must take full responsibility for your professional development. Decide what you want to learn, figure out what may be a little outside your comfort zone and put a plan in place to go after it.Arla Lyles:
I am still learning who I am, interestingly enough at my age and stage of life, and I love discovering different qualities I didn't know I possessed. I am excited about my learning journey and, you know, attempting to heal wounds which can hold us back, learning to forgive more, not hold grudges as much, just free myself up, get to know myself, discover who I am, because I'm constantly changing. So self-discovery for me is important, that I always know who I am and I always know my truth. Professionally, I love to challenge myself. You know this is a challenge for me speaking with you today because, leading up to this, I found a million reasons why I shouldn't follow through with this and I just knew that it would be good for me. You know, trying something new shows me what I'm capable of, that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and I think that's true for all of us. You know, to continue to learn and grow who we are personally and professionally is something that I'll be doing until my last breath.John Neral:
As we start wrapping up, I asked Arla to share her advice to help you build your mid-career GPS.Arla Lyles:
The advice I would give is to allow yourself to have some quiet time to reflect, to dig deep, to uncover things that are hidden in you, to listen actively to yourself, to what you're saying and what you're not saying, what you're feeling and what you're thinking, and challenge yourself and don't be afraid to try new things and make mistakes.John Neral:
Here's how you can connect with Arla, and make sure to keep listening as I share a few closing thoughts with you about my conversation with Arla Lyles.Arla Lyles:
I can connect with me on LinkedIn. They can find me under Arla Lyles.John Neral:
And I will make sure that's all in the show notes. So, Arla, thank you so much for spending time with us today and sharing just a little bit more about who you are and what you do, why professional and personal development is so important and to really help frame the conversation around how we can have a career and be a very mindful and involved loving parent and find the balance in all of that. So thanks so much for your time.Arla Lyles:
Thank you, john, it's been a pleasure.John Neral:
Same. I was introduced to Arla through a mutual friend and, wow, did she bring it today. She didn't hold back for someone who was, admittedly, a little nervous doing this interview. I appreciate Arla's introspection and reflection about all the things she's done and where her life and career are headed. I could listen to Arla talk all day. Her cadence and tone are soothing but, more importantly, there is confidence in her voice. There is confidence about all of the things that she has done and that she's excited to do, and her heart and her mind are open to welcome all of those things as she continues to build her mid-career GPS. There is no question that, listening to Arla's story, she builds her mid-career GPS and continues to do so using my four key steps preparation, positioning, promoting and showing up. Now, if you'd like some help building your mid-career GPS, you can do the following Join my private Facebook group. Go to Facebook and search for your mid-career GPS and join a fantastic group of people who, like you, are all trying to figure out whatever is next for their career. You can check the show notes or go to johnnarrellcom forward slash 2022 goals to download my free guide that will help you build your goals for 2022 much more easily and without all the overwhelming worry, so you can either click the show notes or visit johnnarrellcom. Forward slash 2022 goals. You can get a copy of my book, your Mid-Career GPS four steps to figuring out what's next available on amazoncom. Or you can also get my other book, show Up Six Strategies to Leading a More Energetic and Impactful Career. And if you're interested in building your mid-career GPS and you're wondering if coaching is the right fit for you right now, email me at johnnarrellcom and I'll be happy to set up a free qualifying call with you. I'd love to get to know you more and learn more about your goals and share how best I can help you. So, my friends, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Arla Lyles today and lastly, remember you build your mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how you show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day.