Today, while I was running errands, I picked up a box of Bridge Mix in the check out line. As a personal rule, I don’t give into impulse buys, but I grabbed it on a whim. I took a picture and sent it to my sister with a text that said, “I bought this JUST because it reminded me of mom.”
My mother died over 16 years ago--the same year I got married. I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do justice to either the sadness of losing her or the elation of being in love. I couldn’t wallow in either feeling for too long; instead, it was a seesaw from one extreme to the other and back again. As I rode those peaks and valleys, I learned many lessons about what it means to be alive...what it means to be human.
Each year when Mother's Day approaches, I subconsciously think more about my mom (thanks Hallmark), and I usually have an a-ha moment when I realize it’s happening...like the unchecked urge to buy bridge mix. Sometimes these thoughts turn to grief, acute and surprising. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve often reflected on the contrast between the joys of being a mother and the emptiness left by the loss of my own.
Sometimes, I want to be sad. I will go take out my stash of pictures of my mom and look at them until I cry. I don’t want to pretend that it’s okay that she’s gone. I don’t want to pretend that it isn’t a total injustice that she never got to be Grandma June (she would’ve been GREAT at it) and that my girls will only know her through pictures and stories.
This week, in addition to the coming of Mother’s Day, we also lost a family dog (RIP Loki) and learned of yet another fatal school shooting just a few towns over. The weight of the world is heavy, my friends, and I want to feel the weight of it. I want to miss my mom, grieve our dog, and feel angry and scared about the violence in our schools.
And you know what? That is OKAY. I can feel sad and mad and helpless while still being grateful and present and loving. We tend to think of emotions as good or bad, and sadness, grief and anger come down hard in the bad column. We also tend to think of emotions as mutually exclusive. If we are angry, we can’t also be happy. We can’t be grieving and grateful at the same time.
What if we change our perspective? What if we just allow ALL emotions? What if we name them and wallow in them for a bit? What if we learn from them and use them to grow and change ourselves and the world for the better? What if we recognize and honor the complex web of feelings we are caught up in on any given day...in any given moment?
Because here’s the thing, if I pretend I’m not sad...if I hide from my feelings of grief or frustration, they don’t go away. They fester and arise when I am wholly unprepared, often converting to a more volatile emotion, erupting as anger or despair. Once I am angry or feeling helpless, I am useless. If I am in denial, I am not able to move forward. If I am repressing, I am not processing. And when I’m stuck, I’m not able to honor anyone’s memory or work toward positive change.
What can we do then, when these emotions come up? Here are some strategies to try:
Try these strategies, but also remember that you shouldn’t deny yourself the chance to honor all the feels. You are a human being and the full spectrum of emotions is normal and healthy. Take a moment to allow the pain. Remember that it will pass and you will grow.
One of my "other jobs" is parent lead of a supplemental science program at my daughters' school. I organize curriculum and wrangle parent volunteers to bring 5 two-hour hands-on science sessions to each classroom throughout the year. It's a fun and rewarding volunteer gig that is loved by students, parents and teachers.
A few weeks ago, I spent a morning working with some of the other parents to make training videos and gather materials for the different centers in our final unit. The theme is "Bird Songs" which is very apt for this time of year, when spring is springing, flowers are popping up, and birds are more active and talkative.
Later in the same day, I was out for a walk and I started noticing all the different bird songs. I was able to recognize some of the calls...the slow whistle of the chickadee and the melodic twittering of the little finches. I walked along, smiling and basking in the chorus around me.
Would I have noticed the birds if we hadn't just been creating the materials? Maybe. Would I have spent as much time listening and trying to decipher the different birds? Definitely not.
We are bombarded by stimuli at all times, more than our brain can process in any given moment, so our brain chooses what to notice...like a spotlight that only shines on one small part of a large room. What we don't realize is how much our thinking and patterns affect what our spotlight illuminates.
It's no secret that I am a horse person, so I notice horses every where we go. I notice if they look healthy, what breed they might be, how they are interacting, etc. My husband (not a horse person), will occasionally point out a field of horses, but usually just to joke by yelling, "Look...cows!!!"
My sister, who is a fire protection and safety engineer, notices sprinkler systems in buildings and notes where all the emergency exits are.
This idea has far reaching implications. If you harbor a negative mindset about yourself or the world, you will find plenty of evidence for that. If you think, "I'm clumsy," you will notice every time you trip or drop something, disregarding all the times you walked safely across the room or moved an object from A to B uneventfully. If you think, "People suck," you will interpret all of your interactions to prove that correct.
Likewise, if you are generally optimistic and good-spirited, you can have those feelings validated as well. You will take more notice of smiling faces and acts of kindness. If you think you are generally capable, you will be more likely to laugh it off when you trip over the curb.
If you don't believe me, try it. Start with something impersonal. Go on a walk and decide that you will turn your awareness to the flowers. My girls and I did this on the walk to school this morning and we saw dozens of new plants making their way above ground. Have fun and be creative. Pick a color and notice all the objects of that color. Sit on your porch and take note of how many different sounds you hear. Listen to a song and pay special attention to the drum beat or the instrument of your choice. Practice guiding your awareness so that you can start to apply the technique to the really important stuff, like your overall view of yourself, or people, or life's possibilities.
Once you've practiced on some easy stuff, take it to the next level. Choose a mantra and see what support you can find for it. Start simple: "Today is a good day" or "I see a lot of beauty in the world" or "I have a lot to be thankful for" or "I like where I live." Choose a mantra at the beginning of the day. Set an alarm at the top of the hour to remind you of your mantra. Repeat it often. At night, make a list of all the evidence you found throughout the day to support it. You will be AMAZED by what you notice!
You will also be amazed to realize what some of your default awareness-changing thoughts are...especially about yourself. Start to listen to your self talk and analyze how it affects your observations and interactions throughout the day. Are you generally kind to or hard on yourself? What thoughts do you validate by seeking out evidence? How is your spotlight helping you grow or limiting you?
One of the best things about running the science program is the learning and excitement that happens as we complete hands on activities with the students. Occasionally, a child will see me and stop me when I am at school to tell me something that relates to our latest unit. "I heard a crow outside my window today!" If more children stop and listen to the birds because of the science program, it makes me exceedingly happy. If one or two people reading this take some time to evaluate and improve their spotlight of awareness, then the work is well worth it. Change your thinking--change your awareness--change your life!
I did something terrible last week. I'm talking stuff-of-my-worst-nightmares terrible. Even though it was an accident, I have relived it multiple times in my mind.
My husband and I were enjoying a mutual day off, so we decided to tackle the garage. We put on old clothes, grabbed some trash bags, and let his parents' old dog, Loki, out to hang out with us while we cleaned and organized. You might remember that my word of the year is DECLUTTER, so I was excited to complete yet another project. We cleared piles, threw away a LOT of stuff, loaded up give aways, listed the old grill and an old bike on the local yard sale page, put gear in its proper place, cleared surfaces and organized shelves. It was glorious. And honestly, with the two of us working together and in the zone, the progress was quick and satisfying.
The final step was sweeping and spraying down the garage floor, which had built up a year's worth of dirt, leaves and gravel. We grabbed our keys. Dave pulled out his car first. A few minutes later, I climbed in my car and drove out. What happened in the moment is a blur. I remember sensing something was wrong. I heard some sounds that didn't make sense. I looked up and saw my husband gesturing wildly in the rear view. His expression brought me--literally--to my senses, and I realized with complete horror that I had run over the dog. (This is the part where you cringe...)
I jumped out and ran around the car. Loki was standing and Dave was with him, checking him over. I'm embarrassed to admit that I failed the "will you keep your cool in an emergency" test...because I absolutely DID NOT keep my cool. I was sobbing and hysterical. I could barely breathe, let alone be of any help in the assessment.
Loki was and is fine. Miraculously, he was laying directly in front of the car, so while the car ran over him, the wheels did not. I think it also worked to his advantage that he is old and deaf, so he probably stayed in his flat, soaking up the sun position until he got brushed awake by the undercarriage. I took him to the vet anyway, and she verified that he seemed fine, checked that he had complete range of motion in all limbs, gave me some warning signs to look for in case he had any internal injuries and sent us home with some pain medication should he wake up stiff and sore.
I gave Loki everything he wanted that day...extra treats, lots of cuddles and a bath. I called my mother-in-law to confess what I had done. Even though we have a loving, trust-filled relationship, and even though I know she is a rational person, I was still terrified to tell her. She took it extremely well, of course, and even sympathized with me for the the trauma it had caused. Still, I feel embarrassed and even ashamed that it happened. You have probably gathered that I love all animals, and causing any pain to them is the LAST thing I want to do.
This incident has also highlighted an unsavory habit of my human brain. Loki is fine...unscathed, in fact. He is back home with my in-laws and living the good life. I, on the other hand, cannot stop thinking about "what if?" What if he had been positioned just a few inches off center and I had broken one of his legs? I won't go into all the other scenarios that have crossed my mind because I'm sure you can imagine them and honestly, they are too dark to write about on this blog. The point is...the dog is FINE. Why does my mind insist on continuing to ask..."but what if it had been worse?"
The flip side of this habit might be even more pervasive. Something bad happens, often something we don't even have control over, and our minds always go to...but if only it hadn't happened. We bemoan our past decisions. We regret what we've said or failed to say. "If only I had taken the other job." "If only I had communicated with my spouse better." "If only I had stayed home that night." "If only I had ordered the chicken instead of the fish."
Do you see how futile and dangerous this thinking is? So much mental and emotional energy gets wasted on "what might've been." But here's the thing...the idea of what might've been is a false notion. There is only one path and you are walking on it. This does not require a belief in fate or destiny or God's will. This just requires a lack of belief in time travel. As nice as it would be to have a Groundhog Day scenario, the truth is, we only get to live each moment one time. You can let this idea paralyze you or you can find some freedom in it. You CAN'T change the past. Spending your time thinking about shoulda, coulda, wouldas is stealing valuable energy and creativity from more productive efforts of your mind. If you are stuck in your past, you cannot be enjoying the present or making strides toward a better future.
So what's the takeaway here? What's the strategy when past events come back to haunt us and taunt us with "what if...?"
If you have ever tried meditating, you know that it is the constant practice of catching your mind drifting into thoughts and nonjudgmentally bringing yourself back to your breath and the moment. This is not easy. I doubt I've ever gone even a minute without getting distracted by my internal racket. Thought awareness isn't just for meditation, however. The first step is to recognize when you dive into "what if" or "if only" thinking and gently remind yourself that the past is the past and therefore out of your control.
If the worst did not happen (like in my story above, thank goodness), take a moment to be grateful. Yes, it could've been much worse. But it wasn't. Instead of allowing my mind to imagine a much sadder conclusion, I practice redirecting my thoughts toward gratitude and awareness. I am so grateful that Loki is alive and uninjured and will live many more days to annoy me with his begging. And I am more aware. When I go to the barn, I know there's a cat who has a habit of laying under cars. Before the Loki accident I didn't always think to check before driving away. Now, I always peek under my car to make sure no critters are napping there.
If, on the other hand, you are regretting a bad outcome and find yourself thinking "if only it had gone differently," you might have to dig a little deeper to cultivate any gratitude. What did you learn from the experience? How did that experience shape who you've become? Is there a silver lining to be found? If you struggle to find anything positive, you can still focus on two important ideas: First of all, you CANNOT go back in time. What's done is done. There is a freedom there if you allow it. Since you cannot change the event itself, how can you focus your efforts on what you CAN change? Do you need to apologize to somebody or have a conversation about it? Can you improve safety to prevent a similar outcome? Can you share what you've learned to help others avoid the same result? Can you journal about it or seek therapy to help you process? Can you allow it to be part of who you are without defining you?
Secondly, you can change. People CAN change. Focusing on the past can be helpful if you do so consciously and with purpose. If your negative outcome was your own doing, how can you move on so that you are not beholden to the badness? How can you avoid repeat behaviors or vicious cycles? If your negative outcome was beyond your control, if you are dealing with loss or illness or abuse for instance, the goal is still to focus on what you can control. How do you want to show up during the struggles? What steps can you take to care for yourself and find instances (no matter how small) of joy? What meaning are giving to these events and how can you change your thinking so that it serves you better?
It is remarkably easy to be drawn into the "what ifs" and "if onlys." However, with mindful practice, you can catch yourself and reroute or reframe into more productive thinking. If you'd like to learn more about doing this in your own life, contact me to schedule a trial session.
Wednesday morning, I woke to the following message: In collaboration with other Denver-metro districts, all Jeffco Public Schools will be closed today due to ongoing safety concerns.
In short, an 18-year-old woman reportedly obsessed with the Columbine shooting (the 20th anniversary of which is on Saturday) made threats to some local schools, causing a lockdown of a handful of schools on Tuesday, and complete closure of 7 large districts affecting 600,000+ students on Wednesday.
After the message sunk in, I looked outside and gazed upon a beautiful spring day. Birds called in the trees and the sun was rising behind one of the mesa top mountains that frame my town. I thought about my girls who were still blissfully sleeping. This would be much harder to explain than a snow day.
I remember exactly where I was when the news of the Columbine shooting took hold of the country. It was shocking then...the first massive school shooting. Little did we know what would follow, that similar stories would become mere blips on our radar...that due to desensitization and/or the need for self-preservation we would be unable to give each tragic event the emotional energy it deserved.
What do you do when the weight of the world feels too heavy? When the helplessness overcomes you? When your lack of control over outside circumstances tightens like a vice around your chest?
For me, Wednesday required constant practice at being aware of what I do have control over. And despite the hard conversations and troubled state of the world, I wanted to make the surprise day off the memory that stuck with my girls. I couldn't control the outcome of the manhunt, but I could control the outcome of my family's day.
It didn't take long for me to decide to stay off social media and the news. The anger and fear, while wholly justified, was already leading to emotionally-charged posts and disagreements about everything from how much to tell the kids to whether the school closures were warranted to how gun laws needed to change. This is not a parenting blog although I was acutely aware of how many decisions I was making about what kind of parent I wanted to be. Likewise, this is not a political post because I am a life coach and this has surpassed any political disagreement. We cannot persuade our way out of this situation. We need a complete and cultural paradigm shift, beyond party lines, beyond us vs them. But Wednesday, with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the situation, I couldn't even think about that. The weight of the world had settled firmly on my shoulders.
As I explained to my children the reason they were not going to school, the weight piled on a bit more. As I considered a threat that would cause the closure of 7 large districts, I felt the weight bear down. When they found the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound, I did not feel relief or consolation, just another layer of heavy sadness and confusion.
My husband was not working on Wednesday, and we had planned to attack some long-awaited house projects. I also had a long to-do list for Golden Life Coaching, but with the kids home and the weight of the world settling in, I knew we couldn't just move forward as planned. Projects could wait. Making this day a happy memory could not.
We loaded up the dogs and headed to one of our favorite hikes. As I watched my family hiking on the trail ahead of me, I started to breath a little easier. As I watched my in-laws' old dog (who we were doggie sitting) totter up the trail looking 5 years younger, I couldn't help but smile. As we gained elevation, I felt the weight that had settled so stubbornly begin to dissipate. I took comfort in my daughters' laughter as they told make-believe stories as we hiked. We passed a high-centered Jeep left by an overzealous tourist who ignored "no motor vehicle" signs and consequently got stuck. I laughed at the silliness of that minor problem and imagined him walking down the trail, cursing his own lack of judgment. The day which started out full of uncertainty and fear suddenly felt carefree and fun. I knew my kids felt safe. As we rose in altitude, the weight of the world, both literally and figuratively gave way to love and lightness.
The fear and sadness that came with the threatening situation and its outcome are far from gone. I think about the school board's decision and the law enforcement's work and I am grateful, but I am also anxious. The power of one person to affect so many is terrifying. And unfortunately, I know this is not the last of these types of incidents. The threat of school shootings is but one of many anxiety-producers we face. But Wednesday was a good reminder for me. It was tempting to go down the rabbit hole of watching the news and hanging on the controversies over which I have little to no control. I am proud that I was able to turn my attention to what I could truly influence. That day with my family reaffirmed what is important, and having time to focus on creating moments of love and joy and safety also gave me time to process so that I can also work on influencing the bigger picture.
When I was a kid, my mother used to quote the serenity prayer regularly and I thought about it several times on Wednesday. I'd like to end with it here: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Friday night at karate practice, my oldest, Aleida, was complaining about nausea and a stomach ache but ate a good dinner and seemed fine at bed time. At 1:30am, yelling kiddos woke me and my hubby, and we found Aleida doubled over with stomach cramps. My youngest, Cici, had heard her crying and was calling us on her behalf. I won't go into the details, but that was the beginning of a long night. Aleida definitely had a stomach virus, and even with Imodium and anti-nausea meds on board, she was still up every 30-40 minutes until about 6am when she was finally able to sleep peacefully.
In addition to feeling helpless to ease Aleida's pain and exhausted due to lack of sleep, I was also taking an inventory of all the plans that were being thrown off course and how I would deal with that in the morning. I was also worrying about the transfer of germs as I cuddled my daughter through the night. I won't lie; it sucked. Now, a stomach virus is just a little blip on the "things that suck" radar, but still, when your stomach is cramping and you're bent over the toilet for the 5th time (or watching your child suffer through this), it feels like a major moment of suck. And of course people deal with much worse situations.
I have friends going through cancer treatments and painful divorces and messy custody battles. I have friends with sick parents and crappy jobs and financial problems and bodily injuries. It all sucks.
And let's be honest--the stomach flu sucks.
As I was lying next to my shivering daughter some time between the hours of 2am and 5am, feeling sorry for her and myself, I started thinking about the idea of abundance and particularly what it takes to cultivate it during less savory times in life. Abundance is one of my Big A words, but it's perhaps the hardest one to grasp. Put simply, abundance means that you look at the world from a lens of gratitude and positivity. It means that even when bad things happen, you realize that you have a choice in how you think about the situation and you have the resources to take action toward a more satisfied existence. An abundance mindset means that you don't resent others for their success or good fortune and you understand that for all the circumstances outside of your control, you have many options to live a life of your own design.
Living with abundance DOES NOT mean that you suddenly have to see the stomach flu or cancer or heartbreak as a good thing, as a blessing, or as a gift. First of all, your brain is smarter than that. If you try to tell yourself that getting the stomach flu is a blessing, your brain will call BS on that. No, you don't suddenly have to love all the suckiness in your life. The sugar coating or euphemistic spin on badness has always seemed false and unsustainable anyway. Ignoring a wound does not make it heal. Rather, it will fester and grow.
Awareness and acceptance are the keys to abundance during tough times. Denying, complaining, fighting against or worrying about situations beyond your control compound the problem. These habits focus on your lack...of health, of control, of love, of whatever...and feed a mindset of scarcity, which leads to feelings of helplessness and stuck-ness. On the contrary, accepting the truth of the situation allows an openness to learning from it and a resolve to take action to make it better. Again, acceptance does not mean you have to LIKE what's going on, but it frees up the mental energy you were using to fight against the unwanted situation so that you can channel your thoughts to creative problem solving.
I'll use my own experience with the stomach virus. I did not WANT my daughter to have the stomach flu. But spending my thoughts on wishing she didn't have it or worrying about the rest of the family getting it were futile...wasted energy. Once I accepted it, I realized that it would pass, and I was able to comfort my daughter better. Instead of resisting my reality, I was able to shape it into a more positive experience. Rather than trying to will away the illness, I focused on making my daughter more comfortable. Rather than pining for the end of the long night, I became more present and connected. Rather than hating the stomach flu, I spent my energy loving my daughter. It was still a long and sleepless night, but that shift made a huge difference for me and for Aleida.
When you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, take a few minutes to realign your thoughts toward a mindset of abundance, and I know you will feel the difference. Try this process:
For help cultivating a mindset of abundance, contact me for a complimentary session.
I bought a $20 Instagram Marketing course because I'm at a point in my business where I want to expand and my current marketing outlets aren't providing that growth. When I announced my business last year, I set up an instagram account, created a profile, and then did nothing. A few weeks ago, I started going through the course. It started out pretty basic, talking about how to post and follow people, etc. I felt a bit uncomfortable when the instructors started teaching strategies for getting more likes and followers. In short, it's a lot of tit for tat. Like and comment on other people and hope they return the favor. Seek out similar businesses and see what they are doing, and then see who is following them and start interacting with those people because they are your target audience.
While this might not be my style, I didn't really have any objections to it, and I could imagine how it might be applicable. I found some businesses and accounts in my home town, liked and followed them. I tried using hashtags to expand my audience. I noticed I got quite a few new random follows, and I assume they found me via my hashtags. Still, it felt false. Are they really enjoying my content or are they just trying to build their own followers?
This week, I watched one of the course's bonus modules. It introduced me to an app that is meant to increase social proof. Social proof, when applied to instagram, is the credibility you get from having a high number of likes, comments, and follows. If other people like it, then I'll probably like it, too, right? While I understand the concept and the importance of it in marketing, it brings to mind the peer pressure and social cliques of my teenage years. Still, even though I don't like it, I get it. Anyway, the app in the module is called "Magic Likes Meter." Here's the gist: You sign into the app under your instagram account. Then, you can either buy or earn stars. To earn stars, you are taken to a stream of photos from other instagrammers and you proceed to "like" those pictures as they come at you in random order and completely out of context. 1 like = 1 star. What do the stars get you? You guessed it..."magic likes" from other app users. Tada! You now have 30 likes on your post and therefore instant social proof.
Gag me with a spoon. Seriously...YUCK! This is so false and icky to me that I wish I didn't even know it existed. Perhaps I am overreacting, but as a life coach who stresses the importance of authenticity, this totally revolted me. And it started me questioning instagram as a tool for my business. I am a small, community-oriented business with mostly local clients. My non-local clients have found me through common connections...so organically and authentically. While my growth has been small and slow, I am proud of it.
I do not hate instagram. In fact, I love the visual aspect of it and the small doses of entertainment and inspiration it provides. But I don't want to spend my valuable marketing time mindlessly liking pictures and trying to game instagram for a few more followers. This exercise is making me consider my own journey and what it means to be authentic as I grow my business. Yes, I want social proof, but I don't want to buy it or scam it. I want it to mean something. And a bunch of faceless yahoos using a silly misleading app and liking my pictures to earn their own stars doesn't mean anything. It's not REAL social proof. I guess that's what bothers me most. Like fake news, fake social proof looks a lot like the real thing. It's not real, though, and to me it wouldn't feel real, and I'm not okay with that.
On the flip side, this has made me rethink marketing and how I want to proceed. I'll keep my instagram account, but that isn't going to be my focus. I want to remain small and authentic. I want to be a positive force in my community. I want to help people live their best lives. As I focus on those goals, I start to see creative and meaningful ways to reach out. Stay tuned.
Last Tuesday evening, I led my latest in a series of free monthly workshops that I hold at the local library. The topic was "Writing your Personal Mission Statement."
I had six lovely participants and I walked them through a series of activities to get them thinking about when they act and feel like the best version of themselves. What are they doing? Where are they? Who are they with? What is essential to their idea of "living on purpose"? What themes and commonalities could they identify in those important moments? What words came to mind when considering how those moments related to their overarching purpose in life?
This is a challenging activity and a deeply personal one. We had an interesting mix of people with a wide range of interests and passions, so their "on-purpose" moments ranged from showing compassion for others to driving a fast car. After the self-searching and brain-storming phase, we got to writing the rough drafts of our statements. I showed the following examples:
One of the things that I love about my job is that I am constantly learning and incorporating new ideas into my already existing framework. These questions and the ensuing discussion made me think. Does a life purpose have to have a service or altruistic component? I decided, fairly quickly, that it does not. One of my "Big A Words" is AUTHENTICITY, after all, and forcing an idealism that you don't feel would never work anyway. Furthermore, by being honest with yourself and others and pursuing a life that makes you happy, you might just inspire others to live in line with their true desires, thus indirectly giving back and making a difference.
This was the first workshop I led on this topic, but it was not the first time I'd completed the activity. In fact, I plan to make a habit of reassessing my "purpose statement" every year or two. It is never set in stone, but going through the process helps me solidify what's important and therefore live more by design than by default. My purpose statement will be a compass for my daily decision making, pointing me toward a more productive and meaningful life.
While it's a work in progress, this is what I came up with:
My purpose is...
The discussion with the group provided some clarity and freedom for me. I sometimes struggle with feelings of guilt or worry that I am being selfish. I have many (time and money-consuming) hobbies, you see. I catch myself thinking that perhaps instead of going to ride a horse I should spend those hours working on curriculum for a coaching program or volunteering at my daughters' school.
Being able to non-judgmentally conclude that someone else's desire to have fun and seek new experiences was a perfectly acceptable purpose freed me up to give permission to myself to pursue that part of my own journey. I am happiest when I am active and enjoying my many adventurous pursuits. I also thrive on the feeling of giving back and supporting others, and those two parts of my purpose are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I like to think that my personal lifestyle gives me more credibility in my professional life.
This is the take away: Spend some time on this. Be honest about what sets your soul on fire. Write a purpose statement and refer to it often. Revise as needed. Live with intention and see what happens.
Last summer, we did a major overhaul of our backyard. We hired a crew to take out a wooden deck and play structure, replacing them with a decorative concrete patio with a fire pit and outdoor kitchen, a new walkway, and an in-ground hot tub. It was a big deal, requiring the workers to rebuild a red flagstone wall that spanned the whole width of the yard, destroy and re-sod the majority of the lawn, demo the old, dig pits for the new, and get it all into working and attractive order. Of course, like any project, it took longer than expected. I watched in dismay as our yard became a construction zone. We wanted more from our yard, but it had been decent and serviceable before, and for a large stretch of prime summer days, it was nothing more than a huge mess, full of muddy holes and scattered pieces of rock and wood…ugly and unusable for several weeks.
I remember thinking and saying to friends, “I wish I could just see the before and afters…not the whole gross mess in between.” It was hard for me to look out on the carnage of my yard and imagine the oasis of outdoor fun that would ultimately be there.
We live in a before-and-after-picture world. Who doesn’t like to see the photos of the people who lose 100 pounds? Why are makeover shows so popular? Going from frumpy to fashionable in 30 minutes is inspiring. From flabby to fit on one magazine spread…spectacular. When people win the lottery, it's fun to imagine what we would do if we were so lucky. I am not immune to this fascination. I love before and after pictures. I love stories of transformation. I love the side by side comparison of then versus now.
But this mentality--this overwhelming desire for quick transformation--has set up unrealistic expectations about what real change looks like. It undermines the hard work that goes into reaching worthy goals. It also ignores the continued hard work required to stay fit or rich or successful or happily married. Quick fixes, get rich quick schemes, overnight successes…we think we want that. But do we really? If the answer is yes, then we are focused on the wrong things.
As a life coach, I want my clients (heck...I want everyone) to accept and apply two major concepts. First of all, I want each of you to hold yourself to a high standard. Set big goals. Believe that you can do impressive, meaningful work. Start that business. Plan that trip. Go for that relationship. Run that marathon. Create your ideal life!
Secondly, I hope that you can find joy and satisfaction in the process. Whatever your goal is,
you will have setbacks. Life will not always go as planned. The saying "no pain, no gain" is popular for a reason. But there's another saying that goes, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Many circumstances are beyond our control, but the way we show up, keep trying, and enjoy the ride is completely up to us.
I like before-and-after pictures because they show progress. They show a goal set and reached. But I dislike them because they imply an end to a story...a met goal and a hard stop. In life, however, there is no such thing. An after picture is just one snap shot along the journey.
I remember looking out at my yard as the workers went about their tasks. One very meticulous and skillful guy was rebuilding our red flagstone wall. I watched as he carefully placed stones, checking each one for fit and balance with the other pieces. It turned out beautifully, and while it is not the first feature you notice, it spans the whole length of the yard and is one of the key elements that brings it all together. Observing the long, difficult process of hauling the stones, matching the pieces and cementing it together gave me an appreciation that I wouldn't have gotten from a simple before and after view.
It's cold in Colorado today. Everything is frosted over by a relentless, bone-chilling sleety snow. I made my kids walk to school anyway so that they can have the "back in my day..." stories to tell their own children and grandchildren who will no doubt be hover-boarding or flying by drone to school.
The cold has me wistfully thinking about our time in Jamaica. A week and a half ago, we were wearing swim suits and swimming with dolphins.
I love dolphins...who doesn't, right? I also feel a particularly special bond with them based on some sightings I had while visiting my mom when she was fighting (and ultimately losing) her battle with cancer. If my mom has an animal totem, I'm convinced it's a dolphin.
Therefore, when my sister-in-law asked if I wanted to schedule a family trip to swim with dolphins, I was all in. Our whole family was excited, but I admit that I was a bit worried about the "animals in captivity" aspect of the adventure. I have mixed feelings about zoos and even feel guilty about owning a bearded dragon who stays in a tank in my daughter's room.
Still, we went. As we walked toward the staging area we spotted the dolphins swimming around in the netted-off bay. Of course we knew we would be seeing dolphins, but the first sighting was still thrilling. As the dolphins swam around and we stood on the walkway above them, they came to check us out, circling and rolling to the side to get a good look at us. The dolphin trainers said they were excited to have new playmates. I was a bit skeptical, but they did seem curious and even happy to see us.
The encounter was amazing. I know it's a tourist trap, but for good reason. Our group was taken into one of the pools and we stood on platforms in the water. We got to pet the two dolphins assigned to our group, Alex and Starsy, and learn about their features. The trainer told us that in the wild, the average life span of a dolphin is ~25 years, but in captivity, it's closer to 45! After the introduction, we went in pairs out to the middle of the pool where the dolphins came and presented their fins to us. We grabbed on and got a belly ride back to the platform. We also got dolphin kisses and the chance to dance with them. The dolphins knew their job. They were focused, friendly, and funny. Honestly, their comedic timing was impressive. They were working for little fish snacks, but I swear that they were having fun, too. Any concern I had about seeing depressed and enslaved animals was dissipated by the pure joy they exhibited in their work.
So here's the metaphor...be like the dolphins. These dolphins were clearly victims of circumstance. They didn't apply for the job. They didn't surrender to a life of entertaining humans. Without a doubt, they were captured or bred by humans, trained, and subject to a life they didn't choose. But there they were, doing it with joy and to the best of their ability. They weren't half-heartedly flopping out of the water. They weren't moping around and wishing things were different. They were showing off. They were working hard. They were BRINGING IT and I have no doubt that they do that with every single group of bright-eyed tourists that come into the pool.
I realize this isn't a perfect metaphor. I fully recognize the difference between the human condition and the situation these dolphins are in. On one hand, we have more choice and control over our world than dolphins do. And yes, on the other, we are more aware of all the different manifestations our lives could take. However, I think we can learn from dolphins. We can try to emulate them. Dolphins play. Dolphins enjoy their connections with each other and with other species, including humans. One study of dolphins in captivity found that they look forward to playing with a familiar human. Dolphins (perhaps out of ignorance, sure) make the best of their circumstances and they show up with energy and enthusiasm. And whether they know it or not, they bring joy to others. Our whole group left the encounter full of gratitude and energy and excitement. I'm sure the dolphins aren't considering their long-term effect on everyone they encounter, and similarly, we cannot know the entirety of our influence. Still, as I sit here on this frigid morning in Colorado, I can feel a glow of love and appreciation as I recall my interactions with Alex and Starsy, and that type of influence is something to which we can all aspire.
Wow. I just returned from a week in Jamaica. The main purpose of the trip was to take part in my sister-in-law's wedding. I was a bridesmaid, my hubby a groomsmen, Aleida a junior bridesmaid, and Cici a flower girl. We were all in the wedding...so of course we HAD to go to Jamaica. We decided to make a week of it. We rented a car and spent a few nights in Negril, then met up with the family for wedding and resort fun in Montego Bay. First of all, I completely support destination weddings. Secondly, February is a great time to take a tropical vacation from Colorado. Thirdly, Jamaica is awesome. I could go on and on about the scenery, the people, the food, the vibe, but I want to get to the point.
My mother-in-law relayed to me a conversation she had with a native. She was commenting on how nice and welcoming and humble the Jamaican people are as a general rule, how kindness and the laid back vibe seem to be embedded in their culture and mindset. She wondered how that came to be. The native woman's reply went something like this: "I was taught from a young age that being nice to others feels good to me; it serves me. On the flip side, being mean to or angry at others only really hurts me. So we learn to be kind for kindness itself, yes, but we also learn to be nice because it feels better than being mean."
What a lovely concept. It stuck with me...so much so that I asked my mother-in-law to repeat the conversation a few days later so that I could embed it in my memory to share with all of you.
I often talk about "coming from a place of love or kindness" in my coaching conversations. After all, you cannot control the actions of others; you can only show up and act in a way that allows you to go to sleep feeling good about who you are as a person. The older I get, the more aware I am of this. At the end of the day, I want to be able to stand behind my own actions. I want to be proud of how I behaved. Whenever I feel "icky" about an interaction, it is due to my own actions. If somebody is rude to me and I meet it with rudeness, it doesn't make me feel better. Maybe in the moment I feel justified, but in the long run, I never wish I had been ruder or angrier. On the contrary, ickiness lingers because I wish I had met a situation with more kindness, empathy, patience or calmness. I wish I had "been the bigger person." When I remind myself to come from a place of kindness, I can protect myself from the remorse and guilt that follows bad behavior AND I can better empathize with and forgive the other person. Even if a hard conversation or confrontation is inevitable, I make a lot more progress when I come from a place of love and good intention.
If we can be nice for the sake of our own well being then everybody wins. It is not selfish. It is not weak. It is humane. Can you relate to this? Let me know in the comments.
By the way...the wedding was BEAUTIFUL!!!