The What If Experience

Explore a new "What If..." question about life each week with some thoughts, some answers and some action steps. Share my journey of personal growth and living in possibility.
RSS Feed
The What If Experience




All Episodes
Now displaying: March, 2017
Mar 26, 2017

I've had a crazy month. I spent weeks being insanely busy and then a week being really sick. This is the first time in a while that my schedule and health have been somewhat normal. And I've been fighting the "shoulds" all week.

Why am I so tired? I should be bouncing back faster.

I missed a few weeks of studio work, I should be painting more.

My house is a disaster, I should be cleaning.

It's been a year since I put tile up around the kitchen backsplash, I should be grouting it this week since it's Spring Break. For that matter, I should clean out the garden, work on my son's quilt, tackle the pile of alterations in my sewing room and clean out the storm room so we can actually get in there this storm season.

And I just can't.

I've fallen asleep at 8:00 pm several nights this week. I've shoveled stuff behind my son's closed bedroom door to deal with later. I did do one painting. I binge watched some broadcasts on essential oils the one night I didn't fall asleep right after dinner. But, mostly I've done a lot of nothing I didn't absolutely have to do. I skipped meetings. I canceled appointments. We didn't do anything remotely "stay-cation-ish" for Spring Break. I just couldn't find the energy or ambition.

I suspect I was further away from health than I thought I was. Not just sicker than I thought, though that's probably true too, but soul-drained. There's been a lot of energy emptied and not a lot replaced.

Rest and Recovery

We want recovery to happen quickly and efficiently. But, recovery happens on its own schedule. I had a fever of 100 to 102 degrees for 6 or 7 days. When it finally broke I had another day or so of still feeling sick. Then comes the in-between phase. That period of time when your body is better enough that your mind is free to remember all the stuff that didn't get done while you were sick, but your body's not quite ready to do all the things yet. And it's so easy to jump right back into life before being fully recovered.

This time, recovery seems to be taking longer than usual. I'm tiring out quickly, I'm still sleeping a lot and I'm sluggish. Part of the problem might be that it's allergy season, so I'm not sure I'll get back to feeling great for a few months.

But, it is what it is. If my body needs more rest, it simply needs more rest. Applying "should" to in I "should" be feeling 100% by now is pretty useless. I need to listen to my body and let it recover. I'm much better at this than I used to be. Years ago, I'd probably have been back training this week. I did get back to the gym this week. Once. And then stayed home and walked the next few days. Took more days off than usual and didn't worry about it all that much.

What I'm not as good at is allowing time for mental and emotional recovery. Things have been pretty intense around here for a long time. And I think I just hit my limit. Sometimes your head and heart need recovery time too. If that means reading a trash novel. Go for it. If it means doing something you love, do that. For me this week, I haven't had the capacity to even want to do things that I love. Hiking was too energetic. Quilting was too. Reading required too much thought. Visiting local places I love like Cheekwood, museums or art galleries sounded more exhausting than fun. Things that usually fill my emotional bank were just too much. I spent some time on social media, but that only served to make me feel worse about the things I wasn't doing, so I shut that off.

All that makes me realize that I was more depleted than I thought I was. If you find yourself in a place like I am, where you need rest and recovery...listen to your body, heart and mind and take that time. Take it without self judgment. Ignore the "shoulds" that crop up and focus on body and soul repair.

We need both rest and recovery. In the training world. rest and recovery are two different things. Rest is sleep and not training. If we're not talking about training, but about life, rest is sleep and not doing the things causing the need for rest. So, it's sleep and Not Doing. It's sleep and being. We need need need this in our lives and I've been doing a lot of that this week. In my head, I think I've been feeling guilty about it. This is where the "shoulds" have cropped up. But, either I've been too tired for that to effect my emotions, or I've been to emotionally smart. Let's go with smart.

While it might be bugging me on one level, I didn't get anxious about it, didn't worry about it and knew that it was the right thing to do. I wish I had been able to articulate this earlier in the week, I would have been more intentional about the "being" part of that "sleep and be" definition. What would that look like? Focusing on the present moment. Meditation. Noticing the sun on my skin. Paying attention to sensory details. Not spending mental energy on the past or future. Allowing Being to be the focus of my attention and a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself.

And then there's recovery. says recovery,

"refers to techniques and actions taken to maximize your body’s repair. These include hydration, nutrition, posture, heat, ice, stretching...stress management, compression, and time spent standing versus sitting versus lying down. Recovery is multifaceted and encompasses more than just muscle repair. Recovery involves chemical and hormonal balance, nervous system repair, mental state, and more."

Recovery is doing the things for yourself that help you repair. If we're talking about life, some of these apply, like hydration, nutrition and stress management. But other self-care activities, things that fill your tank emotionally, spiritually and mentally, are a big part of recovery. These are different for everyone. For introverts, it might mean alone time. For extroverts, it might mean people time. Figure out what it means for you. Do those things in seasons of recovery, but also work them into your weekly routines to refill your tanks as you go along.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is about how I feel at the moment. Most of the colors are muted. I can still be functional, still red, green, yellow or blue...but not at my best and brightest. The longer I live in that state of depletion, the more the colors fade. The closer they get to muddy gray and black. But, there's a kernel of color. Rest and recovery will bring back vibrancy. And it often begins where the black is the strongest.

Where are you in this season? Do you need rest and recovery? Are you good at it? I'm going to practice this week and see if I can get the vibrant colors to take over the rest of the canvas. I'll let you know how it goes!

Episode Downloads

Want to explore this topic further? Get the Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone lock screen.

Mar 19, 2017

A week ago today, my Destination Imagination team was finding out their fate. Would they progress to the state competition or not? DI is a worldwide organization for students in all grades, elementary through college. Teams of kids choose one of seven challenges and prepare and present a student-led solution. The week leading up to the competition, my team fell apart.

There are two parts to every DI competition. The main challenge I mentioned before and an instant challenge where they walk into a room and have to act something, build something or a combination of the two. They don't know the challenge beforehand, they're under a time limit and they usually have about 5 minutes to prepare. They're judged on teamwork as well as results. My kids have no middle ground with instant challenges, they seem to either nail it or go down in flames. The week before competition, I wouldn't even let them perform their planned solution because they'd been so busy fighting during prep time. But, last Saturday, they nailed it and they knew it. They came out of instant challenge flying high.

They then performed their prepared solution to the main challenge and while it wasn't perfect, the audience laughed in the right spots, the gadget my son had worked on late the night before actually worked and they were pretty pleased with themselves. So, we found ourselves sitting among the assembled teams thinking that we did actually have a shot.

But. We didn't make the cut. We're not going to state. And my kids were all sorts of disappointed. This was the third year in a row that their team came in fourth. The top three teams advance. They had specifically chosen the evening before to focus on having fun more than winning at all costs and we did have fun. But, we all wanted to go on too. My son particularly was crushed.

It's really hard to watch their disappointment. It's hard to feel disappointment. It's something we all deal with. I believe that we generally don't do a good job of teaching our kids how to handle emotions, so here's one more lesson for my team that I'll share with you as well.

How to Deal With Disappointment

First, learn to lean in to the feelings that come your way. All of them. We're so very quick to try to get rid of feelings we don't like, the ones that hurt, but experiencing them helps us progress through them. It's very easy for me to want my son to get over his disappointment, because it hurts me to see him hurting. But, if I tell him right away all the reasons he shouldn't be disappointed, I trivialize his pain. Instead I just chose to hug him and agree.

Second, after the feelings have run their course, you can add some perspective. In this case, I'll tell my kids two things. First, we live in the most difficult county to progress from. The competition here in our regional is often more difficult than that at the state level. And they're consistently at the top. They're global material (which is the level after state), but they need to not give up. Also, I'll remind them that three days before, they couldn't get through the planning part of an instant challenge. And they were right, they nailed it on Saturday. As a matter of fact, they took first place in that portion of the competition. Two days before competition, after watching them perform, parents didn't understand the story line of their performance at all. And in one day, they reworked it enough to merit a fourth place standing. That's pretty amazing. But, this perspective is only really meaningful and helpful after the emotions have run their course. Too often, we introduce this perspective too soon.

The third step is accept and reset. One of the lines in their show was, "Ok, well, that just happened, I guess I'll get back to studying cancer." There comes a moment, when accepting the disappointment and moving on becomes necessary.

Lastly, they reach a point where they can learn from it. Next season we'll spend some time talking about the decisions they made that created problems for them this year. Hopefully, they'll make different choices next time. I hope so anyway, because the last few weeks were crazy stressful.

There are four steps to dealing with disappointment in a healthy way:

  1. Experience it.
  2. Gain perspective.
  3. Accept and reset.
  4. Learn from it.

The team chooses their name each year and this group has always used "Phoenix" as part of that name. At this point, I find the phoenix a worthy symbol for them as a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. They'll try again. And even if they never move above regional level, they've gained so very much and I am so very proud of them.

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone Lock Screen:  Daily questions to apply the above article to your own life and the episode artwork as a phone lock screen.

Mar 12, 2017

What if you're part of a team?

If you aren't on a team in your work or community, you are probably part of a family group of friends. And when you interact with people for any length of time, you run into problems. People problems.

I mentioned on last week's episode that my son and I are in the throes of crunch time for the Destination Imagination competition coming up on Saturday. DI is a worldwide organization for students in all grades, elementary through college. Teams of kids choose one of seven challenges and prepare and present a solution on which they are then scored. It would be awesome if they can get through this competition and get to the next level. But, the things they learn in the process are more important than the competition.

Right now, as I write this, I don't know if they're going to bomb or excel on Saturday, I really don't. Their team is in disarray. We have both people problems and presentation problems. And I have a choice to make. We need practice time. They have problems to resolve to get to a point where their story and solution works. Then we need one more week to polish it. But, we don't have one more week. We need to crank through their presentation sketch as many times as we can today.

Bigger Things Than Competition

But, there are bigger things at stake. There are life lessons that they need to learn because of the issues the team is experiencing. I can choose to focus on the goal - the competition - and ignore the lessons we really don't have time for. Or, I can choose to focus on the life lessons. There's no real choice.

People are the most important thing. My team and what benefits their life in the long run is more important than the actual competition. I need to spend some time talking through some stories with them today. And it will take away from our practice time. But, these lessons that they learn, these experiences they have. These are the things that will live with them for life once the competition is long past. These are the reasons we do DI.

I'm going to just record what I want to tell them today. Listen in and know that something I say to them might be meaningful to you too.

Message To My Team

I have three things to tell you today. First. You are amazing people. Every single one of you is valuable. Each of you has an important part to play on this team and the solution that you ALL came up with is better than any that one of you could come up with. Most of my life, I've spent thinking subconsciously that I could do it better on my own. Whatever "it" might be at the moment. But, that's just not true. My definition of "better" has had to be re-calibrated.

We each have our own perspectives and experiences and the more those different perspectives are included in a solution, the more interesting and unique it will be. One of the key things about creativity is that it is the connecting of ideas in a way that's unusual, new, interesting or different. If you want to expand your creativity, the fastest way to do so is to be in a diverse group of people or ideas.The reason I'm bringing it up today is that if you have moments that you believe you are not an important part of the team. And I've heard that out of at least one of your mouths this week. I'm telling you, you are. Each one of you has contributed in unique ways. Each one of you is supposed to be here. And each of you are inherently valuable.

On the flip side, you need to realize that each of the others is also inherently valuable. Each of you have different strengths, all of which are needed. So that moment when you're frustrated or think that your way or idea is better. Step back for a moment and remember that you can't do this alone. You need the others. And if you're thinking right now that so-and-so other person needs to hear this...then I'm especially talking to you. If you're each committed to respecting yourself, your own worth and the worth of the others on your team, you'll communicate and talk in a way that builds team dynamic and doesn't tear it down.

This season right now, you'll be tired and easily frustrated. That's ok. We all are. Use that as an opportunity to build each other up. You can do that. I've seen it. I watched you as a team give grace and kindness last year at this very time when I didn't have any left. All of you have a remarkable well of kindness if you choose to dip into it.

Which leads me to point number two. People are more important than product. When I was in middle school, one of my teachers divided the class into groups of four or five and gave the groups a task. With a time limit. And a competitive factor. It was something like answer as many of these questions as possible in a certain amount of time. And then he said "Go" and off we went. When we finished. my team had won. And then, my teacher told us that the real assignment was not about the task. It was about group dynamics. And because we'd won, he asked my teammates and I questions about the experience. And they said that while we might have won, I took over the team, I bossed them around. It wasn't fun and they didn't like me much at that point. I was devastated. If I had known the task was really about interpersonal dynamics, I would have focused on that. My natural inclination was to pursue a task - especially a competitive one - at the expense of everything and everyone else. That probably wasn't the best way for me to learn that lesson, because I spent the next 20 years hiding that natural leadership because of the public betrayal I experienced at a very vulnerable age.

But. I tell you this story so you'll understand that in most cases. Pursuing the goal is less important than how you get there. If you're leading a climbing group and someone panics and freezes on a ledge and the safety of the group is at stake and you need to take control, do so. Safety is more important in that moment. And there may be other moments in business and life where you need to make that choice. I want you to understand that those choices make a difference. How you treat each other on the way to a goal has eternal significance, because each of you are the most valuable things in the room. When you have a decision to make about how you respond to someone, always remember that people are the most important thing. Cody and I have it posted in our kitchen on our family values statement. That means that relationships are more important than being right, being chosen, being recognized, getting a laugh or being in charge. I am not saying that you should never assert yourself. I am saying, that as you go through life and through this DI experience, you need to understand that people are the important things.

My third point is that you're all like thoroughbred race horses. High energy and ready to run and with your own desire to be first...and that is a wonderful, fantastic thing. But, there are going to be a lot of times in your life when you racehorses need to be harnessed together to pull a wagon. When you need to function in a group. If horses are hooked together and each horse is pulling off their own direction, not only will the wagon not get where it wants to go, it's going to probably crash and people and horses will get hurt. When you're on a team, you need to function as a team and put the needs of the team over your own. This isn't an easy lesson. This is something adults struggle with. If you're working toward a common goal, then you need a team perspective. It's better for the team to use ideas from everyone. So, if you get angry if your idea isn't chosen. If you pout when your idea isn't listened to. If you get frustrated and stop the progress of the group, at some point your perspective shifted to be about yourself. And you need to shift it back away from you. Figure out a way to be engaged but able to think about your behavior at the same time. This is as much about learning to be a part of a community than anything else. There is no community without self-sacrifice, vulnerability and serving other people.

You have the privilege of being on this team with these other amazing people. You've worked really hard and I'm proud of you. You've had fun and you have had days where you were frustrated and angry. All this is life. It's an incredible journey. These people who have walked through it with you, they're your people. They're your team. You've been through a lot in the last few years and I'm sure that if you choose to do it it again, you'll go through more, learn more, grow more. But no matter what happens. Look at each other as respect and accomplishment.

Three Key Points

I've told you three things today:

  • You are a valuable member of this team, and so is everyone else.
  • People are more important than the goal.
  • Act like a team...put the needs of the team above your own personal agenda.

If you're listening to the podcast and not on my team. You need to understand too.

You are inherently valuable and so is everyone around you. Treat yourself and others that way. People are more important than your schedule, your to do list, your project or your agenda. You may not be on a DI team, but you're likely in a family, social or work group. If so, know that community is of supreme value and while our culture rewards self-reliance, community is an inborn need of our hearts. There is no real community without self-sacrifice, vulnerability and serving others.

Be aware, I'm talking to some high achieving kids today, so this advice is for them. While some things might apply to everyone, like people are the most important thing, other things I've said may not apply to you. Like putting group needs first. That taken to an extreme is a problem too. So, your mileage may vary, but I do want you to see your own thoughts and actions and other people today through the lens of knowing that each of you is of immeasurable value.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is symbolic of the seven kids on my DI team, and also of you. Each of us are gemstones. Each is multi-faceted. You are beautiful and valuable. Having all the different stones in different colors, which reflect light differently, this makes our world more beautiful and interesting than if we were all the same. This is pretty obvious. But, our actions often don't reflect that belief. Remember when you look at the people in your world, ALL of the people in your world. They're all gems.

We'll have a pizza party wrap up when the season's over with our team. Our version of an awards banquet. We'll present the sketch to teachers or anyone interested in seeing it one more time and we'll make a fuss over the kids and celebrate the year. I'll present the kids with the certificate from DI, a collectors pin from their challenge this year. I'm going to bring this original in and ask them what they see in it and how it applies to them. And will give them a print as well.

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone Lock Screen

Mar 5, 2017

I'm going to do something a little different today. Usually, I talk about a question after I've processed it a bit. Have some thoughts, tips or wisdom to share. I'm not sure that's the case today.

I'm right in the middle of this one, so maybe I'll let you in on the messy middle part of my thinking process this week. Have you ever found yourself looking down the barrel of a week, a month or a season that seems so jam packed you're not sure how you're going to get through it? I'm the queen of SAYING I want to be less busy and then taking on one more thing. And then squeezing in just one more. I'm in the middle of the first week of what will probably be the busiest two weeks in my year. At least I hope so. I don't want to repeat this. We have one or more things that take up every evening. We have a full weekend coming up. And it tops off with the Destination Imagination team competition a week from Saturday. Which gives me a heart attack just to write, because I'm the coach of the best 5th graders in the world. Who totally aren't ready for competition.

I swore I wasn't going to live this way any more. And yet after I took on the DI coaching (which I said I absolutely wouldn't do), I added at least two other weekly commitments. Now, I was expecting this last few weeks of crazy before competition. And it won't last forever. I just have to get through another week and a half. But, still. This isn't the pace and the anxiety level I want in life.

I want space. Breathing room. Time to think. Time to play. And nap. And walk. I want to feel how I feel at the side of the ocean. Freedom, expansion, simplicity, sustainable rhythms.

I will say, I'm better than I used to be. I used to run at top speed for months with a single day break here and there. It hasn't happened in a while and I'm looking at a two week run this time and I'm freaking out. Actually, it probably would be a lot less stressful if there wasn't a competition at the end of it that my kids are in danger of bombing and I have less control over it than most things. I could probably be handling the schedule, the last minute surprises from my Ex, the laptop crashes and the DSL going down better...without the competition coming up.

I was going to start examining my perfectionism this week and I just can't. There's no mental space left. But, I have a sneaking suspicion this is related. I think that the stress I'm feeling has as much to do with my perfectionism - my own expectations of my coaching and feeling like I'm failing miserably - when I believe...I KNOW...that the most important part of the DI process is the months of slogging through the messy part of group creativity, of learning teamwork, of life lessons in the process rather than the actual competition. Sure, it would be great to move on to the state level, but frankly, that's just icing on the cake. And that's coming from a very competitive person.

For those of you unfamiliar with Destination Imagination, it's a worldwide student competition. Teams of up to seven students choose one of several challenges to complete and then they present their solution to a panel of appraisers. The challenges all involve creative problem solving in different areas from Fine Arts to Community Service and Scientific to Technical. It has to be a student led solution. The ideas, work and effort needs to be all from the students. I'm there to assist and coach through the process. It's a fantastic program. For some reason, it feels like I have less control over the outcome than I do when I've coached athletics. I'm not sure that's true, though. I do know they're not prepared. I know that may resolve quickly in the next four or five days though. I know they're closer than it seems. But, I feel like I'm failing. And that's not the case. Intellectually, I understand that's not true...but why am I feeling far more responsibility and stress than the situation calls for? Especially since it's their project. It's really not mine.

I suspect the answer is perfectionism.

Coping With Busy Seasons

So, where does that leave me? Right now, I have to ride out the next week and a half. By the time you read this, I'll have a week left. While the crazy is going on, I'm reducing my expectations. This episode may not be edited. The art may be different. My house is a wreck. There's debris from failed attempts at building a Russian decoder hat scattered everywhere and let me tell you something. If the fabric cutting woman says, "Be aware, this sheds a lot," pay attention. There may or may not be fake fur bits in every nook and cranny of my kitchen and dining room. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in the salt shaker. I'm pretty sure I just found some in my tea. And, it's going to stay that way. Even though my team and their parents are going to see the disaster. It's going to have to be ok. Time with the kids is more important. But, while I know that's the right decision to make, it still bothers me. It bothers me more  to be living in the mess than the fact that others will see it. But, if it's extraneous this week. It's just not getting done.

What other coping mechanisms am I using? I'm making a point to not miss my workouts. I've been out for a few months with a back injury and this is my first full week back without pain. It would be really easy to put off starting back up until after these two weeks are through. But, workouts help me get through the tough stuff. The endorphins, the emotional benefits and the control over progress...I need that to counterbalance the crazy and help me handle the stress level. I would say I'm eating well too, but that would be a lie. I should be eating well. Even my bad habits aren't all that bad with food, but I really shouldn't be using chocolate as a coping mechanism. And I totally am. Hence the even more critical nature of the workouts. I'm also getting to bed as early as I can and sleeping as well as I can. Last night I was up for three hours in the middle of the night though, brain running on overdrive. Thankfuly, that's been the exception rather than the rule.

I'm also giving myself an escape hatch. I know that one of the ways I deal with too much stress is to obsess over small things that really don't matter. I needed an out one evening and spent several hours when I could have been working or cleaning or sleeping shopping for tents online. It's something I need to do in the next month. I didn't need to do it right that minute. But, it was a pressure valve release and I needed it, so I gave myself permission to shop. Giving myself permission to buy is a whole 'nother episode.

There are a few other things I do also, like specific time with my son, prayer, meditation...things that help me deal with life, or are of critical importance in life get made time for. All the rest gets put off.

But, what happens when the two weeks are over? Well, I'm a bit worried about how I'm going to handle all the things I'm putting off; but I'll just deal with that when the time comes. What I'm really concerned about is how to keep from getting in this fix again. Maybe it's somewhat inevitable. Usually the end of the school year is like this for me because there's so many extra things that happen. Plus, this is the time of year I'm least able to handle it because it's allergy season. But, ideally, I need enough margin in life that when the extras come along there's room for them without tipping me into insanity levels of busy-ness.

I have one of my quarterly weekend personal reviews coming up at the end of the month (I talked about those in episode 13) and I think I need to add this to the agenda. I need to review my schedule and see what can be cut away. I need to make some decisions on what saying "yes" requires to get into my world. Even this week in the midst of the crazy...I know I would say yes to DI's that good for the kids and worth the pain of these two weeks...but, I can't do that with too many things. What kinds of things will make the cut? How do I decide? I need to figure that out.

How can this mess of mine be helpful for you? Well, if you struggle with the busy monster - and there's more people that do in our culture than don't. If you do, know that you're not alone. It can be a really tough one to tame. Borrow some coping mechanisms from me. If you're in an acute season like I am right now, cut loose non-critical expectations - performance expectations, time expectations, relationship expectations. Give yourself as much room as possible. Give yourself as much physical margin as you can also. Eat well, exercise (and if that's not a habit of yours, even walking will help), get good sleep, know and recognize your stress reactions before you explode and allow yourself healthy ways to release the pressure.

If you're in a season that's a longer term at a too-busy level and you don't want to live that way. Take some time apart from everyday. Schedule it in now and make some decisions about how you can reduce the load?

Episode Artwork

The art this week is about making time to play. It's about expansiveness and the sea. It's a reminder to me about where I want to be. It's about taking time to experiment with new things and being ok when they aren't perfect.

I know that my perfectionism is hurting me this week. Not only am I trying to deal with it on my own. But, I'm trying to hide it from the kids. They don't need this burden. It's not healthy. I'm all about high achievement and working hard. But, this goes beyond that. We'll talk more about that in the weeks to come.

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk worksheet and iPhone Lock Screen