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.
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Now displaying: April, 2017
Apr 30, 2017

There are two seasons in Middle Tennessee. There's sports season, which means college football and Predator Hockey. And there's "sweating season." Occasionally, the two overlap, when the Preds are in the playoffs (like they are right now) and at the start of football season. Sweating season is full on when the moment you step out the door, you're drenched in sweat.

I wish it was glistening season, but it's really not. It's sweat. You just get used to it, but it means that most of the time the air is so thick that you feel more like you're swimming instead of walking. And it also means that the local businesses set the air conditioning around 40 degrees so that you think the Preds might still be playing.

We're all familiar with seasons. Aside from the weather and sports seasons, there are seasons of life, television show seasons, and the Holiday season. A season is a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature. Your life is going to go through many seasons. A new season for you could be external like a new job, a new place to live, an injury or a child's growth milestone. When they learn to walk...or talk...or drive...these are new seasons. But a season can be internal as well. A new mindset, mental health conditions, grief. A season could be relational, a death or divorce, a new relationship, a friend moving away or taking care of an aging parent.

I know I've mentioned this before, but the time between Spring Break and the end of the school year is a crazy busy season for me and with my involvement in Destination Imagination, that seems to have extended the crazy season. It now runs from February through May. While I've been slammed, other than getting the flu, I've not been completely depleted. I have just about three weeks left to go in this busy season.

When I've mentioned this season before, I've talked about some of my coping mechanisms for busy times. They've worked for the most part, as I'm not feeling quite at the end of my rope. Some of those things I've done do to help me get through is to not take on new work projects. I actually put all new work initiatives on hold until mid-May. I avoid making commitments in March and April as much as possible. This year, I've backed off of social media. While I'm feeling some guilt around that - related to those ugly "shoulds" I toss around in my head, it's been so helpful. Sure, I'm not gaining podcast listeners or Instagram followers as fast. But, I'm staying sane. That's a big plus.

Here are a few other things I've been reminded about while I'm in the middle of this season.

What I Know About Seasons

Whatever season you're in, do what that season requires. Farmers do different work in different seasons. I'm not looking at new work projects, growth initiatives or home improvement projects that have a deadline in these months. We're re-vamping the garden into a vegetable-zen garden, but that's a whole different story and other than getting plants in the ground this weekend, it doesn't really have a deadline. Whatever season you're in, there will be appropriate work to do.

Some seasons that work is simply to rest. I spent much of the last 6 months in recovery of some sort physically. I've had a series of weird accidents and the flu and I'm just now getting back to normal strength and activity levels. But while my shoulder and then my back and then my hip was healing, it was my job to rest and recover. If you're in a season that requires rest, do that. There will be time for work later.

I know from experience that the week after school's out, I'm often worthless. Typically, I'm exhausted from months of crazy, my son leaves for nine weeks which is depressing and I need to recharge. I'm not sure what early summer will bring this year, but I'm aware that I may need to crash that week. I usually feel like I need to take advantage of the summer freedom and get immediately to work on projects I've been putting off...but I need to be ok with a week of recovery. There are different things required in different seasons. Whatever season you're in right now, do the work that season requires.

Learn from the season you're in. What you're experiencing right now, whether good or bad, difficult or easy; it has valuable lessons to teach you. I'm learning about parenting a pre-teen. I've been reminded how much exercise and good food allow me to feel good and be at my best. I'm learning that I need to not make major decisions in seasons like this one, when I'm tired and stressed. I'm learning to give myself grace for not being perfect. I'm learning to live in the now. And I'm learning to measure my success by my soul life and not by my production level. What lessons does this season have for you?

Your season may be different than your neighbors, co-workers, family members, business associates and friends. Even if you have kids the same age, are running the same type of business or starting a healthy living initiative at the same time...your season is yours and while the circumstances may look similar to someone else's, it may be substantially different on the inside. What this means is that you need to carefully evaluate the things you or others say or assume that you should be doing. Make sure they line up with your values, your priorities and your goals before you adopt them as your own. In short, let everyone else do their things. You do you.

Episode Artwork

And lastly as shown in the artwork, seasons change. Do the work that each season requires, learn from the season you're in and you do you in the midst of your experiences. But, know that seasons come and go. Let that offer hope if you're in a difficult season. Let it give you a deep appreciation if you're in a season of joy and let it remind you to prepare for the next season.

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Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 30 Downloads

Apr 23, 2017

** Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 29 Downloads


There is tremendous good in thinking about the past, so don't misunderstand what I'm about to say. We look back to learn...learning wouldn't even be possible without building on previous experience and knowledge of what we just did or what others have done. We look back to remember, to honor and to acknowledge where we come from. We can't ignore the past.

The problem comes when we look back in a way that keeps us from the present and from moving forward. There are a few broad categories that can cause past-paralysis.

First, you may be unable to get past a previous hurt. A betrayal. Grief. Loss. Mistakes. Trauma. The list of things that can cause lasting mental and emotional damage is overwhelming. I get it. A lot of bad stuff can happen and it can be really really hard to let go of those things. It takes a lot of courage to deal with them.

Or, you may be more interested in reliving a past success than dealing with the present or future. Maybe you had an awesome senior season on your high school football team. Maybe you were the height of popularity as a college coed. Maybe you had a thrilling and successful career. Maybe you were blissful when your children were young. But, maybe life didn't turn out as planned and you don't think anything else can live up to those past experiences. Or, your disillusionment with the present or fear of the future is making it much easier to spend all your emotional energy reliving those past experiences.

But maybe you neither have trauma you can't get over or you've not living in past glory-days. Think this topic doesn't apply to you? This is where I landed the last few days. I don't really fall into either of the categories I mentioned. Not that there hasn't been trauma in my life, but I don't think I'm mired down there. And I firmly believe that the best is yet to come.

But, as I've been thinking about it, there's a third category. And it's a big one. Our past shapes us. And it often forms habits, beliefs, patterns and stories that we carry with us for years, if not our whole lives.

My son once came through a doorway muttering at himself, saying, "I'm so irresponsible." I was stunned. "What!" I said, "You're one of the most responsible kids I know! Why would you say that?!" This was before puberty killed those responsible brain cells. He looked at me with surprise. This was inner monologue making it's way public. I don't think he realized anyone would hear him. His face lit up. "Really?" he said. I assured him that yes, he's not irresponsible. He acted for a moment like a weight had been lifted.

Why did he think that? Something his father said had sunk into his consciousness and became a belief, a story about who he is. Careless words are so easy to say and can have such a big impact. Luckily, I caught this story before it was too ingrained and was able to expose it as false. How many more untrue, negative and damaging stories will I miss?

How many untrue, negative and damaging stories have settled into your soul and live there today?

I realized a year or so ago that I was holding some beliefs that were no longer true. Here's one. Whenever I thought about my fitness, my health, my looks, my weight and my body, I held myself up against a physical standard that was ridiculous. I believed that I should ideally look and be as fit as I was as a competitive swimmer in high school. It seems ridiculous to say it out loud. To think that my 50 year old self should look or feel or be able to do what I did at 16.

But, that's what I was using as a comparison. As a goal. I can do quite a bit. And I'm more flexible and perhaps even stronger in some ways than I was at 16. But, friends. I will never have that 16 year old body again. I've had a baby since then. I've walked, paddled, run, cycled, climbed and hiked. I've been through injuries and illness. Several different jobs and a failed marriage. Of course my body doesn't look like it did at 16; I've been through 35 years of living since then! What I look like now reflects my journey. But, that story lived on in my head and heart as a standard. Until I realized that's what I was doing and that this was an outdated relic of the past I needed to leave behind.

You might have behaviors, relationship patterns, fears, assumptions, beliefs or habits that formed in your past and are not serving you well now. They may never have served you well. They may be unhealthy. They may be untrue. They may be useless. They may be damaging. I'm willing to bet that we all allow our past too much control over our present in some of these ways.

Where does that leave us? What can we do about it?

First, I'm not a therapist and I didn't even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so if you're dealing with serious hurt and trauma, I strongly urge you find someone qualified to help you work through it. But, for those of you with non-professional needs, here are a few things to consider.

First, we live in the present. We only live in the present. Your memories of the past are thoughts happening in the present. The emotions the past brings're experiencing them now. They are still potent, but, it does point to one of the ways you can deal with them. Realize that their power is derived only from how much importance you give them; from your choosing to experience them in the present.

You can change your choice. You can shift your attention to something else. You get to choose what holds your attention, what you focus on at any given time. When you shift your attention, shift your feelings too. What feelings, sensations, thoughts, emotions does this new focus create right now?

What you feed grows and what you starve dies. Feed what you want more of. Choose to starve what you want less of. Give less and less attention, affirmation, time and energy to the stories or trauma that hold you from the past. Deepak Chopra has said, “I use memories, but I will not allow memories to use me."

Also, make a decision. What's more important to you, now or then? Can you let the trauma, story, belief or holdover from the past go? What happens if you release it? Not that you will forget (probably not possible), but are you really interested in being free of its effect on you?

What happens if you take responsibility for your thoughts, your feelings and the way you experience the present moment? Because you can, you know. You're the hero or heroine of your own story, while at the same time, you're the author. No matter what your circumstances are or have been, you are the one writing the story. You can change the storyline at any time. You can start over now. And now. And again, now if you need to.

Episode Artwork

It's Spring at the moment, but the art this week is about Autumn. Trees are experts at letting go of things that are likely to damage them. Leaves of deciduous trees are relatively tender and susceptible to damage from cold winter weather. If leaves stayed on a tree permanently and they were damaged by winter (as they are likely to be), they would be unable to make food for the tree the following Spring and over time, as more leaves are damaged, this would starve and kill the tree. It's much safer to start over each Spring with a fresh kitchen crew, or set of new leaves ready to feed the tree in the warmer months.

As winter draws closer, the days get shorter, and the leaves slow the production of food for the tree. Have you ever wondered why leaves fall? It's not that in the Autumn the leaves are weaker and the wind stronger and eventually, the tree is bare. The tree actually produces a layer of cells to give the leaf a shove off. Abscission cells begin to form a line between the tree branch and the leaf stem that little by little separate the two. A breeze might finish the job, but the tree is protecting its health by actively letting go of that which has been feeding it.

You have to power to do so as well. And while winter may be more difficult for a season, you will have the potential to emerge healthy and ready to grow when Spring comes.

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 29 Downloads

Apr 16, 2017

I realized this week that my son has hit puberty.

Seems like there should be mile markers or warning signs, but no. Yesterday he was this cute, cuddly little boy and today he's a somewhat surly, overly dramatic, emotionally volatile pre-teen. There probably were warning signs, like his feet being two sizes larger than mine, but I totally ignored them. And he's probably not all that surly in the grand scheme of things, but he's definitely hit the transition.

We were walking at the park before school the other day, about 24 hours after this realization had finally sunk in and I asked him a question. I said, "In 3 - 5 years you'll be a teenager. You'll be part way through high school. Driving. And starting to think about college. Who do you want to be then?"

Of course, he gave me a fairly blank look and I said I to think about it and we'd talk about it later. We've been dealing with a restricted diet for him in the last week or so because his doctor and I think that he has some food sensitivity issues that are making him sick. A few weeks ago on the podcast I mentioned needing a compelling reason to help you do things you don't want to do (Episode 26). He's not at all keen on the food restrictions and I wanted him to think about a compelling why he needs to watch his food carefully as it relates to who he wants to be.

But, the question has stuck with me all week. In 3-5 years, who do you want to be? I didn't ask what goals you want to accomplish. Or, what skills you want to learn. Or, what things you want to own, lifestyle you want to have, or what experiences you want to accumulate. But instead, who do you want to be?

I have a magnet on my fridge that has a quote from Annie Dillard on it. It says, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."

If you spend your days working too much, days turn into months and months turn into years and before you know it, you've spent your life working too much.

If you spend your days worrying and anxious, days turn into months and months turn into years and before you know it, you've spent your life worrying and anxious.

If you spend your days racing from one thing to another at breakneck speed, days turn into months and months turn into years and before you know it, you've spent your life racing from one thing to another at breakneck speed.

The same holds true for things of value. If you spend your days seeking out ways to be kind, days turn into months and months turn into years and before you know it, you've spent your life spreading kindness.

These two things are intimately related. Who do you want to be in 3-5 years? Because if that person is different from who you are right now, unless you begin living your days as the person you want to be, your days will turn into months and years and you'll spend your life being exactly the same person you are right now.

We tend to think that big things can't be accomplished in small bits. But, as the saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. What you do on an everyday basis is what will determine who you are years from now. Hillary Rubin says it like this, "whatever you decide to do or not do today will impact your future, there’s no way around it."

The good news is that if you're used to thinking of chasing goals in big efforts, you can relax. Shawn Smith says,

Luckily, I don’t need to make jarring habit changes in order to become the person I want to be. Most likely, neither do you. The only task at any given moment is to make small approximations toward our future selves. Those continual, small choices require little effort, and with practice they become second nature. Over time, they change us fundamentally."

A few weeks ago I started a meditation practice (I'll share more about that with you later) which has really reminded me at a deep level that the only moment we get to live in, is this one. The past is over and done with, the future doesn't exist yet. We live in the right now. But, too often we miss it because we're overly focused on the past or the future.

What you do right now. Today. Determines who you are, who you will be and what your life will be marked by. Take baby steps today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Keep taking incremental steps each day and you will make faster progress than you think possible toward who you want to be.

Episode Artwork

That's what I was thinking about while doing the art this week, about living in the now. Our past and future are there, but they're the grayed out background to our life. They're fuzzy possibility and fading memories. They certainly have been and will be a part of us, but what we have available to experience is the clear bright colors of now. There may be darkness in that experience, the now is not always rosy and happy, but that pain will also be diluted by time. The now has clarity and sharp edges. It has vividness and complexity. You can miss it completely if you choose to sleepwalk through life, spend too much mental and emotional effort in the past or future, or numb yourself in any number of ways.

What if you take advantage of now? Who do you want to be in 3-5 years? How you choose to live now, today, will determine that you.

Choose wisely.

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 28 Downloads

Apr 9, 2017

My son, Cody, and I went on our very first official Boy Scout camping trip last weekend. After waffling for a few months, he decided early this year that he wants to become an Eagle Scout, so it's onward from Cub Scouts for us. This is a whole new ballgame and I think it's going to be really good for him. I got to make a big deal of getting him his first very own solo tent (a rite of passage in our family) and the boys planned, cooked and cleaned up all their meals, fished, hiked, learned how to swing an ax and generally had a great time. And for me, it was really, really good to get 48 hours outdoors, even with the chaos of 20 some boys around.

While I loved getting the outdoors time and it was fun to hike, cook with the adults and watch my son wield a very sharp implement over his head, I think what really strikes me most about the weekend is the extraordinary effort of volunteer leadership. I watched two men pour time, energy, effort, care and patience into my son and the other boys all weekend. Their own sons were there, but they were generally taking time away from their families to instill skills, values and offer experiences to my son that he probably would not have otherwise.

In the group of 8 boys that just came into the troop, there are a few challenging kids and while the scoutmasters require explicit standards of behavior, attention and safety, they were also remarkably patient, kind and encouraging to the new boys. Days later, I'm still awed by their care and effort on behalf of my son and the others. They meet with the scouts three Mondays a month and with an oversight committee on the fourth Monday. They camp one weekend a month as a troop, do a week of summer camp with the kids and have other events and trips throughout the year. That's a lot of time invested.

And I believe that it's one of the most important things you can do with your time.

I talked a lot about my Destination Imagination coaching experience over the last month or so. I've poured a ton of time into those seven kids since last Christmas, and it's one of the most valuable things I've done this year. Certainly not the easiest or least frustrating, but definitely one of the most valuable.

When I think back over the first quarter of this year and how I've spent my time (see that? That's part of the personal review I said I'd do! Look at me actually doing my goals! Yay me!), the most valuable hours have been spent contributing to the lives of other people. My family, the DI team, volunteering at my church and my local food bank. A lot of other things have been fun and worthwhile, but the time spent investing in other people, that's the time that really means something. Those are the moments that make a lasting difference, because people are an eternal investment.

[Tweet "People are an eternal investment."]

How much do you invest in people? In your family? Family is a tricky one because our families automatically take up a lot of our time. But are you really present? Are you intentional? Do you invest time in friends? Strangers? Community members? Neighbors? Children? There are countless options to be investing in others...Boy Scouts and DI teams are two of thousands of ways. And It doesn't need to be that emotionally or time intensive either. What does it look like for you? When we talk about people, there are no investments too small. There's an anonymous quote that says, "Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts."

I remember being a young stepmom in the 1990's. My husband's 7 year old and 12 year old boys moved in with us on my 25th birthday. These were not easy kids. There were a lot of tough situations. I remember saying often that I skipped the easy stuff like diapers and sleepless nights and went straight to puberty and sleepless nights!

There was one Mother's Day that was particularly difficult. No one in the family wished me Happy Mother's Day. Despite wishing their Grandmother and their mom a good holiday in front of me, I got not a bit of recognition all day long. That was hurtful, but I was also really grieved that they weren't experiencing and expressing gratitude. They lived with me. I was their functional mom for most of the time. As the day went on, I got more upset. At some point in the late afternoon I sat down and really thought about why I was angry.

When I processed it, I realized that my motivations were way off. It really didn't matter if they recognized my efforts. I didn't need the recognition. I was pouring into them because it was the right thing to do, because I cared for them and because it was a service I was meant to perform. I wasn't doing it for a pat on the back. Yes, they absolutely should have said thank you. But, my attitude was and is completely independent of their response. That realization was a big deal for me, it shifted my serving them from being a trade to being a gift.

[Tweet "Serving others is a gift, not a trade."]

Erin Davis, from the Lies Young Women Believe blog says service is finding practical ways to show other people they matter. It’s like saying, “Hey! You’re important, and I want to prove it to you.” But, she also says this:

That’s something that sounds great in theory, but isn’t always so appealing in real time. True service requires sacrifice. We must sacrifice our abilities for the good of others, not just ourselves. We must sacrifice our talents to invest in others, not just to make ourselves look good. We must sacrifice our time, something that is always in short supply. And here’s the kicker: to truly serve...we must do it with zero promise of a personal pay off. There’s no guarantee that the people we serve will return the favor or even notice our efforts. We are called to serve others anyway.

Episode Artwork

The cover art this week is about intersecting relationships, about taking our patchwork hearts and interacting with others in associations of all kinds. Some connections are glancing and some deep, but no matter how deep the connections go, serving others and being in relationship changes us as much as it affects those we give to.

Henry Drummond said, "I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

What if you invest in people? How would your life be different? In an article about volunteering on Huffington Post, Kathy Gottberg says, "it is practically impossible to create a happy, meaningful and rewarding life without being of service to others in some way."

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone lock screen

Apr 2, 2017

This is my 26th episode! If I'm doing my math right (and please don't burst my bubble if I'm not!), I've been podcasting for 6 months now. Half a year! That's pretty amazing, for a few different reasons.

One of those reasons is that I'm not good at doing anything very consistently over long periods of time. I'm really good at starting things. I love to dig in and learn new things and figure stuff out. I'm very project oriented. I even like finishing things, actually.

But, I don't like to maintain things. For example, I love to plan a garden, figure out all the kinds of flowers and vegetables I want and where to put them. Create the space. Shop for plants and muck around in the dirt planting them.

But. Then. Then comes the weeding and the maintenance. This is when it becomes real work for me to keep going. I'm a much better garden planner and creator than an actual gardener.

A little over a year ago, I learned that this tendency of mine wasn't just a massive flaw, as I had always thought. I learned that there are a whole group of people in the world wired to be this way. Wired to want to learn in a a variety of vastly different disciplines and curious about a whole host of things. It goes by a variety of terms like polymath, scanner, multipotentialite. And there are different types within these, but I fall solidly in that camp. A friend once called me a skill collector. She said that she was always amazed to find out I knew about or could do one more thing that was very different than anything she knew about me before. And she's right. It's a good description.

But, it means that doing things like this podcast...a long term, open-ended commitment with a consistent publishing not a strong suit for me. That was my biggest concern when I began this podcast. That I'd get it figured out, do it for awhile and then become bored pretty easily and want to move on. But, it's been easier to maintain than I expected and I thought I'd share why.

Three Tips for Turning Difficult Things Into Success

First, I chose a topic that would cover a wide variety of interests related to what I'm learning and going through on a weekly basis, which changes all the time. This means that while I still have to maintain a consistent schedule, I don't have to talk to you about marketing every week forever and ever amen. Being able to talk about a variety of different things helps me maintain interest. If you're faced with a task, project or responsibility that has elements of things that you aren't good at, look for ways to bring things you ARE good at into the task. Look for ways you can bring your strengths to the project to make it a better fit.

One of the reasons I linked the podcast to my art was to give myself a deadline for being in the studio each week. For producing at least one piece a week. Some weeks I may do more, but this holds me accountable for at least one which will accumulate to 52 in the course of a year. That goal is important to me. It adds a ton of work to the podcast process. but the studio time is important in and of itself. The podcast functions as incentive. So, your next takeaway is to link difficult tasks to something you find valuable; to something you really, really want to accomplish.

Is your goal losing weight? And your Achilles heel is sugar (like mine)? What reason to lose weight is so important to you that it will help you choose to not pick up the Girl Scout Cookies. Well. there may be nothing quite that emotionally powerful, but you get my point. Find a "why" that's meaningful enough to drive your everyday actions.

The other thing that I've done is to make the podcast part of my weekly routines. On a good week, I've written most of it on Monday and Tuesday and done the art on Tuesday and Wednesday. I record and edit Wednesday night. Thursday and Friday are for all the follow up work to get the show delivered to you. I have Saturday off and Sunday I'm starting to do some of the pre-thinking that happens before the research and/or writing.

I do have to admit, there have been entirely too many weeks in the last few months that I've been writing on Friday night and working through the weekend, but the norm has been to absorb it into my weekday schedule. For example, I generally record Wednesday night in the car while my son is in an art class. Because that time is set aside and consistent already, it gives me a concrete goal and helps drive the schedule. It also keeps me from shopping during that time period, which is a bonus win for my budget.

So, if you have a project, task or responsibility that you're struggling with, that has elements that are difficult for you, that requires you to function in an area of weakness, I've given you three ways to help turn it into a success.

  • Look for ways to bring your strengths into the task.
  • Find a really strong why that motivates you.
  • Work the project into your routines and habits. Link it to things you already do so that it becomes part of your lifestyle.

Episode Artwork

In the art this week, I'm celebrating Spring flowers. Our world in the South is full of blooming cherry blossoms, redbuds, dogwoods and tulips this week. It's so pretty! So, I was thinking about the three things I mentioned above and how I could apply them to gardening...because I do actually want a garden this summer.

How can I bring my strengths into the process of maintaining the garden? Weeding is my downfall. But, I'm a great researcher. I need to figure out the best way to keep weeds down with a minimal of ongoing effort on my part. This is probably the hardest item to apply in this instance.

My why is more effective, though. I love having fresh vegetables right outside my door. I need to remember how much I love picking peppers that I can carry in and drop in a pan (to saute with onions and serve with my eggs). I also would love to have fresh flowers to cut, enjoy, photograph and paint.

How can I work the gardening tasks into my routine? This is probably the thing that would create the biggest difference in my gardening success. I walk my dog every morning when we get up. If I stopped for 5 minutes every day and weeded before I came back to the house, I'll bet I could keep up with it. And it's the best time of day here because it's the coolest.

So, that's my plan. If I can find a weekend to do the big work very soon, maybe we'll have peppers and tomatoes this summer!

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone Lock Screen