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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The What If Experience




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Now displaying: June, 2017
Jun 25, 2017

My son has always loved Legos. Which is great, because they're a mom-approved toy in our household. Heartily endorsed. I loved Legos as a kid and I love them as a mom. His dad and I are divorced and while the reason has nothing to do with Legos, this shows a difference between our approaches to life.

At my house, Legos are stored in big bins and are to play with. Once something's built, which generally takes about 10-20 minutes, my son will take it apart and store all the pieces together with all his other pieces. We do have all the instructions in case he ever wants to put a set together again the way it was sold. But, I'm not sure that's ever happened. Instead, he and his friends make up whatever fantastical creation they want to and then all the parts go back into the bin when they're done.

At his dad's house, however, Legos are to put together and display. You follow the directions, assemble the unit and then it stays together on a shelf to admire. A good skill to have, the direction-following, just not where I see the most value in the toy bricks.

However, it is how I came to be driving from Indiana to Tennessee yesterday with my car packed to the gills with plastic tubs of assembled Lego structures. His dad wants them to live at my house now and made me promise that they stay assembled. I'm not sure actually I promised that, but there they are all loaded into my car and taking up a surprising amount of room. Like, every single inch of my Forester.

At some point in the drive Cody was messing with one of the builds, probably repairing something that had come apart when we loaded the car. And he remarked at how many he has. And he's right, there were a lot. But what was interesting was the conversation that ensued.

"Mom, I have an awful lot of Legos don't I?"
"Yes, you sure do."
"I kind of feel spoiled looking at them all." Long pause. "Mom, am I spoiled?"

Actually, yes. You certainly are. We all are. We live in a place in which we're far more privileged than most of the rest of the world. While there are issues with poverty here, and while we're certainly not a wealthy family, you and I, when compared with most of the rest of the world, live in extreme comfort. You have more toys, more food, more privacy, more opportunities, more space and more comfort than others. You don't really hurt for anything. If you want something, you can either work for it, or I can buy it. Not that you have everything you want, but you have so much more than most.

In some respect, that's a disadvantage to you. You don't have to try as hard. You don't have to be as creative, as resourceful and as scrappy. However, that being said, spoiled is also an attitude. You can choose to act spoiled or not to. There are ways to have things and not be spoiled.

This conversation about stuff, while short, was really important.

I told you last week I was releasing my hold on my stuff. I'm in the midst of a radical closet purge. Trying to get rid of enough things that I can eliminate nine lineal feet of dresser space and still fit everything easily in a 6' reach-in closet. I'm well on the way there. Ever since that I release moment, it's been pretty easy to get rid of things. There have been a few instances in my life where I felt an internal switch flip. This was one of those moments. I'm done being a slave to stuff. I want to look in my closet, my room and my home and feel expansiveness, space, clarity, adventure, ease and freedom. I want to know that what I have is used, valued and useful, but held loosely.

I've also been doing Whole30 this month. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's essentially a real food short term elimination diet. That means I've cut out all sugar, grains, beans, processed food, alcohol and dairy for the month. When I talk to someone who's never heard of it, I can see them calculating and their eyes getting big as they think about what they ate in the last few days and the implications set in.

Basically, I eat meat, eggs, vegetables and some fruit and seeds and nuts and healthy fats like coconut, avocado and olives. All real food. For 30 days. Most people look at me like I'm crazy. No soda? No desserts? No cheese? No...whatever their food vice of choice is? Nope. How can you do that? I could never do that! Well, sure you could. First of all, it's only 30 days. Second, unless I'm in the midst of a cookie or chip or ice cream craving (which does happen occasionally), I don't see it as deprivation.

But, when I tell someone that, I get more incredulous looks. How can you possibly not see it as deprivation? I'll give you an example. I went camping this month. It was a retreat getaway with a friend and I wanted her to feel spoiled and pampered. She's in that toddlers-at-home and work-full-time phase of life and just needed a break from her world for a few days. So, I planned and cooked. When I sent her the menu, her response was, "Wow, we're going to eat like queens!" We had chicken fajita bowls, grilled sweet potato wedges tossed with salt and lime zest, grilled peaches, an egg scramble with chorizo, peppers, onions and potatoes, pulled pork lettuce wraps with avocado aoili, steak and herb roasted potatoes and cinnamon cooked apples and pears. This is good food, friends. This isn't deprivation. I don't feel deprived. I feel protected from all the chemicals and fake stuff I've eaten for years and years. And I feel better than I ever have before.

I've told you three stories today. My son's Lego question about being spoiled, my closet purge and how I've eaten this month. I'm struck by how we tend to fight against limitation.

Don't put limits on me.

Don't tell me what I can and can't do.

And voluntarily live within limits? Unthinkable.

I want you to understand that the constraints on your life aren't the problem. They aren't spoiling your life. They aren't limiting your freedom, happiness and contentment. Only you can do that. Only you can limit your happiness and contentment. Constraints actually allow us to prosper. Guard rails are there not to limit your freedom, but to protect your course. Within constraints, creativity flourishes.

It's not about how many Legos my son owns or doesn't own. It's the conversations about how he relates to the things he owns that's crucial. It's not about how much I purge from my closet or my home. It's about the things that stay and my attitude towards them. Do I clench them tightly or are they held loosely? Do I control them or do they control me? It's not about what I can't eat. It's about what I choose to put in my body and why.

It's not about the limitations in your life. It's about your life within whatever limitations are present. Quit spending your energy fighting the limitations. Whether they're emotional, relational, financial, career or something else. In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge and with a nod of great respect to all US Marines. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Look at what you do have. What is possible. Find options. Create freely and wildly. Live gloriously within whatever limitations you have chosen or been given. Life can be had there. But, you need to choose to live it.

[Tweet "It's not about the limitations in your life. It's about your life within whatever limitations are present."]

Episode Artwork

This week's piece is called Sea Glass. I set some limitations on how I went about it. I keep my painted paper for collage in a 10 drawer rolling cabinet. I had my son choose a number corresponding to a paper drawer. I could only use pieces from that drawer and only straight lines. He happened to choose one of the drawers with the least amount of variety which made it harder. What's interesting is that last week, I had no limitations. Anything goes. No initial plan. No rules. Intuition only. This week, with the limitations I set, I struggled less and enjoyed the process more. Whether it's a better piece is a whole different discussion.

There are some limitations that are really difficult. I have a friend who will be in cancer treatments for the rest of her life. And she's having to deal with finding a new normal and living within new physical limitations. Not all limitations are as easy as my closet and my food. I understand that. But, whatever yours are. What if you took your eyes off the limitation and focused instead on life?

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 38 Downloads

Jun 18, 2017

We create a vast construct of our lives. A towering city of activities, accomplishments, commitments, relationships, interests, purchases, habits, work and plans. We strive very hard to maintain it all. And to keep building.

Some of it we love. Some of it we need. Some of it we aren't that fond of. Some mistakes we wish we could demolish. Some of it's our idea, but some of it comes from others' expectations. Some of it comes from our own expectations. Some of those expectations change over time. Or, they should, but we're so busy building and maintaining the vast city that we don't take time to review what we really should be building.

What happens if the city grows in a direction you don't really love, because you didn't control the growth?
What happens if the city is stripped away?
What happens if it becomes to big to handle?

When you step back from your life for a does it look with the perspective a little distance gives?
How much of it matters?
How much of it would you change if you could?

I've practiced yoga off and on for years. More off than on, but the last two years I've been more consistent and it makes a huge difference in my mental and physical health. One of the things I enjoy doing periodically is going through Adriene Mishler's 30 day sequences. I've done them each several times and I'm in the middle of one again now. This sequence, is called Yoga Camp. It includes a mantra along with each day's practice. The mantras are generally not that meaningful to me. There's nothing wrong with them, it just doesn't resonate all that much for me. I know they affect others differently. But, the other day, for some reason, one just really hit me hard.

Adriene's mantra was "I release."

I'm not sure if it's the years of restlessness in my work coming to a head. If it's thinking about traveling light like I talked about a few weeks ago. Maybe it's working with refugees in Greece recently. Maybe it's summer and having fewer responsibilities. Maybe it's my age. Maybe it's a whole bunch of those things coming together at one time.

But, "I release" really struck a chord. I sat a on my yoga mat for a good long while and the things I need to release just washed over me.

I'm ready to release my long held expectations of what my life would and should be. And those expectations that have come more recently...what my life will be.

I'm ready to release the "should's" that tend to guide my path.

I'm ready to release my constant need to become...something else.

I'm ready to release my need to be perfect.

I'm ready to release my need to be in constant control. Not of others, but of myself, my actions and my emotions.

I'm ready to release anything I own.

I'm ready to release the need to succeed as a measure of worth.

I'm ready to stop trying so hard and just be.

I'm ready to walk into what's next with a clean slate and space to grow into.

Releasing things...letting things go that no longer serve us...old hurts for example, can be a difficult process. Even if we want to let go, it can be hard. This decision--the "I choose to release" part is only a first step.

Episode Artwork

This week's art started with me thinking like an illustrator. I was thinking about the idea of carrying all these things that we really need to let go. It's like carrying a backpack full of heavy rocks around with us everywhere we go. Or, if you've more than a backpack full, it's like dragging a wagon of them around with you.

But, I just couldn't get started with that piece. Which is a problem, because I'm headed out camping this weekend and I need to get this done a few days earlier than usual!

I'm struggling with art right now. And having been out of the studio for a month makes the situation worse. So, instead of the backpack and rocks piece, I started one that's much different. Much less literal. More intuitive. More difficult. And released it from the need to be good. I decided to just get in and paint while sitting with the ideas from this podcast. It became a Pushme--Pullyou piece about freedom and captivity.

So, here's the question for you today. How would you finish the sentence, "I release...?"

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 37 Downloads

Jun 11, 2017

I find it really easy to talk to you like this. On a public recording. I find it fairly easy to speak publicly to both large and small groups as well. What I don't find easy is striking up a conversation with a stranger one-on-one. I don't like small talk, I prefer conversations that are deep and meaningful And if I don't know someone, small talk, instead of just feeling like a waste of time, can be downright difficult.

Every Sunday, I'm in a role at my church where it's my responsibility to start conversations with strangers. In a room of about 15 to 25 people, I need to speak to as many of them as possible and establish a relationship quickly. It's my job to create a warm, inviting and connected atmosphere.

This is not my strong suit. But, I volunteered for it.

On purpose.

It would have been very simple to find another role to volunteer for that would be easier for me. Like holding babies. Or, smiling at the door. Or, making coffee or driving golf carts. But, instead I chose hostessing in room full of new people each week.

Why would I do that? Because, I know that by doing things that I find uncomfortable, I become a better person. Let's talk a bit about that today.

We hear a lot about the comfort zone, but why are the social media meme-makers constantly prodding us to leave it behind? Your comfort zone is an artificial mental and behavioral space that when you're within it, you feel a sense of comfort and security and outside of which you're uncomfortable. Inside there's little stress and the stress that is familiar, so you know how to deal with it. It's manageable. Our comfort zone is a neutral predictable state. You have behavior and thought pattern comfort zones, behavior and thought patterns that are familiar and comfortable. You have attitudes and knowledge that is familiar and comfortable. You have biases and beliefs that are familiar and comfortable. Outside of those, things can get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly.

There's nothing wrong with familiar and comfortable. Nothing at all. Your brain and your body need it. They process billions of bits of input every day. Familiar and comfortable mean that we can function with ease. We form habits and shortcuts on a neurological level that make it possible to process that amount of data. The problem with the comfort zone is that some of the best things in life are on the other side of uncomfortable. And it's way too easy for us to give up on them, or not consider them at all because it would involve something scary or uncomfortable.

[Tweet "The problem with the comfort zone is that some of the best things in life are on the other side of uncomfortable."]

What if no adults chose to have children because the process of pregnancy and childbirth is somewhat uncomfortable. For someone who was constantly sick to my stomach for nine months, was put on cancer medication to barely contain the nausea, who lost weight for the first half of my pregnancy, spent time in the hospital with dehydration...pregnancy was no glowing picnic. But, the child I held at his birth and the one I laugh with twelve years later makes every bit of that uncomfortable time so very worth it.

That's a somewhat dramatic example, but there are everyday examples too. One of the things I really love about my life right now is working out with a group of women three times a week at a local gym. I'm a solo, outdoors kind of exerciser. It was not in my comfort zone to contact a trainer. Or, open the door and walk in to that gym for the first time. Or, start working out with people I don't know. But, over a year later, I'm stronger, healthier and so very glad I pushed through those uncomfortable moments.

We have the ability to overcome the tendency to stay comfortable. And there are good reasons to put ourselves over that edge. Margie Warrell writes in Forbes, “In an increasingly competitive, cautious and accelerated world, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and into the discomfort of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards,” The biggest rewards in that context are career-oriented. That's great. But, what if you're not aiming for the corner office? What if that just sounds like more stuff to do and you already have that in spades? What if your priorities are elsewhere?

Here are a few personal reasons to spend time being uncomfortable.

You'll have an easier time dealing with unexpected changes. Change is an inescapable part of our world. Things are going to change. Your capacity for dealing with change (which most people find uncertain and uncomfortable) is a critical skill in today's world.

You'll find it easier to push your boundaries in the future. If circumstances bring uncomfortable to your doorstep, and almost everyone I know is forced into unexpected uncomfortable at some point in life, you'll be better able to handle it.

You'll enhance your creativity. One of the wells of creativity is new experiences. New is usually related to uncomfortable.

You'll enhance your mental health and increase your self-confidence. I doubt I need to sell you on mental health and self-confidence, but studies show that both are a result of new and uncomfortable experiences.

You'll become more resilient. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience is only learned when you bump up against difficulty.

You'll find adventure. Abouty 42 percent of Americans can’t remember the last time they attempted adventure, according to a recent survey. Yet, our bucket lists are full of adventurous items. We read books, watch movies, YouTube videos and GoPro commercials about it. We love the idea of adventures, but adventures only actually happen in the realm of the uncomfortable.

Wouldn't you like to be able to cope more easily with change, be mentally and emotionally prepared for the unexpected, enhance your creativity, mental health, self-confidence and resilience and experience adventure?

Then learn to get uncomfortable.

You don't need to go rappelling if you're afraid of heights to get the advantages of getting out of your comfort zone. Take small steps. Learn to recognize when you're feeling uncomfortable and do things anyway. Over time, your mental and behavioral boundaries will expand because when you actually do the things that make you uncomfortable, they move into the realm of comfortable.

At the beginning of the episode I mentioned that I've intentionally put myself in a position each week to flex my "conversation-with-strangers" muscle. It gets easier all the time. It will probably never be my favorite pastime, but I gain a few important things. I gain the confidence that I can do things that aren't natural for me. But, more importantly, I gain the experiences and the relationships that I absolutely would not have otherwise.

I went to Greece last month and a big part of what I was doing there involved speaking one-on-one with people I don't know. In this case, not only didn't I know them, but there was also usually both a language and a culture barrier. The Greeks mostly speak English, so language wasn't much of an issue with the Europeans we interacted with. But, I was often talking to refugees from Syria, Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. While holding conversations like that still isn't really easy for was a lot easier than it would have been before I started with my weekly volunteer stint.

The weekly boundary stretching allowed me to function more easily on a trip that was really meaningful for me.

Episode Artwork

The light area around the perimeter in this week's artwork represents your comfort zone. We've demonized it a bit in the media, but it's not wrong to have one. We all have one and we need it. It's restful and there's good stuff that happens there. Really good stuff. There's music and wisdom. Do you see the owl in the corner? There are also highs and lows in the comfort zone, clear open space and darker more intense hues.

The piece is a bit like looking into a portal though. Looking through the opening, into the uncomfortable, things look a bit more wild. The colors there are brighter, more intense and vary more. They swirl.

Do you want to step in? Or not? How comfortable are you? Do you value what can be gained through that portal? Enough to step out and try?

There's light at the end of that tunnel. It's called Life.

What if you got uncomfortable?

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 36 Downloads

Jun 4, 2017

A few weeks ago, I took a nine day trip to Greece with a group of people from my church. From some early information, I was expecting to be limited to a carry checked luggage. I can deal with that.

I've gotten better and better at packing light. Last time I took a 10 day trip to California, if I hadn't needed to take a significant amount of art supplies, including an easel, I could totally have covered it with a carry on.

I wish I had, since my suitcase was completely destroyed by the airline along the way. Destroyed enough that my hotel kindly mummified it for me in shrink wrap, not realizing I wasn't heading back to the airport when I left, but just moving on to Santa Barbara, where it took me about 45 minutes to get through all the shrink wrap to my paints. Luckily, nothing fell out and was lost on the bag's flight, but it was a brand new suitcase and cost me a fortune to ship it home. That experience left a seriously bad taste in my mouth when thinking about checking bags and I'd decided that I could go pretty much anywhere for any length of time with my carry on and a backpack.

No problem.

Then we got to the final trip meeting and learned that we were only allowed a backpack. No rolling carry on. It wasn't prohibited exactly, but strongly discouraged because of the type of travel we'd be doing, the schedule we had and the places and length of time we'd need to be moving it around. Nine days with a backpack only was significantly more of a challenge for me. Plus, I needed to include space for two books and 23 six inch square art prints I needed to take as gifts.

I tend to be a road trip girl. I take far more trips in my car than by plane. I'll pack up my car and drive just about anywhere. When traveling by car, it's easy to be sloppy about packing. That extra pair of shoes (or three)? Sure, toss them in a separate bag, they'll fit. All the camera lenses? Sure! I've even been known on a few recent trips to forego the suitcase and bags completely and just toss a laundry basket or two in the car. Which actually worked surprisingly well. Packing for an airline trip requires more intentionality, more decisions and more focus. Packing for a few weeks with only a backpack was a bit daunting.

I'm not a hoarder, but I've accumulated a lot of things over the last 50 years and in my 40's I went through occasional purges. The first time I did it was after separation from my husband and I was living in an apartment with a toddler. I decided we really didn't need as much stuff as we had and I went through each room with a goal of eliminating 50% of what was there. It went better for me than for the toddler.

Fifty percent is a significant purge. I exempted my kitchen, my shoes and my books at that time. But, in more recent purges, I've included those as well. And I still have too much stuff. Way too much stuff. This week, I'm eliminating the nine lineal feet of dressers in my bedroom (that were quite full) and fitting all my clothes into my closet. It's an average sized reach-in closet, not a big, walk-in one. My goal is that there will be plenty of room for it all. That the closet will feel spacious, not crammed.

The first time I went through a purge, it was painful. Really difficult. But, the feeling afterwards was freeing. I felt a thousand times lighter. Which is odd really, we don't realize the weight of all of our stuff until it's gone. Minimalism has been a growing trend for the last decade. Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus are known as "the minimalists" and have a website by that name (as well as a podcast, documentary and books to their credit). They define minimalism as, "a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom."

Not only are we in love with stuff in this country, but we eagerly give it control of our lives. It controls how much space we need to live. How much money we need. How much money we spend and how we fill up our time. Those may be somewhat sweeping statements, but aren't far off the mark. How much of your time is spent thinking about acquiring new things, actually acquiring them, working toward getting them, maintaining them or cleaning them?

[Tweet "Not only are we in love with stuff in this country, but we eagerly give it control of our lives."]

Consider for a few moments if you traveled lighter. What if you didn't have all the stuff you surround yourself with? What if next time you went on a trip, you only took half the items you normally take? What if you worked to rid yourself of the emotional baggage you've been carrying around with you for years. What if you eliminated 1/3 of your commitments? What if you got rid of toxic relationships? Bad attitudes?

What could traveling lighter do for your health and happiness? Your freedom and purpose? Your schedule and contentment? How would it impact your quality of life?

I used a sneaky trick with my backpack this trip. I used compression bags to gain space and help keep me orgnaized. And I managed to pack fairly well. I was comfortable on the 90 degree days and on the cold, windy, rainy days. I only had a few things I didn't need. I had all my stuff under the seats in front of me on planes and on my back on the uneven cobbled streets of Athens. I had no problem schlepping my stuff around for long periods in airports, subways and streets.

But, I could have packed much lighter. I could have packed half of what I took and been just fine. Next time I'll do it differently.

When we travel or live with less, we realize how much of what we have is unnecessary and unimportant. When faced with real need, we realize how off base our excess is. When we find purpose and meaning outside of our things, we find a certain kind of freedom.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is a picture of a carved stone bust in the Archaeological Museum of the Athenian Agora. The Agora today is a park-like area full of ancient ruins in the midst of a modern city. describes it as, "the heart of ancient Athens. It was the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center and the seat of justice." it was a vibrant place and is located near the acropolis and Mars Hill. There's a small museum housed there which contains artifacts unearthed in the Agora, including pottery and everyday objects, as well as dozens of statues and busts like this one.

The carved stone statues we think of today (if Greek or Roman sculpture ever crosses your mind? didn't always look like this. At least not all of them. Many were painted brilliant colors or portions of them were painted. At the Acropolis museum, you can see pigments like the ones that would have been used to cover the sculptures and walls and examples of how they would have been decorated.

What we see today is monochromatic; variations on one color only. And yet, has the art lost something over time as it's lost its color? The stone has to speak for itself without relying on painted embellishment to tell its story. I tend to believe that it's more powerful with no color getting in the way of me experiencing the human nature, the emotion, or the message the sculptor was intent on conveying.

Similarly, much of what we surround ourselves with...whether acquiring by habit or intent. Whether holding tightly due to fear or comfort level...much of what we surround ourselves with is unnecessary and keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest.

What if you traveled lighter?

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 35 Downloads