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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Jul 9, 2017

The weather over this Independence Day in Southern Tennessee was designed to make camping-haters out of anyone who wasn't already in love with camping. I'm already in love with camping. But, my son is on the fence and my nephew is inexperienced.

We got an extra-generous dose of constant swarms of mosquitoes, torrential downpours, flooded campsites and major lightning and thunderstorms. But, it didn't rain the whole time.

Wednesday, it was warm and sunny. Really warm. Really, really warm: 96 with a heat index of 114 warm. And the dew point was about 80. So, breathing was enough to make you sweat profusely. I had them hiking all over the place. I had enough layers of sweat and bug spray on to make me ten pounds heavier.

Did I mention I brought my dog along on his first camping trip, too? I did! My pup who, as a boxer, is susceptible to heat problems and is terrified of thunderstorms.

Yes, this trip had all the ingredients of a miserable time.

Except for one thing.

Everyone chose a good attitude. I'm not saying the kids were perfect, they definitely were over the whole getting in and out of the car and walking around the national park long before I was. And I'm not saying I loved every moment of trying to cook dinner and keep a camp stove going with an umbrella in the pouring rain while a scared boxer tried to climb up my leg.

But, we just dealt with it. We all looked beyond the circumstances and chose our response. What makes me even more proud of them for it, is that I never (not even once) had to tell them to choose a good attitude.

And we had a great time. Air conditioning and a dry change of clothes felt really good by the time we got home, but the trip was a really fun adventure instead of an ordeal. Because we chose to treat it that way. 

Choosing your attitude is something we can do in any circumstance. There are enough memes around to remind us that we're in charge of how we respond to our days. But, I want to take it one step further today. We have the choice in all things to choose to react or respond.

Reacting is automatic. It's driven from emotion, instinct, past experience, and external circumstances. It usually results in drama, and stress. Responding on the other hand means that you choose. You notice the stimulus or the reaction and you choose a (hopefully better) response.

We react out of instinct all day long. We react to drivers who cut us off in traffic. We react to a perceived insult from a coworker. We react to a smell that takes us back to middle school. We react to a phone call that interrupts our train of thought. We react to a social media post of someone with an opposing viewpoint. We react to a bug bite. We react to a food we've tried before and not liked. We spend all day reacting. And a lot of what we react to is automatic. Without thought. Without choice. Because if we took the time to choose our responses, they might differ from our automatic reactions.

Let's say you're driving on the same road I'm wanting to turn on and I cut you off by pulling out in front of you. Not so close that you have to slam on the brakes and it's dangerous, but enough to make you slow down a bit and interrupt your traffic flow. How would you react? What if I told you that my grandmother that raised me just died and I'm headed to the funeral home to talk about arrangements for her burial. What if I told you that I was just leaving the vet after putting my dog down. None of those happen to be true today. But, I don't have the ability to process depth perception like most people. My eyes don't work together to have binocular depth cues. Only monocular ones like things farther away are smaller. I've learned to adapt over the years, and I'm typically extra cautious, but I do make mistakes, especially when I'm tired or distracted. So, it's entirely possible that I might pull out in front of you, causing you to have to slow down slightly when I thought I had plenty of time, but I accidentally misjudged the distance. My point is that there might be reasons for any given stimulus that might change your perspective of the event.

So. how would you react? Swearing? Irritation? Yelling at me? Disgust? Mild or not so mild commentary on my driving skills? So, if you would react in those ways, what do those responses add to your day? Stress? Drama? Angst? What if you choose to assume it was a mistake? Chose to extend the benefit of the doubt? What if you chose to not respond at all? After all, it's not something you can change. How would not responding, simply noticing and choosing to move on change the tenor of your drive?

Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

What if you stop reacting? What if you choose to respond in a compassionate way? In a way that spread kindness instead of anger? In a way that contributed calm instead of drama? In a way that builds up and encourages instead of tears down and discourages? In a way that you choose instead of in a way circumstances, previous experience, fear or assumptions choose for you?

What if you took control over your reactions?

Episode Artwork

This week's piece is about the conflict between reacting and responding. Reacting is the warm colors. The flames of reactions that ignite trouble so easily. The cool blues represent responding and how it has the power to calm situations. For me, it seems, I react about as often as I choose to respond. I want that proportion to change. We'll talk about how to do that next week!

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 40 Downloads

Jul 2, 2017

I hope your Independence Day weekend is filled with the five F's of a great Fourth of July holiday: Family, Friends, Fun, Food and Fireworks. But, More than any of those. I hope it's filled with a soul-deep appreciation of another F.


I hope your appreciation extends deeper than an inspirational Facebook or Instagram post. I hope it's more lasting than a patriotic profile picture. I hope it means more than thankfulness for a shorter work week and a cold beer. I hope it's sweeter than that dessert you shouldn't have another helping of.

Freedom is a multi-layered concept and it doesn't mean what our culture sometimes believes it to mean.

Freedom is not a pound-your-chest, prideful statement. Freedom is a privilege, one that requires character to use wisely.

Freedom is not an excuse for inexcusable behavior. And, It's not the license to do whatever you want. Freedom offers the ability and the responsibility to do the right thing.

Freedom is not the ability to say whatever you choose. Freedom is the ability to choose to speak that which empowers, builds up, creates justice or mercy...whether or not others agree with you.

Freedom is not empowerment. Empowerment can come from from within, from authority or because you hold a position of strength. Freedom is the ability to choose your destiny.

Freedom is not entitlement. It's not the right to have or experience whatever you want. Freedom is the ability to choose to create a life you desire.

Freedom is not a never-ending stream of rights, it's your right to sovereignty over your own life.

Freedom is never free. It's always purchased and paid for, in our case, by someone else. Let that sink in. Another generation paid for your freedom with their sacrifice of family, business, safety, comfort and lives.

Freedom is not a black and white concept, not an absolute. There are degrees of freedom. It's is a relative concept. Our struggle is to find ways to maximize individual freedom while living in a cooperative society under the rule of law.

Freedom is the heartbeat of the refugee and the immigrant.

Freedom is the dream of oppressed peoples everywhere.

You have this dream, so desperately coveted by those who don't have it. They will fight, die, sacrifice their livelihood and their lives to obtain it for themselves and their families.

You live this reality they'd die for. Don't take that lightly.

Obtaining freedom and living in freedom, neither are not for the faint of heart. So, cherish that which you have and treat it as a precious gift, but use it wisely and frequently.

Episode Artwork

In the artwork this week is a figure. You might think that he's embracing freedom, and he is. His arms are outstretched to welcome all that freedom brings. In the United States, we think of freedom so often in terms of the Red, White and Blue. And our nation and therefore our colors do certainly represent it. But if you look more closely, there are lots of other colors in that image. Greens, Yellows, Browns, Purples...we in this country don't have a monopoly on freedom. But what we have is ours to share, both within and outside of our borders.

But, the figure isn't only embracing freedom. He's upholding it. The constitution supports his arms in a firm foundation, but the weight of freedom rests on him. It's his responsibility. Ronald Reagan said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."

What if you truly understood and appreciated the gift of freedom you've been given? What would you do with it?

Have a very happy Independence Day, my friends!

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 39 Downloads

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

May 28, 2017

I might be a bit of an emotional mess. Last summer was different than most. Last summer, my ex-husband was having some surgery and my son unexpectedly spent almost his whole summer with me. Usually, he's with his dad for all but a week or so of his summer break. Our schedule has been fairly grueling since February. We haven't had major disasters, just a lot of intensity for too long. I'm drained. Yesterday I drove 9 hours and dropped my son off for a month with his dad.

Turning my son over to his dad for the summer is usually hard on me because I love having him around. I'm not the parent that can't wait for school to start or Christmas break to be over. I enjoy his company. A lot. This year it's especially hard, because we've had some concern about whether he's going into a safe environment. I'm in physically better shape than ever before, but I'm just over jet lag. I'm tired. And all the sudden I find myself alone, with a schedule undefined by school or activities, without parental responsibilities and no control over his well being.

I crashed.

I'm an introvert and that comes out in strange ways sometimes. I'm in my home state this holiday weekend, where I've lived for most of my life. Last night as I drove away from the drop off and the emotions hit me, I needed the back roads. The quiet countryside of Amish country with its flat fields, tidy lawns and well tended gardens. I took the long way to my overnight stay. I couldn't deal with the speed, activity and congestion of the toll road. I needed scenic, quiet. open space. A pastoral landscape.

And it helped. I'm not even sure I can name the emotions that this situation triggers annually. There's some sadness, which is as much about the guilt of its necessity as for the parting itself. There's some release I suppose as I tend to feel the responsibility for parenting very deeply. There's some sense of being out of control, some vague unease that things aren't how they're supposed to be. I know this mostly because when he comes back each August there's a very real sense of rightness and relief that returns. It's like unconsciously coping with a broken arm and then suddenly you have full use of it back. And I'm aware that this is completely subjective, because his dad may feel that when the roles are reversed. I'm not making a judgement call about where he belongs, but describing how I feel. It mostly shows up as as a very raw, emotional period of time. I waver between feeling emotions deeply and feeling lethargic and confused. I just crash.

I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the process with you today.

Some years the crash lasts longer than others. I remember one year when I was spending the summer house sitting in Bloomington, Indiana, I spent ten days on the couch binge watching the first season or two of Downton Abbey and watching movie after movie. If you know me, that's really, really out of character. Other than sports, I haven't watched a TV show in a few years.

Usually it takes a few days to a week for me to find my footing again. I think it has a lot to do with how healthy I am overall. I've been intensely busy this year, but I've also been very intentional about my health, both mental and physical. I have more mental and emotional reserves than I usually come into this time with. And, while the trip to Greece last week was definitely not a beach vacation, it was emotionally and spiritually fulfilling.

Friends, life has some hard moments. Take care of yourself along the way. You'll process difficult situations more easily and bounce back faster when you're healthy inside and out. It might take time to get there, but working on your emotional and physical health will pay big big dividends in the long term.

You might not have to hand over your son for a few months every year, but I'm guessing you'll come up against a situation you find emotionally difficult every so often. It happens to all of us. Sometimes you know something will be hard and sometimes you don't. Sometimes it takes us by surprise. This year, I'd forgotten about the crash. It's been two years since I had this situation and I've been too busy and distracted to think about the after. So, it took me by surprise. Not so much that it happened, but the intensity.

When that happens to you...when you have an emotional crash find it harder to deal with something than you expect, don't worry about how you "should" be reacting. Allow yourself the time to work through it. I needed that ten days a few years ago. This year, I feel remarkably good this morning. Last night, I was curled in a fetal position in the dark watching the rain and feeling emotionally raw. This morning the storm has passed (both inside and outside) and after a good night's rest and breakfast, I think the worst of it is over. I'm less lethargic than I expected. But if I needed several more days to recover, I'd take them and not feel bad about it. If I have another round tomorrow or when I get home to a very, very quiet house. I'll allow myself the time to recover, process and heal what I'm experiencing.

Allow yourself to adjust your expectations. I've mentioned that I'm a perfectionist. I'm hopefully going to be a recovering perfectionist in the next year. I'm practicing this week. I'd intended to share with you about my trip this week on this episode, but that's not where my heart is today. My heart is in recovery mode. So, that's what I'm sharing. I still have some things to work through that happened on the trip that I don't quite know how to talk about. And, even if that wasn't the case, this emotional mess I experience every year has taken over for a few days. So, I'm going to allow myself to sit with the thoughts about the trip for a few more days and share this process instead. And I'm sure that I'm not doing it as well as I'd like to. And I'm ok with that.

Also, in the interest of recovery this weekend I'm also going to take the week off from the coffee talk worksheet and emails. So, if you're following along with me in those ways, be aware, they won't be in your inbox this week. Instead, I'll give you a few things to think about right now. If you're in an emotionally messy or difficult situation, here are the three things I've mentioned today.

  1. Make healthy choices on an ongoing basis.
  2. Don't worry about how you "should" be reacting. Allow yourself time and space you need to recover.
  3. Adjust your expectations as you work through it.

Here a few applications that go along with those ideas.

  • What do you need to do on an ongoing basis to be healthy both physically and emotionally? What one small thing can you do today to start?
  • Do you allow yourself to process and adjust to emotionally difficult things or do you bury yourself in a favorite coping mechanism and ignore it?
  • Do you allow yourself to adjust your expectations in a difficult time?

Episode Artwork

Today's image is simply a picture of my recovery morning. today. Breakfast looking out over the quiet countryside of my youth.

May you find peace in your journey today, my friends.

May 21, 2017

This is part two of my episodes on worry. A few weeks ago while doing some research for another episode, I compiled a list of top ten ways to stop worrying. And because I'm taking a trip to Greece the last full week of school, which is the busiest season for my little family...I'm all the sudden in the midst of a lot of anxiety about all the details that have to happen before I leave. When you hear this, I'll actually be on my way home and I know that it's going to all work out. The things that have to get done will and some of the not-quite-as-necessary things might not. But, I'll get on that plane and the trip will happen. Knowing that, though, isn't quite enough to halt my worry over all that has to happen in the next few days.

I'm working through the list of ways to stop worrying and we're going to see how effective they are together. I covered the first five items on the list in last week's episode, so here's the second half in no particular order.

Focus on Others. A lot of our worrying is about ourselves. It's really internally focused. It's about something that will or won't happen to us. So, one way to combat this, is to choose to shift our attention to someone else. Frankly, I think this item on the list isn't quite as good as it could be. Worrying for me is a hamster wheel in my head. What I really need to do is get out of my head and off that hamster wheel and the best way to do that is to not just think about other people, but to actually do something.

Here's how that's going to play out for me this week. I'm going to pay extra careful attention to my son's stories, his questions, his chatter about his games and his requests for my attention. I also have some letters I'm supposed to write for this trip. So, I'm going to be spending some time in an activity all about other people.

Get Some Sleep. Friends, I know you don't sleep enough. I'm tracking my sleep with a Fitbit these days and so now I know that I'm not getting enough! Getting sufficient rest will do wonders for your ability to ward off anxiety and worry and it helps us cope with the reality in front of us as well. But, it's a vicious cycle isn't it? Worry often keeps us from sleeping and then lack of sleep makes it harder to keep the worry monster at bay.

Here's what I'd recommend. Treat sleep as a priority as much as you can. Do all the things that help sleep happen and all the things you can to curtail your worry. On the sleep side, wind down an hour before bed, establish a routine, stop looking at screens in that last hour before sleep, create a sleep only, dark environment. These aren't new suggestions, I'm sure you've heard them before. Make them a priority.

Also, you can create a worry offload routine. Some of the things that we've talked about on this list could be done before sleeping to help offload your worries. Write them down, give your mind permission to put them away until the next scheduled worry time, write a grateful list, review what you're measuring or your daily routine.

Start paying attention to making your evening circumstances and routines as sleep friendly as possible instead of dropping into bed with no transition time and expecting to immediately switch to sleep mode. Not that I've ever done that!

Note and Accept. This is a great practice to get into and works for other things besides worry as well. The idea is that as worries come up, quit letting them wriggle around the outsides of your consciousness creating background stress. Don't let them take over your internal dialog feed either. You're in control of that feed, you can make the decisions over what happens inside your head. That takes some practice but can be done. Note and accept works like this: a worry comes up or you feel it around the edges of your mind as generalized anxiety. Take a moment to recognize it. "Oh, there's that worry that I'm not going to get everything done. I hear it, I recognize it. Got it. Ok, move on to the next thought." You're simply recognizing it for what it is and choosing to move on.

Change the Subject. This is a great follow up to note and accept. Once you've acknowledged the thought as a worry. You choose to change the subject. I know you're skilled at doing this around the Thanksgiving table when Aunt Emma wants to know why you don't have kids yet. Or, you do have kids and you need to redirect their attention away from the candy at the checkout counter. Put those skills to work inside your own head and choose to think about something else that will grip your focus instead of the worry.

When I start to worry about the details of my week, I'm going to change the subject to how much good will come out of this trip, how it's going to help other people, change my own perspective and how it will feel to feel to be traveling again. I've missed it, so I'm excited!

The last one for this week is to brainstorm solutions. This only works for worry over something that you actually have control over and studies show that most of our worry is over things we don't have any control over. But, if you do, taking some time to face the worry and generate as many solutions as you can will help you get a handle on ways you could address the situation. We can spend an awful lot of time worrying about things and not ever address the actions we can actually take. I control my time this week. Yes, there are certain things that really have to be done before I leave. But, I know that I'm also choosing to add some extras onto my plate that probably aren't necessary.

Here are some ideas I generated for my situation. I can do is divide up the to do list I made last week into "must be done" and "hope to get done" and not feel bad if I need to drop some of those "hopes" off the list. I mentioned I needed to take some letters with me. I'm actually printing some of my artwork, writing notes on the back and taking those along. I want to take 23 of them. I only have to take two of them. Here's my solution. I must get them printed before I leave. If I have to, I can write the notes on the back on flights, on train rides and in the airport. I also must get last week's and this podcast ready to go. But, if I have to, I can have this one recorded and do all the other work on the trip or on the way home. Those are some ways to lighten my load if I need to this week.

To recap, here are this week's five worry-busters:

  1. Focus on others
  2. Get some sleep
  3. Note & accept
  4. Change the subject
  5. Brainstorm solutions

Episode Artwork

The artwork this week is another "boxer in flowers" portrait. Because you just can't have enough of those! Please meet my dog, Wiley. He's the rescue that ended my foster career. He's not quite as grouchy looking as Ms. O was last week, but he certainly is very serious looking in that field of flowers. His expression doesn't at all match the pretty wildflower area he's standing in and it's a reminder that worry is often a mismatch to our life too. Usually, what we're worrying about doesn't happen (I've heard statistics ranging up to 85% of worries don't happen), so don't let worry cause you to miss the wildflower fields of your life that are right in front of you.

Episode Downloads

Want to explore the ideas in this post further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 33 Downloads

May 14, 2017

Last week, I talked about worry and if you're a worrier, I have a short, really practical episode for you today. I also said I'm typically not a worrier. For example, I really haven't worried about this upcoming trip much. But, this morning, waking up to a new work week, the crazy end of school details, figuring out how to pack a backpack for a 9 day international trip and some assignments for that trip that I wasn't anticipating...I'm a fair bit worried this morning! The reality of 4 days until I leave was glaringly obvious when I checked the week's calendar and I have a lot to do!

I haven't noticed being worried before today, but I know I'm getting close to overload because I'm doing things like losing my keys at church yesterday. I'm sure they'll turn up, we know what happened and I'm sure someone picked them up and hadn't turned them in yet. But, I had to be rescued with delivery of my valet key...because my original set has been misplaced in my house somewhere for the last few days! Yes, this is a good indication that I have too much going on! But, now the worry is showing up alongside the overload missteps.

I want to talk through the top ten things I found last week in my research for dealing with worry. Actually, I'm going to split this into two posts. I'll share five of them this week and five next week. Now, I need to insert my typical disclaimer that I'm not a doctor and didn't even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so if you need professional care for anxiety issues, I'm not your girl. This is for the everyday worrying that keeps us from sleeping occasionally or impacts our life in average ways.

I'm going to treat this like an experiment. I'll talk you through this list using my worries about my week as an example. In no particular order, here we go.

Remove uncertainty (or in other words, measure something). For example, if you're worried about your health, your weight or your fitness and you chose to measure--not your weight--but something that helps you address the problem. Like, the number of daily steps you take or walking for 20 minutes each day. Measuring something combats worry by giving you active progress toward a solution.

For me, I think I'm going to apply a to do list to this one. I need to sit down and do a massive brain dump of details onto paper, then assign each task a day and measure the tasks completed rather than cope with this overwhelmingly large mental list I can't keep track of. From previous experience, I know that helps me know how it's all going to get done and assures me that all the things will get taken care of and I don't have to worry about them all right now. Which leads me to the next item.

Shift Your Worry. This is similar to the "measure something" I just spoke about, but is more about shifting your attention. So, if you're worrying about a long term problem, shift your focus to a daily routine that will address the problem. If you're worrying about saving for your kids college funds, how can you create a saving routine that you can focus on that will help you reach your goal instead of worrying about the goal itself? So, I'll shift my attention to today's to do list instead of freaking out about the sheer number of details for the whole week.

Write a "Grateful List." Studies have shown that people who journal about the things they're grateful for and that make them happy manage stress better, have happier days and even experience less physical pain. I don't have a regular gratefulness practice, other than in prayer, but I know that it's had a huge impact for a lot of people who do it regularly. So, let's try it, here's my list right this minute.

I'm grateful for the small moments with my son this week. I'm grateful to sit and let him teach me how to tie knots he needs to know for scouts. I'm grateful he wants to teach me his favorite video game and watch me play (which provides a great deal of amusement to him) and I'm grateful for a few fun moments this morning during a surprise fire alarm at the school. It involved donuts and his eyes lighting up. I'm grateful for the 11 years spent with him so far. I'm also grateful for the opportunity to take this trip, for all the things happening to make it possible. This is a perspective shifting exercise and I do think it helps.

Exercise. Exercise reduces stress and clears thinking. Usually, I'd have worked out on my own this morning and I was planning on running after dropping Cody off for school. But, the surprise fire drill ate up my workout time. My temptation is to say I'm too busy the next few days and I should skip the gym, but even though I did skip today, I'm making a public commitment to my group to not skip, to meet at the regular time Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I know I'll feel better and be better able to cope with life.

Plan Worry Time. This suggestion is to respond to your worries by allowing a specific time to hear them out. So, for example, I'll let myself worry while I'm making dinner, or driving to get my son from school or at 7:00 every morning. So, when you start to worry, tell yourself. "Oh, that's a, I'll think about that on my drive to the school this afternoon." Giving it a formal hearing acknowledges the worry and allows you to take it off your current plate of things to deal with. I've never tried this before, but it's worth a shot. I'll allow myself to worry when I wake up (this will get me alert) for about 15 minutes...when I bring the dog in from his morning walk, I'm done and need to get on with my day.

That's the five for this week. To recap, here they are again:

  1. Remove uncertainty/measure something which helps you take action and control over the problem
  2. Shift your worry to a daily routine that will address the problem
  3. Write a grateful list,
  4. Exercise
  5. Plan a specific worry time.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is about what worry can do. I love boxers, but they do have a perpetual scowl. This was a foster pup of mine a few years ago, the first boxer I ever had in my home. Her name was Ms. O. And on a beautiful Spring day she could stand in a beautiful field of blooming daffodils (or buttercups as they're called here in the South) and create a virtual rain cloud with her expression. The contrast in this image has always made me laugh. We can do the very same thing in our lives with our worry.

Episode Downloads

Want to explore the ideas in this post further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 32 Downloads

May 7, 2017

In a little over a week, I'm leaving for a nine day trip to Greece! I love to travel, to learn and I'm also a natural planner. So, normally, if I have a big trip coming up, I would be thinking about it a lot. I'd be researching. Learning. What's it going to be like? What should I know? What can I expect? What's the history? What are the customs? I can spend months thinking about an upcoming event or trip.

Some of that is to make the unknown more knowable. To exert some control over a new experience. Some of it is because I love the anticipation. And, I genuinely love learning about something new. But, here's the problem. When I spend all of my time anticipating the future, I lose touch with the present. For many years, this future orientation was a form of escape. I was in a difficult marriage and living vicariously in my own future was a form of escapism. Granted, it was cheaper than retail therapy and safer than drugs or drinking. But, it was still escapism!

I'm in a whole different place in life now and while I still love learning and anticipation, I look at my son growing up so quickly and I don't want to miss the present. I'm not quite sure how he got to be a pre-teen, but I know that I'll blink and he'll be leaving home! I want to enjoy him while he's here. I want to savor these moments. Most of them anyway! If I spent my time thinking about, planning for, and anticipating this trip, I'll miss the last month of school. He usually leaves for 9 weeks in the summer and this trip happens to fall during his last full week of school. I could easily waste my last part of the school year with him thinking about this trip. I don't want that to happen.

A few weeks ago, I ran across an old clip of Will Smith talking to an audience. He was describing the experience of going skydiving for the first time. He agreed to go in the midst of a groupthink excitement at a bar. Probably not the best environment for making life or death decisions, but they made all the arrangements for when and where they were going to meet the following day and he went home to bed. Only, he didn't sleep much. He was a bit freaked out about the idea of jumping out of a plane the next morning. He was awake or tossing and turning most of the night. In the morning, he got up and made his way to the meeting place, went through the motions and jumped...or, was pushed actually. When it immediately became (in his words) bliss. One of the most blissful experiences of his life.

I want you think for a moment though, about his night of anxiety and worry beforehand. Where was he? He was home in bed. Safe. Warm. There was absolutely no danger of falling to his death at that point. When did the actual danger happen? Not until he left the safety of the plane the next morning. And yet, He lost sleep when there was no danger because of worry. I bet you've never done that! I'm sure I've never done that!

Worry is a big deal and humans have been doing it for a long time. Over 400 years ago, French writer Michel de Montaigne said, "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened." The next information is from a UK based source, but I can't imagine it's that much different on this side of the pond. From a 2015 survey, 86% of adults consider themselves to be a worrier. The average adult surveyed spent one hour and 50 minutes a day worrying. That adds up to almost 13 hours a week – nearly 28 days a year spent worrying. Another statistic I saw said 40% of people worry every day. Now, I didn't vet those statistics by looking up the original study. But, even if they're wrong, even if a portion of those numbers are true, we're spending a huge chunk of our time worrying.

In both of these examples, the future is obliterating the present. If I spend my time planning, anticipating and obsessing over an imagined future, I miss the present. If Will Smith or I spend all my time worrying, stressing and being anxious over an imagined future, I miss the present. An article from the Catholic News Agency puts it this way, "You wonder why you’re constantly restless and why you lack interior peace and joy, but the answer is right before you—literally right before you. It’s called the present moment."

One of the antidotes to losing the present by focusing on the future is a mindfulness practice. I read somewhere recently that mindfulness meditation is like push-ups for your brain. That takes it out of the realm of the strange and weird and reframes it into something we can relate to. I'm finding that to be true. I'm in detail overload this week. I showed up at the gym yesterday morning in flip flops (oops, that workout didn't happen!)! I woke up this morning anxious about getting everything done today. But, I was able to recognize the problem thinking and reorient to what was right in front of me.

In thinking about worry and anxiety this week, I compiled a list of eleven suggestions to stop the unproductive hamster wheel that worry causes. I'll give you ten of them in a super-practical episode next week. But a mindfulness practice is the eleventh. If you've never done it, it's easy. If you don't have time, you can see results in a very short practice in a very short time frame. There's a ton of information out there about mindfulness - both the science of it and the practice of it. I urge you to check it out. And, over the summer, I'll share what I've learned, what I'm doing and maybe put together a 30 day challenge for you to join with me. If you like that idea, be sure to let me know.

Episode Artwork

For the next several weeks I'm going to substitute photos for the episode artwork. It's going to work better for my schedule and you'd like to see a photo or two from Greece wouldn't you? I thought so. This week, though, it's a photo from my yard. Peonies are one of my favorite flowers. Truth be told, I probably have a lot of favorite flowers, but I do love Peonies. This is the first open bloom a week or so ago and all the little light spots in the background are Oenethera or Evening Primrose. The Oenethera is doing pretty well up there on our hill where we have trouble growing anything. It grows wild here in Middle Tennessee in the ditches by the roads and it could absolutely take over some of the other things planted on this hill.

But, why am I talking and worrying about that when this beautiful, vibrant, intricate, amazing Peony is right in front of me? Pay attention to this moment. This one right now, right in front of you. Notice things. Explore what it feels like to be right here, right now.

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


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.

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 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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Feb 26, 2017

[EPISODE DOWNLOADS worksheet/phone lock screen]

You are braver than you think.

We're all braver than we think. Several weeks ago, I talked about everyday kinds of bravery on episode 17. Since then, I've been talking about mending broken things in our lives, which can require an awful lot of bravery. So, I thought I'd follow up with an episode or two about bravery and how we can do the hard things.

Bravery 101

First, let's talk about some bravery basics. Bravery is defined as courageous behavior or character. says it's the admirable quality of being able to confront frightening things.

It's not the absence of fear. It's not something reserved for the best among us. It's not something unattainable. It isn't something fixed, something you're born with that can't be changed.

Bravery is more like a muscle. My son bench-marked some fitness things a few weeks ago in boy scouts. He is not in the athletic crowd. He's in the I-prefer-to-sit-on-the-same-chair-and-play-video-games-for-days-on-end crowd. So, he said to me sheepishly, "Mom, I only did 13 sit ups in a minute. I think that's really bad." My answer to him was that it really didn't matter where he started...just that he did start.

Sit ups, push ups and the other things required by Eagle Scout merit 50 mile bike rides or 20 mile hikes...are not elite-skill-dependent. In other words, If you work at it, you improve. It's a given cause and effect. If you spend the time, you get stronger. It's not a matter of being good enough or not. It's only a matter of whether or not you're willing to do the work. Bravery is the same way. If you practice being brave, you will get braver. If you do the things you're afraid of, you'll be less afraid of them.

Bravery looks different for everyone. The things that you're afraid of are not necessarily the same things that require bravery for me. For example, how do you feel about public speaking? Public speaking is generally listed as the number one fear in the United States, rated scarier than death by most of those people. So, if you're afraid of public speaking, you're not alone. Most of the population shares your feelings. But, it doesn't bother me much. It doesn't require much bravery for me to get up in front of people and speak. But, there's a good chance that something you're not afraid of at all, I will be.

Bravery can also look very different to the same person on different days. I suffer from depression at times. For me, it's usually hormonal and it's generally a short term thing, from a few days to a week. I've learned that I just need to ride it out. I know intellectually that it will go away. But, still. in the midst of it, I feel like it will never end. Getting out of bed requires bravery. Speaking to anyone requires bravery. Facing my work day requires bravery. Not giving up requires bravery. Things that take minimal effort on a normal day require large doses of courage on those days. Even if your circumstances aren't like mine, we all go through times when it's hard to function at our best. These may be days, seasons or even years. These may be illnesses, sleeplessness or stress. Sometimes things that you usually or used to do easily, require bravery.

So, to recap, bravery is like a muscle, you can get braver. it looks different for me than it does for you and different for you than for your spouse, friend or relatives. And it may even look different to you on different days.

Getting Braver

What do we do about it? How can we get better at being brave? Here are a handful of things that will help.

A sidekick. A pal. A partner-in-crime. We need our friends! They encourage us when we're unsure. They cheer us when we're in the midst of the struggle and they provide a jolt of you-can-do-it Rosie power when we need it to be brave. With a wing-man, we feel stronger and braver than we do alone. Find yourself a stellar wing-man.

Start small. You don't start with a 20 mile hike if you want to succeed. You start with a walk in the park. Something that stretches you only a little until your muscles get the hang of it. You build strength incrementally, in small steps. Start with things that make you only a little uncomfortable. Small steps. Short time frames. Train yourself to tolerate uncertainty and nerve-wracking things in baby steps. Then, as your brave muscle gets stronger, try larger steps and bigger challenges.

Practice. I used to be terrified to speak in public. I would want to stay home from school every time I had to give a speech in High School. But, now, I enjoy it. What made the difference? For two years in college, three days a week, I had to present my ideas, projects and sell my solutions in front of a group of students and faculty. I got very comfortable on stage making presentations and accepting critique. When you do the things that frighten you on a regular basis, they become far less scary.

Choose to do it anyway. Bravery isn't the absence of fear. Bravery is simply doing it anyway. Fear has a valuable place in our lives, it's there to keep us safe. Which is great...unless it's allowed to make all your decisions. But, that's why you have a brain, to be able to overrule fear when necessary. Elizabeth Gilbert has an analogy in her book, "Big Magic" that talks about life as a car ride. Fear is allowed to come along, even invited along for the ride. And he gets a voice. But, when you need to be brave, thank fear for his input and tell him to get in the back seat and be quiet, because you're the one driving the car. His place is to speak when needed, but not be the one making decisions.

It's ok to be afraid. If you aren't afraid, you aren't growing. I believe the amount of growth and success in our lives is directly proportional to the amount of uncertainty we're able to tolerate. The people you think of as brave are not unafraid. They just make the choice to do it anyway. And then they choose to do it again. And again.

Episode Artwork

"Braver Than You Think" mixed media piece by Michelle Berkey. Prints available.

The art this week is about taking steps. The colors shift from light to dark and dark to light in steps. Sometimes those transitions are evenly spaced and smooth. Sometimes they're a bit bigger jumps. But they change step by step. If you take those small steps regularly, at some point you'll look back and see that you've gone from orange to black, something that's not possible in one jump. In incremental steps, you can be there before you know it.

Small Bravery Steps

Here are some micro steps you can take to flex your brave muscle. There are thousands of these you could do. If these aren't things that make you a bit uncomfortable, choose something that will. The idea is to choose something that will make you nervous, self-conscious, slightly afraid...not something that's terrifying.

  • Don't wear makeup for a day in public.
  • Give a stranger a flower.
  • Be the first to reach out to someone after you've had a conflict.
  • Wear sequins to the grocery store on a random Tuesday morning.
  • Initiate a conversation with someone you don't know.
  • Sit alone in silence for 15 minutes.
  • Go an hour...or a day...not concerned with what others think of you.
  • Make a suggestion in a group meeting.
  • Volunteer for something that will put you in a new situation.
  • Travel somewhere you've never yourself.
  • Ask for help.
  • Choose to feel the emotions you have, not the ones you think you should have.
  • Cook something with an ingredient or method that's completely new to you.

What if you're braver than you think? What could you do? What could you accomplish? Who would you be?


Feb 19, 2017

I can't argue with that phrase, "Don't sweat the small stuff." We shouldn't focus on the things that don't really matter. But, sometimes the small things ARE important. More important than they seem. My intent was to talk about something a little lighter this week. I guess that may have been a bit selfish. I have a lot going on in my head this week that it's hard to really keep digging at brokenness at the same time. Lighter would have been easier. But. I couldn't quite get away from it yet. So, Let's go at it and see what we can learn.

So far in this series, I've said that broken things are not beyond usefulness (episode 18) and that a mended life can be beautiful, authentic and worthwhile (episode 19). Today, let's talk about the practice of mending.

Being broken is a state of fracture. When emotions, relationships, bodies, circumstances or minds even are in a state that the pieces have been torn, there's wreckage. It's painful. I know. I do want to recognize that some states of being broken are permanent. They just are. Not everything is fixable the way we want it to be fixed. There are physical issues, for example, that cannot be healed, barring a miracle. We have to realize that.


But, that being said, much that breaks in our lives can be mended. Probably much more than you allow yourself to believe. Mending may take time, effort and resources, but, much in our lives can be mended. These are things I'm talking about in the last few weeks. The things we can impact.

We're not taught to mend our broken pieces. We don't talk about the process or the benefits. Our culture hides broken things away. It's not modeled for us and frankly, it can be an awful lot of hard work. Really hard work. It's much, much easier to ignore the broken pieces of ourselves.

I'm thinking a lot this week about learning to mend those small chips and breaks. The little ones that happen but leave us functional. The kind we might notice in passing, might not thing about too much, we just adapt to automatically or that we put off fixing because something else is more interesting, easier or urgent.

I've been involved in several meetings about my son this week. One of the things that came up is that I'm concerned that he breezes through his homework. On the scale of problems, it doesn't seem huge, but someday. he's going to run up against something he can't figure out intuitively in a few minutes. At that point, he's not going to be able to deal with it because he has no study habits and no experience of working at figuring things out. If that happens in school, he'll crash and burn in a classroom. If it happens in life, he'll crash and burn in a job situation or a relationship. I'm not willing to take the chance that it happens in life. I'd prefer that he learn how to study, how to learn hard things and how to work with persistence now, so that when that day comes, he has the skills and experience necessary to learn something that's hard for him.

We do this with our kids all the time. We teach them skills at home in a safe environment so that when they grow up and get out where it matters, they're well equipped to handle life. Let's apply that idea to ourselves for a moment. If you mend the small chips in your life, when catastrophic breaks happen, you're much more likely to have the tools and experience necessary to cope with them. But, how do we mend the small chips?

How Do We Mend The Small Chips?

First, stop ignoring them. It's very easy to hide the small imperfections, those little cracks, small chips. Society says to hide them, so we have social and cultural pressure to stash them away where they're not seen so that we look perfect to the world.

We do it with our health, we ignore small warning signs like numb toes when getting off a road bike that I ignored for a year or more. When it started to be a numb leg and happen off the bike too, it took me 2 years to heal and still affects what shoes I can wear 15 years later. Had I dealt with that problem when it first appeared, it probably wouldn't have been nearly so severe. I ignored it because it didn't seem like a big deal, I was busy and I could compensate. We do it in relationships and in work performance.

Let's stop. Let's stop ignoring the small chips and cracks and create a habit of dealing with them as they arise.

Not only do we ignore them, though. We compensate for them. My son has issues with transitions. Getting him from one task to another can be really hard--even if he likes the thing I'm asking him to do. I realized this week that rather than force him to deal with that issue, I've learned ways to compensate and get around the problem. We all do this. Metaphorically, we walk around so long with a pebble in our shoe that it becomes the norm. We compensate by standing or moving a certain way to minimize discomfort. We get so used to doing that that we forget the pebble doesn't need to be there, we can choose to stop for a moment and remove it.

What would your life be like if you removed all the pebbles?

Let's stop that too. Let's stop compensating and making excuses for things that need to be fixed. Let's just fix them.

Start small. Learn strategies and gain tools to handle the small stuff. You'll gain confidence because you've done it before. Dealing with things instead of ignoring them becomes habitual and part of your approach to life.

Think about this concept in terms of a relationship. It can be very easy to ignore seemingly small irritations. These grow into resentments over time and lead to much bigger problems. But, imagine if you take the hard step of dealing with the small irritations as they come up. You work through them. It's still emotionally risky, but you get through it. I'm telling you, the risk is much smaller in a small chip than a large fracture. Learn on the small chips.

The next time, it's a little easier. You know you did it before. You develop a habit of dealing with those things as they arise. You gain experience, confidence and trust over time. When a big break happens, a large fracture in the relationship (and all relationships have hard times), you have the habits, tools and experience to tackle it.

On the other hand, if you've not dealt with the small things when they arise, when the big things happen not only do you have no experience, no tools, no history. you have the added problem of all those unresolved issues. Those small things, they don't magically resolve on their own. They just stack up in the back of the closet and come crashing down when the doors to another problem are opened.

Learning to deal with the small chips, whether they're health issues, relationship issues, character issues or in other areas of life will pay off big dividends in the long run. I know it's much easier not to. I know it might seem like you don't have time. I know it seems like a lot of work. I know you can get by without doing it. And I know that they don't seem that important.

But, the payoff is a big deal. You'll be surprisingly free-er in the short term. But, in the long term, your increased capacity to cope with the big breakages in life will be so very valuable when life crashes. It could be the difference between a hard time in your marriage and divorce.

It's never too late. Start now and start small. I'm not teaching my son how to make a four course meal. I'm teaching him how to make scrambled eggs. Someday, maybe he'll have the skills to make me a lovely, complicated dinner. But, unless he starts with the basics, that's impossible. We all know this. Let's just apply it to the small broken pieces of ourselves.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is a quilt. It didn't exactly start out that way, but that's where we arrived. A patchwork, hand-stitched piece of work that represents that mending you can do in small pieces. I've been following several folks on Instagram who are working on an everyday stitching project and it was enough to inspire me to start one of my own. It reminds me how much work can be done in small bits of time consistently spent. Pick up your mending and work on the small things.

The mended, stitched cloth is the important part of life, but the needle is there representing the daily work. I was going to make it large, like the bird from last week, but I realized that needles are small. They get lost easily. They're easy to drop and dangerous when we do. So, it's smaller on this piece. It blends in. It's not the easy thing to see...or do. But, it's the way a quilt is made. One piece of patchwork or piecing at a time. One stitch at a time.

Let's start stitching. Let's start dealing with the small stuff.

Episode Downloads: Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone lock screen

Feb 12, 2017

Thursday is Valentine's Day and whether you think it's a sweet holiday to show affection and lavish gifts on a loved one or an evil manipulation by card can be hard to navigate with a broken heart. In fact, we all have broken hearts. Even when we're in the midst of the infatuation of a new relationship, there are places in our hearts that are broken.

Relationships can wound us deeply. I experienced two abusive relationships in my late teens and while I thought that they hadn't affected me in lasting ways (they weren't permanent relationships and it's now 30-odd years later), I've realized that there have been lasting emotional repercussions from those relationships that show up now, not only in my relationships, but in other areas as well. Close relationships that end badly - think more than just divorce and breakups - think betrayal, friendships, business relationships, family - these leave lasting wreckage that bleed out into our lives in more ways than we think.

Broken hearts don't just come from dramatic events though. Even careless words can leave permanent scars. Every time my mom takes a beautiful photo, she hears the thoughtless and rude words someone said about one of her photos years ago. Every time I get in a situation where dancing is happening, I hear the rude comment of a drunk guy on a dance floor in a bar in my 20s and I shut down. I know, in the light of day it sounds ridiculous. Why would you think that an offhand drunk comment from a stranger could wound in that way? I would find it hard to believe that you don't have similar broken places in your own heart. Well, maybe not drunk guys dancing, but wounds from both small and large things.

I'm not going to talk about how to heal that brokenness today. Let's talk about a step before the healing. You have to choose to live with your brokenness. We usually choose to shut it away in the closet. To bury it as deep in the back as possible under last year's coats, extra blankets and the clothes needing buttons sewn on. But, what if we didn't do that?


Boro is a tradition of mending the clothing that was worn by peasants, merchants or artisans in Japan from the 17th – early 19th century. it's from a traditional value of 'mottainai' translated as "too good to waste". These people couldn't afford the silk kimonos and obi of the aristocracy, which is what we think of when we think of feudal Japanese clothing. Instead they recycled scraps, recombined pieces and stitched together fragments of cloth that was too precious to throw away until the story of a family could be found in the mended and patchworked cloth that was used throughout their homes and lives. Babies were born onto clothing worn and used by generations before them. Families were wrapped in, slept in and wore the history of their people. Women mended frequently, elaborately and beautifully with sashiko stitching. Each cloth is absolutely unique.

Boro and Broken Hearts

Here are a few ways we can apply the concepts of Boro to our broken hearts.

Wear and breakage had to happen before mending took place. Mending was what created the uniquely beautiful piece of cloth. Mending was what transformed the scraps into something useful and beautiful. Mending was what made the cloth stronger than they were as individual fragments.

No matter how ragged you feel your broken places are, they can be mended and redeemed. The mending is what will turn your hurt, your wreckage, your pain and your pieces into something useful, strong and even beautiful. In Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway said, "The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places." Your broken places have the potential to become great strength.

Families used and wore these fabrics on a daily basis. They were wrapped in and surrounded by the patchwork of their lives. They were a visual reminder that broken things are not beyond usefulness. Your life is much the same. Be reminded that you are never beyond usefulness at any age, in any circumstance.

When you think about the broken areas in your life. In your heart. Consider that they're worth mending. It's worth living in the strong, beautiful, unique story a mended soul is. Living a mended life is an authentic presentation of who you are, a confirmation of the beauty in this journey that we all travel through. One that inherently involves painful things. Consider that allowing those places to be mended and a visible part of your life tapestry makes us all richer. Consider that your experience, your pain and your process may be encouragement, learning and comfort to someone else.

I would rather live an authentic, mended, useful life than a perfect, plastic pretend one.

Living with your brokenness means allowing it to be brought to the surface. Allowing it to be mended. Allowing it to be seen. Allowing it to become part of your story. Not the whole story, but a part.

Episode Artwork

The art this week is an interpretation of a boro cloth. There is both real and painted stitching that pulls the paper collage pieces together. There's hints of the gold kintsugi repair method I talked about last week as well.

I have an annual trip to the beach each New Years that functions as thinking time. A re-set at the beginning of my year. Several years ago on this trip, bird imagery kept coming up over and over. Too often to be coincidental. I was at the point in my life where some new freedoms were on the horizon. More like the promise of future freedoms, but I was in the midst of emotional muck at the time. The symbol gave me hope that there would eventually be freedom, no matter what the current situation felt like. Birds represent hope of freedom and expansion of perspective to me and I included it here because when you choose to live with your brokenness and allow it to be mended. To choose an authentic portrayal of your life, to present your full story as beautiful. Worthy. allow the promise and hope of freedom to be borne in your life.

What if you lived with your broken heart?

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone lock screen

Feb 5, 2017

Why are we so afraid of broken things?

I've been thinking about this question from Ann Voskamp's new book for the last few weeks, since I first read it. The official dictionary definition of "broken" is, "having been fractured or damaged and no longer in one piece or in working order."

In our culture we throw away broken things. They're no longer useful. They're replaced as quickly as possible by something new. If we can't replace the broken thing for financial reasons, we feel we're "making do" by repairing it, because the better solution was to have something new that's never been broken.

We should re-think that attitude.


There are two historical approaches to mending in the Japanese culture that fascinate me. One is a method of mending ceramics and one of cloth. Two materials near and dear to my heart.

Kintsugi is a traditional method of repairing ceramics performed with lacquer that's dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The result is a repair that is not only visible and beautiful, but adds value.

It's a golden scar.

A healed wound.

It's a philosophy of celebrating the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object. Not something to be hidden, repaired as "good as new" or disguised. The event and the repair make the item more interesting and more beautiful than the original piece.

Do you understand what a profound shift in perspective that is?

I spoke with someone the other day about the power of reframing our life goal to be learning rather than success and how that redefines failure as a pathway, not an end point. The failure actually becomes a success, because all failure can lead to learning. If learning is the goal, then it's been obtained by the failure. This isn't just playing around with words, it can make a big difference in how you respond to life events.

This philosophy surrounding breakage is just as fundamental a shift.

What if you looked at breakage as being part of a narrative? A point in history. A moment in a timeline that requires change, but results in a more beautiful thing?

Do you understand I'm no longer talking just about ceramics?

We all have events that cause us to experience breakage in life. Experiences where we are knocked about. Chipped. We lose a handle. Or shatter into big chunks. Or a million small pieces. We view ourselves as damaged goods. We view others that way too. We see the broken places in both others and ourselves and we apply labels and judgments.

Why are we so afraid of broken things?

Because it reminds us in a very fundamental way that we are all broken. We're imperfect. We are both chipped around the edges and cracked to the core. We can't escape wear and tear as we experience life. It's an intrinsic part of the process.

But, what if we view those broken places not as something to be ignored, disguised and hidden? Not as an indictment of uselessness. But, instead, as something to be claimed as part of our narrative? Part of our story? Necessary and perhaps even beautiful as a means of creating who you are today? We treat the broken places as things to hide, to be locked away where others won't see and we can forget they're there, at least for a few moments when we're in public. Kintsugi says they're milestones in a life. That they're to be honored as such.

Transformation is a core value of mine. Breakage is an unavoidable part of transformation. When a seed becomes a plant, it is completely transformed. It must be completely broken to become something new. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it is completely undone. The butterfly can't exist unless the caterpillar gives itself up wholeheartedly to the process. If I am going to grow, to change to become all I am intended to be...there will be breakage.

Perfect and unblemished is not the only kind of beauty. In fact, it's not the most important kind of beauty.

Do not be afraid of being broken. No one is beyond repair.

No one.

Broken is a pathway to growth and transformation.

What if you weren't afraid of broken things?

How would you experience life differently?
How would you experience people differently? Those you know and those you don't?
How would you experience yourself differently?

Episode Artwork

The art this week is a visual fusion of Kintsugi and the sashiko stitching of boro (I didn't talk about that in this post, maybe next time). Sometimes in pottery repair, another piece is added to substitute a missing segment. Sometimes, we need the same. The paper has been stitched together and has the gold threading of Kintsugi repair. I loved this piece of blue paper. I made it about two years ago and I've never torn into it. But, now...I love it more. Much more. It's more beautiful for the breaking and healing. Not the same as it was, certainly. But, more beautiful.

If this episode or art has spoken to you and you'd like a copy of this print, you can find it here.

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone Lock screen

Jan 29, 2017

I live in Tennessee where a month or so ago forest fires decimated Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding mountain areas. There were stories of brave firefighters and brave citizens in the midst of both personal loss and devastating community loss.

This is what we think of when we think of bravery. Nationally televised news stories. But, bravery is much closer to home and accessible in small moments.

Important moments.

Moments that can shift your life. And the lives of those around you.

What does bravery look like?

I see bravery daily in my best friend fighting a cancer that is only potentially managed. We're told it's not going to be cured. She faces her days, her parenting, her treatment and her future with such grace and positive attitude that I can think of no word other than brave.

I see her step bravely into the idea she may not be here for her kids as long as she wants to be. I see her step bravely into a regimen of treatments and terminology that would make your head spin. I see her step bravely into dependence on others because she can't drive while taking pain medicine. I see her step bravely into the reality of pulling away from a freelancing job that has given her purpose and identity in addition to income. I see her do these things, not without struggle, but with assurance, faith, grace and most certainly, bravery.

And I'm humbled.

Her brave is drawn from a deep well of faith and it allows her to move through the dance she's been given with grace and joy determined by her faith rather than her circumstances.

I see bravery in a circle of online women taking a class they expected to be about style and soon realized it was about how they choose to show up in the world. And that quickly became a very deep, very important conversation. I saw them tackle their body image. Their belief in themselves. Their understanding of who they are and who they want to be. I cheered as they bravely began to show who they are on the inside to the world at large. With fear, yes. But with honesty, vulnerability and truth. I saw them make choices based on their own strength rather than the stories they've been hearing about themselves from others and in their own heads. Outwardly the shifts weren't dramatic every single day. But internal shifts sometimes require far more bravery. I saw them transform from intentionally hiding from the world to shining in it.

And I'm humbled.

Their brave came from a deep sense of community where each person is seen and loved in a way we don't experience in our over-connected but under-communitied culture. The support in this community allows them to tackle new steps in their dance every day.

I see bravery in the actions of my nephew who recently defended a boy in his fifth grade class. This classroom of boys has been unmercifully picking on a child who is different. And my nephew had had enough of it. I see leadership, kindness and bravery in him.

And I'm humbled.

His brave shines from a soul who knows who he is and believes in the dignity of all people. In kindness toward others. He's eleven and he may not articulate it that way himself at his age. But the rhythm of his dance communicates it clearly.

Your Brave

You may not be facing a fire of the magnitude of the one the Tennessee mountain people faced this season. But daily each of us face our own fires. Maybe it's not cancer. Or self image. Or bullies. But, I guarantee there is something that requires you to put your brave on and dance the song in your life. Whatever that thing is, know that there are everyday heroes around you taking those steps daily. Yes, the fires are there. And they may be difficult and painful.

Dance anyway.

Not in spite of the fires, but because of them.

Step into your brave and let the world around you be enriched and encouraged. Bravery is like a muscle, if you use it, it gets stronger. Start small. No need to fight a Smoky Mountain forest fire.

Start small. Build the muscle. Put your brave on. I'm willing to bet you'll be surprised what you can do.

Episode Artwork

What if you were brave? artwork - find print on

This week, the art is pretty easy to interpret without my help. A dancer balances bravely in the midst of flames. Be like her.

If this episode or art has spoken to you and you'd like a copy of this print, you can find it here.

For info on the style school I mention, head over to the Stasia's Style School website, Stasia's website or follow her on Instagram. You won't regret it. I promise. Do it now. I mean it, like, right now. 

Episode Downloads

Coffee Talk worksheet and iPhone lockscreen

Jan 22, 2017

Have you ever had a choice to make and you can't make a decision? So, you turn it over to fate by flipping a coin or having someone else choose. The moment that the choice is out of your hands...when the coin is flipped or the friend chooses, you realize what you actually wanted? I had that happen this week without realizing there was even a decision to make.

I have a friend who is battling cancer. It's the kind of cancer that you manage as long and as well as possible, not the kind that you cure. I've spent a lot of time with her in the last year and she's continually coping with all the same everyday life things that you and I are dealing with. But. She's also working through things like, how I make sure my teen aged daughter understands the things I want her to know about life when I may not be here to tell her when she's ready to hear. How do I handle my job performance when I'm sick, in treatments and on pain meds. How do I cope with people who tell me with surprise that I "don't look sick" when, oh honey, my mortality is making itself known front and center with every step of every day.

Our mortality.

That's the thing. We all live this life for an unspecified number of days and then we die. If you didn't realize that, I'm sorry to break it to you. Welcome! You're going to die someday! I hope it's not soon. Our brains are wired to have us believe that it's not going to be soon. That tomorrow will be the same as today. I remember early in my friend's diagnosis when we found out that she may have 20 years to live or she may have 2 and I remember thinking that in reality that could be just as true of me as well. But, I am sure my friend would say there's a difference in the actually knowing. An urgency. I remember a year ago being overcome for 3 days with that idea, "what if I only have two years to live. How would I respond to that? What would I do? How would I live? What choices would I make differently?" It's hard for our brains to wrap around that truth and live like there's no guarantee of tomorrow. That's not comfortable. Not one bit. And, boy, do we all crave the comfortable.

We all recognize our mortality in our heads, intellectually. But, how should it actually make a difference in our lives?

Three Ways To Respond

First, never ever take your people for granted and never put off making things right in relationships, growing relationships or appreciating others. Take every opportunity to tell people you care. This might seem very greeting card-ish, until you lose someone unexpectedly and wish you'd said something while you had the chance. In other words, prioritize people. More importantly, make this habitual. Center your life around the idea that people matter most. This is one of our family values and I'm constantly reminding my son in both small decisions and big ones. "People matter most. How does that help you decide?"

Second, remember that how you spend your days is how you spend your life. I have this Annie Dillard quote on my fridge. The actions you take every day will be what your life is marked by. What your life is made of and filled with. If you don't want to be living your life in any given way...don't live your days that way. And on the flip side...the things you want your life full of...fill your days with. Not just the special occasion days.

Third, every so often, be brave and consider your mortality. This is a luxury that you and I have that my friend doesn't have. You and I are not forced to do it. But it's a valuable practice. Consider if your time is short, how would you live? What would you prioritize? What would you do? Not do? Would you pursue what you're pursuing? Hold on to what you're holding on to? Invest in what you're investing in?


I was turning this over in the back of my head this week. Sort of the pre-thinking I do before I figure out what I'm going to record. And that's when the question I didn't realize was there ambushed me.

One of the things I do is run a promotional products business and while I was working I had this passing thought, that, "this is one of those days when I wish I had a sugar daddy paying my bills so I could just..."

Ok, all of you who's eyes just rolled at me. I work really hard. Probably too hard. I've been working since I was 15. I worked through college and I've worked ever since. Usually two jobs, sometimes three and I'm currently a single mom. So, in other words, cut a girl some slack, I've earned a few moments of "what if" when I get dog-eared tired like I am this week.

But, actually, I realized that this passing thought wasn't really a joke like any other time it's come up. And it wasn't that I just wanted to be supported so I could play or have a life of ease. Though, I might not put up too much of a fuss about that. It wasn't even that I wanted to stay home with my son instead of work, because essentially I do that already as I work from home.

What it was, I realized was a deep yearning to do this other work. The art, the speaking to you, the writing...this way of processing ideas and life that I've started doing every week...and be doing it with more mental and emotional space, more attention and more focus. Exploring both the art and the process. Not as something on the side of my side gig. But, as the main thing. Or, as close to the main thing as I can.

I've not considered seriously pursuing art before. Heck, I've just recently gotten used to the idea of calling myself an artist without either throwing up or laughing. And I realized suddenly that all the things I've been  working so hard at for the past year were included on the obligation side of the equation in my head. I know my promo business falls there, but I didn't realize how many other of my current plans and projects were internally classified as, "stuff that was keeping me from my heart work."

I didn't even realize that it was my heart work.

Or, that there was an equation.

I understood suddenly that I was investing energy in the wrong things. And I don't want to spend my next two years - whether it's my last two years or not - investing in things that aren't part of ideal days I want to live. I decided at that point to stop all the other stuff and head into the direction of the art. This means walking away from things I'm comfortable with, have more control over and a more certain income. This is walking away from projects I'd set in motion and some investments I've in the last two weeks. It's scarier and far less secure. In short, it requires far more faith and more growth.

The period of about a half hour while these realizations were coming up was intense, emotional and for lack of a better word, spiritual. When it was over, I had an adrenaline hangover. You know that feeling when you've had a close call, the rush of adrenaline shows up...then when it's all over you're shaky and spent? That's how I felt. And, it was like my heart and intuition had taken huge strides forward and my head was still back at the starting gate saying, "Hello, what just happened? What do you mean you made a decision, I hadn't even asked a question!"

This wasn't a normal decision process for me. It was different. It felt very different. And that's probably a good thing, because I suspect I'm going to need to hang on to that "differentness" relatively often in the future. Just in the last two days I'm being inundated with internal, "why do you think you could? Who do you think you are?" and " You're not good enough!" voices.

So, this word of mine that I've talked about the last two weeks. Create. It's already wreaking havoc in my life. And apparently it's going to be much more of my life work in this year than I even suspected a week ago.

Episode Artwork

The art this week was difficult. Every time I tried something it didn't work. Where I ended up is a little piece about your heart's work. About peeling back the layers of life until you find it. Those layers might be lovely. This is hand made paper I picked up in Mexico. It pretty, it's meaningful, it's got weight and substance. It's very difficult to tear. Your layers might be all those things. But, look beyond them to find your heart's life.

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