Hole in the soul

A few years ago I was struggling. I was going through a difficult time, feeling depressed, sad, empty, not myself at all. For a time I was miserable, but over a period of months I came to terms with some of the issues I’d been struggling with. And eventually life was better again; not perfect, but so much better.

Sometimes I remember those months, and what I learned from the experience.

Depression steals your energy. I remember feeling like I just wanted to sleep, to escape. Simple chores were overwhelming. The only thing that kept me somewhat normal was work. Work helped me put on the façade, gave me a reason to get up and get moving. Because I didn’t want to bring drama to my work place, I tried to minimize what I was going through, tried to hold myself together so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed with my co-workers.

Depression steals your appetite. At least that was what happened to me. I lost interest in cooking. I was alone a lot during those months, and it was easy to ignore meals when I wasn’t hungry, and too disinterested to cook. I lost 20 pounds in a few months. Best and worst diet experience I’ve ever had, the only “diet” that was effortless. In the past I’d put on pants or a favorite skirt and realized it was time to lose a few pounds. I’ve never before had to look through my closet for something to wear that wouldn’t fall off me.

Depression steals your interests. I would try to read to take my mind off the things that were bothering me. I couldn’t read. I would try to watch TV. I couldn’t stay engaged. I couldn’t settle myself long enough to accomplish much. I was restless and yet exhausted.

Depression steals your rest. I slept a lot when I wasn’t working. But often in the middle of the night I would wake up and my mind would race, going over and over the things that were troubling me. I was sleeping all the time, but not resting. My sleep cycle was broken by stress and worry, and somehow, the more I slept, the less I rested.

Once I was in the grocery store, walking around like a ghost, feeling the physical impact of depression. I felt like there was a hole in the middle of my body where my stomach should have been. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself with a gap between chest and hips…a hole that only allowed for the churning engine of stress that took the place of my belly…and even though I knew there was no hole, I remember thinking that the gaping emptiness seemed so real, I was surprised other shoppers weren’t staring at me, stopping to ask if I was alright. Because I had a hole in my middle. It was a surreal experience, and I wasn’t even on any medication. I was just feeling the drowning grip of sadness.

I walked around the store, filling my cart, looking normal on the outside, feeling lost and empty on the inside, and so aware of the gaping hole. As I walked around, I began to wonder who else was walking through the store with their own holes, invisible to me, but so real to them. Holes in souls.

That question took the focus off myself and allowed me to stand back and recognize that I probably pass people all the time who walk around with holes. I just don’t see what’s in front of my eyes. I try always to be kind, to be thoughtful. But even so, there are days that I’m wrapped up in my world. I pass people on automatic pilot: kind but remote, polite but disinterested, because I’m busy, and on the run, and don’t really look close enough to see the hole that’s devouring the person in front of me.

Living for a time with a hole in myself helped me realize, in a way I hadn’t before, that a lot of people walk around like that. Walking wounded. They put on the face, just like I did. They go through the motions of living, just like I did. Some get help, and some get relief from a change in the situation that’s causing the pain. That’s what happened to me. Circumstances changed, the skies cleared, my smile came back.

It wasn’t without some effort on my part. I did a lot of soul-searching, made some changes that were within my power to make.

It was a humbling experience. When you’ve always been hopeful, mostly happy, mostly sunny side up, it’s hard to recognize a self who’s drowning, who can’t snap out of it. You begin to look at people who struggle with depression and other forms of mental illness through a different lens. You find more compassion, more appreciation for the struggles that are invisible to the eye, but so real to the heart.

When I remember that time, now I can feel grateful. It taught me a lot about myself and helped me find strength I didn’t know I had. I learned the value of “wait and see.” I learned that the phrase “trust the process” isn’t just something you hear in corporate settings. I learned that life will often right itself, if you work with it.

I don’t want to tempt fate by thinking I’m invincible. I’m not, and the truth is, no one is. If there is a next time, I think I’ll manage my hole a little better. I think I’ll know to trust, I’ll find my smile a little faster, a little easier. The reward for weathering the hard times is being better prepared to face whatever comes, and knowing, knowing, that you’ll survive, and thrive, and grow above. Eventually, assuredly.

Once you’ve worked through a hole in your life, you’re never quite the same. You’re scarred, but you’re wiser.

I no longer have an engine of stress running in my stomach, or feel like there’s a hole in my body. But I can empathize with those who do. I don’t talk a lot about this experience…just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. But now and then I see an opportunity to speak up, to share, to encourage, to say, “I’ve been there.” It’s a powerful thing to look back at a challenge and know you’ve overcome. And it’s a powerful encouragement to someone else to hear a first-person story, to know someone else really gets it.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out now. I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this, except that I suddenly wanted to.

I’m not sharing to get sympathy. I’m sharing to give hope.

I started my blog during those months, started it to stake a claim to the positive person I knew was somewhere inside. I was determined to find my way to that self again. And I did. I had help from a few significant people who knew what was going on, and some of the conflict in my life subsided.

After the worst of it was behind me, I noticed I was singing again. I noticed I was interested in food again. I noticed I had a renewed sense of grace, of redemption, found a new sweetness to life that stays with me. I sometimes have small setbacks, and I sometimes feel discouraged. But I’ve never gone to the depths again. I’ve learned the signs to watch for, and the steps toward healing.

I think I’m a better person than I was, in part because of what I went through. It changed me, grew me. And though the details are not important now, I can share this much: to anyone reading this who is lost and despairing, don’t give up hope.

Do something to get yourself moving, literally. Get off the couch, do the smallest thing, and let that lead you to the next thing, and the next. Action inspires hope, and hope is the lifeline to healing. Reach out; there are probably more people than you could guess who understand at least some of what you’re experiencing. And give yourself time. Time can be your ally, and in time, you can look back and see that you’ve come a long way from your lowest point.

You’ll find your smile again. You’ll hear yourself singing again. You’ll sleep through the night again. And you’ll know you’re healed.

 

Wounds

 

About these ads

View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

DSC00881

Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

Get moving

So, I took my own advice and decided to quit wandering in the valley of technology and self-education. I’ve found a small design firm that I’ll be working with in the coming months to help me move to the next level with a business website and integrated design plan.

Aaaahhh…that’s the sound of my brain cells relaxing, thanking me, and getting ready to focus.

Actually, I think focus is one of the biggest challenges of our era. There’s so much coming at you, every waking moment. I like technology, gadgets, and all the positives.

But I finally had to admit: I’m just not able to absorb everything I need to learn, keep my current work going, keep up with my travel schedule, manage my day to day, and kid myself that I have energy left to launch a digital business. Just not possible.

I was reading a post a few days ago about outsourcing things to virtual assistants to free time for creative thinking and higher productivity. And I realized…why am I trying to learn how to set up a business website? I don’t have that expertise, and in the time it takes me to create a site, I could pay someone else to do it for me, and be working on building a client base.

I read so much about how easy it is to set up a website…well, WordPress made it easy enough to create a blog. And if I put 40 hours a week on this project, I might be able to do it for myself. But that’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen.

As I often say…I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer. But I think this will give me the boost I need to move forward. And that’s a good thing, because frankly, doing it the other way…trying to be a team of one…has been exhausting. I see so many people on line who look like they’ve created an amazing blog/business/website that’s an overnight success. Maybe that’s true for some, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe the sites I see that look like the lone entrepreneur is the only one behind the work…maybe there’s really a team effort going on. Whatever. The reality is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to pursue my goals. I don’t think there’s a special medal for doing it all on my own.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the things I can do…creating content and looking at ways to add value to service and product…and getting out of the way of professionals who can give me a beautifully designed site.

And yesterday I picked up some more work for the summer, so my costs for this boost will be covered.

Just seemed like a little message from the universe. :)

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it.”   Steve Maraboli

Primary Care

Two weeks. For two weeks this month I worked in the local primary care clinic, seeing the daily parade of patients and problems: the good, the bad, the ugly.

The clinic was short-handed with some staff out for spring break, and I was able to help out at the front desk. I went through training last year to be a super-user for the clinic’s electronic record, and it helps me to stay current to go in and work in the live setting when I have opportunity. And it’s good to catch up with staff I used to see on a daily basis when I worked full-time in the admin department. Plus, the clinic is in Ketchikan, so I got to be in my own home while I fulfilled this commitment. So all good.

I’ve blogged about this before. Most of my work in the world of healthcare has been on the administrative side. I came into healthcare through the back door of grant writing and office work. I’ve expanded to policy writing, recruiting, project coordination…all tasks that are familiar and comfortable. But patients…now that’s different.

Patients are the reality check to all the work I do.

I usually work in quiet offices, with much of my day consumed with writing, or researching, or interacting with other staff: problem solving, planning, coordinating efforts, meetings, interviews. All valuable, and part of the mechanism that keeps staff in house and programs operating.

But in that world I’m shielded from the nitty, and the gritty. Two weeks of primary care changes that focus.

The other staff I worked with are great: patient, helpful, appreciative of the support I offer, even when it’s imperfectly delivered. In a busy clinic, you need all hands to juggle clinic hours (the clinic offers extended hours; some days the schedule begins at 7:00 AM, and others it ends at 7:00 PM), patient demands, and keep up with the minute-to-minute of busy days. Navigating the electronic system for patient registration,  scheduling appointments, fielding a million questions a day…ok, maybe a thousand, but it seems like more…well, I’m reminded again: I’m grateful to be healthy; humbled to recognize that my complaints of life are “first world” in nature; and I alternate between admiration of people who are cheerful and upbeat in the face of difficulty, and amazement at patients who abuse the very staff who are trying to help them.

Patients are thoughtful, kind, appreciative, attentive. Some are dainty little old ladies, or stately elderly men, in for blood pressure checks and routine appointments that make them regulars. The staff know them by heart. They’re the ones that give you a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Others are also known, but not for their good traits. They’re rude, demanding, careless, dysfunctional. They’re the ones with an attitude and a knack for saying the wrong thing. They no-show for appointments, then complain when they can’t be worked in; they “lose” prescriptions; they’re quick to criticize and expect more. You see one of those names on the schedule for the day and you hope you don’t have to encounter them. They make you glad with their absence. And yet, even as you put on the smile and ignore the attitude that’s so inappropriate, you wonder: what happened to this person to turn them into a (take your pick) bitter/manipulative/ungrateful/difficult human being?

Work in a clinic setting, and it’s inevitable: you begin to have better understanding of the issues. The headlines about healthcare and insurance and regulations have a real-life meaning that you see through forms, and requirements, and layers of bureaucracy created to manage patients, and the business of paying for care.

The patients make it real too. Some of them can barely walk. Some of them smell. Some of them are dying, slowly but surely. Some of them are living, but miserably. I see the way the staff work with the needs, the challenges, the drama. I’m impressed that these people make a life of touching, healing, processing, listening, advocating, arranging, soothing. The list could go on, and does: the work is never-ending, and the reward is more of the same.

Sometimes it’s funny. When people become patients, you can expect the unexpected, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, it’s another day, and you’ve haven’t seen anything yet.

Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Patients die, and every week there are two or three sympathy cards laid out on a back shelf, ready to mail “to the family of…”

I say it often: working in healthcare is not a job for the faint of heart.

The job of professionals is to make hard work look easy, and the team I just worked with does that on a regular basis. They find the grace to rise to the challenge every day.

I never had any aspiration to become a nurse, or a physician, or a hands-on healer of any sort. And I’ll admit I’m more than a little relieved that now I’ll go back to my role as a sometimes-recruiter, sometimes-project coordinator, juggling many balls and enjoying the variety of my world. But I have to acknowledge, a little time in the hot seat, interacting with patients is a good thing. It reminds me that there are people at the heart of the work I do from my safe and sanitized desk.

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

I get to…

Some days I need a re-set. Most of the time I’m on the up side of life, and I feel it. I have a smile, and a spring in my step. I see the positive, I hear the music.

But sometimes…just sometimes…I can’t remember. I can’t remember why I live this crazy life, bouncing around for work, and traveling, living a few days here and a few days there. How did I come to choose this way of living? Sometimes I lose sight of the water, so blue beneath the wings of the float plane. I don’t see the sunshine, making the waves sparkle. I don’t feel the romance of going to a small island and working in a beautiful little clinic, knowing that we, Rob and I, are living an amazing adventure. Sometimes my world is about have to.

When I have to, nothing feels right. I’m lost in frustration. Whatever I have, I don’t want. And I only want what I used to have, or hope to have, or should have. You know that game, don’t you? Of course; what human doesn’t? It’s part of the human condition, to feel all the negatives piling up, even when I can take those very same circumstances on a different day, a better day, and see everything that’s perfect.

I can’t always change it at will…I wish it was that easy! But here’s a little trick I’ve learned to use. Instead of saying “I have to…” I say “I get to…” I get to travel. I get to have a job. I get to make dinner. I get to, I get to, I get to….

When I find myself in the hole of wishing, and wondering why, I start listening to my words. I re-frame, and look for ways to say, “I get to.”

Unbelievable, how changing one little word can change my mood, change my outlook. It doesn’t change the circumstances I’m in, it changes me. Get to; have to.

Which will it be tomorrow?

Imagine – how would you change?

I was catching up on blog posts this afternoon and came across this video of a TED talk given by one of the passengers from the flight that landed in the Hudson River in New York a couple of years ago. Maybe it resonated with me a little more after my bumpy flight last week! Or maybe it was just a timely reminder of what’s really important in life.

You may have different priorities that speak to you. Regardless of what you list as your life’s focus, this is a good reminder to be intentional. Evaluate how you spend your time. Adjust if necessary.

Hope you enjoy!

Word for 2014

The past couple of years I’ve been challenged to select a single word to set the tone for the year to come. So far I’ve chosen “revision” and “momentum.” This year I’m choosing “consistent.” I’m pretty good at beginning projects and making commitments, and I’m often even good at follow through. But not always. At times I get sidetracked and lose my focus. Some things (like blogs) need consistent attention and nurturing to succeed.

I also fall into the trap of taking care of commitments to others, while commitments to myself languish, unloved and un-nourished, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. That’s just the nature of life, to some degree. After all, work projects and tasks have finite timelines that impact others…I can’t set those obligations aside when I’m tired, or not in the mood, or distracted. Unfortunately, that happens all too often with my personal projects.

Mind you, success can be defined in many ways, and success can be as variable as reaching a definite goal, or just staying on task toward a goal; or keeping a regular time to pray or meditate or read; or finally marking a big to-do off your life list. Everyone can define success for themselves.

Closely connected to this year’s choice of “consistent” is recognizing: just because a project is personal, that doesn’t mean I should give myself a pass on meeting the goal, self-imposed though it be. In a very real way, when I make my personal goals take a backseat to other priorities, I’m giving myself less than what I give to others. Somehow I’ve created the false idea that work for others is more important than work I accomplish for myself. Well, sometimes that other work is more urgent. But personal goals shouldn’t be devalued because they’re personal. Particularly if goals are strategic, as in: moving your life in a new direction.

That sounds selfish, but I think it is another way of saying that I need to mind the important more than the urgent.

If you would like to join me in this approach, it’s simple! To choose your word and receive support and reminders to follow through with your goals, go to http://www.myoneword.org and sign up…free and easy! This is a different approach to the traditional new year’s resolution route. Instead of creating a list of goals, narrow your focus to one word.

What is most critical to your journey this year? Just the process of choosing a word can be revealing. I don’t always choose the first word that comes to mind, but I do consider what rises to the surface…what does my first impulse lead me to? It’s a good way to take stock, and to choose one direction rather than getting tangled up in an itemized list.

Surveys say that new year’s resolutions don’t last very long. Most people abandon their list by mid-January. Having one word to keep in mind is a minimal approach, but your word can encompass as many tasks as you choose throughout the year. It’s really just a different way to approach the same desire: to make the coming year better, to reach your potential, to find your best.

On this last week of 2013, I’m thoughtful. And I’m hopeful. And I’m challenged.

How about you?

Children are nestled

Ah, Christmas Eve, and all is done. Children (grandchildren) are in their beds, Riley dreaming of Christmas, and Jack just dreaming. A one year old is truly satisfied with the boxes and wrappings! But in spite of that, he has a few gifts under the tree.

Riley, at three, (alright, closer to four, in just a few short months) is absorbed by the build-up, the grown-ups’ expectations transmitted to her, and her own sense of something Big To Come. Now and then, in the midst of the craziness of the week before Christmas, she’s said, with all the seriousness of an ancient, “This is the best Christmas ever!” Well, who wouldn’t melt at that?

We’ve been here since Friday, coming down to Seattle a few days early to celebrate Jack’s first birthday on the 20th. Watching his big six-tooth smile, his early attempts at walking…he’s taking a step or two at a time and learning to stand and balance without support…and seeing his move from bottle to cup, from “baby” food to simple table food, I’m glad we have this time with him. By our next visit he’ll be more toddler than baby.

Love those presents!

Love those presents!

Riley is the grown-up big sister, learning to build with Duplo blocks, playing with her stable full of My Little Ponies, watching Disney movies. There’s only a couple of years between them, but she seems so big. Literally, she’s as tall as some five year olds. Jack is almost 30 pounds. Stephanie and Matt grow sturdy little people.

Well, you can’t go back in time, but you can go forward. My turn to have children staring up at the lights on the tree has ended. But through the magic of generations, I get to join in the fun again, watching Stephanie’s two. Life is sweet, balanced between the funny and the poignant.

And so we watch. We watch for Rudolph, and Santa, and wonder about the morning. We’ve got cinnamon rolls and sausage balls and Christmas coffee for the adults, and sugar plums for the little ones, snug upstairs. Come on, Santa. We’re ready!

Happy Jack!

Happy Jack!

Merry Christmas!

The Great Unsubscribe

I read a lot, and I often save items that catch my eye for “later.” Sometimes the stack by my desk has to be thinned out, and typically, I find a few things that I replace, still waiting for that magical future moment when I have time on my hands; and a lot more that’s outlasted its usefulness, or my interest. So satisfying to see a noticeably smaller stack after a clearing!

The digital world is no different, except that when I read something I like, I often click “subscribe.” I need more to do, right?

But if it’s easy to add myself to email lists, it’s almost as easy to undo the damage. So lately, every time I see an email come through that I’m not going to get to, again, I do the mental sort. Is this a site I’ve outgrown? Did I subscribe thinking that this would be a treasure trove of information and advice, only to realize I will never read another thing from this source?

Have I gotten on an email list by mistake? I could swear there are evil things at work in cyberspace. I know some of the junk mail that makes it through my filters is nothing I would ever request. Not sure how that happens…probably agreed to something in fine print. But even those emails have the little “unsubscribe” link at the bottom, usually in the finest of fine prints. Clicking “unsubscribe” is almost as exciting as dropping off at Goodwill…you just know you’re going to feel lighter for the effort!

So, I’m thinning my digital commitments. Don’t ask me how it works, but an email inbox can be almost as overwhelming as a physical stack on my desk. I just know there’s some great stuff buried in there, if only I had time to catch up!

It’s a little like throwing out a box you never opened from a move. The common advice is, if you haven’t opened a box a year after a move, you can safely throw it out, because you obviously haven’t needed or missed whatever is in the mystery box. I’m a little to obsessive for that approach.

But when it comes to digital files, I’m more willing to purge without angst.

The other solution is a little like moving and not leaving a forwarding address. I’ve created new email addresses over the years to better sort who gets what. Now my oldest address is for those annoying times when you need to give an email, but you know you’re not going to maintain the relationship. A second one is for orders, and I use a third one for personal exchanges. Except when I forget and use the wrong one…which is why some friends and family are mystified by my system and just send the same information to multiple addresses. My fault for making it complicated, I know.

But here’s the thing…I find it’s easier to unsubscribe than to abandon my email addresses. Because, you know, I’ve probably set up an account or two along the way with the information, and if I abandon ship, that’s going to be a problem. An old email address is sort of like a remnant from middle school…like a piece of your history that you aren’t really excited about any more, but can’t part with either. I wish I had been more thoughtful about what I would want to follow me around the rest of my life. I probably wouldn’t have made the same choice if I had recognized the reality: I’m likely to be stuck with my digital “names” till I die. What’s up with some sites treating your user name like it’s sacred? Because of course a lot of my user name choices were based on my email address at that time. Apple‘s iTunes, for instance…now that’s one I’d like to update, but I’m stuck with my original user name there forever, apparently.

I think the digital world should allow regular re-sets, don’t you? I’m not trying to do anything illegal…my personal preference in naming convention has just matured a bit over time.

But I digress. I started by saying that I’m cleaning digital house, and how good that feels. I guess I’ve just demonstrated that all issues have sub-issues. My real angst is about email and user names, less about my inbox clutter. At least I can do something about the clutter.

If you want to reach me, feel free to send me a comment here. I can currently be found through my blog; Facebook; Twitter; I have four emails that are trailing around for various purposes; and I have a LinkedIn account that I don’t really use. I also managed to stumble into Google Circles, but I tried to back out as fast as possible. Really, I’m not looking for more ways to be connected…I just need to keep up with what I’ve already begun. And at that, everything I just listed is only for personal use. Work is a separate story.

I’m going to rest now. Feeling overwhelmed by digital forces.