Thursday, February 28, 2013

Life-learning No. 3

Number 3 of the important things I have learned as I've aged is the value of letting go. So much garbage accumulates in our lives through the years—both inside us and around us. Decluttering is an ongoing project.

You and I need to declutter our homes from time to time—closets, drawers and other spaces. New owners can enjoy those previously beloved treasures while other things simply are junk that can be tossed. How wonderful it feels to simplify and get rid of some "stuff."

Even more important is the process of decluttering our hearts and minds. You and I need to  let go of old thought patterns that no longer work, old resentments and anger, tired old stories about how we were hurt or done in by someone, complaints and gripes that are starting to sound like a stuck recording by now (I need to either do something about it or quit complaining!), and so much more.

As I've said in several previous blogs, letting go is a process that needs repeating at times. I let go of my anger at someone for some past hurt and think that's the end of it. But it reappears a few months later and catches me by surprise. What? Didn't I let go of that long ago? Yes, but pieces of it might remain and come up again. So let go again. And again. Do it as often as is necessary until you feel free of it.

Letting go of emotional baggage relieves stress and lightens our load for the journey. It is well worth the time and energy it takes to tend to it on a regular basis. See it as part of your life skills tool kit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Life-learning No. 2

 Last year in a small group, I was asked (along with other participants) what age I would like to go back to and why. I didn't even have to think about that one. I like life right where I am. I wouldn't go back to any other age or stage of my life for any amount of money. And it's not because I have a perfect life and live in a perfect world. I don't.

What would you answer? Obviously, there's no right or wrong answer. There's simply your answer.

I like the things I am learning as I age. That's the reason I wouldn't go back to a previous age. For me, the wisdom and insights I keep gaining through the years far outweigh any loss of body strength or any sags or wrinkles I've gained.

Yesterday I began sharing things I am learning as I age because it was an exercise some friends and I recently engaged. I am grateful to have learned to love and care for my self. This came later in my life, perhaps because I was raised in an age when women didn't do that. Life then was all about caring for others, most likely husband and children. I did that for several years of my life. Now I know the importance of good self-care, however. I know that if I am to love and care for others, I'm much better equipped to do that if I am filled up. I need to be loved and cared for, too.

It's lovely when others love and care for us. It's also very important that we learn to do this for ourselves. Imagine a pitcher pouring its contents into several glasses—except that there's nothing in the pitcher. It's empty. Hmmmm, it wouldn't work, would it? You can't give to anyone if you're running on empty either. So what's on your list today that will make you feel loved and nurtured? If nothing is on your to-do list yet, add something. You'll be so glad you did.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life-learning No. 1

This week one of my friends celebrates a birthday containing a "0." Those are always significant milestones that invite us to stop and reflect on where we've been, where we're going and what we've learned.

So when our little group of friends (the YaYa women) gathered last weekend for our monthly get-together, we celebrated her birthday. And we each took time to share some of our important learnings in the years we've been blessed to live. I was grateful for the opportunity to think about what I've learned over the years. So often I just keep on keeping on, unaware of the wisdom I've gleaned. I may even dismiss it as "nothing much." But awareness is always a good thing—and helps me grow.

One of my big aha moments is that I live in a both/and world. Now you may have lived that way all along. I hadn't. Perhaps because of my personality or my Enneagram type, I have been more of an either/or person. As I age, I am discovering that this really isn't working for me so well anymore. And I realize that the world is full of complexity and nuance.

For me that means that I can follow my passion and still retain the practical side of myself. It means that I can accept that a situation is what it is and I can continue to be a change agent, working for fairness and transformation. It means that I can look back at something in my past (say my divorce or my job loss) and see how deeply hurt I was by it—and still be grateful that it's part of my story and has made me who I am today.

Have you always been a both/and person? What does it mean for you? If not, is this something you would like to change? I invite you to share with me and other readers below in the Comment box. I'd love to hear your ideas and your tips. What are you learning as you age?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Choosing your responses

I talk a lot about choices. Whether it's choosing to be happy or positive or choosing to tell your story in a way that shows your blessings rather than in a way that focuses on your disappointments—whatever it is, I believe in choices.

Sometimes it's a challenge, though, isn't it? Early last week a situation arose that was starting me down the path of resentment. "Oh, no," I thought, "I don't want to go down this road. I want to nip this before I really get a good start on anger, resentment and a full-blown pity party!" However, I couldn't just let go of it. My mind kept circling back to how I felt diminished by the situation.

Finally I got proactive and suggested something for all the participants in this particular event that would be life-giving and affirming to everyone involved. It would value us all. I felt so much better—and especially felt good when my suggestion was taken. Being proactive in a positive way felt better than stewing in a pot of resentment. It was about being authentic, about making a choice—one that was good for me but also valued everyone else involved. I do believe that the more I practice such responses, the more of a habit they'll become.

Now if I can just remember that the next time I'm faced with something similar! Soon positive responses will be a habit.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Love your body

I saved the card. I liked its message in 2007 when I received it "just because." And I like its message today. So I'm going to share it with you. It came from a dear friend with whom I've been on a journey that embraces so many things—one of them being how we view our bodies, weight loss, being healthy and all that surrounds those issues so many of us face.

"Let's start a revolution," the card says. "Let's be BOLD. Let's love our tummies, our wrinkles, and curves. Let's celebrate our hips and thighs and all the parts of us the magazines say are too big or too small.

"Let's applaud our flaws and scars, and enjoy that we don't have to be air-brushed perfection. Let's say, "I LOVE MY BODY" and mean it, and feel comfortable in our own skin.

"Let's eat a meal and not feel guilty, and exercise because it feels good. Let's listen to our bodies and follow our intuition.

"Let's set our own standards of beauty—and open our eyes to how gorgeous we already are."

I really can't add anything more to that message. That card says it all. Print this out and tack it up somewhere. Read it. Again and again. Believe it. Let it live inside you! Share it with your friends.

You ARE gorgeous!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Listen to yourself

Pay attention to what you're saying—your inner and outer language. And pay attention to how you're saying those words. Listen to yourself.

Have you ever caught yourself telling someone something and realized later that there was more intensity there than you'd realized? And you knew that you needed to pay attention to that. I've had that happen several times.

Several months ago an acquaintance asked me about my former job in journalism. As I talked about having lost that job, I realized that I still had some pretty strong feelings about having been Reduced In Force. I knew it was time (again!) to stop and do some more letting go around that. I've done lots of letting go since I lost my job in 2009. Lots of grieving. Lots of journaling. Lots of inner (and outer) work around all that it meant for me. But still it comes back from time to time and wants attention.

When that happens, it's time to stop and see what's going on inside. When I did that this time, I realized it wasn't that I longed to be back in that job again. I don't. I absolutely love my new career in life coaching. What I was feeling was the sting of not having been able to make my own choice about when to end my journalism career. Especially for an Enneagram 8, which I am, being able to make my own choices is a big issue. I needed to acknowledge, again, that I didn't get to make that particular choice and that it was over and done. Period. Let go, Sonia. Let go. Reframe it, if possible, and move on. It was time to remember the words of a life coach with whom I worked a year after my job loss. She told me to "bless and release" my former boss. "Bless him for kicking you out of the nest," she said at the time, "because you learned how to fly on the way down" (referring to me having created a new dream and career for myself). "Bless him—and release him." Good advice. I did it. But, clearly, I needed to do it again.

Is there something you're hearing today in your words that wants your attention?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Passion & careers

Did you follow your passion when you chose your career—or take a route you saw as practical?

My book club just discussed Stephanie Cowell's Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet on Monday night. It's a great love story but it's so much more than that: It's a story of friends sticking together and helping one another through thick and thin, and it's one about a man for whom painting was as essential as breathing. It was about following your passion. In Monet's case, this had some downsides to it; his family lived in poverty and on the edge many times. However, his art brought him intense joy and fulfillment, too. Both/and, just like so much of life. I am a Monet fan and am grateful he followed his heart and painted rather than following his father's wishes that he work in the family business.

Are you following your heart? Has there been a cost to doing so? If you're not, is there a cost to not pursuing your passion and your dreams?

If not following your heart will mean deep regret when you get to life's end, explore now how you can pursue your passion. Reflect on it. Talk about it. Journal about it. Take some steps toward your dream. See how it feels.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When happiness isn't possible

Yesterday's blog was about choosing happiness. It was spurred by the regrets highlighted in Bronnie Ware's book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Yes, happiness is a choice. That said, our lives contain times when it's just impossible to make such a choice. I have several friends who deal with depression, one whose depression has been so severe that each day was a struggle for her to even want to live. In that case, choosing happiness simply wasn't possible. My friend just clung to whatever she could each day in her efforts to stay alive. She counted on others—her family and friends—to carry her hope when she could not. Sometimes her hope was a tiny, tiny speck in her world.

There's a lesson in that, too: Relationships are so essential to life and to any happiness we might enjoy. And that really takes us back to another of Ware's discoveries from those who were dying: They wish they had spent more time with friends.

My questions for you today are:

• On whom do you count when you find it impossible, or nearly so, to choose happiness? What are you doing to nourish and nurture those relationships today?

• Who counts on you for support and care when they are down and out? What are you doing to help them?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Choose happiness

Last week I talked about the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware. Each day I talked about one of the regrets she recorded as she listened to the epiphanies of dying people with whom she worked.

The fifth regret is: "I wish that I had let myself be happier." Here's what Ware says about that: "Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

Yes, happiness is a choice. And fear of change can be deadly.

I've heard some people say, "I don't deserve to be happy." And others who say, "Happiness is just frivolous. We're here to be productive." Perhaps that looks very different at life's end—just sayin'. And, as with so much of life, it's not either/or. Either you can be productive or you can be happy. You can be happy or you can be sad. Life is always both/and. Even when you choose happiness, you will still experience sadness. You can be productive and happy. 

Choose life. Choose happiness. And choose to focus on the positives, not the negatives. It will make your life so much richer.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Spend time with friends

Fourth on the list of regrets of those who are dying, according to Australian nurse Bronnie Ware's book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is: "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."

Ware spent years in palliative care and gathered last words from those for whom she cared. She says, "Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved."

Do you feel good about the time and effort you give to your friendships—and to all the important relationships in your life? If you don't, now is the time to make some changes. Now is the only moment we have for sure.

What would it take to give your relationships the time and effort you want to give them? Can you let go of something else on your to-do list? Perhaps combining the second regret of the book, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard," with this one might suggest some ways. Will your life really be better if you clean out the broom closet rather than have coffee with your friend? Take a good look at your choices and how you invest your time. Be sure your choices reflect your values—and leave you with fewer regrets on your deathbed!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Say what you feel

Are you good at telling others what you feel? Or even admitting it to yourself? Or are you a peace-keeper and a conflict-avoider to the point where you suppress your feelings?

The third of the top five regrets of people on their deathbed according to Bronnie Ware in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is: "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." Ware says that many people "settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

If it's a challenge for you to say what you feel because you fear what others might think, try to make one small step toward expressing yourself. Ask yourself if what you fear really is likely to happen. Will the other person really get angry? Not speak to you again? Leave the relationship? Then ask yourself if that would happen, would you be able to survive it? Think about ways of expressing yourself that don't sound edgy.

Try to deconstruct the fears you have about expressing your feelings and find a way to say what you feel. Let go of bitterness and resentment. Let go some more. I invite you to not carry all that around and make yourself sick. And please do contact me if you would like a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session around this issue.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Don't O.D. on work

Yesterday I told you about Australian nurse Bronnie Ware's book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. I talked about the first regret of the patients she worked with in her palliative care nursing: living a life others expected rather than the one that was true to self.

The second regret is another goodie: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." That's a good one to remember in this day of busyness as a competitive sport! Careers are so demanding—and never more so than now when people are just grateful to have a job even when many positions actually combine two or three jobs in one because of downsizing or "rightsizing."

I don't advocate sloughing off or doing mediocre work. But there definitely is a fine balance, isn't there? A balance between work life and home life/relationships. As with anything you try to balance, this isn't easy. It requires lots of thought, intention and tweaking—and, no doubt, the ability to say "No" from time to time. Balance or walking the highwire requires real focus, as I mentioned in a recent blog.

It is worth doing, however. You and I don't want to get to the end of our lives and regret that we were all work and no play—or that we neglected the important relationships of our lives just so we could work harder.

Ask yourself what steps you can take today to insure that you don't end up with that regret. What will you change before you die?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Be authentic

What's your greatest regret so far? I've always said that I'm sure I won't be on my death bed wishing that I'd spent more time at the office or wishing I'd cleaned the house more often! I'm sure my greater concerns will be the time I have spent with those I love—the quality of the relationships that are important to me.

I just learned about an Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who spent years working in palliative care and recorded thoughts of those who were dying. She wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

You won't be surprised by the first item on the list: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." Wow! That's powerful, isn't it?

Have you ever felt as though you are doing what's expected? You have too many "shoulds" in your life that come from voices other than your own?

Determine today that you will follow your passion. Follow your heart. Do what you were created to do, what you've been given the gifts to do.

What kind of changes will that mean for your  life? Make one of those changes today and start living the life you really want. Live in a way that's authentic for you. Don't wait.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Listen to your mood

Sometimes I have clients who are working on a very specific issue. Then one day during a phone session, I sense that they are not really into the topic at hand. I ask questions and eventually learn that they have been in a funk or low mood lately.

I believe firmly that our moods can tell us something. Author and educator Parker Palmer says we need to listen to our lives. Yes, we do. And we also need to listen to our moods. They are filled with a lot of information if we stop and pay attention.

Take your emotional temperature today. Are you in a relatively upbeat mood—for you? (We each have our own version of "upbeat" and "funk.") Or are you really down? Or somewhere in between?

What's going on? Is it situational? Is it because of lack of sleep or poor eating lately? Or might it be something more? Is it something that has an easy fix?

Take action. You don't have to stay in a funk. Talk it over with someone close to you. Tell your doctor or talk with a coach. Journal. Think it through. Plan ways that you can regain equilibrium again. Do whatever it takes to move on.

It all begins with listening to your mood, taking your emotional temperature. Please take time to do that. If your car were sputtering or making a strange sound, you'd take it to the shop and have it checked out. Your well-being is far more important than your car! Contact me if you'd like to discuss this.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Love the long and short views

Yesterday I mentioned that I went to the Art Institute of Chicago this past Tuesday. As I wandered through the art exhibits, I couldn't help but notice the difference when I viewed the art up close and when I stood back and saw it from a distance. This was particularly true of the Impressionist art.

I wanted to see both the larger picture and the detail, of course. When I was right next to the painting, I could just imagine the artist's hand creating each tiny stroke. I could see all the fine detail, each stroke, each touch of the brush; and it was just beautiful to see how the colors were layered. Then when I stood at a distance, I saw the overall picture and all those tiny strokes and touches made an impression, creating a larger picture. I could see the whole; and that, too, was beautiful.

Our lives are like that, too. I don't always appreciate the up-close look at my life. I sometimes concentrate too much on the flaws, on the negatives that are there rather than seeing the importance of each little detail, each little stroke. Then it's good to stand back and see the larger picture. Sometimes when I stand back and see how all the smaller pieces fit together to create my life, I can appreciate those small pieces a bit more.

No doubt the artists themselves were harder on their creations than we would ever be. Our lives are like that, too. Others see our lives from the outside—see the larger picture—and think it looks just fine. We see everything from the inside (or the underside!), and we don't always like what we see. Perhaps a little grace, a little self-forgiveness, might be in order as well as a different perspective. I'm trying to do that, too—extend the grace to myself that I would to others.

Do you need to treat yourself more kindly and appreciate the artwork of your life that you are creating? Don't wait. Start today. Self-love and forgiveness are important.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Play days aren't just for kids

Last Tuesday we had a play day. I love play days; they're definitely not just for children. My fiance, another couple and I took the "el" downtown and spent the day at the Art Institute of Chicago. First stop after we got off the train was a Starbucks not far from the art institute where we warmed ourselves up with lattes and hot chocolate. And then we walked on to enjoy the fabulous exhibits. What an adventure.

I always feel so fed after spending time looking at all the wonderful art forms. Of course, this art institute is like most others in that it's far too extensive to cover even half the exhibits in any one day. So it's always fun to choose which ones to see this time. Since I'm reading a novel about Claude Monet at the moment, I definitely wanted to spend lots of time in the Impressionists section.

My fiance is a photographer so we spent time in that section, and we also thoroughly enjoyed seeing a collection of glass paperweights, among other things. Stunning. How fun to be surrounded by so much beauty and think of all the talent and gifts that brought that art to us.

Time with friends. Beautiful art. Good food in the relaxed atmosphere of the institute's dining room. Light snow falling when we walked from the art institute back to the train stop. A wonderful day.

Have you taken a play day lately? Or even a play hour? Is it time for one? If your stress is getting to you, do something that will feed your soul. Do something just for fun. Give yourself the gift of self-care—in whatever form is just right for now. See how much better you'll feel!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Life out of control?

Does your life feel out of control these days? Your to-do list is way too long each day. Your energy is low. Your stress level is high.

It really doesn't help you to know that thousands of other Americans are in the same boat, does it? It's your life and you want to get some control over the craziness and busyness.

So here's a thought: What one thing can you do today that will help you gain some control? Just one tiny step really can amount to a huge step. And it's that first step that's so important. It signals your commitment to do more than complain about your busy life. It says you are committed to taking action—to making some changes.

Take a five-minute breather sometime today and spend that time thinking about where you can start. After you've selected one step and mastered that, take another step. And another. You'll feel good about that at so many levels!

And remember: It's not about perfection. It's about doing your best and not giving up. Cut yourself some slack if you get caught up in the busyness momentarily. Determine that you'll get right back to making the change necessary.

At my Weight Watchers meetings, we talk about the very same thing. If we go off plan for one meal or even one day, we are encouraged to forgive ourselves and just continue on plan the next meal or the next day. It's not all-or-nothing. It's about doing your best and forgiving yourself when you don't.

Good luck to you! It really is worth it to bring some sense of control and calm into your life. Please let me know how it's going in the Comment box below or by emailing me at

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Joy in the small things

True confession. I didn't take down my Christmas tree until January 24. Was it because I was too busy? Too lazy?

None of the above. It was because I was still thoroughly enjoying it. I love sitting down in the evening, when I'm home, and enjoying the tree lights and the lovely ornaments when the lights shine through them. I so enjoy looking at the eclectic variety of ornaments, many of which have such meaning attached to them. Perhaps my sons made them. Or someone gave them to me. Or I bought them in another country during my global travels. Or I bought them when I was with a friend.

The fact is, I simply enjoyed my tree. And I wasn't ready to give it up at Epiphany. So I decided I wouldn't worry about the Christmas-tree police and would just keep it up until I was ready to take it down. Such a small thing. But what pleasure it brought me. On January 24, however, I was ready!

Know something, though? Tonight I came home amid a light snowfall; and when I got inside my house, I longed to sit down in front of my Christmas tree with its lovely purple lights again. But it's all packed away now. So I'll settle for feet up with a good book and a cup of hot tea.

Isn't it wonderful to come to the stage where we can do something just because it would bring us joy rather than because the calendar says it's time to do it?! What small thing have you done lately that brought you lots of pleasure?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Paying attention pays

A friend of mine lost her job a couple years ago and has been engaged in a job search ever since. Just recently she told me that I had really helped her re-engage after she'd gotten discouraged.

I hadn't formally coached her. So I hadn't even realized I had played a part in her broadening her job search skills and efforts. It had happened one night over dinner, she told me, when she told me she'd tried everything she knew and it just wasn't working. No jobs. No interviews. No luck!

I do remember suggesting some other things she might try, including some networking options. She tried them, and one thing led to another and to yet another. Now she's going full-steam, has applied for several positions and is getting interviewed. I'm hoping she'll soon land something.

My point is that she really was listening. She was paying attention. I threw out some ideas when she was discouraged, and it would have been easy for her to miss those suggestions because she was feeling a bit down at the moment. But she was still awake and aware. She picked up on them and ran with the ideas.

It's a reminder to me to stay alert. I don't ever know when some offhand comment by someone might be just what I need to hear. See what things you notice today when you really pay attention.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reach for your dreams

Do you still have dreams you'd like to realize? What are you waiting for?

Whatever is on your list, whether it's a bucket list (the big things you want to do), your thimble list (smaller and more regular things you want to do) or some other list, don't wait. Just do it. Or at least begin making plans and taking steps toward that dream or goal.

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard of someone waiting to do something special (a special adventure trip or a new career venture) and then death or a debilitating illness intervened.

We only have today. We don't know about tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that. So why wait?

If it's fear of some type holding you back, face the fear head-on. Bring your fears down to size by taking a good look at them and deconstructing them. (See my February ezine on how to deal with fears. It can be seen on Facebook if you haven't signed up for my free monthly ezine.)

If it's something practical such as finances holding you back, see whether there's a way you can take some small steps toward your goal or dream. Perhaps you may even have to tweak or revise it somewhat to make it fit your budget and your current reality.

If the dream is still worth having, do what it takes to move toward it. See how great it feels to feel your personal power and move with it. Leave behind whatever cocoons have been encasing you—and soar like the butterfly!