Friday, March 29, 2013

Pursuit of dreams

Recently I heard an interview with Jane Goodall, the British primatologist and anthropologist who has extensively studied chimpanzees in Tanzania. Now nearly 79 years of age, she continues to lecture widely on conservation and animal welfare. She has quite an amazing story and continues to have incredible energy for the work to which she's devoted her life.

When asked how she first came to be interested in Africa and in chimpanzees, she said it was after reading Tarzan books when she was quite young. But here's what struck me most as she talked about the interest growing within her as a child: She credits her mother for helping develop that interest, both in the continent of Africa and in the animals she's spent a lifetime studying. Her mother encouraged her and supported Goodall in ways that were quite amazing at the time. How many mothers in the 1950s wouldhave encouraged their 20-something daughters to go to an African country alone? Without that encouragement, Goodall doubts whether she would have done what she has.

I have heard similar stories many times before. Often someone else has encouraged pursuit of a dream or a passion.

Who do you have the opportunity to encourage? Your own child? A grandchild, niece or nephew? Or perhaps someone in your church or community? Maybe you need to encourage yourself to follow your passion and pursue something that's incredibly fascinating to you. Don't hold back. You and I need all the encouragement and support we can get! And others need it from us, too.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Take charge today

Have you ever been so discouraged or burned out that you couldn't even imagine what your life could be like? I certainly have. And I have several clients who have been in that place, too.

You may have noticed that I regularly mention my offer of a no-obligation, complimentary coaching strategy session so you can see whether coaching might be a good choice for you—and to see whether you and I might be a good fit. One of the things I absolutely love about these sessions is hearing the change in someone's voice as she begins to imagine life being different than what it now is—or even as he just thinks about taking charge of the situation and moving forward. It is incredibly empowering to take a step toward great health and wholeness!

If you have something today that keeps you stuck in pain or discomfort, consider trying a comp strategy session. If you long for something to change in your life but just don't know how or where to begin, I invite you to contact me. Together we'll explore what's possible. Almost without exception, when a potential client does this, she or he gains new energy just at the thought of moving forward. And that's before we've even begun creating the small steps necessary to make changes. Every journey begins with that initial step, as you know. Take one today—and feel your energy and excitement take a huge jump!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It doesn't take much

It doesn't take much to bring sunshine and joy into my life. Simple pleasures will do. Beautiful sunset. Lovely music. Candles. Chocolate. And, of course, family and friends! How about you?

One of my granddaughters shared with me one of her favorite bath gel scents when I saw her recently. It was a lovely coconut lime scent and brought with it visions of a sunny, tropical island. I can see why it's her favorite.

I don't know what March is like where you live—but in the Midwest where I live, it can often be a month you'd just as soon remove from the calendar. If we've had snow, it's generally dirty and piled up where snowplows have left it, unable to easily melt in the sunshine because of its depth. It's still cold and often (like today) it's gloomy.

I decided this was the time to bring out the bottle of coconut lime bath gel that I bought after Olivia told me about it. I used it in today's shower and imagined sunshine, palm trees and a lovely tropical isle. It just set my day off on a pleasant note. Yes, there are still some snow piles—and where there aren't any, the grass is still brown and rather ugly. And, yes, there's no sunshine at the moment. But I don't care. I'm thinking about sunshine and palm trees!

What little thing can you do today to lift your spirits and change your attitude? What would it take to focus on something positive today and start you off on a good note? Go for it!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Scatter seeds of joy

Today I'm thinking about the ripple effect of things we do. I write this, having just returned from a wonderful weekend with my oldest son, daughter-in-law and 12-year-old granddaughter. My granddaughter Olivia is fortunate to be part of the Lawrence University Girl Choir Program in Appleton, Wisconsin. This program each year involves more than 300 girls from ages 8 through 18 in choirs for their age group and ability. It helps the girls develop music-reading skills, vocal technique, an awareness of a wide range of musical styles from classical to jazz to various ethnic types and builds their confidence as well. I am thrilled that Olivia is able to participate in such a program.

This past Sunday the choirs presented their spring concert. As we left the concert, my daughter-in-law and I reflected on the amazing ripple effect in the girls' lives and in their communities through all the years this program has been running. Think of what each of them has taken and is taking away and what they're sharing in their families and communities to say nothing of what this might mean they'll share in the future. They are not only learning the skills of music but an enjoyment and appreciation of it, and they are learning the value of diversity—and so much more. These are things they'll take out into the world now and well into the future.

It's made me reflect on the ripple effect of things in which I participate—and of things I do. What effect are your actions, your thoughts having on you, your family, your community and your world today? Are you bringing more light into the world today? Or taking light out of the world? Am I spreading contentment and joy—or planting seeds of discontent?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Be yourself

"Be yourself," said Oscar Wilde. "Everyone else is already taken."

But, of course, you say! Who else would I be?

And yet, so often, you and I find ourselves doing things we really didn't want to do. So what happened? Were you trying to please others? Was I afraid to do what I really wanted to do (for fear others wouldn't approve, perhaps)?

Last month I wrote about being authentic and living the life you want rather than worrying about what others want for you. Don't "should" on yourself. Follow your own heart, your own passion. Listen to your dreams.

Don't know what your passion is? You're not alone in that. It takes time. Stop and listen. Think about things you loved as a child. Think about those times in your life when you've totally lost track of time because you've been so absorbed in what you were doing. Reflect on those things that transport you and make your heart sing. Keep track in a journal or notebook of the things that delight you and those things for which you have a real gift. Watch for patterns and themes to arise.

If you are thinking of a life change in career or just in how you live your life—but you just aren't sure how to proceed, I invite you to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session to see how you might move forward.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The joy of learning

I recently spent nearly a week in Phoenix with my youngest son and daughter-in-law—and my two youngest grandchildren. One of the things I noticed was how many new words my 18-month-old grandson learned every day. For one thing, he observes so closely his 6-year-old sister, whom he just adores; and he tries to copy things she does and says. He also repeats many words the rest of us say. It's as though his ability to learn new things is on steroids. That's how it is with young children, isn't it?

If we continued to learn that way all our lives, think of how brilliant we would be. It's incredible! We don't keep up that rate of learning, however. But I hope we don't think learning is only for the very young either. Change and learning can be a lifelong venture. Or adventure! You and I have so much to learn even yet. So much about life. About ourselves. About each other. So much to learn that adds to our skill sets and to our pleasure. What joy!

My father got an organ and also a computer when he was in his 70s and 80s. Always curious and wanting to try new things, he was a model of lifelong learning for me. I hope I never stop wanting to learn new ways of being and adding to my abilities and skills. I have read that doing so keeps Alzheimer's and dementia at bay, too, just in case we need another reason to learn.  

What's on your list today? A new skill? A new habit? New ways of thinking because the old patterns no longer work? Perhaps you're even thinking of an encore career—and ready to prepare for a total career change? Go for it! Stretch those learning muscles. And watch yourself soar!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Build boundary-setting muscles

How comfortable are you saying what you think and feel? Do you censor yourself regularly because you're worried about what others may think of you if you express your opinion? Do you find yourself saying what you know others will want to hear (and then kick yourself afterward because you're resentful and angry)? Are you always doing what others want or expect—never what you want to do?

Boundary issues are tricky. But, just as boundaries are important to landowners, to states and to nations, they are important to us in our human relations as well.

If you have a problem setting boundaries, know you aren't alone. Know, too, that you can change that. Begin with small steps. Choose someone who is safe for you to begin learning how to set boundaries. Say, for example, that your husband always selects the movies you see together. You might start by finding one that you really want to see and suggesting that you'd like to see it with him. If he resists or calls it a "chick flick," you might gently remind him that you went to see that action movie he really wanted to see last month. You can say that you'll be happy to go with him to his favorite movies and that you would like him to see yours with you, too. It may take a few conversations and a few attempts before this works. After all, when you change your behavior and it necessarily means a change on someone else's part, they'll often resist. Don't give up, though.

Any change in behavior requires lots of practice. It's not unlike working out at the gym; you have to build up those boundary-setting muscles! It is so worth doing, however. You'll have less resentment; and in the end, the other person will be the recipient of your joy and contentment, too.

If this is something you'd like to work on, please feel free to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Face up to anger

In a blog last year I spoke about the importance of focusing your attention on positive emotions, rather than on negative ones such as anger, jealousy and resentment, for example.

It is important to focus on positive things in your life rather than on negative situations. As you know, what you focus on gets larger. You and those around you will not experience joy and contentment if you constantly let your anger control you rather than the reverse.

So it's extremely important that when you are angry or when you experience a negative emotion, you don't stuff those feelings. You and I need to be real with whatever is. And if we stuff down those negative feelings and don't deal with them, they'll just simmer, bubble and boil under the surface until they reach a boiling point and erupt in a way that is far less pleasant than just dealing with them in the first place.

Trying to keep your focus on the positive definitely does not mean ignoring the reality of what you are feeling. It means being honest about your situation and how you feel about it, confronting that, making choices about what to do—and then moving on. At that point, you will feel a deep sense of achievement and will feel the power that comes when you have managed your negative emotions rather than letting them manage you!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Treat yourself as you would a friend

When your friends are discouraged about something in their lives, do you build them up, encourage them, send them cards and notes, listen to them and give them all the support you can? I'm guessing you do. It's what friends do for one another.

Do you do the same for yourself? When you are discouraged, down about something, confused or just needing someone to speak a kind word, are you able to do that for yourself? People who work with babies and toddlers call that being able to "self-soothe." In an adult, it's simply a sign of self-love and of having a healthy self-image.

It's important to treat yourself as well as you would treat someone else. It's not helpful to berate yourself or to withhold love, forgiveness or support from yourself. Think of the difference your support makes in a friend's life. It can make that same difference in your life, too.

And while you're at it, don't be inhibited about asking your friends when you need a kind word, a compliment, an ear to listen, or a shoulder upon which to cry. You are worth it—and a true friend will be only too happy to provide what you need!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Joy and satisfaction

Recently I learned about a book by Brent Kessel titled It's Not About the Money. In it Kessel describes "the Wanting Mind"—that part of us that isn't ever quite satisfied with how things are. He specifically ties it to our financial lives, pointing out that most often it leads to significant debt and often, a stingy attitude.

He says an important antidote to the Wanting Mind is "Heartfelt Goals"—goals driven by our deepest values.

That goes back to knowing ourselves, about which I blogged last Wednesday, March 13. What are your deepest values? Given those core beliefs and values, what then are your goals?

It's all about being in alignment, isn't it? You and I want to choose goals that align with our deepest values. And we want to choose goals that reflect our gratitude and sense of contentment with life even as we continue learning, growing and inviting transformation.

It's quite a balance, but it's so worth doing. And ultimately, it will lead to a deeper joy and satisfaction as well as a greater ability to be of service in our families, friendship circles, communities, country and world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Start the day with BREW

I'm always looking for other ways to begin my day with a thankful heart. In my blogs I've talked about the Gratitude Journal I keep and about changing negative thoughts to positive ones to start my day off right.

In the book How Can I See the Light When It's So Dark? author Linda Douty gives a method for starting the day in gratitude that she learned from Kirk Jones, who wrote Morning Brew and Jazzing Up the Journey. Jones suggests doing this with your morning cup of coffee or tea, and I like the sound of it:

"B—Be still. Spend a few moments in silence and serenity.

"R—Receive God's love. Imagine yourself being enveloped in the light and love of God...."

"E—Embrace who you are. Be grateful for the unique combination of cells that is you.

"W—Welcome the day. Greet the day with joy and anticipation...."

It's so easy to be taken off course by worries, fears or negative news, so anything you and I can do to build our gratitude muscles and fill up our gratitude took kit is a helpful thing.

I'd love to hear if you have some methods that work well for you to focus your day on gratitude. Please share in the Comment box below. To do so, click on "Comments" and type in your thoughts.  And remember to select from the drop-down box telling who you are. One option is "Anonymous," and that's perfectly acceptable. Then just click "Publish" and your comment will appear. Thanks for sharing with us. I'd love to start a conversation on these blog pages, and your voice is important!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where do you invest your energy?

I absolutely love, love, love spending time with my grandkids. It's just so fun to engage them, whatever stage they're at. My older ones are in their teens. In fact, my oldest grandson (just turned 18) will already graduate from high school this spring—and be off to college this fall. And my youngest one is nearly 18 months. So from 18 months to 18 years, they bring a variety of interests to my life.

Right now I'm visiting my youngest ones, little 18-month-old Ayden and his 6-1/2-year-old sister, Payton. Although they don't live as close to me as my other seven grandkids, I do everything I can to bridge the distance. We Skype; talk on the phone; and I send cards, stickers, letters, puzzle books, photos and other things just to keep the connection.

With all nine of my grandchildren, I make an investment of time and energy so we can stay connected. And it makes me realize that anything you and I feel is important in our lives really requires an investment of time, energy and sometimes money.

What's important to you? What are you doing to show that it's important? Where are you putting your time and energy? Sometimes we say something is very important—but if we look at where we put our time, it shows something very different. How many people say their family is the most important thing in their lives—and yet, they spend long hours in the workplace and very few at home with family? Not to point fingers at others—because we all do some of that: say one thing and do another.

Take a look today and be sure that where you spend your time and energy is really where you want to invest it!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'Know thyself'

Shakespeare said it: "Know thyself." Mental health programs encourage people to be "students of self." Library and bookstore shelves are filled with self-help books that encourage us to learn more about what makes us tick.

This is a good thing, in my humble opinion. The more I know about myself—why I think and act the way I do, what things trigger specific responses in me, what I fear, what's important to me and so on—the more I can manage my thoughts and behaviors. Also, the more I know about myself, the better able I am to accept who and what I am.

For example, I'm one of those people who analyzes. Well, perhaps even over-analyzes! I can always think of an even better answer to a question once I get home from the social event! When I was much younger, I internally berated myself for not being quicker on my feet and thinking of better responses right at the time. Then I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I learned that for my personality type, this was quite normal. Great! Now I can simply accept that it's part of who I am.

Through the MBTI and also the Enneagram (another personality type test), I am also learning what things about my type are within my power to change so that I can be healthier. I like having choices about the things that run through my mind and about the ways I respond to situations and people. I am not necessarily tied to "the way I've always done things." It all starts with knowing myself, however. And that's a lifelong enterprise!

What have you discovered that helps you know yourself?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Keep personal boundaries

I can think of times when I let someone talk me into doing something I really didn't have time nor inclination to do. I did it out of guilt. Later, I just felt resentful. And I know I didn't do my best at the task I had agreed to take on. Have you ever had that happen to you?

That's a boundary issue. How good are you at maintaining your personal boundaries? Do you often say "Yes" rather than "No" because you fear the person asking you won't like you anymore or will think less of you? Do you take on more than you should because "someone has to do it, and it might as well be me"? Do you care-take others to soothe your guilt? Or simply because that's what you've been raised to do?

Boundary issues can show up in many forms. Having good clear boundaries certainly doesn't mean you never compromise with others to get a job done. It doesn't mean you never, ever do something you'd rather not do. But it does mean making clear choices and being honest, especially with yourself, about your motivation for doing so. If you choose to say "Yes" to something, knowing you'd rather not, at least it's an intentional choice and you know what's going on. However, if you automatically say "Yes" to everything you get asked to do without ever thinking about your motivation or about how you'll feel later, that could signal a problem.

Because relationships, whether at home, at work or in some other place, involve a sort of dance between the people involved, when you change your usual behavior or your part of the dance, it necessarily means others have to make changes, too. So if you tighten up your boundaries, expect a bit of resistance from others. Don't let that keep you from making healthy boundary changes, though.

If this is an issue on which you'd like to work, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session to explore your options.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shifting perspective

Perspective is everything, isn't it?

I'm writing this on a snowy day in the Chicago area, almost a week before you'll read it. Because I'm sitting in my cozy office looking out over evergreen trees now frosted in white against which my resident blue jays and cardinals really show up, I'm loving this new snowfall. However, it was only a few years ago that such a snowfall (they predict 10 inches before it ends) would have greatly distressed me because, even on good days, I had a 30-to-45-minute commute (one way) on a very busy tollway. At the very least, snow often doubled that. Today I don't have to go anywhere so I can simply enjoy the beauty.

A few years ago I lost my job. I was devastated then. Now, however, my perspective is totally different—because I've healed, moved on and am in an encore career I absolutely love. So now, from this perspective, I can be grateful for the amazing experiences I had in my 25 years in that former job, the people I met—whose lives touched mine and whose lives I touched—the places I went, the things I learned and the achievements I had. I can celebrate all of that and be grateful. And I can savor where I am right now. My perspective changed. But not overnight.

Sometimes my perspective can be shifted just like that. Several years ago a friend and I were flying out East for a few days of vacation, but our flight there was canceled due to bad weather. I was really upset at first. After I calmed down, of course, I realized there was nothing to do but accept that we weren't going to get where we wanted to be that day. But we could at least check out options and decide what move made sense. I did a little self-talk and changed my perspective to a more positive one. A bad attitude wasn't going to change flight schedules—it would only make me more miserable.

I need to remember that often, shifting my perspective is a process. Sometimes it's a matter of simply choosing to see things differently and being positive rather than negative about a situation. Other times, it's a matter of doing some grief work, letting go, accepting and then moving on.

Do you need to change your view of something today? Please contact me if you feel stuck in doing so.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Encouragement: We all need it

OK, I just have to use one more of poet and author Maya Angelou's words of wisdom about growing older: "I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back...." (See my previous posts from this week.)

Don't you warm up just like a cat curled up in the sunshine when someone affirms you or encourages you, when someone thanks you for just being who you are, when they give you a warm hug? You and I need that ... and we're often afraid to ask for it. So ask yourself how often you give those things to others. If you do, good for you. If not, what holds you back?

Last week in my women's Bible study group, we each decided to be intentional this week on reaching out to others to encourage them. Our group facilitator, Pastor Lois, in a sermon once described the words "encourage" and "discourage" in this way: To encourage someone is to put courage into that person, and to discourage them is to take courage out. There's a great visual!

I love to compliment and affirm others, but I am even more aware of doing so this week because of my group discussing it last week. I also want to savor the experience when others give me that gift. For example,  I just received an email from a friend who said she was so grateful for something I had given her recently and grateful for my "friendship and wisdom." Wow, she just made my day!

It really doesn't take much for us to reach out and encourage someone. Sometimes it's a touch—like a hug or pat on the back. Sometimes it's our words—whether in person or by phone or mail. When you compliment or thank someone, remember to be specific. That means even more.

Who might you reach out and touch today? Who in your life might warm up to a word of thanks, praise or encouragement today?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How you make others feel does matter

Yesterday I wrote about Oprah Winfrey interviewing poet and author Maya Angelou on her 70th birthday and the wisdom Angelou offered on things she's learned in the aging process.

One pearl of wisdom Angelou offered is: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Many experiences come to mind for me. One that stands out, however, occurred when my husband, our four-month-old son and I landed in Papua New Guinea. My husband and I were only in our mid-twenties, were first-time parents and faced five years of life in this amazing, remote and, to us, strange new place. It was pretty daunting. I was more than a bit afraid, unsure of what life there would hold; and I was homesick as well.

I will never forget how a couple who later became dear friends welcomed us and calmed our fears. I don't remember what they said. I don't remember much of what they did—with one notable exception: They loaned us a rocking chair because they said we couldn't possibly raise a baby without one! They were right.

What I really remember, however, is the way they made us feel at home in our new surroundings. They had already lived there a few years but apparently hadn't forgotten what it was like to make that cultural adjustment from the U.S. to this developing country. They cushioned our adjustment and helped us make our way more openly and with fewer fears. What a gift Jim and Carol gave us! They made us feel that we, too, could make that adjustment—that we, too, could come to appreciate the gifts of life in that beautiful place. And they were right.

I invite you to really pay attention to how you make others feel. I know Angelou's words are a good reminder to me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Open heart, open doors

No doubt you also have received an email forward that contains words of wisdom from poet and author Maya Angelou. I've received this forward several times in recent years. That's OK, though, as her pearls of wisdom are worth hearing more than once. When life gets busy, it's easy to forget words of inspiration. It's easy to let the chaos and busyness crowd in and take over.

Here's one of these pearls (all of which came from an interview done by Oprah Winfrey of Angelou on her 70th birthday): "I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision."

I like that. I can think of times when I've been in a place of fear, a place of anger or resentment, a place of pain—and when my heart has been closed tightly. I have shut others out when in that place, and I have even shut out the voice of wisdom inside myself. The decisions I have made and the actions I have taken when in that place are never my best choices. They are not my most creative, adventurous, life-giving decisions.

I also can think of times when I have felt my fear and decided to move ahead anyway, let go of my anger, and felt and faced my wounds—when I have felt my heart open up to such a degree that I could access wisdom far greater than mine and where I could listen to my own wisdom and that of others around me, too. My choices at those times have been so much better. Not only that, I felt so much more joy and contentment at those times. Can you tell the difference physically and psychically when your heart is open? And don't you feel that more doors open for you at those times? Whether they actually do or whether it's more that you and I actually see all the options spread out before us in ways we don't see when our hearts are closed really is a moot point. Either way, you and I are better served when we open our hearts and minds just as Angelou said.

Is there something you need to do today to open your heart?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You're a queen, too

I am still feeling jazzed and empowered by the event two days ago! It was filled with what I call good "estrogenic energy"—the energy and synergy that seems to spontaneously occur in a gathering of women.

My dear friend Mary had just read the book Queen of Your Own Life: The Grown Up Woman's Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff. And she decided to have a "crowning party" for some of her close friends to celebrate life, friendship, adventure, and being in charge of our own lives. And what a party it was! Mary is a great event-planner and had thought of every detail, including a crown and scepter for each of us!

We shared experiences that shaped us, names of women we admired and the attributes we liked in them, the aspects of ourselves that we admired, those friends on whom we could count for honest and caring support, and so much more. We celebrated accomplishments and set goals. Plus we just plain had fun!

We all left Mary's house feeling grateful for life, grateful for who we were and grateful for the gift of other women in our lives who provide inspiration and support.

If you haven't done some celebrating lately, consider how you might bring that good energy into your life. I have read lots of inspiring books but I haven't yet read the one Mary read. It's on my list now, though!

Monday, March 4, 2013

What mask do you wear?

At my my recent YaYa friends' gathering, one woman asked each of us what mask we wore and whether we had an image or book/movie character with which we identified. What a great question to explore!

I have given a lot of thought to my protective mask these past two decades. Years ago I learned that everyone puts on an intentional face to others. It's a protective device, a way we develop to survive. Generally, we don't feel safe being completely open and transparent with everyone. Sometimes we don't feel safe with anyone. And anyway, we can't go around letting it all hang out all the time, can we? But we can find people to trust, and we can invite transformation to become who we really are.

Masks aren't necessarily bad. They serve an important purpose. However, when the mask we wear is so thick that we don't even know who we really are, that's a problem. When the mask hurts us (or others) somehow, it's time to make a choice about how much and with whom we use it.

My mask is that of a strong, tough woman—Wonder Woman. I learned to be extremely responsible when I was young. And when I went through a divorce and suddenly found myself out on my own with no job and little money, I really did have to be strong and tough. I spent many decades working inside the institutional church with all its patriarchal and hierarchical structures. Again, I had to be extremely tough. I couldn't fold up every time someone spoke harshly to me or every time I faced injustice as a woman. I couldn't burst into tears over each situation I faced. I toughened up even more.

I know that's my mask, and I'm working hard to be open about my vulnerability—at least with those with whom I feel safe and comfortable. I'm trying to drop the mask and be OK with not knowing everything and not being able to solve every problem.

What mask do you hide behind? Are you getting tired of it and wanting to take it off at least part of the time? I'd love to hear your experience of masks if you're willing to start a conversation in the Comment box below.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Life-learning No. 4

It was a huge mistake, I now know. When I got married at age 23, I focused all my energy on my husband and on couples as friends. I didn't keep my single female friends. I didn't hang out with them. And I noticed that's what other women in my generation did. What a pity!

So another of the things I have learned as I age is the absolute necessity of having female friends—or what I now call "girlfriends." I don't call myself a "girl" since I really haven't been one for decades now. I'm a woman, not a girl. But in these last years, I have embraced the word "girlfriends" for those treasured relationships I have with my female friends. The term just conveys so much more than does "female friend."

I love the men in my life: my fiance, my three sons, my four grandsons, my brother and those men I consider friends. And I also realize how deeply I cherish the women in my life because of our shared experiences: my sister, three daughters-in-law, five granddaughters and numerous friends. Because we live in similar bodies and share many experiences, we develop a shorthand of language and heart. Many of the things we say to one another need no explanation. We just know. We empathize.

I often say my girlfriends are essentials in my life. I need them. No matter what else happens to me, I will not give up those relationships again. That means that I invest in them—time and energy. And I am fed by those relationships. What a gift! I'm glad it's one of the things I learned through the years.