Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday: Your choice

Today is known in the U.S. as Black Friday. I don't know whether you see it as a good thing to follow our annual day of thanks with a day's shopping frenzy. But it definitely is a matter of no little controversy.

This year, the controversy was fueled to a greater degree by some stores declaring that they wouldn't even wait to open their doors to bargain-hunters until midnight of Thanksgiving Day. In fact, they would open their doors at 8 p.m., cutting short the Thanksgiving celebrations of many retail employees. 

I have no intention of weighing in on the controversy in this blog. I know what constitutes a good follow-up day to Thanksgiving for me. And I firmly believe that each person has to make a choice.

What I would do, however, is simply invite you to consider how you want to spend your time and energy. You have a choice, and it's completely yours to make. If you need to get going on your Christmas shopping and saving money is really important to you, today might be the day to hit the stores. If you need some "down time" or time with family and friends, you might want to claim that today. It's all about choices and priorities. There's no right or wrong ones here. You get to be "the decider"! 

While you're at it, however, give some thought to making gratitude a way of life rather than just a once-a-year observance. If you haven't already signed up for my once-a-month e-newsletter, sign up to the right of this blog. All I need is your email address, your first name and your preferred format—then click "subscribe." December's ezine (reaching inboxes this morning) is all about gratitude as a practice. And remember, I don't use your email address for any other purpose than sending the monthly e-newsletter.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude amid tough times

Happy Thanksgiving!

We typically think of the first U.S. thanksgiving as a 1621 celebration at Plymouth Plantation when settlers held a feast following the harvest, a feast shared by the settlers and Native Americans. We know not everything was rosy for the settlers, nor was all harmony and joy between them and the native population.

Did you know that we celebrate it in November because President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"? He did this during the Civil War. Despite the horrific casualties and the waste on battlegrounds, he thought Americans needed to stop and give thanks and that they needed to pray for healing of the nation's wounds. He named the final Thursday as the day of celebration; but years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving so merchants would have a longer period to sell goods before Christmas (the country was still in the midst of The Great Depression at the time). Previous presidents had declared various days of thanks but Lincoln made it one official day.

Interesting, isn't it, that President Lincoln proclaimed a day in war time? And President Roosevelt issued a declaration amid a depression?

Thanksgiving isn't just about everything coming up roses. It doesn't signal that everything in our lives is perfect. It is a reminder that even amid our tough times, we still have much for which to be grateful. Always, always, there is something for which to give thanks. Most times, in fact, there's an abundance of gifts for which to show gratitude.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgivings Past

If you are cooking a Thanksgiving meal, or even if you're simply taking a dish or two to someone else's house for Thanksgiving, today may be the day for food preparations. What memories do you have of Thanksgiving Past? Some good ones? All good ones? None good?

This year we are bringing food to the home of a friend. One of the things I'm preparing is my mother's recipe for cranberry relish. I have the recipe card written in her handwriting, complete with a splash or two of cranberry juice on it. Now that Mom is gone, that card (as well as others in her handwriting) is so special to me. Her recipe is, too, because it carries with it memories of times when she made the cranberry relish and my family enjoyed sitting at a table with her, Dad and my siblings.

I also have memories of some Thanksgivings that weren't spent with family or friends—times after my divorce when my sons went to their father's home or times when they've been with the families of their wives. So I'm extremely aware that not everyone experiences this or other holidays as times of joy. For some, this time of year is just a recipe for loneliness. I remember well one such year when I was working up to a huge pity-party because of the prospect of Thanksgiving alone. The night before, a friend of mine invited me to join her in serving up hot meals to homeless people in the city. I will never forget that experience: I was warmed through and through by the looks of joy and gratitude as I helped dish up food and warm smiles. I came home that night with a heart filled to the brim with gratitude, the pity-party completely over.

Is there someone you can reach out to this Thanksgiving? Do you need some warmth and compassion? Does someone else need yours?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You as a work-in-progress

Have you ever stopped to consider who you might be today without the hurts and pain you have experienced? I know, I know. There's no way you and I can really know the answer to that question. I do think, however, that it's worth reflecting upon.

As I look back on my life—at the losses and disappointments—I see how those things have forged pathways into my heart that have filled in with tears, tenderness, compassion and a depth of love that I know I wasn't capable of feeling on my own. Experiencing a broken relationship when I was just a young woman opened me to others who experienced similar things. Years later, my divorce marked the first time I physically felt what it meant to have a broken heart. After the grief and ultimately, the healing, I grew in ways I never imagined. My sensitivity to others grew, too. Then after two huge career disappointments—career moves into which I had poured my heart—I was opened even further. And later, losing the position from which I thought I would retire someday pushed me way, way beyond where I thought I might be. Where initially that was devastating, it actually became something freeing deep inside me. Who knew?

Through all of that, and through other losses and disappointments, I have been softened. I have become more authentic. I'm still very much a work-in-progress. But I am learning to drop masks and behaviors that really don't fit me any longer. I am learning to express my love and my humanity openly—and to worry far less about what people will think. Now I wonder why I ever wasted so much time worrying about the things I did. In my deepened capacity to have compassion for others, I am also learning self-compassion; so I let go of the need to wonder why I thought and felt what I did in the past. I was who I was then. And now I am ever-evolving—and who knows where I will be in the future?

So many cocoons. So many chances to emerge as that beautiful butterfly all over again! Where are you today? Who are you becoming? Celebrate all the transformations: past, present and future!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reach out with healing love

In her latest book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott talks a lot about helping each other through life's challenges. It's a topic she often addresses.

In that book, she writes: "When you can step back at moments like these and see what is happening, when you watch people you love under fire or evaporating, you realize that the secret of life is patch patch patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again.

"... in the cold wind, if you can lean against others, none of you will blow away. You keep each other from falling or help each other get back up. Someone holds out a hand, or even scared old you may hold out a hand, and a person in need reaches for it and hangs on."

Aren't those beautiful images? We aren't islands. We do depend on each other. It really does take a community, a village. Share the love. It's so healing. And don't we all need love and healing?

Do you need someone's hand today? Does someone need yours? Take action today. Make it from the heart. Take a chance. Reach out.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spontaneity vs. planning

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." This quote by comic strip creator Allen Saunders is often attributed to the Beatles' John Lennon. No matter who first said it, it's a fascinating thought, isn't it? This quote takes us back to yesterday's blog about staying in the present moment.

When you are completely focused on plans for tomorrow, next month, next year and beyond, it's easy to completely miss the beauty in your life today. Does that mean you should not make plans? Of course not. But perhaps it suggests that you should not get so caught up in those plans that you don't even notice what's right there around, inside and in front of you.

I am a planner. So this is a challenge for me. But I love what happens when I really do pay attention to what's happening inside and around me. I love those times when I am completely spontaneous—something that goes against my Myers-Briggs "J-ness"! I have moved from being an ENFJ on that type indicator to an INFJ. But the "J" part always remains strong. The good news, as far as I'm concerned, is that I'm learning to be more spontaneous as I age.

An even better day
Just the other day I had plans for writing and working at my computer all day. I had a long to-do list. But my middle son, an attorney, called to say he had court cases and depositions out my way and wondered if we could squeeze in brunch together in less than an hour. Let's see: Stay at my desk or have brunch with my son? Hmmm, that was a no-brainer. And once he and I finished our time together, I decided to completely revamp my day. The sun was brilliant, the temperature was mild; and I had errands to run later in the week. Why not do all that today and enjoy the gorgeous weather? That's exactly what I did—and what fun I had! I even made a good dent in my Christmas shopping as long as I was out and about. That day turned into a fabulous day because I let go of the plans I had made.

A couple days later, when it was raining, I decided to schedule all the writing and computer work. If I had been rigid about my schedule, I would have missed time with my son and the beauty of being out and about on an absolutely fabulous day.

What can you do to savor your life today? The choice is yours.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Life: It's a journey, not a destination

Do you have trouble staying in the present moment? Me, too.

I so want to do it, however. I know people are correct when they say you can't change the past, and you can't predict the future. The present is the only time in which you and I can actually make choices and decisions. We don't know if we'll live until tomorrow. Now is what we have. It's really about the journey and not the destination. Savor the moments.

What does it take to "live in the now"?

It takes real intention—and attention. I don't know about you, but when I'm lacking sleep, not eating well, not exercising, not paying attention to my inner and spiritual life, I'm more likely to passively move through my days without lots of thought. So, mundane though it may sound, pay attention to those parts of your life: sleep, diet, exercise, meditation or quiet time and all the other things that help you feel your very best.

Living in the moment also requires that you let go, let go, let go—of regret, of limiting beliefs, of resentments and anything else that holds you back from fully enjoying the present moment. Learn to access your passion and your joy. Let yourself laugh more. Hang out with people who see life as a gift—not those who complain about everything. Savor small things: color, texture, the way the sun falls on your carpet, the scent of your lotion.

And remember, it's not about perfection. It's about progress. Just keep moving toward that goal of living in the moment.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'It just takes time'

It's been a long time since I have talked about a book I dearly love: Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. I first read the book back in the 1970s shortly after it was published. I have returned to it many times since. It has so much to say to me. Because it speaks of the letting go and transformational process of caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly, it is perfect for my website, too, of course.

Just yesterday I thought about the efforts of one of the story's lead caterpillars, Stripe. He saw a towering pile of caterpillars and, thinking that was the way to get ahead in life, climbed onto the pile and tried to move his way up to the top. It wasn't a pretty process. He was miserable and didn't really know what, if anything, was at the top anyway. He felt ruthless crawling on other caterpillars to get to the top. Eventually, Stripe follows the lead of Yellow, the other lead caterpillar, who realized she needed to simply let go and become what she was meant to be: a beautiful butterfly. Stripe finally knew he, too, needed to do the same. As the book says of the cocoon process: "It got darker and darker and [Stripe] was afraid. He felt he had to let go of everything...." That, of course, is when his transformation begins.

And, as it says earlier in the book, "... a cocoon is no escape. It's an in-between house where the change takes place. It's a big step since you can never return to caterpillar life. During the change it will seem to you or to anyone who might peek that nothing is happening—but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time."

Indeed, transformation takes time. So don't lose hope if you're still in transition and on your way to becoming that beautiful butterfly who can soar! It all begins with letting go.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reason or desire?

In a recent conversation, I was reminded of the tension that can exist between head and heart, between reason and desire.

The man sharing his story had two wonderful career opportunities arise. He needed to make a decision within a few days' time. One option was a definite move up the ladder with more direct reports and a higher salary. It would look good on his resume—but it might dead-end him in administration, too (OK if you love administrative work). The other option meant stepping back to a place from which he'd just been promoted—but in a different area of the company. It was a step down and a lateral move from there. However, that latter option also kept this man in the area of work for which he has a strong passion! So there could be more possibilities for advancement down the road, depending on how that job developed.

What a choice, right? A smart career move up the ladder toward what society calls success. Or more of a lateral and slightly downward move toward what jazzes him and gives him purpose. When we talked, he was leaning heavily toward following his heart. Although such decisions can only be made by the one most directly affected, I did encourage him to follow his heart (especially since that's where he seemed headed). So often I've heard someone voice regrets. For example, a nurse comes to mind. She moved up into a high administrative position with a good salary—and much later, deeply regretted that she no longer had the direct patient contact that she so loved and which was the reason she chose that career in the first place.

Have you ever faced such a choice? Are you facing one now? It's always important to put out on the table all the logical reasons you should choose one or the other. It's equally important to list for yourself the reasons you should go with your deepest desire. Sit quietly. Meditate. Reflect. Journal. Talk over the choices with others. Then sit quietly some more—and listen. Listen to your head and to your heart. What has most resonance for you? Although we can never know exactly what lies ahead on any of the paths we choose, you can play "let's pretend" and do some imagining. See yourself having made one choice. How does that feel? Then see yourself with another choice. How does that feel? Then move ahead in confidence, knowing you have done your homework!

As always, if you would like coaching around such a decision, please contact me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Welcome your tears

Tears. Are you afraid of them? Do you cry easily? Or not so often anymore? Are you embarrassed by your tears? Or do you wish you could cry more often?

I often hear it said that tears soften our hearts—our griefs soften us and make us more flexible. Or as poet Mark Nepo says, "The live bough bends. The dead twig snaps."

Tears are healing. Tears put us in touch with our humanity, vulnerability and compassion. That should be a good thing, right?

Although there are always exceptions to any rule, women tend to cry more easily and often than men. Perhaps it would be better for men if they could cry more easily. I've often thought it unfair that the "approved" emotion for men is anger and for women, sadness. It seems healthier that both genders are allowed the full range of emotions.

I used to cry quite easily; but it seems as I age, I cry less frequently. I don't know whether it's part of the aging process or simply a result of my having to be tough so I could survive divorce, work in a patriarchal and hierarchical workplace and ultimately, my job loss. However, I do believe that I am softened and more in touch with my vulnerable Sonia when I allow myself to feel my sadness and actually grieve even the small losses in my life. I see it as part of my journey to my true self—and as I've said here before, part of my attempt to access not just the strong Sonia but the vulnerable one as well.

I'm all for tears if they lead me to my compassion and vulnerability. What about you?

Friday, November 15, 2013

OK just as you are

I recently read a quote that speaks beautifully to acceptance of ourselves as we are—to loving ourselves at each stage of our life and growth. It is about overcoming self-doubt and raising our self-esteem and self-compassion levels. It's about more than the game of tennis and really requires little explanation.

The quote comes from W. Timothy Gallwey and appears in The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance:

"When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as 'rootless or stemless.' We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped, nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed until the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet, at each state, at each moment, it is whole as it is."

What would it take for you to stop giving yourself criticism and negative messages (if your inner critic is still alive and well)? How might you develop positive messages for yourself and come to this place to acceptance and self-compassion? See yourself as OK just the way you are—whole just as you are?

You are that rose. You are whole and beautiful just as you are. Know it. Accept it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An attitude of gratitude

Later this month we'll celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a good time to stop and reflect on all the gifts and blessings we have. However, do you, like me, wonder whether there isn't a way to regularly be grateful for what you have?

Researchers do tell us that people who are grateful are healthier both physically and mentally. And they are happier, too.

Are there some things you do to stay more aware of your gifts and then to express your gratitude? I invite you to share them in the Comment box below. I know the rest of us would love to hear them.

Here are some ideas:

• Write regularly, or as often as is possible anyway, in a gratitude journal.
• Keep a reminder note on your calendar daily or weekly that jogs your memory to list people and things for which you're grateful. You can just think about them, or you can write them on paper or in a computer document.
• Discuss with your partner, spouse or other family members over a meal: For what am I grateful today?
• Google "gratitude quotes" and enjoy what you discover online.
• Remember that you don't need to limit gratitude to the big things in life. Sometimes in my gratitude journal I list "sunshine today," "the ability to do my morning exercises," "the color of the flowers in my neighbor's yard," or "a good night's sleep."
• Challenge yourself to stay awake and aware and to notice what's around you. Just doing that will make you grateful for things you see and experience.
• When you're able to do so, reframe a negative experience to try find something positive in it. And be grateful that, even when you're unhappy or struggling, there's still something in that time for which to be grateful. It doesn't mean you are a Pollyanna and deny sadness or pain; it means that you can be a "both/and" type of person who sees both the good and the bad in something.
• Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Giving thanks will become a habit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who are you? Where are you?

Who am I? And who am I now? Those questions are among those I mention elsewhere on my website because those often are questions women (and many men, too) ask at midlife or later.

You and I are changing constantly, whether we are aware of those changes or not. We know our bodies are changing. Our attitudes change. Our desires and dreams change. It's all part of the natural flow of things.

Have you checked in with yourself lately to see what's happening? If you were to describe yourself by email or phone to a stranger, what would you say? Would you use nouns (mother, friend, daughter) or would you use adjectives (contemplative, extraverted, funny)? Which ones would you use? Be nice to yourself now!

And if you were to reveal even more of yourself, what would you add? What is your deepest desire right now? Do you have passions and dreams that are as yet unrealized?

Are your relationships what you want them to be—or at least fairly closely aligned to your desires? Is your career where you wish it? Or is your retirement just what you had hoped it would be? What's still out there that you'd like to pursue?

If you have lots of large life questions that are as yet unanswered and you'd like to explore them, please contact me for a complimentary and absolutely no-obligation strategy session to see what you might want to do about those issues. These questions are good, and it can be exciting to live your way into some answers. Scary, too, sometimes. But filled with possibility as well.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Leaning into acceptance

No, no, no! I'm sitting at my desk looking out at falling snow. I am so not ready for this. Thankfully, because the weekend was relatively mild, the snow isn't sticking to either the grass or the driveway and sidewalks. Still, it's snowing.

I really do love fall—the incredibly stunning colors of it and the warm, sunny days with no mosquitoes swarming around. Ah, but too soon it's gone. And I always want to hang onto it just a little longer. This one was particularly beautiful. And I got to enjoy it a bit longer because my sister and I took a road trip to Tennessee almost two weeks ago—where the fall colors were at their prime.

Life is that way, too, isn't it? You just want to hang onto some experiences. And you want to avoid others.

It's normal.

I'm trying to quit grumbling about such changes and be more present and accepting of what is. There is nothing I can do to change what is and what's coming (at least in most cases), and I know I'll experience far more peace of mind by just rolling with it all and leaning into acceptance. Be flexible, Sonia. And be positive and thankful.

Hmmm, perhaps I'll even try to reframe this. I have gorgeous evergreen trees right outside my office window, and some trees with bright red berries, too. I have to admit the huge white snowflakes against that green and red backdrop do look pretty. Not as beautiful as the fall colors I've just enjoyed. But still ... there is a beauty here I can appreciate.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rewire your brain with gratitude

Did you know that an intentional and regular practice of gratitude can change your brain activity? It can  change the way your brain neurons fire into more positive automatic patterns. Practicing gratitude can open your heart to give and receive more love. If it doesn't actually bring you more blessings, gratitude at least makes you aware of those you already have.

Housecleaning isn't my favorite way to spend time. I've been known to grumble about it occasionally. Well, actually, that's an understatement. I remember one particular day when I was especially annoyed that I had to spend a few hours cleaning my house before having visitors to dinner. In the midst of my complaining, it suddenly struck me: I am really blessed that I even have a home to clean! I thought of people who sleep outside under bridges, in boxes or in doorways. Or those who sleep in their cars because they can afford either housing or transportation but not both.

That was a good wake-up call for me. Sonia, focus on what you do have and be grateful for it. And once I started listing the things for which I was grateful, I was in a totally different place mentally and emotionally. My heart felt so open and joyful. I try to remember that.

For years I've kept a gratitude journal. I don't write in it every day. I would like to do that. But I do the best I can and write as often as I can. It does make a difference in how my day goes. We know that whatever we focus on grows larger. So if we're focused on our problems or on what we don't have, that's what looms large. But if we focus on our gifts and blessings, we see even more of them all around. Over time, our brains will gravitate more to the positive patterns. Isn't that a rewiring job worth taking on?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Just show up

This past Tuesday evening I was delighted to see and hear Anne Lamott speak about her most recent book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. I have always liked her particular brand of spirituality and her openness when it comes to life and all its craziness and richness.

Absolutely unpretentious and unassuming, Lamott spoke of how we can find meaning in the chaotic life and times in which we live—of how we can be in this world even when we can't find answers to why things happen. She started by telling us that her latest book was conceived after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December. She simply didn't have answers to all the questions raised by that awful event.

As the book cover says: "In this book Lamott explores how we find meaning and peace in these loud and frantic times; where we start again after personal and public devastation; how we recapture wholeness after loss; and how we locate our true identities in this frazzled age. We begin, Lamott says, by collecting the ripped shreds of our emotional and spiritual fabric and sewing them back together, one stitch at a time. It's in these stitches that the quilt of life begins, and embedded in them are strength, warmth, humor and humanity."

As Lamott told us, there aren't always answers. You and I don't need to offer each other answers and pearls of wisdom when tragedy strikes—we simply need to show up, she says. She is right. Showing up and offering our presence is gift enough! I will never forget the morning I received a phone call from my beloved sister saying her husband had been killed in a car accident. Some people offered up cliches or pious phrases; they meant well, I know. One woman, however, simply showed up at our door and hugged me. All she said as she held me was, "I'm so, so sorry." It was enough. I didn't want explanations or piety at that moment. I just wanted presence. It's a good thing for me to remember when I think I need answers or some word of wisdom for someone else. Just show up!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Aging is not about appearances

Are you becoming more comfortable in your own skin? Feeling more authentic each day? Finding your own voice?

One of the joys of aging is knowing who we are and accepting that. When we're younger, we try on different personas and sometimes copy others whom we admire. As we age, we're so done with that. It becomes more and more important to be exactly who we were created to be. Doing so is an ongoing process—and it can be a delightful journey as we come to enjoy who we are, what we have and what we're doing.

Yesterday I wrote about a book I really enjoy: Crones Don't Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen. The author, also a psychiatrist, proposes reverting to the original meaning of the word "crone," which was a wise woman, an elder. Bolen proposes that we make becoming a crone "a crowning inner achievement of the third phase of life."

I like her description of a crone: "To be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance. A crone is a woman who has wisdom, compassion, humor, courage, and vitality. She has a sense of truly being herself, can express what she knows and feels, and take action when need be. She does not avert her eyes or numb her mind from reality. She can see the flaws and imperfections in herself and others, but the light in which she sees is not harsh and judgmental. She has learned to trust herself to know what she knows."

All right. Sign me up. I'm enjoying this stage of life and truly like the increasing comfort of knowing and accepting who I am, flaws and all. What about you? Are you there? Would you like to be there? Why not take a step toward "crone-dom" today!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Becoming wise and juicy

Perhaps because I was a journalist long before I was a life coach (and am still a writer/editor at heart), I am fascinated by words. I'm especially interested in the life a word can take on, either negative or positive, because of how people use it over time.

One such word is "crone." Originally a word that denoted an elder, a person of wisdom, over time it became a derogatory word for an older woman. When you saw the word in this blog, you no doubt conjured an image of a witch-like, bent-over woman with warts on her nose!

Several women are trying to reclaim the word and restore its original meaning. Several years ago I read a delightful book by Jean Shinoda Bolen called Crones Don't Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women. The book cover promised 13 qualities to cultivate. Bolen didn't disappoint. I have underscored and highlighted passages to which I love to return for inspiration.

As Bolen says, the qualities that make women wise and juicy are not cultivated overnight. And as the book jacket says, "Crone years are 'growing' years, when women can devote their time, energy, and creativity to what really matters to them. Bolen offers us a blueprint: Crones don't whine. They're juicy, and they trust their own instincts. They don't grovel. They do meditate. They choose the path with heart. Crones are fierce about what matters most to them. They speak the truth with compassion. They listen to their bodies, reinvent themselves as needed, and savor the good in their lives."

So what's not to like about being a crone? Perhaps you'll want to reclaim that word, too. And no matter what you call yourself, try on some of those behaviors. Follow your heart. Pursue your passions. Devote energy to what you truly value. And savor the good in your life.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Break free

In 2008 I read a fascinating book done by The Transition Network and Gail Rentsch. Called Smart Women Don't Retire—They Break Free, the book includes the stories and experiences of several women. I also attended a workshop put on by The Transition Network on the topic. I was intrigued with the ideas in the book and saw new possibilities to consider whenever the day came that I decided to retire.

That decision was made for me, however, when I was Reduced In Force in October 2009. All the dreams, plans and options I'd considered suddenly needed to be revised. I couldn't imagine then what wonderful new things were ahead on my path. All I knew when it happened was the grief and devastation of a suddenly changed role and identity.

No matter which side of retirement you are on and no matter whether it was your choice or not, there are some lessons to be learned from the idea of "breaking free." In one chapter of the book headed "How Can I Scale Back on Work and Find Some Balance," I read: "Many students just graduating from high school take a 'gap year' before they go off to college. The year is seen as an opportunity for them to find themselves through nonacademic experiences in which they can learn and grow without risk to their long-term goals. Why can't we do the same? ... We need to breathe and just let go of all the stress and demands that rule our time. We need a free period in which to test out ideas and expose ourselves to new options."

What a wonderful thought: "Breathe and just let go of all the stress and demands that rule our time." Whether you work full-time, part-time, outside the home, at home or are retired, this is a good thing to do: Break free from the routines you've had and let go of the stress. See what's out there that you'd like to do now. Change up your routine. Pursue a passion. Follow a dream. Renew a relationship. Strike up a new one. Learn how to be comfortable in your own skin. The choice is yours. All you need to do is break free!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Play: Is it OK for adults?

Do we ever get too old to play? What does play look like for you these days? Or don't you ever play?

Being an adult can be serious work. Holding down a career takes time, energy and serious attention. Raising a family takes even more. Our lives can get incredibly complicated, chaotic and stress-filled. So  much so that we can completely lose any sense of fun, joy or playfulness. Play? Is that really allowed?

So when did we lose that desire to play? How old were you when you thought it was too childish?

I loved to play with dolls when I was a young girl. My sister is younger than I am, so I used to think that I played with dolls longer than most girls might because I was "doing it for her"—so she'd have someone with whom to play. Well, maybe. Truth was, I enjoyed the make-believe of it all myself. And honestly, I don't think it was until I had grandchildren that I played "let's pretend" again. What a shame.

Do you remember the last time you laughed till you nearly cried? The last time you got down on the floor and played with building blocks or a puzzle? The last time you read a children's book just for yourself? I knew a marriage counselor who kept a sandbox in her basement and played in it regularly because it was great therapy for her when she just needed to blot out all the cares of couples who came to her with their problems. I remember being impressed that she was still in touch with her inner child!

Now I try to access my zany, playful side more often—and not just when I'm with my grandchildren. I love to laugh—and it's so, so good for my health and attitude. I find children's books delightful and even have a few just for myself!

What can you do today to add some joy and play to your life?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Brokenness & transformation

When a worm is cut in two, each half grows another half; and there are two worms rather than one. Each half becomes whole again. Amazing, isn't it?

When you and I are cut or wounded, this doesn't happen to us. However, when we are wounded and hurt, we do have the potential for transformation—inner transformation. When broken, we do have the possibility of becoming whole again. It is often true that our pain and woundedness, when we allow healing and growth to occur, can become a point of our greatest strength. Have you ever experienced that?

It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

What makes the difference? As I've said in these blogs before, there are some life experiences from which it is so difficult to rebound that it literally kills people, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes people can be absolutely broken by violent and horrific experiences, and we should never judge that (even if we've walked in similar shoes). But for those who do survive—or even go on to thrive—the difference is actually moving into that place of pain and dealing with it in an open, honest and completely vulnerable way. Going to a place of transformation means feeling the pain and brokenness and living with that reality until we can live our way into the healing answers. This is a process and means reaching out to others, admitting we cannot do this all alone.

When life breaks you, or threatens to break you, imagine what you can do with all the broken pieces. Gather them up and see how they can fit back together again. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Please contact me if this is something you wish to discuss.