Friday, August 29, 2014

Life as it is

You don't have to be a perfectionist to wish that things would be different from what they are, that your job or mate or life would be better than it really is. You just have to be human. Often we think the grass really is greener elsewhere.

What if, instead, we took seriously what Chinese poet and philosopher Lao Tzu said, "Rejoice in the way things are." What if we embraced life just as it is? How might your life be different if you accepted, gratefully and gracefully, the life and job and mate you do have?

So often we hear the saying, "It is what it is." If that means accepting mediocre work or living with an attitude of resignation, that can have a down side. But if it means accepting life as it is rather than constantly longing for something different, it might lead to a deeper joy. It might lead to a raised awareness of your blessings and the goodness of what's all around you.

Sometimes you need to set goals that make you stretch and grow. There's nothing wrong with that. That's a good thing. I'm sure you know the difference in your own life from that type of goal-setting and the attitude of never being satisfied with who you are and what you have.

Do an attitude check today and see whether you need to change how you see things so you can truly "rejoice in the way things are."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grace & gratitude

She took our orders with a smile, making suggestions when she saw we were stuck or confused; and she served us in a genuinely happy state. She made us feel that we were extremely important—and that she really loved her job. This waiter simply radiated kindness, joy and good will.

When I think of aging gracefully and gratefully, I think of someone like this woman. I'm not always good at judging age in others, but I would guess she was at least in her late 50s. So being on her feet all day and carrying heavy trays of food could not have been easy. You would never have known it if she was uncomfortable or unhappy. Just being in her presence brightened my day.

I want to be like that. I want to radiate grace and express back to the world the love and blessings I've been given. I want to stop focusing on all the challenges and negative things I see "out there" and even on those I still carry around inside myself. I want to nurture fullness of heart and kindness in myself—and thus in others. Focus on the blessings and the positive—and our joy will radiate out to all those whose lives we touch, just like the ripple effect of a stone in the water. Doesn't it just lift your spirits to think about this?

I want to carry grace, not grudges. It starts with me right here, right now. And it really begins with me acknowledging, with gratitude, all my blessings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A deeper gratitude

For most of us, it's easy to feel gratitude when things go smoothly in our life. We are grateful when someone we love gets well after an extended illness. We're grateful when we arrive safely at our destination after a long and difficult trip. We're thankful when the medical diagnosis is a good one.

In addition, we can even feel grateful for what difficult experiences in our past have meant for our growth and transformation. I know that things in my life such as my divorce and my job loss and other disappointments have made me who I am. And so I'm grateful and would not remove those experiences from my life if I could.

There's a deeper gratitude, however, that Deepak Chopra speaks about. As he says, "This expanded sense of gratitude rejoices in life exactly as it is, right now ... life is perfect in spite of its imperfections. We find ourselves grateful to simply breathe and greet the sunrise. We feel privileged to engage in the full range of human experiences: busy traffic, strong coffee, and missing a loved one." He says we can appreciate life just as it is.

I want to remember that when I get ready to complain about snarled traffic. Or rain when I don't want rain. Or any of life's inconveniences. I really want to rejoice in life "exactly as it is, right now." I want to remember to be grateful "to simply breathe and greet the sunrise." How about you? Do you already experience that deeper level of gratitude?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nurture your creativity

I love a can-do attitude, and I am really inspired by out-of-the-box, creative thinking. Recently I read about a program in Kansas that provided a great example of both.

It seems that when rural businesses closed because of owners retiring, finding new buyers was increasingly difficult. Finding people who want to start businesses in rural areas was becoming an issue. So the University of Kansas came up with a creative solution called the Redefining Retirement program (or RedTire). The program pairs up owners of family-run or small businesses with buyers who are graduates of Kansas state universities. Part of the deal is that the current owner will stay on for a period of time to help the new buyer through a transition period.

The program includes help with the financial pieces of the business, too. And now the University of Kansas hopes to take the program nationwide.

Isn't that a creative solution to what was becoming a real problem for rural communities who need such services—and for prospective business owners who may not have the finances to do a start-up in a large community? It sounds win-win to me. Businesses can stay in a community, and perhaps new jobs might even be created. And entrepreneurs have a chance they might not have had otherwise to follow their dreams and passions. It's about removing obstacles and creating opportunities and possibilities.

To bring this home to you, think about what things in your life call out for solutions. Nurture your creative side and fill yourself up with whatever will spark even more ideas. Then start spinning out ideas—and do so without judging them. Be as out-of-the-box as you can and see what emerges.

Monday, August 25, 2014

BFFs help us through

Do you have "girlfriends?" A strong support network of other women? Studies have shown that this is one of the elements in the longevity and well-being of women. We have a "tend and befriend" pattern of relating to one another.

My women's Bible study group is working through a book by Barbara J. Essex titled Girlfriends: Exploring Women's Relationships in the Bible. While some of the relationships between women we study in the Bible aren't exactly friendly (Sarah and Hagar) and some of the women aren't even named (Jephthah's daughter), we are having some good discussions about what constitutes a solid friendship and what those BFF relationships do for us.

Each of us has different experiences of girlfriends—and different expectations. But we all talk about the importance of sharing—sharing concerns, sharing our yearnings, sharing our wisdom. Doing this helps us let go of things we don't need to drag along with us. It helps us stay open to new things. It gives us courage to face our fears. As the old saying goes, it "doubles our joy and divides our grief."

To have a friend, we simply need to be a friend. I like what Albert Camus said: "Don't walk in front of me. I may not follow. Don't walk behind me. I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Boundaries aren't selfish

Many of us have trouble saying "No" and setting boundaries in our relationships with others. Is that you? Do you let your family and friends dump on you and expect you to: a) listen to all the drama of their lives (some of which may seem like a broken record to you) or b) do something about their drama? Or maybe both? Are you the one who always gives and gives to others, while getting crumbs from them at best? You meet their needs but yours go unnoticed?

Boundaries are an extremely important part of relationships—and something many of us didn't learn as we grew up. Boundaries are really for you. They're not meant as punishment for others. They are the limits you set for yourself on what you will accept and what you won't. For example, if you have a family member or friend who uses you as a sounding board for the same gripe session day after day, you do have a right to set limits. For one thing, it is probably getting very old for you to listen to the same refrain over and over when clearly nothing is being done to change the situation. For another, it's not helping the other person move forward when you continue to listen. You may want to stop the broken record by saying you've been hearing this for so long and are really helpless to do anything about it; you don't care to hear it anymore. And you may want to ask the person what they intend to do to change the situation.

It isn't selfish to set such boundaries. It's really a form of self-care. Hearing these sad stories when you're helpless to change anything takes a toll on you. Saying "Yes" to everyone else's needs and requests while letting yours go unspoken and untended also takes a toll. Self-care and self-compassion just make sense. None of us gets all our needs met. But everyone deserves to have attention to their needs. Think about what boundaries you may need to set. If you wish to talk this over, please contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Know yourself

Those of us who live in geographic areas with well-defined seasons are extremely aware of the rhythms of life. In my part of the U.S., for example, we lived through a difficult winter and were especially welcoming of spring this year. Now the calendar and shortened days tell us that summer is nearing its end and fall with its burst of rich color is approaching.

Are you aware of your own rhythms and seasons? For we have them, too. Periods when we're completely "in the zone" and filled with energy, ready to take on new projects and finish some previously left undone. Other times when we're a bit down and feeling low on energy. And still others, when we're in a deep, dark cave—when nothing looks positive. At yet other times, we're just tooling along, neither feeling up nor down, just sort of there, doing what needs to be done. For the most part, these times are part of a natural rhythm of life. (That said, we did talk earlier this week about depression and that we should seek help when that occurs. Learn to know those times in your patterns.) Awareness is key.

As Russian physician and author Anton Chekhov once said, "Let us learn to appreciate there will be times when the trees will be bare, and look forward to the time when we may pick the fruit." Know there are seasons to the natural world and to your own body and spirit. What's helpful is to learn to know your own internal rhythms so you can more easily go with the flow—so you can "look forward to the time" when you may "pick the fruit." As people say these days, "It is what it is." Mostly that's true, and you do well to accept your rhythms. When you need outside resources or help, however, please seek those.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What inspires you?

Unless you have severe asthma, emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or some other illness that affects breathing, you never stop to think about the act of breathing in, do you? It's just natural and occurs without your giving it a thought. Amazing!

The word "inspiration" means the act of breathing in. As we know, it also has another meaning: "something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create: a force or influence that inspires someone."

Just as we aren't aware of inhaling and exhaling most of the time, so we aren't always aware of things around us that may inspire us. Stop for a moment and think about that. What inspires you—either to create or even just to be or do? If you're an artist, perhaps it's the natural beauty around you. Or it's the morning bird choruses awakening your senses. Perhaps it's another writer. You may do your best work when listening to classical music. Or you may have your personal and resident muse.

Whatever it is that inspires you, notice it. Bring your awareness to what's in and around you that calls you to your best self. Let that wonderful spirit flow into and through you. It's not just the air we breathe that's important to our well-being; it's also all the other things we breathe in. Know what those things are for you. Then be sure to surround yourself with those things that inspire you. It will help you be your most joyful, creative and positive self.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'Time famine' & exhaustion

Have you ever heard the term "time famine?" It refers to that stressed-out sense many people have these days that there is never enough time to do what you want or need to get done. People hunger for time, and they can just never get enough. So many these days live in a constant state of overwhelm and exhaustion.

Ariana Huffington in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life speaks of the exhaustion, burnout and overwhelm felt by so many Americans these days. She uses the term "time famine," which I'd not heard before but which describes what several clients and friends have brought to the table in our discussions.

Is there any way to avoid this? Or to step back from the edge if you're already at the burnout stage? The good news is that you can make some different choices and make changes in your life to either avoid or recover. Huffington says she has made several changes after a terrible fall that served as her wake-up call. She also has incorporated many stress-relieving practices into her businesses for the sake of her employees.

Look at your life and see what changes you might make. Are there activities or tasks you can shed? What different choices might you make to avoid exhaustion and burnout? It's worth examining your lifestyle and career style for the sake of your health and well-being.

If you're already at burnout stage, please seek help to recover. If you would like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session. I have helped people move from burnout and exhaustion to a place of delight and joy again—a place where they once again reclaim their passions and find new ways to live that avoid time famine. Do whatever you can for your self-care and health today.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Laughter and tears

Last week we were stunned by the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. This extremely gifted actor had made many of us laugh through the years—and had also brought to life serious subjects in his many roles. This brings to mind what Bob Hope once said, "I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful."

Yet, though Williams had the ability to "transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable," he apparently suffered from severe depression. We never know what lies underneath the jokes and laughter, do we? In fact, I have heard it said that clowns are sometimes the saddest of people.

What I hope may come from the untimely death of Williams is some broad and deep discussion on the topic of depression, from which an estimated one in 10 U.S. adults suffers, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Despite those high numbers (which are on the increase, according to statistics), the illness still carries with it a stigma that is not attached to such things as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or any other illness. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that stigma could be shed so that more people would feel free to seek help and would feel supported by family and friends?

If you are one of those who suffers from any form of depression, I encourage you to find the help you need. In addition, if you are able, please share your story with others so we can raise awareness. It's 2014. It's really time to let go of the stigma that surrounds this painful and sometimes debilitating illness. It's time to be silent no more—to shed some light on this topic that's so painful for so many.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Stop. Look. Listen.

In yesterday's post I mentioned a family reunion I attended last weekend. What a thrill to reconnect with aunts, uncles, cousins and others I hadn't seen for a couple years. I was especially overjoyed to see my mother's two remaining siblings and another aunt, the wife of Mom's brother. They're all 90 and older. So each time I see them is precious time to me.

When I told my brother how grateful I was to have time with those elders and how I feared that each time I saw them might be the last, he wisely reminded me that any one of us could be gone by the next family reunion. He's right. Although I don't want to be morbid, I also want to be realistic.

It only makes sense to always live with the truth that all you and I really have is today. That being the case, it's extremely important that you and I live in the moment. Savor today. Stay awake and aware. Attend to what's going on in and around you right now. You don't know how many more moments you'll have. I don't know what's ahead for me.

Stop what you're doing for a moment. Look around you. Notice things you simply overlook most of the time. What's capturing your interest? Do that several times a day. See how much more aware you'll become.

Keep in mind what we all learned when we were tiny people: Stop. Look. Listen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Changing direction

Ever taken the "road less traveled" and changed your direction? Last weekend my fiance and I were returning home from a family reunion when traffic got terribly clogged up. We drove for miles and miles in start-stop conditions, with brake lights as far ahead as we could see and cars backed up behind us as far back as we could see. Although we began the trip home in a good frame of mind, having had a wonderful weekend and ready to enjoy a leisurely trip home, our patience was wearing pretty thin after more than an hour of start-stop.

So we connected with our spontaneous selves and got off the interstate, stopped to look at a map to find other options and decided on some back roads leading to state highways that would get the job done. And what a wonderful surprise. We moved right along, and we got to see new scenery and enjoy lovely rural landscapes. I'm not sure whether we saved time, although I suspect we did. But we certainly saved our sanity and found some surprising pleasures along the way.

This was another lesson to me: Don't be afraid to change direction and try new things. Change. That word can be so scary to so many. But many times in my life, I've found that changing directions can lead to amazing opportunities that I could not have imagined had I kept going as I was.

Is it time for you to move past some fear into something new? Go ahead. Sometimes the road less traveled is filled with beauty and delight!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Live your values

Are you spending your time doing those things that are important to you? Are you living your values? Following your true priorities?

For example, lots of people say they wish they could spend more time with their partners or their families. Yet when they're with them, they are either tied up on their smartphones or else thinking about what they have to do at the office or what's on their home to-do list. In fact, a recent study revealed that 80 percent of those surveyed said checking their smartphone is the first thing they do in the morning. That's before kissing their spouse, hugging their kids, going to the bathroom or brushing their teeth! So one might ask, What is high priority, really?

It's always good to look at how you are spending your time. What does a day look like for you? Then think about what's really important to you. Are those things getting on your daily schedule? Or are they getting no time and attention at all? Or just minimal attention? What do you need to change? Or at least tweak? It's so easy to get out of balance. I know I need to reflect on this every now and again to be sure I'm living my values. Why not do a "priorities maintenance check" today?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Dare to do

I always enjoy quotes that make me think. One I read recently made me do just that. It comes from the Roman philosopher Seneca: "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult."

Does that resonate for you? There are many things we do not dare because of our fears; and most times, those fears have nothing to do with the difficulty of the thing we don't do. But those fears hold us back and make difficult some of the things we'd like to do. Most of us have fears about several things. It's good to take an individual fear out and really examine it. In what is the fear based? Often, it's not based in reality nor in an experience we've had. Can you take a risk and dare to do something small to move past that fear? And then try something bigger?

Once we face a fear and dare to do what it is we feared, we feel so strong and competent. Daring to do things builds our confidence. There's just nothing like it. I'll never forget when my father helped me learn to drive. I turned a corner on one of our country roads and didn't let the steering wheel  rotate back into position after the turn. Of course, I went straight into the ditch. Dad told me to drive the car out of the ditch. My fear was so great then that the way out of the ditch could just as well have been Mt. Everest. It seemed impossible to me that I could safely get us up and out of the ditch. But Dad wouldn't let my fear get the best of me. He was firm. So, of course, I got the car up and out of the ditch. I gained a lot that day: a real sense of accomplishment and a knowledge that I could do the thing I didn't think I could. And today I really love driving! Thanks, Dad.

What might be holding you back? Can you face the fear and dare to do the thing? Go ahead. I'll bet you can!

Monday, August 11, 2014

It's all about love

I've told you before how much I love Rachel Naomi Remen's book My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging. Remen's warm and compassionate style comes through as she tells stories from her own life and from the patients she has seen through her years as a physician.

In one chapter she talks about living with perfectionism and how it can get in the way of life and relationships. One of her patients who had been a perfectionist all her life, now ill with cancer, told her, "There is so much more to life than a perfectly clean kitchen floor, Rachel." Remen points out that in some cultures, artists weave some imperfection into their work as a reminder that wholeness is different from perfection. She goes on to say, "There is often more wisdom to be found at the edges of life than in its middle. Life-threatening illness may shuffle our values like a deck of cards. ... Having watched people sort their cards and play their hands in the presence of death for many years, I would say that rarely is the top card perfection, or possessions, or even pride. Most often the top card is love."

Indeed. I'm sure when we reach the end of our days, we won't think about the fact that our kitchen floor wasn't perfectly clean or our closets were messy. And we won't even think about the Hummel collection we gathered through the years—or the lovely clothes we have hanging in our closets. We'll think about those we love, those who have gone before and those whom we'll leave behind. It really is about love!

Friday, August 8, 2014

A place for accountability

Do you make to-do lists for yourself? Are you good at the follow-through? Some people take one thing at a time, complete it, cross it off the list and move through till everything is finished. Others do one thing and get lost in that project and don't move on to the other things on the list. Or they ignore the list altogether. Just remember: You're not good or bad no matter what your style is. Your style is your style. It doesn't make you better or worse than anyone else. However, it's good to know your style—and good to do whatever works best for you.

What is helpful for many people—or so nearly all of my coaching clients have told me at one time or another—is to be accountable to someone else. If you really want to get a project done, tell someone else that you're going to do it and when. That's really motivating!

At the end of each session I have with a client, I'll ask them to set one or two goals for themselves that they'll work on before the next coaching session. What I hear from clients is that often when that next session gets close, they think: "Whoa, I'm going to talk to Sonia in a couple days, I'd better get going here" or "I'd better complete it soon." All of us can use accountability at times in our lives. If you are at a point where you could use some, please contact me. Let's see what we can do for you. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prepare for aging

Are you at that stage of life where you realize the years behind are many and those ahead are fewer? This stage can bring with it lots of questions—and, yes, also fears. We all wonder how our health will hold out. If we're still employed, we wonder for how long. Will we get to choose when we retire? Or will we lose our job? What will we do when we retire? And if we're retired, how shall we best spend our days? Can we do anything to prepare for illness? Do we want to downsize yet?

So many questions. So few answers. Although there is much over which we have no control (job loss, onset of illness, etc.), still we do well to make some plans. We do have a choice about what preparations we'll make. What do you want retirement to look like? What's on your bucket list? What are you doing now to take care of your health? Are there any changes in your lifestyle that will help you have better quality of life now and in the future?

It's also a good time to think about completing a Power of Attorney for healthcare and a Power of Attorney for finances. Do you have a will? Have you talked with your family about these things? Think, too, about a form such as the Five Wishes, which goes beyond a healthcare POA and says how you would like to be treated, what you want to have happen in your last days and hours. Perhaps it seems morbid to you, but those who do discuss this ahead of time say it makes things so much easier when the unthinkable does happen. I remember years ago trying to talk with my sons about my final wishes. They didn't want to hear about it. Then their father died (too young), and they realized the importance of such discussions. I also remember having good discussions both with my father and my mother long before they died. We knew what they wanted. How that simplified our lives!

If you would like to discuss any of these issues, please contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The happiness equation

Yesterday I heard a discussion on the "Today" show on the topic of happiness. Naturally, I perked up. The show hosts cited a study at University College London that came up with the happiness equation. The study was done as a way to give doctors a subjective, quantitative way to measure mood disorders. Can you guess what the happiness equation is? Yup, low expectations!

As one who often gets hooked by my expectations (I am, after all, an idealist, a romantic and a recovering perfectionist!), I resonated with that. I know that when I have overly high expectations, I can easily get disappointed. So I often need to remind myself to lower my expectations or at least to lower my attachment to outcomes. When I am able to do that, I am not so disappointed. And sometimes, I'm overjoyed at the way something turned out. It was far better than I'd expected.

There's some balance needed here, however. You and I want to keep our expectations for some things high enough to challenge ourselves to reach our potential. You really are the only one who knows what the proper balance is for you. It's worth thinking about, though. Don't you think?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Listen for your own inner voice

The older I get, the more important it is for me to be authentic, to be who I am and to follow my heart and my passion rather than worry about what someone else thinks is right for me. So when I heard this quote by Steve Jobs, I really resonated:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

If you've ever spent time pursuing a dream that someone else had for you and felt the discomfort of that fit, you know the importance of listening to your own inner voice. What were you created to do? What are the unique gifts you bring to the world? Where is your heart leading you? Have you found your own voice? What is it saying?

Don't wait. Discover the joy in authenticity. Now.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What joy to give to others

I just have to share another good news story, continuing what I started last week. This one occurred in Albany, N.Y., where a waiter received a $1,000 tip for his great service at a restaurant where he works three shifts in addition to a full-time job and a side business of his own.

Michael Shafts has waited tables for four years and ended up splitting more than half the tip with his fellow staff mates, something his manager says is typical of him. The couple who left the tip said on the bill, "Pay it forward. My birthday present to me." It was the man's 47th birthday, so his $1,000 tip for Shafts clearly brought him joy, too.

What a positive story! And it's a good reminder that when we reach out and do good things for others, we also increase our own happiness and joy. It's always win-win when we do. I've heard it said that the best cure for a bad day or for loneliness is to do something nice for another person.  I think that's really true.

Know anyone who could use a lift today? Look around. I'm certain you'll find lots of opportunities to bring joy to someone else—and to yourself.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sharing love with young ones

Today is a special day for me. It's another one of my Grandma Days.

When my oldest grandchild was potty trained, I began the custom of Grandma Days. And each of my grandchildren and I have enjoyed them ever since. Each grandchild gets a special day with grandma to do whatever she or he wants, and the day includes an overnight at grandma's house. We've gone to museums, zoos, spas, movies, parks and lots of other attractions. Now that several of my grandchildren are older (two are college-age already), we've changed the format. Because their lives are extremely booked and busy, sometimes we even settle for dinner out together. And no more overnights. But what fun it was all those years.

Anyway, today I'm taking my three local granddaughters (sisters and all teenagers) for a spa day. We've done this the last three or four years, and I love it as much as they do. They get massages and pedicures, and then we go out for dinner. This is such a great time to hear more about what's going on in their lives and to just enjoy each other's company.

So I liked what I read the other day about a father who built his 5-year-old son a tree house in his son's bedroom. When he got enthusiastic comments about what he'd done and how cool that was, the father just said, "If you have children, love them!" Yes, that's the idea. Love them. Spend time with them. Enjoy them. Embrace whatever stage or age they're at. Try to not wish their lives away ("I can't wait till they grow up and we have more free time"). Share your love and life with them—whether they're your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or whether they're not even related but are special children in your life. It'll keep you young!