Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Creativity and energy

Yesterday I got a scam phone call that made me think, "What a waste of creativity and time." Since I don't answer cell phone calls from numbers I don't recognize, the call went into voice mail. Here's what I heard when I pulled off my voice mail, though.

In a fairly strident and forceful voice, a woman said, "This is the IRS. We've been trying to get hold of you for some time. The IRS is bring a lawsuit against you. You need to call back at this number immediately." Uh, I don't think so. For one thing, the IRS doesn't call us. The IRS sends very official looking letters and documents. For another, a lawsuit against me? For what? I pay my taxes, not only on time, but early, in fact. In addition, this is the first such call I've received; so I doubt the IRS has been trying to get hold of me for a long time.

Here's what comes to mind for me at such scams: I think of all the good that could be done in the world if all those who scammed the rest of us in any way at all put their creativity and time to good purposes. I'm thinking the world would be in much better shape. We all would be. The scammers surely would feel better about themselves, wouldn't they?

I can't control what these scammers do, however. What I can control is how I use my creative energy and my time. Are there things I could be doing to help others and serve the community that I'm not now doing? Might I carve out some time to do more? Can I really be creative in what the needs are—and what talents and resources I might have that can help? Instead of just pointing fingers at these scammers, I can use the experience to reflect on how I'm using my life in service to the greater good.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gratitude offers benefits

Living in gratitude and establishing some kind of practice that raises your awareness of that for which you're grateful can do several things.

First, it can keep negative emotions at bay and make you a more positive person. Second, it will make you so much more aware of all the good things in and around you, things that you may easily have overlooked before. Third, it can help you keep a healthy perspective on life—noticing small things that really are large things when you take a broader view. For example, perhaps the person who pours your Starbuck's coffee each morning serves it up with a smile and friendly remark each day. A small thing, perhaps, but how that can brighten a day! Far better than total silence or a snarky comment about the weather or the long lines. When you are positive, you will notice such things ... and appreciate them. You'll feel better, and it will have a ripple effect that'll boomerang back to you, too.

Finally, over the long term you will boost your immune system and add to your health by staying positive and grateful. There's so much to gain. Why not start and end your day in gratitude?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Love & accept yourself

Do you obsess about your weight? About what you eat? Your dress size? The amount of exercise you do?

If you answered "Yes" to those questions, you're part of a large number of women who do worry about weight. Size really does seem to matter to lots of us.

It's great to be concerned about our health and well-being. Striving to eat nutritious meals and to get regular exercise—along with sufficient sleep each night—is a good thing. However, in our society it's so easy to cross a line into obsession and unhealthy, harmful eating habits and disorders. Bulimia. Anorexia. Binge eating. We are surrounded by messages that tell us we're not OK if we aren't size 2 and have absolutely no fat on our bones. I have fallen into this trap myself many times. Even now, as a Weight Watchers member, I do what our meeting leaders tell us to not do: beat up on myself if I've overeaten. I know better. I don't want to do that. I want to simply move on the next day and get back to a healthy eating plan. But those old tapes are so deeply ingrained.

Loving self is crucial. Accepting self is important. Letting go of old tapes and messages (and the ones that aren't so old and keep coming at us in the media even now) is necessary. Here's a thought: Why don't we encourage and support each other in the whole arena of self-love, self-care and self-compassion? Together, we can change our habits and live in a healthier fashion—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let go. Let go again.

Have you ever noticed how little control we have over most things in our lives? Somehow, we still maintain that illusion of control, however. I know that I'm brought up short many times with that little fact. Why, oh why, do we keep acting as though we can make all the trains (and people) run on time and get so bent out of shape when things don't go as we'd hoped, planned, or expected?

I keep reminding myself to let go, lighten up, go with the flow. Still, I get hooked again and again when things don't go as I'd hoped.

A few weeks ago at a women's retreat at which I spoke, I offered a breakout session titled "Live the Life You Have, Not the One You Hoped You'd Have." Several women had indicated an interest in the topic, and it was one that I needed myself. The sharing and stories that emerged at this small-group session were rich and poignant. It seems I'm not alone in getting hooked by my expectations.

I don't think the answer is just to lower expectations. For me, it makes more sense to still have expectations but to let go of some of the emotional charge of those hopes and expectations. It helps me, too, to stay more flexible about outcomes. I need to remind myself to be OK with what is rather than waste energy pining for what isn't or what didn't happen. As with so many things, including physical exercise, our muscles in this area strengthen and improve with practice. Practice may not make perfect, but it will definitely help me live the life I do have!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Self-care and burnout

Are you burned out? Ground down? Worn out? Exhausted and irritable? Are you feeling joyful less and less of the time—and depressed more and more of the time? Or have you ever felt this way before?

From time to time, life circumstances can bring us to the place of burnout. It may be an extremely toxic and difficult workplace with colleagues who tear you down rather than support you and have your back. It could be a close relationship—your primary relationship or a friendship—that's just sucking you dry.

There's no shame in being in that place. But please don't allow yourself to stay there. Get professional help if it's serious. Talk with friends. Contact me if you wish to discuss this with a life coach. Make whatever changes are necessary to not just survive, but thrive again.

Do things that nourish and feed you. Retreats, workshops, spa treatments, getaways with friends or your partner/spouse, meditation time, prayer, small groups—whatever will build you up and support you as you try to protect yourself from the damage being done. If you can leave the situation, that's great. Often, however, we're not able to do that and instead, need to find ways to change how we respond to it. Self-care is so essential. You are precious and important. Don't let anyone else grind you down—and especially don't let a situation or person force you to beat up on yourself or to pile on.

Love yourself. Take care of yourself. You deserve that!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Purpose: How complex is it?

Why are you here? What's your purpose in life? Have you ever thought about that?

Close friends and I were discussing this recently, and one of them said, "Perhaps our purpose is really simple: just to live joyfully and attentively."

In my usual fashion, I was taking the question to deep levels. I was thinking of the ways I serve others. I'm an encourager, an affirmer, a person who validates others and helps them access their wisdom. I thought of the ways my purpose may have morphed and slightly changed through the decades. Perhaps I was complicating the question.

But what if we're here to live in joy and to spread joy? What if it's really that simple? Well, actually, that isn't so simple, is it? So many things around us suck us dry; fill us with toxins, fear, hatred and anxiety; threaten to do us in and remove our joy.

What do you think? Why are you here? And what's your purpose? I'd love to hear in the Comment box below.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Reclaiming personal power

Identify theft. We hear about it all the time. It's extremely common these days. We all know our information is out there for the taking, and we fear what it means if our identity is stolen. How would you react if you were a victim of this?

As I was on my treadmill last Friday, I saw a segment on NBC's "Today Show" that dealt with identity theft. A photographer had her identity stolen and decided to learn the identity of the thief. Once she learned who had stolen her wallet, she followed the thief, photographing her as she went. Eventually she put the photos up on display in a gallery, the one in which her wallet was originally stolen. Since then, the photo exhibit has also appeared in another gallery.

The victim took back her power and refused to remain a victim. She says she followed the identity thief so she could learn more about her and perhaps discover why someone would do such a thing. Other people have accused the victim of invading the privacy of the identity thief, however, and have called it revenge—a charge the photographer denies. She found the process cathartic. No doubt it brought her some peace of mind to remove herself from the role of victim. The same act can be viewed so differently.

How do you see what the photographer did? Is it revenge? Or is it an act that reclaims her personal power?

For me, it raises the question of where in my life I have been or still am a victim. What do I need to do to empower myself again? I invite you to ask the questions, too: Are you a victim somewhere in your life? What might you need to do to take back your power?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Forgiveness & reconciliation

Forgiveness. It's such an important part of life. And it's also an extremely difficult part of life—depending on what and whom we're trying to forgive.

My women's Bible study group has been studying the topic throughout Lent, and yesterday we talked about the connection between forgiveness and reconciliation. Perhaps you've always thought the two need to be connected. Many people do believe that.

Sometimes, perhaps even often, however, there is no possibility of reconciliation with the person who has wronged you or whom you have wronged. The other person may have died—or perhaps simply won't speak to you. That makes forgiveness difficult, but it's still just as important as ever. Perhaps even more so. You will forgive that person, not because it makes any difference to her or him, but because it sets you free. It is really unhealthy to carry around a load of grudges and grievances. What a heavy load. Far better to let it go.

The ideal, of course, is to reconcile with the other person at some point. But forgiveness can stand alone and be done even without the reconciliation piece of the equation. So don't wait for reconciliation to happen before you extend forgiveness. Do so no matter whether it's accepted by the other person or not. You will feel so much better, and your load will feel far lighter. All your relationships will benefit.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Celebrate women's gifts

Have you ever heard of Frances Perkins? Or Mary Engle Pennington? What about Virginia Apgar?

Frances Perkins served as U.S. secretary of labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first woman to hold a U.S. cabinet post. She championed many of the policies that were part of the New Deal.

Born in 1872 and called "The Ice Lady," Mary Engle Pennington studied refrigeration and how best to keep foods fresh and safe to eat. She set scientific standards for food safety and designed home refrigerators and refrigerated railroad cars. Thank her next time you open your refrigerator.

And while you may have heard of the Apgar Score that identifies newborns at risk, you may not know that it was developed by Virginia Apgar, born in 1929. Although her surgical skills as a doctor were excellent, Apgar was discouraged from becoming a surgeon and focused her attention on anesthesiology—which led to her developing the Apgar Score.

Of course, you've heard of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She's the wife of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, right? Yes, she is. You'll also remember her as the mother of the kidnapped baby, their first child. But did you also know she was an aviator herself? And a first-class navigator? She has written many books as well, the most famous of which is Gift from the Sea.

So many women have made an impact down through history. We've heard of so few of them. And though we recognize the names of some, we may only know them as the spouse of someone famous. March is Women's History Month. It's a good time to delve into our history and discover all the wonderful gifts women have added to the world. Let's celebrate those. And celebrate you, with all your gifts too!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's the questions

Finding answers used to be so important for me. You, too? Now I love the questions ... and often the answers aren't even the important part. It's what I learn along the way when I play with the questions that provides lots of wisdom. And when I say, "I don't know," others share their life wisdom.

I like what one of my favorite writers says about it, too. Anne Lamott says, "The theologian Paul Tillich famously said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. And I can vouch for that—I think. Getting older has given me more comfort in not knowing the answers. I throw up my hands more often now; I shake my head in wonder at how inscrutable life is."

As a high achiever from childhood, this is still a challenge for me. But I do embrace the idea and slowly, slowly, I'm learning to say "I don't know" to questions. It's a good practice. And there's so much to learn from doing that. I'm trying to stay in a stance of openness.

So bring on the questions. Yes, even the large life questions....

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Deep breaths. Slow down.

My Mary Engelbreit calendar page for last Saturday/Sunday featured a delightful picture of a child on his back in the grass smelling a flower and watching fluffy clouds float by. Ah, it just slowed down my heartbeat to stare at that for a while. The words accompanying the photo, attributed to philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell, were: "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

Indeed. While we know in our heads that time to just be (rather than to do) isn't wasted, we still may not feel that in our guts, in our hearts. Is it really OK to just sit and ponder? To just stare at a tree or the clouds? It may be OK for a child (I remember doing that as a little girl) to lie on her back and stare at the clouds. But I'm grown up now and should be productive.

But did you know there's a whole global movement dedicated to slowing down? It's actually called The Slow Movement. It's a response to the deep desire of people to reverse the trend of a frantic, chaotic lifestyle. It addresses the issue of "time poverty" that so many face today. This movement is about re-connecting, with ourselves, our families and each other, with life. It's about rest and renewal.

We don't have to be part of a movement to find incremental steps to address the time poverty in our own lives. If you are worn out from running so fast and want to change your lifestyle, why not come up with three or four things you can do to slow it down? Might you say "No" to some obligations that don't feed you? Are there some unnecessary things you can drop from your schedule or to-do list? Or if you're really desperate for change, is there even something major you want to change right now?

I'd love to hear in the Comment box below if you've already made changes in this regard. The rest of us need ideas and encouragement. Thanks, if you're willing to share.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fear as an open door

Last Friday we talked about fears around the topic of dying, living and aging—with the book and movie "Still Alice" as the backdrop.

Have you ever noticed how fear can really be a doorway for you? An open door that can lead to deeper knowledge about yourself, about life, about others. It can lead you to discover strengths and talents you didn't know you had. It can be liberating and empowering once you walk through that doorway.

I remember the fears I felt several decades ago when my former husband and I returned after living for five years in Papua New Guinea. He told me that we would be expected to go around to congregations to speak about our experiences as missionaries. I was terrified. I had long feared public speaking, to the point where I dropped my speech class in college after just a couple sessions. But guess what—I did, in fact, accept invitations to speak. And I did just fine. It was a matter of feeling the fear and going ahead anyway. Through it all I learned that I really can speak to a group. I've done it many times since. Who knew?

Is there some fear you feel that could provide an open door for you? If you'd like to discuss it, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fears about living & dying

I saw the movie "Still Alice" the other night. I have heard that thanks to this movie and the book on which it's based, Alzheimer's Disease is finally getting some attention—and perhaps some funding for research and maybe even cures. That's a good thing.

This movie also can heighten our fears about the aging process, about dying, even about living. Fears aren't a bad thing, however. They can help us explore and grow. They can help us learn more about ourselves and about life. (That doesn't mean you need to see the movie, of course!)

I invite you to consider a couple questions today. I intend to reflect on them myself. What do you fear about dying? What do you fear about living?

Perhaps another question would be: What do you fear about aging?

I don't always deal well with such questions because it touches into my vulnerability—and for me, that's still a growing edge. But I want to get more in touch with that flip side of the strength coin because I think it's important for me to do so. Perhaps you already do well with being vulnerable. If not, please join me on this journey of discovery.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anger and its energy

Anger is an interesting emotion, isn't it?

We women often are uncomfortable feeling or expressing it. We know the names that can be used for women who are angry! We don't want to be called that. But we're human, so we do feel it from time to time.

There's a delicate balance with anger. It's important to know how to use the energy it contains—and especially important to know when to let the anger go.

Anger contains energy. If we channel it, that energy can help us do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said. Unlike sadness or depression, it can fuel us and get us through a situation. But then there comes a point at which that anger can become a ball-and-chain around your ankle. Then it's time to let it go. Drop it like a hot potato.

Above all, do not let anger build a permanent structure on your property! Don't let it take up full-time residence in your heart. Oddly enough, if anger does come to settle in your heart and your life, you'll find that it sucks away your energy. You'll feel exhausted by it.

Strange, isn't it, that initially anger's energy can help you—but that very soon, the reverse will occur. The anger will drain you. Just remember, anger is an emotion—neutral. It's how you use it that makes it a positive or negative force in your life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tend to your own business

"Rowing a race is an art, not a frantic scramble. It must be rowed with head power as well as hand power. From the first stroke all thoughts of the other crew must be blocked out. Your thoughts must be directed to you and your own boat, always positive, never negative."

This quote by George Yeoman Pocock, a boatbuilder who built racing shells, is found in The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown—a story about the U.S. rowing team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. This is my book club's read of the month.

When I read that, I thought about how applicable that advice is to life in general—not just to rowing and racing, about which I knew nothing until I read this book.

What if we keep our thoughts "in our own boat" rather than criticizing the behaviors of others or freely giving advice to others? What if we kept our thoughts "positive, never negative"?  Might that make a difference to how we conduct ourselves—and how we feel about life and others?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Be present to the moment

We can't change the past. We have no idea what the future will bring. All we really have for sure is this moment.

We hear that a lot these days. It's not easy for most of us to let go of old patterns of living in all three of those times—dwelling on things in the past, worrying about things in the future, and still trying to live this moment as best we can.

I think it's worth trying to be as present to the moment as possible, though. And I read something the other day that really resonated with me—since I do my share of worrying about what might be coming. This was written by Mark Nepo in his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.

Speaking of his experiences with cancer, he said: "In diagnosis, I feared surgery. In surgery, I feared treatment. In treatment, I feared stronger treatment. In recovery, I fear recurrence. ... it is the practice of returning to whatever moment we are living now that restores us...."

I need constant reminders in order to do this. And often, I end up juggling all three again. However, as always, it's progress and not perfection that's important. So I keep trying. What about you?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Say 'hi' to your fears

Fear. It's a huge topic, isn't it? Not one of us escapes this life without experiencing lots of it. I mean, lots of it. Many books have been written about it.

Do you ever think you're the only one so bound up by fear? Not so.

I do invite you to look it in the eye, however. See whether you can simply say "Hi" to it—acknowledge it—and take some small steps toward the object of your fear. Perhaps you'll be able to simply see it and not become its victim.

Some fear is helpful in that we need a warning that danger really is ahead. A storm is coming. Icy roads are ahead. Someone is about to harm us.

Most times, though, our fears are more about loss of control. We'll goof up. People will laugh at us. They'll think less of us. We'll fail. We won't have enough ______ (fill in the blank on that one).

Our fear offers us a chance to go deeper, to know ourselves better, to trust ourselves and others, to learn to let go our illusionary grip on control. But it all begins with saying "Hello" to it. As the saying goes, "Feel the fear and do it anyway." Got any fears you could work on today?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Perspective: It matters

I was not happy. That's really an understatement.

Yesterday after I left my women's Bible study group, I had some errands to run and lots of work piled up and waiting for me at home. My last stop was at the grocery store. I got home about 1:30, starving for lunch (it's later than I generally eat). But as I put my groceries away, I noticed that the on-the-vine tomatoes I had such a taste for and did pay for were not in any of the bags I unpacked. In fact, they probably were still sitting in a bag hanging from one of the hooks containing multiple shopping bags in the store check-out line. Grrrr. I was not a happy camper. I growled and stomped around a little just to get my frustration out.

Then I called the store. Yup, the tomatoes were still there. "I want them today so I'll be right over to get them," I told the guest service department clerk (after a 5-10 minute wait on the phone, of course).

I kept thinking I didn't have time for this nonsense. But I wanted the tomatoes. I felt my anger and frustration, got it out with a few choice words and complaining. And then I told myself, "OK, let it go, Sonia. In a month, it won't matter. In fact, in a week, it won't matter." And as my sister asks when she wants to gain perspective: "Do you have cancer? No. Well, then, it's not so serious."

We need to be attentive to our emotions and feelings. Acknowledge them. Get them out of our bodies. Then let them go. And taking a longer view helps us gain perspective. My life wasn't going to change drastically if I didn't have those tomatoes. I wanted them that day—not the next. But that extra trip, irritating as it was to me at the time, wasn't going to be life-changing either. I needed a change in view. When to-do lists get too long, it's easy to lose perspective, isn't it?

What do you do to keep perspective and take a longer view?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Is anger okay?

I've often heard it said that men are allowed anger as an emotion, and women are allowed sadness. Men aren't supposed to be sad or cry. And women aren't supposed to be angry.

We know that isn't fair either to men or to women. We need to be allowed the full range of emotions. Having the emotion—feeling it—is neutral. How any of us chooses to express it is another matter, and that's true whether we're male or female. We need to find appropriate ways to do so—ways that aren't hurtful to others.

It makes far more sense to me that we be real, honest and authentic about what we're feeling. Stuffing our emotions down isn't healthy; generally, they come out in some fairly inappropriate and hurtful ways. Release of emotions is important.

Take anger. It has enormous energy and can sometimes be used to provide fuel to move forward. The anger I had following my divorce gave me energy to move, find a job and carry on with my life at a time when I didn't think I could do any of those things, for example.

However, there came a time when that anger became a ball-and-chain and definitely needed to be released. That's when I journaled, wrote letters I never sent, sought counseling and found many other ways to let go of the anger. But I couldn't let it go until I'd felt it—and in that case, even used it as fuel (in ways that didn't hurt others). It's all a matter of knowing how to express the emotion appropriately and when it's time to let it go.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A cha-cha, not a march

Last week I read a comment in my Weight Watchers magazine that was meant to refer to eating, but it seems to apply to life as a whole, too. "Taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster; it's more like a cha-cha."

Most of us joke about taking two steps forward and one back at various times in our lives. It's normal to do that. Setbacks are a perfectly normal part of life. When we learn new habits and behaviors, especially, we must expect that the path ahead won't be perfectly straight and absolutely linear. It might be more circular. It most likely will include some steps back.

So I like the idea of seeing this process as a sort of dance rather than a perfect march forward! When we see it in this way, we can be a bit more forgiving of ourselves, right? And it's a lot more fun to think of doing the cha-cha than doing a perfect march any day. We can give up the "disaster language" and the drama and accept that we're human and that steps backward are normal. Let's go easier on ourselves—and enjoy the journey, both the steps forward and those back. After all, it's progress, not perfection, that's important.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Never say never

So, if you haven't pursued your life's passion and dream by, say age 50, it's too late, right? Some would even say that's way too late.

Don't tell that to Barbara Beskind, however. She's a 90-year-old designer on the staff of IDEO, a Silicon Valley firm that develops innovative and creative things such as the first mouse for Apple. And she's only had this job for two years.

Beskind always wanted to be an inventor. But when she grew up, she was told she needed an engineering degree to do that, and those college departments were only open to men. So were those jobs. So she went on to a career women could have. After five careers and five retirements, she contacted IDEO after seeing a 60 Minutes segment about them wanting a diverse staff. With lots of 20- and 30-somethings on their staff, they did need some diversity. So she wrote to them—and they wrote her back just days later. The young staffers love her. She loves them—and loves working in such a creative and lively environment.

Her story really inspires me. I hope it does the same for you. Never, ever give up on your dreams. Always follow your passion. Beskind's advice: "Embrace change and design for it."

What would you still love to do—as a career, a hobby or just a one-off experience? Go for it!

Monday, March 2, 2015

'Give while you live'

Last week my brother said he liked the phrase, "Give while you live." He meant giving to charities and causes that are important to you when you're still alive rather than simply leaving money in your will. He not only likes that phrase. He lives it. As a result, he's reaping the joy of sharing his resources and seeing the difference that makes in lives. One way he does that is through funding a scholarship at a college from which he, my sister and I graduated. Through that program he gets to know personally the impact he's making on young lives.

His phrase made me think more broadly about giving, too. We have so many opportunities each day to make a difference in the lives of others—and at the same time, make a difference in our own life. We have so many ways to share. We can share our money and other resource, of course. And we can also share smiles, hugs and kindness. We can share stories and tears. We can share forgiveness and compassion. We can share patience, encouragement and validation. At the base of it all is love; we can share our love.

A heart that is open and giving, sharing love and care in multiple ways each day, is also a joyful heart. What gifts are you being called to share today?