Friday, September 30, 2016

How do you want to age?

Author May Sarton saw aging as a time of growth. Does that surprise you? In her journal At Seventy, she wrote, "I suppose I have always believed that one must live as though one were dying—and we all are, of course—because then the priorities become clear."

She also wrote, " is only when one is dying ... that one is allowed to shut life out and concentrate on 'the real connections'." Further, she said she loved being old because "I am more myself than I have ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced, and ... better able to use my powers."

As you age, does that resonate with you? I do believe that, at least if we do our inner work, we reach that point where we integrate our inner and outer worlds. In other words, we want our actions to be completely compatible with our values and beliefs. That is how we get to be "more myself" as we age. That's how we have "less conflict" and how we're "more balanced."

It's all about choices. You and I get to choose how we age. True, we cannot choose whether we deal with illnesses. But we can choose whether or not we'll grow as we age. We choose our attitudes. We choose how much we wish to integrate inner and outer selves.

Do you have a vision for how you want to age? For who you want to be when you get older? Now is the time!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Here's to interdependence

Yesterday I mentioned a book on retirement that's been helpful to me and to others: Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide.

Two of the 38 women whose stories of retirement fill the pages, Nancy Dailey and Kelly O'Brien, highlight one of their discoveries about baby boom women: "We rejected dependence and sought independence—through education, paid work and pursuits outside of the home, within our marriages, or through divorce. Ironically, what may serve us best in retirement is interdependence. Our economic progress through entry into the paid labor force has not guaranteed us financial independence by any means. Rather, what has been created is financial interdependence—with our spouses, our extended families, our children, and, for many women, with a close social network of friends. ...The notion of interdependence will be a dominant theme for baby boom women in retirement for every significant aspect of her life: economic, relational, physical, and psychological.

"The real risk for baby boom women is not in making bad investment decisions. Rather, our retirement prospects hinge on our ability to 'age successfully' by gracefully embracing interdependence and building relationships that will stand the test of growing old."

I like those thoughts. Interdependence may well serve us best as we age. It makes sense. And building relationships is something we women value anyway. The skills we have in that area will serve us well into retirement and beyond.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Do retirement your way!

Several years ago I bought a book called Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh. This book contains the experiences of 38 women of different ages and professions as they reach retirement—or even after they've been retired a while.

What I enjoy about the book is that it reminds me that women are really making it up as they go along these days. Retirement doesn't occur at any set age. Some retire early. Some retire as soon as they are an age to collect Social Security. And still others work for many years after that.

Retirement also doesn't look any one way. It's as individual as the women who plan it and experience it. In fact, many women say they aren't necessarily planning their retirement. They're retiring and then staying open to the possibilities that rise up after retirement. That makes sense because if you plan your retirement while you're still knee-deep in your career, you might either create something that looks a lot like your work life (because you haven't yet learned how to slow down)—or you may go the other extreme and make it so different that it really doesn't suit you either, leaving you bored stiff.

It's extremely difficult to know just what you'll want until you give yourself some time to just "be" after years of a crazy work schedule. However, some women know exactly what they want—and it's a fit from day 1.

Either way, you get to decide. If you want some ideas of how your retirement could look, this book is an interesting read. Or you just may want some coaching time. I've had several clients for whom retirement questions have been the focus. Please contact me if you'd like to talk about it. And remember, I offer a complimentary initial strategy session.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Less judgment—more forgiveness

So you watch someone's actions. You listen to their words. You see their life from a distance—and you jump to conclusions about what type of person they are, what political party they support, what their faith life must be like, what their beliefs are, etc. Do you ever do that? Me, too.

And I really don't like that I do that.

We all know that it's wrong (and generally way off base) to judge others. Still, it's so tempting to do so.

We have absolutely no idea what goes on behind the closed doors of someone's home. They may look carefree and problem-free on the outside, but we have no idea about the burdens they're carrying or what they're enduring at the moment. And we surely have no idea of what others are thinking, feeling or believing.

So this is just a reminder to myself—and to you, if you need it—to stop with the judging already. Let's cut each other slack. Let's assume that people really are trying to do their best. Let's operate with a bit more grace and forgiveness. The world will be a better place for it. And we'll be better people for it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Get comfortable with fear & failure

There are two f-words that most of us do not like at all. Fear. And failure. Right? Typically, we aren't comfortable with them.

We probably think that if we acknowledge or think about our fears, they'll grow larger. The fact is that we need to actually be aware of the individual fears that most rule our lives so that they don't rule. We need to say "Hello" to them, as it were—actually acknowledge that we are afraid of whatever it is, whether that be public speaking, broken relationships, job loss or debilitating illness. And we need to examine what the fear is all about. What's really going on? How realistic is it that we let that fear loom so large for us? Can we either let that fear go or at least shrink it down to manageable size? Then we can take incremental steps to deal with that specific fear.

And failure. It might be well to think long and hard about what constitutes failure anyway. If we learn from things that haven't worked in our lives, is that really failure? If a project experienced a few glitches but came out right in the end, is that failure? Often, it's really a matter of unrealistically high expectations.

And, honestly, it's good for us to get comfortable with both fears and failure. We can learn so much from them both. I would say I've learned far more from what I saw as failures than ever I've learned from what I consider my successes. You, too?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Unplug and decompress

Have you ever had one of your electronic devices seize up or not function properly? No, that never happens, right? Hmmm, yup, far too often. Often, when we simply unplug the device or turn it off for a while, something gets reset and it will work properly when we turn it back on.

Don't you wonder why we don't think of that in relation to our own operating systems? Sometimes we simply need to be "unplugged" for a while. We need to step off the crazy treadmill of work, caregiving, volunteering, parenting, or just life and all its craziness—and let ourselves have a few moments (or even more than a "few moments") of peace and relaxation.

We need to decompress and get centered and grounded again. If that's good for our devices, it definitely should be good for us, too. It reboots and resets our brains and all systems, helps us unwind, improves our concentration, increases our creativity and problem-solving ability, enhances relationships and makes us more productive. This isn't just good for us; it's also good for our children, who also need unstructured time.

Interestingly enough, studies at the University of Michigan found that a lack of "me" time or privacy is actually a bigger cause of unhappy marriages than a less-than-satisfying sex life. So there you go. Give yourself the gift of time and learn how to unplug.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's inspire each other

In this divisive and stress-filled world of ours, it's pure joy to see acts of happiness and kindness, especially when they're spontaneous and totally unexpected.

Recently I came across something called "sofa concerts" where a sofa was placed in the middle of a public space with the invitation to sit and be comfortable. Suddenly a concert sprang up around those who sat in the sofa and all the bystanders who watched. Soon, everyone joined in the joy and the spontaneity. Wow, I dare you to watch this without being moved. And, I daresay, inspired!

Hmmm, what can you do to add some joy and an element of surprise to life today? What can I do?

And while we're at it, let's be sure to keep our eyes and ears open for things going on around us lest we miss some beautiful moments such as this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

No gender limits

Whether you're a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or simply a friend of young children, you have an opportunity to help them follow their dreams. You can be an encourager of children and their dreams, and you can help them to understand that gender does not have to limit their dreams or expectations. Encourage them to be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

An experiment in the United Kingdom asked children in a classroom to draw pictures of people at work in specific occupations: One was a firefighter. One was a surgeon. And one was a fighter pilot. Not surprisingly, of the 66 children's drawings, 61 of them showed pictures of males in each of those jobs. Only 5 of the pictures were of women in those jobs.

Then to the surprise of the children, the teacher welcomed into the classroom three people who did such jobs. Each of the workers was a woman. The children were then encouraged to ask questions and try on the helmets, stethoscope, etc., of the female workers. This was meant to help shatter the stereotypes and encourage the children.

Researchers say that gender stereotypes set in by the time children are ages 5 to 7. So it's not too early to help children understand that they can pursue their dreams, no matter what they wish to be. It's important to not limit their views and their aspirations. Find a child to encourage today!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Acts of kindness

If you were asked who makes a difference in the lives of others—you, former South African President Nelson Mandela or Oprah Winfrey, how would you answer?

Chances are that you would not pick yourself. But chances also are that a correct response would be: All of the above.

Don't underestimate what you do with your life. You may not be famous. You may not have millions or even thousands of dollars to give away to others. You may not be a household name. But I'm going to guess that you do things large and small every day that make a difference for others.

Sometimes those acts of kindness are done for family or friends, and sometimes they're done for complete strangers.

Either way, don't you feel good about doing such things afterward? Perhaps it would brighten your day if you just pause now and remember some of the things you've done recently. Let yourself feel good about it! C'mon, it's really okay to let yourself feel good about your actions. Celebrate you!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Moving outside the comfort zone

Are you a risk-taker? Or do you stay safely inside your sphere of comfort? There's no right or wrong answer to that, so be honest with yourself.

I have taken several risks in my life but I don't consider myself a risk-taker. I'm not about to take a zip-line so I can sail through space over gulches and through trees in Haleakala, Hawaii. Nor am I about to go white-water rafting down the Colorado River. Those are way outside my comfort zone.

There are risks, and there are risks! What one person thinks is courage, another may not. Risk is whatever scares you. Simply putting yourself out there in front of others is frightening to most people. In fact, the number one fear is public speaking. Yet many people do it—and think nothing of it.

Recently I read about a man who has lived with a facial difference—and yet he is a public speaker, entertainer, stand-up comic and an inspirational speaker. Many praise David Roche for his inspiring story and his courage. He took something that would have kept most people in the background and used it as a strength. What a risk-taker. As his website says, "You'll remember more than his face. He'll open your eyes. He'll touch your heart."

Roche has the courage to be authentic and to dig deep to use a challenge as a strength. Perhaps he'll inspire you, as he does me, to step outside your comfort zone to do something you've long wanted to do. Come on, shall we try something courageous this week?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Trust yourself—take a leap

Are you at a point of decision for your career? Or perhaps for your retirement vocation? Does a dream keep recurring and calling you to action? Or is there some other decision that's leaving you uncertain?

It can be frustrating to be in that state of discernment and ambiguity. However, it's also a fruitful place to be ... if you can simply lean into it and accept that you don't really know at the moment which is the right path for you.

If a particular career or job keeps coming back to you, perhaps through several different people and different channels, it's wise to pay attention. Perhaps that really is the direction you should go. Keep a tally of the signals you've received about whatever issue faces you. Sometimes signals come through dreams, sometimes from a friend; and other times it might be from a book you're reading. Be open and attentive.

And sometimes, you don't seem to see many signals at all. In his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, Gregg Levoy acknowledges the discomfort of uncertainty but adds: "...not knowing also has its own power. There is the power in trusting ourselves, relying on our intuitions, being able to act even in the face of uncertainty, rather than drone on for sometimes years with yes-no-yes-no-yes-no-yes-no, the very onomatopoeia of indecision. It can be more heroic to be willing to act in the absence of certainty than to refuse to act without absolute certainty."

Trust yourself. Listen to your intuition. If there are dots, connect them. If not, take a leap. If you end up thinking you made a mistake, learn its lessons and move on.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Vulnerability and weakness

For some reason I grew up thinking that vulnerability is weakness. I know now that it's not, and I'm working hard to change that. I don't have to know everything. I don't have to be tough and strong all the time. I can admit I don't know something. But, oh, it's so difficult when that old script about weakness comes roaring forth again!

So when I read in Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly that, in fact, we're more at risk of being hurt when we are not vulnerable, I sit up and listen.

She says that the word vulnerable is derived from the Latin word vulnerare, which means "to wound" and also "capable of being wounded." Further, she says that Merriam-Webster defines weakness as "the inability to withstand attack or wounding." So she concludes "...weakness often stems from a lack of vulnerability—when we don't acknowledge how and where we're tender, we're more at risk of being hurt."

I admire people who are open and vulnerable. It's one of the things I so love about Brown's books. She talks openly about the things that hook her and how she reacts badly at times to perceived threats. She's open about her failures. I admire that. But it's tough for me to do. And she says that's typical—we all love seeing truth and openness in others but we don't want them to see it in us.

Ah, more work to do, Sonia. There's always something more. But that's what keeps life interesting to a lifelong learner such as me. How about you?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Advice from a butterfly

Because butterflies are part of the theme of my Way2Grow Coaching practice, I just had to buy the purple (my favorite color) tee shirt I found at a botanic garden shop last weekend.

The shirt pictured beautiful monarch butterflies on flowers and contained these words:

"Advice from a butterfly: Let your true colors show. Get out of your cocoon. Take yourself lightly. Look for the sweetness in life. Take time to smell the flowers. Catch a breeze. We can't all be monarchs!"

Each one of those sentences is good advice and offers a lot upon which to reflect. I could really spend a day's blog on each one. But I just leave it for you to see how this might speak to your own life. I know the shirt's message speaks to mine ... and it may take me a while to unpack it.

And just for fun, I'll give you the website in case you're interested in this shirt or any one of the other products offering advice from a butterfly, a tree, a cat, a dog and many more: It's called Your True Nature. Simply click on that link to see how much we can learn from nature!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Going high

We hear or read a juicy tidbit or a negative slur on some political figure we dislike or a person we don't hold in high regard—and it's just like seeing a shiny object on our path. We just have to check it out. And once we do, we're drawn down, down, down. Right?

I don't want to get caught up in negativity. I'm sure you don't either. And I have clients tell me the same. But it's so, so easy to do so—especially in this busy, crazy and negative atmosphere around us. Once we go there, climbing back to the high road takes more energy.

I remember Michele Obama's words when she talked about hearing the negative things people say about her husband, her or her family: "When others go low, we go high." I like that. It's a great way to live. And I wish I could say I always do that.

I commit to keep on trying, though. What about you? Have you found any practices to help you do that more often? I know for me, healthy practices assist me—getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, quiet time or meditation, mindfulness and staying awake and aware. But it still takes conscious effort. I'd love to hear what works for you. If you're willing to do so, please add your practices in the comment box below.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Here's to wonder and awe

Awe. Mystery. Wonder. These are words and experiences that don't often seem to come up in daily conversation. And yet, they have the ability to lift us out of mundane lives and into something extraordinary.

Here's what Albert Einstein said: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead—his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness."

Interesting, no? In an age when we're so caught up in just plodding along, one small step at a time, perhaps caught up in our devices and technology—and in an age where arguments continually arise over who's doing religion correctly—Einstein's words take us in a different direction. They really need no further explanation, so I shall give none. But I think they bear repeating. So I plan to read and reread them and then reflect on what that means in my life. I invite you to do the same. And then notice what's around you that wraps you in awe and wonder.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Recover from adversity

When something goes wrong in your life, do you take it personally, assume it means that everything else in your life will go wrong too, and believe the effects are forever? If so, try to change how you see adversity. Things go wrong for everyone from time to time. Don't take it personally. An obstacle in one area of your life doesn't mean you'll experience one in all other areas. Your sadness and disappointment are not permanent either.

Perhaps it's time for an attitude adjustment so you can be more resilient. Building resilience takes work and practice, but it's so worth doing. It increases well-being and good mental health.

Be intentional about how you view setbacks and disappointments. Be grateful for what you do have. Get out in nature and enjoy it. Spend time with friends who are supportive and positive. For many people, attitude adjustment can be helped along by writing about your setbacks and what you've learned from them. In fact, research shows that when people think about the good things that came out of bad experiences, they report less distress, fewer disruptive thoughts, less negativity and greater meaning in their lives. Perhaps you have your own favorite, tried-and-true ways to combat negativity and stay resilient. Keep them handy and use as needed!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Let go of worry

Here are some eye-opening statistics about worry: The average adult spends 1 hour and 50 minutes each day fretting about something. And 2 out of 5 people say they worry every day.

Worry is hard on our hearts and brains. Anxiety increases risk for heart attack, and worry may boost our risk for Alzheimer's disease. Plus worry can interfere with our memory. It does take a toll. We all know that it doesn't help a thing. I confess that I worry, even though I know it's a total waste of time. But I want to do less of it!

I just saw some ideas to reduce worry:

• Keep regular sleep hours. Don't be a night owl.
• Do yoga. It's calming.
• Meditation increases mindfulness and can reduce worry and anxiety.
• Foster a belief in a higher power.
• Express gratitude at least once a day.
• Schedule quiet time, even if only 5 minutes a day. Get away from your phone and other noise.
• Lay off sugar and processed foods. They increase anxiety.
• Tidy up your space. Clutter can cause anxiety.

If you still find yourself worrying too much, grab a pen and write down solutions in a brainstorming session. Or set aside a certain time of the day to think about worries. When the time is up, let go of them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gratitude & good night

Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer says it so beautifully in "Three Gratitudes." See if you aren't enchanted with her words:

"Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I'm grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It's a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day."

Then she goes on to name the large and the small things of life—from blueberries to her daughter's new job.

What a lovely way to end the day—as she says in the final lines, "...awash with wonder at the sweetness of it all."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Healthy minds help healing

All of us should tend to our emotional well-being. It can make such a difference to our quality of life and to how we handle the everyday stresses of living.

But if you or a loved one lives with chronic pain, illness or a medical condition, it's especially important to maintain a positive and healthy attitude. When our bodies are fighting off illness or dealing with pain, they may not have the needed strength to also fight off the negative effects of stress. So it is especially important to do all we can to stay positive.

Mind you, that doesn't mean denying the situation. Rather, it means full acceptance of the situation with the realization that you have the ability to manage your mental health and emotions in ways that can promote healing and well-being.

Talk with others or with a trusted medical professional, counselor or life coach. Journal your negative feelings or fears to get them outside of your body. Engage in positive activities you enjoy. Surround yourself with happy, positive people. Be sure you get enough rest and sleep, eat healthy foods and take good care of yourself. All of these things can help you maintain a good attitude. And we know the mind exerts a lot of power over the body. It's what creates a positive placebo effect in medicine. No doubt we've all known people who faced serious illness with a positive and hopeful attitude, and it contributed to their healing.

Remember, your emotional health is ever so important. Do your best to stay healthy.

Monday, September 5, 2016

'It is what it is'

Ever think about this? Sometimes not getting what we want turns out to be the best thing. Have you ever missed a flight only to hear later that the plane was grounded and didn't reach its destination for hours? Or not gotten a job that you really wanted only to learn that a month later the company folded? Or been delayed in the start of a road trip so that you avoided a bad accident?

Although we all continue to make plans and to hold expectations for what will happen, it's always wise to hold such plans and expectations loosely. Life can change on a dime. And we don't know just what might happen—or what a given experience holds for us.

I have a difficult time with this myself, I will confess. But I am trying to let be what is—and to hold expectations lightly. I can too easily get hooked by my expectations and then feel let down because something didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. But as the above examples show, sometimes not getting what we had hoped can be the best thing.

The saying that's become so popular these days, "It is what it is" speaks well to this. Let something be what it will be. Try to not get too caught up in expectations and in the fine details of what's to come. Accept what is. Be flexible. Go with the flow. Dance between hope and mystery!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Distractions can be good

We know that whatever we focus on becomes larger. If we focus on the negatives in life, that's all we'll notice. We'll see even more of them than ever—even though there are positives in our life as well. Research by psychologist Susan Nolem-Hoeksema suggests that mulling over negative thoughts for an extended period is a leading cause of anxiety and depression.

If you find yourself in a place where life's burdens and negatives are wearing you down, what can you do? It may help you to distract yourself for a while until you can get a grip and turn your attitude around to focus on the positives and life's blessings.

Choose wisely when you select a distraction, too. An absorbing hobby is a good distraction. A night out with close friends is, too. But binge-watching TV with all your favorite junk foods around you might simply trade one negative for another.

You may have your favorite distractions. A 1,000-piece puzzle. A funny movie. Dancing to your favorite CD. Cooking a new recipe. Some yoga stretches or an exercise tape. What works for you? Be open to trying new methods as well as employing your tried-and-true favorites.  Showing love to someone who really needs it is guaranteed to make you feel good while you're distracted. We always feel good when we can help others, and it reminds us that we're not alone in having problems and in suffering. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lobsters & stress

Did you know that we can learn something about stress from a lobster?

In a YouTube video, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski shares how a lobster can teach us how to learn from adversity. It involves learning to live with discomfort!

When the soft inside part of a lobster grows, the outer shell does not grow. That remains rigid. So a lobster goes under a rock to stay safe from predators and there it sheds its rigid shell. What an uncomfortable and vulnerable thing to do—to let go of the shell that stands between it and predators! But after the lobster sheds its shell, it grows a new one. The process repeats as the lobster grows.

The lesson Twerski teases out for us is that times of stress can be the impetus for growth. If we can live with some discomfort, we can experience growth. Perhaps that means we don't always need to reach so rapidly for relief for our discomfort. Lean into it a while and see what lessons are there.

For me, the lesson also involves learning to be vulnerable (losing some of my protective coating). Through that vulnerability can come huge transformational advances—real growth.

Who ever thought a lobster could teach us something? Next time you experience the uncomfortability of stress, picture the lobster going under a rock and facing the stress of life without its shell so that it can grow a new one. And take heart!