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Finding the Incredible You

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

– Carl Sagan

If you live in New Jersey, road work is a fact of life. The sun rises, Taylor pork roll is fried and the road crews set up for the day. Something is always being taken apart and put back together; milled and paved; big projects (think new bridges), small projects (paving your street…in fact, they just set up camp at the end of your driveway.) Detour signs take us on new roads, concrete partitions (ironically called Jersey barriers) shunt us from lane to lane, sometimes leaving our desired point of exit in the rear-view mirror. We’re used to it. We don’t particularly care for it, but we’re used to it.

I have found that the path through life can present similar obstacles. Yes, I know that the idea of life as a highway isn’t new. The journey, the road, the way. But it’s still a good analogy.

And the idea of waking up to the best on-ramp to your next stage of your life? A good parallel and oh, so necessary. (I prefer the idea of an on-ramp. It feels like movement to something new rather than an off-ramp which feels like the journey is over.)

My Goal

What I have learned is that if you don’t look ahead and form even the slightest idea of your desired destination, you’ll end up on an eternal round-about. Have you ever gotten stuck on one of those? So frustrating.

For me, the goal is and continues to be to building and maintaining an on-ramp to each next stage of my life. It started as an unconscious yearning close to twenty years ago. Since then, I’ve had to make several U-turns. I got proficient at driving in reverse. I learned to pay better attention to where I was and where I was going. (Believe it or not, I have missed work exits, not once but several times. Being attentive really helps!)

You plan ahead for a road trip, right? Why not do a little for your one, precious life? Seriously, where is the benefit in the struggle?

If we stay with the analogy of the road and visualize the crisscrossing winding arrays of possible directions, here are a few things to consider:

The speed at which you’re traveling.

Like the White Rabbit who’s always in a hurry, are you always in motion? No time, no time…  What might you be missing as you rush through life? Possibilities can be hidden in plain sight as you speed by.

Take the time to pause and listen to the quiet voice inside that is nudging you in your best direction. Be curious about where you’re going and understand that it is an unfolding process.

What you bring along.

What are you toting around in your bag, backpack, trunk of your car, the untended places of your heart? The old messages about what you can and can’t do; should and shouldn’t do. The ballast that weighs you down. The rules of the road that don’t work anymore.

What is one small thing you can offload now?

The clarity of the view

Sometimes we drive along squinting through our windshield, when all we need is a little Windex.

What are the things you say to yourself that get in the way of what’s in front of you? What old beliefs are coloring your current experiences? Are they true? Maybe they were then, but are they still?

What might clear that view, even if just for a mile at a time?

A vision of where you’re going

 Even if your vision of the journey is not fully formed, there is usually an overarching element in your yearning that is non-negotiable. Freedom, beauty, creative expression, relationships, family, out-reach, advocacy.

When you know what is essential, you will tune in to the possibilities that will provide those elements.

The Goal

The goal in all this is to home in to your personal journey so you are able to recognize your on-ramp to what is next for you. Pausing and considering your direction will set you up for a rich and meaningful next part of the road, your second half of life, retirement or whatever is next for you.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be overwhelming. It should always be a work in progress.

What part of the incredible you is waiting to be known? Contact me to find out how I can help.

Flowing Like a Mighty Wind

Many people live their lives struggling against the current, while others use the flow like a mighty wind.

~ Madyson Taylor, The Daily Om

Midlife. It brings the inevitability of change as well as the quest for wholeness. When you enter wholeheartedly into both you will slip into the current and flow like a mighty wind.

Change is a fact of life, regardless of age. We have no control over it. But the quest for wholeness is something I have found to be more pressing as I move into midlife and beyond. If I resist the former and ignore the latter, life becomes a struggle. It can actually be physically painful as I tense my muscles, eat poorly, bind myself to my work and ignore the multidimensional life that is calling me.

The quest for wholeness

Reaching for wholeness is a normal part of this time of life. It’s gathering together all of the disparate pieces that have been strewn across the first half. It is combining your creativity and dreams with the resources and skills you’ve acquired over the years to shape something greater and truer.

It’s also an exercise in pulling ourselves out of the eddies of the opinions and expectations of the world at large and checking in with the inner world of your essence. Who am I at my most basic self? What do I know now? What’s important to me now? What delights me? What do I do well? How can I transform this knowledge into a current and flow like the mighty wind?

The inevitability of change

As much as we think things stay the same, change is constant. Minute by minute, often invisible, right in front of our eyes.

Here’s another quote. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)

Clearly, the great mystery of life is that it is lived in an always flowing stream of change. We are one person with one set of ideas at one age, and then, when we look back years later, discover that we became another person at another age. The only certainty about it is the fact that we ourselves decide both what we are now and what we intend to become. And we make that decision one choice at a time.

~ Joan Chittister

What I know to be true for me is that when I cling to what has been, I miss out on the possibilities of what could be and I struggle. If I don’t consciously decide both who I am now and who I intend to become, I struggle. But when I allow myself to flow with change – and I don’t mean the leaf in a babbling brook – with my hand on the rudder, making choices rather than having choices foisted on me, ah, then the struggle drops and I revel in the wind at my back.

These active choices and decisions are unique for each of us and when we flow with it, we are better situated to find that wholeness we seek.

Navigational aids

There are ways to step into the slipstream. Here are a few of my best practices:

Ask a Small Question

The work of reconciling to change and returning to your true self can be daunting. A small question can make it so much more manageable.

However, there is an art to it. You want to elicit curiosity and surprise. One element to consider is the scope. What is one thing I know now that I didn’t know before? Limiting the request to just one thing takes away the overwhelm of life’s great questions.

Another element is letting go of the need for an immediate answer. If you ask the question, the brain will begin to work on it. Straining for an answer will often produce an edited version of the truth or an old story. Allow yourself to be curious about what comes up and tune in to what feels right.

And, finally, consider formulating your question as a how or what instead of a why.  Why often produces reasons why you can’t; asking how and what will offer ways that you can.

Listen

Once the question is asked, open up to possible answers.

One of my favorite things to do with a small question is to take it out for a walk, preferably a solitary walk. (In bad weather I take it for a spin on the treadmill. Not as refreshing but it still works!) You’ve probably had the experience of an aha moment as you walk, drive, do the dishes or take a shower (Consider investing in tub crayons for those moments of brilliance.) You know it works. So put that experiential knowledge to work. Ask the question as you set out and then enjoy the scenery or the bubbles. At the same time, ratchet up your awareness and don’t discount any ideas or thoughts or objects that come into your line of sight. Say hmm… instead of nah.

Capture the Responses

Asking the questions and listening (whether while walking or driving or waking) is part of this adventure. You then need a way to capture what emerges. Doing that lets you go deeper and integrates your findings into your inner conversation. The answers that arise can also lead to more questions and your journey will become clearer.

One of the ways I do this is to use the voice recorder on my phone as I walk or drive (hands-free, of course). I also journal, make notes on a pad or post-it or use the notes app on my phone. I do this so I will remember.

Use whatever action that will help you remember, take you further along in the conversation and give you access to that current and your essential self as you navigate the journey into midlife and beyond.

The more I work with these tools, the more responsive they become. For instance, when preparing for a presentation I ask a small question (What is one thing that will be impactful?  What is one way to make it fun?) I go about my day. I listen. The script is then downloaded, quite effortlessly!

It’s almost magic!

As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might you help navigate this rich time of life.

What to do when what you’ve always done doesn’t do it for you anymore

Discover Possibilities In Midlife

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.– Thomas Edison

Do you feel like possibilities are dwindling in midlife?

You’ve been doing what you’re doing for 30 years or so. There was a time when you were passionate about it. You leaped out of bed in the morning ready to conquer the world. Can you remember that? You were a crusader. There were windmills to tilt at. You were learning tons of new things and gobbling up new experiences.

Now, you’ve hit a certain age and you feel like your spark has gone out. At a minimum, the pilot light is flickering. How do you find new possibilities?

Something has shifted.

As a result, it’s gotten harder to drum up the enthusiasm that had once filled you up. Now many mornings bring dread instead of excitement.  Something has shifted. Is it just you?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve been there myself.

Wayne Dyer said “change your thoughts, change your life.” I used to think that meant I had to change the way I thought about my career. And while that might work for some, it didn’t work for me. For me, in midlife, the thoughts I needed to change were about what else I could do. I needed to see doorways, not brick walls. I needed to widen my lens.

What to do?

First, I would never, never, ever suggest you quit what you do every day. Even if it’s an effort.

But what I always, always, always would suggest is that you step back and Pause.

Some things to do in a Pause.

Do a little exploring and excavating.

A small, Kaizen-like question is a perfect place to start your explorations. Stay away from the question that begs to solve all the problems of the world. Instead, make it smaller and more immediate. Frame it in a positive way. Ask what lights me up as opposed to why am I feeling so flat. (How you frame it is important because your brain will supply responses to the negative also.) Ask it frequently during the day without any expectation for an immediate response. Your brain will grab onto it and go to work. Answers will pop up. The real trick here is to be paying attention and not censoring. Be curious.

Journal. Writing is a powerful tool during a Pause. In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron prescribes 3 pages, longhand, to be done each morning upon rising. This is ideal and, if you can, certainly start there. However, if this is too daunting, you’ll likely do nothing. In which case it’s better to begin with very small Kaizen-like steps. Promise yourself to write for 1 minute. Ask your small question on the page; do a very quick brain dump of what’s on your mind. If you go longer, that’s great. If you only do one minute you’ve still kept your commitment. As this becomes habitual, stay on the page longer.

As you expand your writing time you will get to a point where you think you have nothing more to say. At that point nudge yourself very gently to write a little more. I promise you will go deeper.

Is what you do for a living leaving you deflated?

Can you explore your current industry? Is there a way to shift the focus of your work, move to a different area of your organization, take on a different responsibility, learn something new? What opportunities are there? Often compensation becomes a factor here. If a reduction in pay is really necessary, put pen to paper and figure out if it’s feasible and worth it. How long would it take to get back to your previous level and what would you gain in the meantime?

Do you have a mentor or a trusted colleague with whom you could confide your frustrations and concerns? This person might be able to role play with you as you practice asking for what you want. She can also provide a different perspective on opportunities as well as an objective look at you.

Do a skills and experience inventory. Dig in to what it is that has made you successful. Maybe more of a functional resume. Where else can those skills be used? Get creative here. And, don’t forget the volunteer work you’ve done: the PTA, the fund raising, the sports coaching, even the family event planning. All of this has combined to make you a unique package.

Or is it something else?

There’s also the possibility that the problem isn’t what you do each day, but rather what you don’t do. Have you over-fished your personal pond? I’ve been there. It ain’t pretty!

More about that next time.

As always, if you need a guide or a nudge contact me to find out how I might help ignite that spark.

Don’t Be a Sunflower

I’m not happy, I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them. ~ Beverly Sills

One morning I woke up thinking “be a sunflower”. I have no idea where it came from. I can’t remember any context, just the statement “be a sunflower”. Sound a little goofy? Maybe. But, for me, that’s an opportunity to follow a thread of thought and see where it goes. It piques my curiosity.

I love sunflowers. I love the way they grow and bloom and how their faces follow the arc of the sun in the sky. They signify happiness, warmth, abundance and loyalty. They feel so positive.

Why would we not want to imitate the sunflower!

Percolation

I started writing this post several weeks ago.  And each time I came back to it, I disagreed with myself. I began to browse books on my shelf; I searched for articles on positivity, positive psychology and Pollyanna. I looked for ideas that substantiated what I thought I’d set out to say: That we should only be looking for the positive in life.

But that wasn’t quite right. It brought to mind the quote by Beverly Sills. Where was the thread? I kept thinking and asking myself questions to help give shape to this amorphous thought that was trying to emerge.

The Shadow Knows

At the same time, I was reading Awakening at Midlife by Kathleen Brehony.  I came to a section called “The Shadow Knows.” “At midlife unconscious, shadow material erupts into our life.” She goes on to say how the emergence of the shadow is an attempt to bring balance to our personality, accepting ourselves as we are, “… coming to love those neglected parts of ourselves as elements of our own authenticity and humanity.”

Okay, now we’re getting closer.

Looking for Balance

I had always strived to be a happy person. If something knocked me down, I would put on my big flouncy Scarlett O’Hara hat, say fiddle dee-dee and leave it for another day. I’d put it in the “long bag we drag behind us”, so aptly described by poet Robert Bly.

Boy, was I out of balance! And, at some point it got to be a lot of work. More than it was worth.

I could see where being a sunflower and only following the light no longer served me. As I followed this train of thought I also realized that I had already done a lot of the work. Coaches, reading and a little bit of therapy had helped. I gave myself a little pat on the back.

Brehony suggests that this distortion is quite normal in our second half of life, when we begin “perhaps for the first time to see the “other”, the parts of ourselves that have long been ignored in favor of who we always thought we were”.

How gratifying to know that it was normal to throw off these old stories at midlife and open up to the parts I’d kept hidden; to attain better balance.

A Need for a Pause

However, that balance is not attained by quick fixes, but rather a Pause where we can explore and experiment with those other parts of ourselves that have been neglected.

That pause is a juicy place that includes light and dark, sun and shadow, clement and inclement weather. It comes bearing gifts for midlife.  It is the first step into a mindful second half of life.

I love sunflowers. But don’t be one. Our journey is rich and complex and the good news is that we do not have to travel alone! Contact me to find out how I might help you pause as you honor all your beautiful parts and create a path back to a whole you.

Please note that this is not intended to replace professional psychological help where needed. If life is okay but you feel there’s more I can help. If you are feeling despair, please seek a skilled therapist.

Find the Thread

Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.  – James Russell Lowell

What do we do with an idea?

I am rising out of sleep, not quite awake. It’s 4 AM. Half in/half out of a dream. Seemingly disparate photos slipping away. They get fainter and fainter. Just the sentence “Find the thread and follow it in” remains.

I grasp for the images. But they will not be caught. Pfft! Gone. The who, what, where and why go with them. Just the one line remains.

Find the thread and follow it in.

Writing in my head

I often wake to words that stay with me. I start writing in my head.

While I sometimes reach for something to write on, more often I don’t want to disturb the flow that runs so easily in the quiet dark. In the relaxed body state where I’m melted into the bedding, where my body hasn’t awakened but my mind is gearing up. Many of my blog posts start there.

How about you?

Where do things start for you? What quickens your imagination and shifts your thoughts to possibilities? Opportunities? A project in the studio or around the house, a job or life change?

What do you do with the idea once it arrives? Dismiss it or explore it?  How would it feel to grab that thread and see where it takes you? Recognizing where it starts and allowing your process to take over can be the difference between a dream realized and a dream deferred.

Once the idea is allowed to live, what is your process to get started?

Do you feed it with small questions? Talk it over with a supportive friend or coach? Do you allow yourself to daydream? (Yes, daydreaming is a productive activity!) Do you make a list? Do you sketch it out, mind map it, doodle it? Do you look around at what’s out there to find what you like and, sometimes more importantly, what you don’t like.

Most importantly, do you let it emerge in its time, like a butterfly out of its chrysalis?

For me, with writing, it is often starts in that half asleep state. Rather than dismiss it I let it take its own course. It could be hours or days before anything gets onto the page. That’s okay. I find that the theme will linger for a few days in my waking-up time and show me more. I also find that it will spark other ideas. Those spark more and so on.

Intentional Creativity

This is intentional creativity and it is available to us 24/7. In our dreaming and in our waking. When you’re aware of how ideas take hold – when you’re able to recognize your thread – you become aware of your creative process. This will take so much of the struggle out. Your awareness will provide a magic carpet that you can ride into anything. Your process is as unique as you. Go with it.

If you’d like to explore how a creativity coach (that would be me!) could help you with your process schedule a free discovery session. I’m a very good thread detective.

Begin

 

“What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

– Johann von Goethe

Welcome to a beginning.

While some may want to craft elaborate resolutions, I prefer a different approach to this fresh new year. I would like to begin by recommitting to my journey of becoming, a journey of awareness and constant beginnings as I move through midlife and beyond toward my truest self.

So, while a new year or a new week – hey, there’s nothing like Monday morning to get us motivated whether it’s with a carrot or a stick! –  feels like a great place to begin, I would suggest that any time is a perfect time to do that. Any time can be the time to restart the journey.

After all, we are always somewhere on the journey even if we’ve paused or gone into the ditch.

Therefore, any time is a good time to get quiet and listen to the inner navigator who will show us where to resume the voyage/passage; to point us in the right direction to begin again.

Any time is a good time to pause and dream and wonder about the possibilities in a new beginning.

And beginning again – and, again – is essential to a meaningful rich life.

What I believe

Every dream deserves to be unpacked and explored. As I do, I will remember to bring along my compassion and curiosity and ditch the judging critic.

Every moment – not day or month or year – is an opportunity to begin again. It’s a chance to course-correct and feel into a better direction.

I don’t need to know the entire itinerary. The best trip is that which unfolds with imagination and inspiration and trust.

When it feels hard to continue with only the immediate path visible, I can choose to continue “just for today.” My commitment can be in very small steps.

The journey is the goal

So, as I move through life, I will begin and begin again.

Reflections On Trees and Change

Trees And Change

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second-best time is now.”
~ Chinese Proverb

I was driving home recently, thinking about how our foliage season had been rather bland and noticing that the trees were finally beginning to get bare. I love the look of a winter tree and how we can see its “bones”, those limbs and branches that the leaves keep hidden over the spring and summer.  Looking at those that lined the road I was on, I see how some really were planted in the wrong place. They’re growing into the power lines and the utility companies have trimmed them without any thought to their beauty.

What else could they do? Chop them down? Start all over again? No, no, no! I hate to see a tree taken down. And the new one? Will I even be around to see it mature to its full glory!

While better siting initially would have been ideal, I reflected on how artful, thoughtful trimming and tweaking would be so much better. To me, that’s a reasonable solution. In nature, as well as in life.

It doesn’t have to be done all at once. Small tweaks, small changes can have such a ripple effect. Continuing with the analogy of trees, last year my neighbor took down some large branches that hung over our property. Just removing those few branches gave my garden a whole new life. Plants that had dwindled as the shade increased, got a second chance. Where before I could only put in shade tolerant plants, now I could expand my selections.

That small change led to possibilities.

And then there are times when radical change is called for. It requires spiritual courage and trust.

One more tree story.

When we bought our house almost 20 years ago, we had a gnarly old apple tree in the yard. It wore its years well. Until it didn’t. I am particularly partial to gnarly trees, so I brought in an arborist, assuming that he would heal it. Instead he said to me, “Well, you can spend the next few years watching it die, or you can take it down and plant a new one and watch it grow.”

We took it down and planted a new one. It’s growing quickly. I may not be here to see it reach its full potential but I am enjoying it now.

In the scheme of things, cutting down a tree is not life shattering. However, I find it to be a good analogy for other parts of my life.

Letting go, starting anew, change – it can be sad. It can feel big. Transitioning from one stage of life to another, from one career to another, hey, sometimes from one task to another can feel daunting. Once daunted, we shrink back.

Time will shift things.

Time will always finish the job one way or another. This is one of the few guarantees in life.

In the case of the apple tree, it would have eventually died completely and I would have missed out on years of a healthy tree that peers over the fence, keeps its healthy color and shows off in the fall.

As time does its thing, however, the question to ask is whether or not the change that is occurring is the change you want. Whether it was for your best self. Are you being pulled along and letting time or others do your trimming? You have choices; there are possibilities.

Yes, looking down the barrel of change can be daunting. But it doesn’t need to be so. Sometimes small, deliberate changes ripple out and gift us with what is truly needed.

What is one small tree you might plant or one small tweak you could make now that could make a difference going forward?

3 Things You Can Expect from a Coaching Call

First of all, there are lots more than these three but let’s start here. Let’s pull back the curtain and take any mystery away. And, yes, I am a creativity coach but don’t get hung up on the “creativity” part. It doesn’t mean you need to be working on something in the arts. It means you will tap into your creativity – yes, you are a creative soul – and use creative thinking and creative tools to get where you want to go. The creativity part is not as much about your goal in coaching as it is about how you will get there.

And, we will do all this in a rich space that is confidential, safe and accepting.

So, where do we start?

First, I ask a lot of questions.

Especially in the beginning. I ask you what brings you to coaching. People hire a coach to help them reach a goal. That goal can be a myriad of things. For my clients, it usually focuses on figuring out who you’ll be in the second half of life; wanting more joy in life; wanting to find “you 2.0”; looking to get back some of who you used to be and yes, it could be that there’s a book inside you screaming to get out or you’re not getting to your ______ (you fill in the blank).

I ask you what gets in the way. Often, it’s those old gremlins of procrastination, fear, self-sabotage, feeling overwhelmed or not enough time. Sometimes it may just be that you need the catalyst of coaching: the accountability, the appointment, the saying it out loud to someone else. Getting your dreams out of your head and into the world can be a gigantic jump start!

Second, you talk, I listen.

My ears are scrunched. I listen very hard to hear what you’re saying and what might be between the lines. After reflecting back what I’m hearing, I ask you to tell me more. One of my goals is that you feel heard and witnessed because sometimes a coaching session is the only place this will happen for you.  Listening might prompt some more questions and I will continue to listen. All of this gives you an opportunity to claim a dream, to begin to articulate your ideas and, thereby, see them become more tangible.

I don’t tell you what to do. The best solutions come from you. Those are the solutions that are the most resonant and make the most sense for you. In that way, they become much more do-able. I’m the one holding the light so you can see them.

Third, I get you to your next small step.

Part of my role as your coach is to familiarize you with the philosophy of Kaizen. We will work with small steps, small questions, small thoughts and small rewards. This builds sustainable momentum while engaging the thinking part of the brain as opposed to expecting big steps that engage the fight or flight response and get us nowhere. We don’t stop at a small step; the small step gives us a success moment that makes us feel like continuing. Which we do. One small step at a time.

A small step could look like asking yourself a small question over the next few days and seeing what comes to mind. It could be five minutes (or even 1 minute) of doing something you’ve been wanting to do. If, after five minutes, you want to continue, great! If not, you’ve kept your commitment, done what you said you would do and that’s success.

What if you don’t get to your small step?

Having said all that, a really important part of my coaching is that if you don’t get to your small step, I still want you to show up next time. The step may not have been small enough. It may not have been the best step. Come back and we’ll explore it and tweak it. Or you may have made a creative detour which is normal and very okay. Sometimes you’ve done many other things for which you need to give yourself credit. We’ll do that, too.

(All first-time clients who sign up for the minimum of 4 coaching sessions receive a gift of the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Dr. Robert Maurer, Ph.D.)

Onward!

As we move forward, I will continue to listen intently and ask you more questions. You will sense the next best step for you. And, step by step, you’ll move toward your goal with joy and wonder and ease.

Would you like to experience a coaching call and see what it would be like for you? Contact me to schedule a 30 minute discovery call. No cost, no pressure, no obligation. Just a gentle exploration of how your creative juices can be a source of fuel for the next leg of your journey.

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