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An interview with Fear 😉

No Fear
photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Note to reader: There’s not a heck of a lot new here. Just having some fun- doing it anyway! – in spite of fear trying to tell me this is too silly. In fact, it’s a good reminder of what usually gets in your way especially when “change” is standing in the wings. It’s also a big factor in why you’re not writing that book, or moving ahead on your creative project!! Whatever’s holding you back, I can help. Contact me to see how. It’s what I love to do. Please read on…

I recently had the chance to sit down with my old nemesis, Fear. It was early morning; his guard was down. There he was, relaxing in the back of my head readying what he calls his daily alerts. I call them salvos. (Yes, it’s a “he”. Not sure why but that’s how he showed up!) What follows has been edited for brevity and clarity (as well as to delete some expletives.)

KK: Good morning, Fear. Glad I caught you before you started your busy day. You know, you wreak a lot of havoc in my life.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Sure, some of it’s necessary but most of it isn’t. I wonder how you would you describe your role in our everyday – and professional – lives?

Fear: Ah, I am a big deal, aren’t I? <a cocky smile on his face> My basic function is to keep you safe. Some people say it’s your ego trying to do that. I say, ego – schmego. That’s my job. I create the tension, the drama; I keep you on high alert. Makes you feel alive, doesn’t it! I get your adrenaline pumping!

K: You certainly do. And frankly, I could do without it at this point of my life. Life’s too short for your nonsense! Any time I decide to move out of my comfort zone you kick in with your opinion. When I want to try something new you say ooh, what if someone doesn’t like this! What if you stink at this! You’re such an imposter! 

You stop me in my tracks. And off I go – procrastination, second guessing, cleaning toilets…

F: You’re welcome. That’s one sparkling toilet you have!

K:  …feeling overwhelmed. I can try to ignore you but that doesn’t always work. Because you’re also quite crafty. Half the time I don’t even realize it’s you sending me to graze in front of the refrigerator or go down an online rabbit hole.

F: I’m good, huh! By the way do you have any more of this Irish tea?

K: Let’s cut to the chase here. I’ve got the street crossing and hot stove thing down. I know it’s not wise to go hiking alone in the deep woods. Blah, blah, blah. But it’s the other stuff. For all of us. Writing a book, career changes, growing a business, new relationships. Maybe going back to school. Any creative pursuit, really. As soon as any of us wants to try something new, there you are with your “what-ifs”. Safety-schmafety! I, for one, am tired of being safe! You say Ego-schmego. I say you two are in cahoots. How about you guys duke it out while I go do something new!

F: Ok, ok, take it easy. It’s not always me you know. Try looking at things from a different perspective. Just because you’re dithering over something, not getting to it, doesn’t mean it’s me.

K: What do you mean? Who else could it be?

F: You!

K: What!

F: Did it ever occur to you that I’m not to blame for everything? That maybe, just maybe, whatever it is that you’re avoiding isn’t what’s best for you? It might look like I’m sticking my nose in – you, know the avoidance, the self-sabotage, the toilet cleaning – but it could actually be that in your heart of hearts, you know it’s not for you.

K: <snort> Right. Sure. Make excuses. You’re waking up now…

F: It could be that your gut brain that knows on a deeper level that you don’t want that job – it’s not for you. You don’t want to move – here is better than there. That you don’t want to take on that project or partnership and so on. You have so much intelligence in you that you might be missing because you can’t hear it. Okay, I know I’m loud. It could be getting drowned out. I’m just trying to get your attention.

K: So, it could still be you, right?

F: Sure. But what I’m telling you to do is to listen to your heart, first. Pause. Listen. And then do what’s best for you. Because if you’re listening to your heart, you are safe. You are being a loving steward of your dreams. Ugh! Listen to me! I can’t believe I’m saying these things. If you tell anyone…

K: But what if my heart’s telling me to connect with that person, to write that book, to go back to school. And, in spite of this I’m still cleaning my toilet?

F: Well, yeah, that’s on me. Here’s what you do. Um… Well…

K: What are you looking around for?

F: It’s only us, right? I wouldn’t want any of my fellow fear masters to hear me. We’re unionized, you know. I’ve got a lot to lose if I’m seen as a calming influence. Pension, benefits, the whole megillah. But listen. If your heart is telling you to do this thing then you must do it. You must or all this wonder and possibility will die with you. That is the greatest tragedy. And you know how to do it. You know how to sneak past me and my pal, amygdala. Small steps, small questions. Listen first and then take a step. You don’t need to know the whole way when you start. Just start!

K: I know. I know.

F: I’ll still be around you know. But at this point it feels like we’re buddies, doesn’t it? So go do your thing. Claim that dream. Just say hi once in a while. I’ll do the same. I’m just telling you to pay attention. I’m telling you to ignore the shoulds, stop trying to please everyone. Remember I’m only here as an alert.

K: Ha-ha! Like those stupid weather alerts that tell me it’s raining. Like I can’t look out the window!

F: Yeah, like that. Remember, I never said don’t do it. I only said what if…

K: And that’s where the trouble starts…

F: Hey, I’m not the boss of you. That beautiful heart is the boss. I wouldn’t mess with it. It’s got a lot of power. I clear out when she gets going. Whoa! There’s no stopping her. But you and me? We’re here for the long run. So, buckle up!

One Writer’s Journaling Journey

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Have you ever thought about how keeping a journal might enhance your writing? Here are some thoughts and tips from one writer who also been journaling for many years…well, maybe decades! Mary Cash is a teacher, journal keeper and writer (to name just a few things) who lives in Colorado and, along with her husband, shares life with John Snow (the cat) and Shadow (the dog.) More about her here.

One Writer’s Journaling Journey

by Mary Harris Cash

Do you journal? I’m curious what you journal about. Do you keep track of everyday events? Vent about someone in your family who makes you angry? Plan for the future? Talk yourself through a big change happening in your life? Perhaps you write about the birds that show up at your bird feeder. I do. The nifty thing about keeping a journal is that there are no limits to what you can write about. You can find blogs, books and research studies that offer suggestions on journaling techniques, but in the end, it’s your journal, and you’re in control of what you write in your journal. I wonder though, when it comes to journaling, do we tend to forget we can use our journal to help us with our writing projects?

Me? I’ve kept a journal since my mid-20s. Of course, I’ve had some down time. When I had twins, I didn’t pick up my journal until the girls were well into toddlerhood. And, this past November, when I got a new puppy, my journaling went out the window for a few months, and it took quite a bit of effort and schedule juggling to get back to it. Overall, however, my journal has been my constant companion through the adventures of graduate school, relationship ups and downs, parenting tribulations, the joys and stresses of several new jobs, the sadness of my girls going off to college at the same time, the uncertainties of a couple of scary medical diagnoses and more.

Doing it my way

These days when I journal, I like to do my version of Morning Pages, complete with a daily weather report (it’s 7:45 am and 10 degrees on March 27 – will winter ever end?), bird report (Crow! Stellar Jay! A cute woodpecker!), and my tarot card pull for the day. I fill my three pages with whatever concerns I have for that morning, and I find that I can write about anything that pops in my head, including my latest writing project. This morning I used my journal to brainstorm for this guest blog post.

However, I’ve not always thought to use my journal for my writing projects. For some reason, when I decided to try my hand at writing fiction several years ago, I had this idea that I needed to keep my journal and my fiction separate. I bought a spiffy 3 subject spiral notebook and diligently used that for my brainstorming and for drafting scenes for my cozy mystery. I carefully made sure not to write about my cozy in my journal. I had to keep the spiral notebook next to my journal so I could hop over there if I had some grand idea in the middle of journaling about my day.

A place to capture my brilliant ideas!

Eventually, because I’m one of those people who has brilliant ideas either in the shower, or right after while I’m getting ready, I found myself putting down ideas for the latest scene or questions to ask my main character as I was writing my morning pages. That way, I got my ideas out of my head, and on paper so I wouldn’t forget them. At the same time, the instructor I was working with for an independent study class through the Story Circle Network gave me suggestions for dialoguing with my characters or brainstorming about the setting or some other aspect of my mystery and she always suggested I journal about it. Sooner than later, my journal and the spiral notebook bled together. I would bring both to my desk so I could work on my scenes on the computer.

To be honest, I’m not sure where the idea of not using my journal to help with my cozy mystery project came from. When I took time to think about it, I realized in the past, when I was working on research papers and even course updates for the college English classes I teach, I always used my journal to write about some aspect of those projects. I can’t say books on fiction writing told me to not use my journal because some actively encourage using one. I guess it must have been a brain glitch at the time.

The safety and freedom of your journal

From my experience, if you plan on using your journal to help with a writing project, it’s best to consider your journal as a safe place where you can write anything. It’s important to ban that critic when journaling, especially when you’re focusing on your writing. Start out your journaling session by telling your inner critic to go wash the dishes, do the laundry, or better yet, get busy vacuuming. And if they threaten to pop into your journaling session, just push them out the door with another task to complete. Also, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or format. Find some engaging tasks for the Grammar Queen to do when you’re journaling, or better yet, get her to help your inner critic clean out the downstairs closet.

Now that I’m back to using my journal for my writing projects, I got curious about how others might be using their journals to facilitate their writing, so I did some research. While there’s not as much information available on journaling for writers as there is on the benefits of journaling on mental health and learning, there are some great suggestions out there.

Now your turn

Here’s are three ideas to encourage you to use your journal to boost your writing.

  1. You can use your journal to grow a daily writing practice. No matter what you write about, remember, the more you practice your writing, the better it will be.
  2. Use your journal to clear your head – if you’ve got lots of ideas or perhaps something is going on in your life that’s blocking your writing – do a brain dump write and get all that muck out of your head so you can move on to do some great writing.
  3. Capture life around you. Write about people, places, events in your life. You can go back and pull out juicy tidbits and use them in your novel/short story or even your non-fiction.

How do you incorporate your journal into your writing practice and projects? I’d love to hear from you.

You can email me at mary@writerslabyrinth.com. Want to learn more about journaling? Sign up here for my newsletter.

The hidden treasures of the writing brain

Treasure Box
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Do you have “shoulds” about your writing? Do you fret that you’re not writing enough? Let it go. Yes, at times you have deadlines. But consider the riches accumulating as you go about your days. There’s a lot happening under the surface even when you’re not putting words on the page.

I haven’t been writing much the last few months. I had taken a brief hiatus in December but that hiatus lingered into January. And then February. Why, I wondered. What’s wrong? The answer that rose up was that my joy in writing had been muscled out by the “shoulds.” I should be working on my book. I should get a blog post out. I should get a newsletter out. I should, I should I should.

I was should-ing all over myself.

Seriously, shoulds take the joy out of everything.

At the same time, I was still journaling. I was still running writing circles. But my book and my blog, well, I felt lots of resistance there. So, this time I decided to do something a little different. I just let it be. (More on the shoulds here)

However, I’m still comfortable calling myself a writer.

I recently read an old article in The Writer where the author suggested that when she wasn’t writing – in between projects or on a break – that she could no longer call herself a writer.

I don’t agree and I’ll tell you why.

A writer is someone who writes.

I am familiar with – and subscribe to – this definition of a writer as “someone who writes.” I also believe that the writing process is not limited to placing words on the page. Writers continue to think in writerly ways. Just like an artist or a photographer whose eyes soak in their surroundings. Or a gardener who doesn’t need to have her hands in the dirt to let ideas germinate.

We constantly take in stimuli that will eventually make their way into our craft. Even when we think we’re not paying attention, ideas are wheeling around in our subconscious.

Some other things that happen off the page:

Our ideas continue to speak to us.

Literally. And sometimes at very odd times.

Characters wander in and out of our consciousness. Inspiration pops up randomly. (A little aside: how do you capture those thoughts?) The mill continues to process the grist.

Bertie, the main character in my novel, hadn’t been speaking to me for a while. Actually, it was this blog that was doing most of the talking. However, she did pop in recently with something to say.

I was on a walk and as my feet developed their own rhythm my mind began to wander. I started noticing how many dog walkers were on my path. Nodding and smiling to each other, some dogs pulling their walker; others, obediently trotting alongside. I suddenly wondered if Bertie had a dog.

No, she told me. She would never have a dog. That would require her to be out and about, possibly having to greet others on a daily walk. That’s pretty uncomfortable when you’re trying to keep a low profile. And no, she wouldn’t let a dog loose in her yard because her garden, well, that’s another story for another day.

I walked and thought about her. She is squirrely. I already knew this. I think I know her but then sometimes she surprises me. She wakes me up in the morning with start. “I did not know that!” I think. She might have a cat, but definitely not a dog. I’m always listening for her. Even when I’m not working on the book.

We get to stockpile wonderful words

Writers are collectors of words. In her book, Poemcrazy, writer Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge talks about collecting words and creating wordpools. A wordpool is a fun writing prompt and a great way to loosen up your creative muscles.

Me, I like to visualize a small wooden treasure chest into which I tuck my words.

In my writing circles we write together and read our fresh unedited work. We look for what’s working (there’s always something working) and those words, phrases, passages that stay with us. I tell the writers that even if it’s just one phrase that’s working, that’s still gold. Save it. I mention my treasure chest.

But even off the page small gems are dropped into your consciousness. Save them! Use index cards, journals, post-its, the notes app on your phone, and yes, maybe even a small wooden treasure box. Save them! You never know when you might need a perfect description of the sound of a screen door slapping closed on a summer day.

We continue to read

Writers are often voracious readers. I know I am. I find myself observing what’s happening on the page and how I’m reacting to it. Oh, look at how she did that! I wonder if that would work for me. I notice the devices the author is using; how the prose was a bit too flowery. I note what I like and also what I don’t like. I see how he makes me want to turn the page. I delight in the surprises I find.

I was in grade school when I picked up Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. It was on my older sister’s summer reading list. I already loved to read. I fell in love with language with that book. I learned how words could be transformed into something of stunning beauty. I suspect that somewhere the dark recesses of my mind I am trying to emulate him.

I store all this in my mind for when I return to the page.

Because I always do.

Shedding the Shoulds

Molting Bird
Photo by Jack Bulmer on Unsplash

I am shedding my “sh*&%y shoulds”. I am a little molting bird, casting off the ought-tos, the had betters (can you see the wagging finger?), the supposed-tos. They weigh us down and keep us from our creative work. I’m lightening up in this second half of life. Enough! They. Have. Got. To. Go!! And, as synchronicity would have it, this need to shrug off the shoulds recently hit critical mass. More on that later.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that, as I notice and let go of the shoulds, the inner battle wanes. I find myself paying more attention, pausing and running the ‘shoulds’ through a new filter. They come out the other end as a yes (want or need) or a no (should)

How about you? Does this ring any bells for you? Where do you stand on the “sh*&%y shoulds”? I can’t be alone in this! Especially in midlife and beyond.

What we lug around

“Shoulds” carry baggage. They’re short on commitment and usually drag along a sidecar of “but’s”. Yet, many of us go through life diligently toting around a sack of old voices, habitual thoughts, guilt, and lots of assumptions.

And for me, after so many years, those shoulds had turned into “I just don’t wanna!” When something was presenting itself as a should, up would jump my inner rebel. The process of tending to those “sh*&%y shoulds” had become fraught with irritation and resentment.

That sent me into procrastination and avoidance.

Definitely not where I wanted to be!

Hence, the conscious work of shedding my shoulds.

A knock-out call

Back to critical mass. Recently, after a day of cleaning and organizing my home office I sat down in front of my computer. I’m here to tell you that I am living proof that sitting is bad for your health.  My chair decided to break and sent me to the floor. All the impact of the fall was taken up by my right shoulder. A sprain of the ligaments and tendons around my collarbone.

Do you know that in Chinese medicine pain in the right shoulder can be an indicator that we are resisting something or trying to do too much of the wrong things? There is an imbalance. For me, the imbalance is the struggle with the shoulds. I knew I was off kilter but this just drove it home.

The genesis of shoulds

Shoulds begin to creep up in childhood. We should be a good girl/boy. We should eat our spinach and be seen and not heard. (Yes, I’m dating myself!)

They get strengthened in adulthood. We should work hard, be successful. The outside world imprints their shoulds on us. Authority figures in school, church, the culture. The list can continue.

And that’s where we begin to get in trouble. Because we begin to use the word should too often. We become oblivious to the language we use.

Actually, I want to be a good person. I want to be kind, work hard and be successful. But I want to operate from the inside out. In too many cases I’ve turned my wants into shoulds.  I want my actions to be inner driven, not outer directed.

Needs vs. shoulds

Consider the word “need”; how much lighter it is. It feels quick. It doesn’t loom large.

Try this (out loud):

I should brush my teeth.

Now this:

I need to brush my teeth.

Do you feel a difference? Now, of course, I’ll brush my teeth either way but the second version feels different. Yep, let’s brush our teeth before we move on to the next thing. No big deal. Done and done.

Much of what we call shoulds are really needs (and even wants!) and are part of our normal routine. I need to grocery shop or pay my bills. It often boils down to language which is so powerful.

Examine a should. Is it really a need? Call it that. Better yet, if it’s a want, call it that.

Shoulds are externally driven. Wants and needs are inner driven.

Wants and Needs

If shoulds are externally driven,  the inner driven wants and needs are so much more personal. And for some reason that can make them harder to address. We are curious humans, aren’t we?

However, what I have found is that when I recognize that what I’m calling a should is actually a want – or a need – and is congruent with my personal vision and goals, it becomes simpler. The action may be challenging – like some of the tech chores I do – but I want to do them and therefore they are easier to get to.

I want to be healthy therefore I will brush and floss and eat better (most of the time!) I need to tend to my business (and this stems from a want) so I will do the challenging and the mundane tasks my business asks of me. They’re often items on a list. Check, check, check. Done and done.

Needs and wants are not inherently easy. But they are simple.

I also recognize that when I ask myself what wants to be done, the answer sometimes surprises me. They are real and doable and tend not to squabble with any shoulds. It all gets done and I am a much more relaxed and happier girl.

Language

So often, the problems rise up from our choice of language. Next time you hear yourself starting a sentence with “I should”, pause. Can you reframe it to a need or want? Where is it coming from? Inside or outside? If from outside, is it possible to take a longer pause and weigh the cost of saying no? It may not be as steep as you initially think!

Shoulds get in the way of our creativity. Whether it’s creating the life you want or getting to your creative work. I can help you shed your shoulds. I am a great sounding board, a collaborator in solutioning, a bringer of creative tools to give you accountability and make it all easier and fun. Contact me and we can chat about it. Life is too short for the sullen shoulds! 

Back to my collarbone and critical mass. Laying on my side on the floor as my husband hovered over me asking if I was alright, I realized there was a want buried in this. I had wanted to get a new chair. Even with an achy shoulder I’ve been able to craft a happy ending.

Pen + Thoughts = Power

Photo by MJ S on Unsplash

The pen is mighty. Put that pen to paper and record your words and thoughts… power.

Why write? I’ve asked that question many times in this blog. This time I’m inviting you to consider writing as a powerful agent of change.

A leather bound journal. A diary. Any simple, humble notebook that can capture your words. Julia Cameron recommends this type of writing it as a daily ritual in The Artist’s Way:  3 longhand pages first thing in the morning known as morning pages. Dorothea Brande proposed something similar, what she called “unconscious writing”, in her book Becoming a Writer first published in 1934. Your writing can be impromptu or just thoughts dashed onto the page. In coaching I sometimes offer prompts followed by a 2 or 3-minute writing sprint. In our Find and Follow Your Spark program we call them Magic Pages. And they are truly magical.

Broad Impact

What I have found is that a writing practice can impact you in ways far beyond what is usually thought of when we say “writing.” It doesn’t always have to be about a finished products, publication or book sales.

Your words, captured on a page are powerful. You cannot set your thoughts down, day after day, and remain the same. You will be transformed.

I would suggest you start by doing the morning pages suggested in The Artist’s Way. Experience the effect this will have on you as you develop a writing habit. Power through to that third page because I guarantee you will go someplace deeper and unexpected. But don’t feel this is the only way to do this, that it’s  “all or none.” Do one page. Do it several times a week. Just do something on the page.

Here are some other reasons to develop a journal practice and some of the ways I use my journal.

Writing will amp up your listening skills

Listening to yourself, that is. Thoughts run amok through our mind all day. But if you stop to jot them down, you have the opportunity to actually “hear” them.

You might be surprised at what you hear. You might realize that you say these things all the time, both out loud as well as to yourself. You might recognize that these thoughts/words are an engrained habit, not necessarily true. And, unfortunately, those habitual thoughts are not usually encouraging. They tend more toward the “why am I so ____” with the “_____” not very flattering.

How will you capture these thoughts? Those small spiral notepads that fit in your pocket or purse can do the job quite efficiently. As can the notes app on your phone. It doesn’t need to be fancy. The power is in the act of capturing.

Writing is an act of resolve

You may not realize it at first, however if you keep up the practice you will discover your beginning.

In my writing circle, naturally, there are women who want to write. There are also those who have been told they “should write that book.” There are others who are heeding a call for creative expression. And there are some who are there to just see what they’ve got.

There are lots of reasons. And the end result is always the same.

They begin to understand that they have something to say. They recover memories; discover depths. They become reacquainted with themselves. Gradually, change takes over. They find a new beginning

Writing is a place to ask a small question

Ask a small question on the page and keep going. (There’s an art to the small question. Read more here.) But ask them frequently, day after day, or however often you write. Ask and then listen. As you go about your day, notice what emerges: the email, the phone call, the song on the radio, the quote someone shares. Just keep your antenna up and stay curious. Answers abound.

Writing can be a space for praying

In the book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, the maid, Aibileen, keeps a prayer book. A simple, cheap notepad. For her, putting her praying words on the page was like “electricity, it keeps things going.” So, put your wishes and dreams on your page so they can keep going. Put them out in front of a higher power along with the needs of others in your world who can use this “electricity.”

Writing is a place for affirmations

Affirmations are a way to create new thinking pathways. A journal is a place to test out those statements. Saying it is quicker. However when you speak it the “but” that whispers in the back of your mind could be missed. There’s something about the physicality of writing them, the way it gives your brain those milliseconds to catch up with your hand, that makes a difference. If it’s not quite believable to you – as in the “but” in the back of your mind – you have the chance to edit it until it feels right. If it feels right and believable it will seep into your subconscious and do the work. Dare I say it again? Magic!

There are lots of ways to use a writing practice. You will find things that are particularly helpful for you. Try it. Be curious. Be open to the magic.

Need help getting started? You don’t have to do it alone. Contact me to see how I can help.

Welcome to My Writing Nest

Hello-i-m-nik-bCXQkRZ-LsQ On Unsplash.com

Image by I-M-Nik on Unsplash.com

Coming soon! A place to read about writing, hear from other writers, inspire, be inspired.

It’s time to begin and continue your writing adventure.

Look forward to meeting you in My Writing Nest.

Who will you be in the next phase of life?

Transformation
image by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The need to “do”, to be productive, is engrained in us. Therefore, “But… what will I do?” too often becomes the inevitable question that completes the statement, “I’m thinking of retiring …” However, before you go there, consider an equally important question and one that should be addressed first as you transition into retirement or into any phase of life: “Who will I be?”

Don’t get me wrong. “What will I do” is a good wake-up question because, as sure as dust follows dusting, life will pull you into its slipstream. If you wait until the first morning of retirement to figure it all out you may not make the best decisions. And be assured that there are plenty of folks who will be happy to tell you how to answer that question!

(Just a brief sidebar here: my suggestion to that question is always “plan to do nothing for a while,” the emphasis being on the word being “plan.” More on that another day.)

And I understand that concern about what to do. However, I also know that finding the answer to the question of “who will I be” is a better way to start and a much more satisfying way to drive your actions going forward. It is inner driven rather than outer driven.

Finding answers to “who will I be”

Finding an answer to who you’ll be probably feels a lot of work. Starting with who you are and peeling back layers. Scraping off life’s gunk and stripping away labels to get to who you are at your innermost core. Like the alien in the movie Cocoon who undresses and reveals her non-human status, who the heck are you beneath all the layers? After all this time?

So, yes, it may feel like a lot of work. And, really, who needs more work?

Because I know that by the time we’re contemplating retirement, by the time we are at an important phase of midlife transition, we have been at life for a while. We have adapted, instinctively figured out ways to cope and many of us have switched to auto-pilot. So, any task that can’t seem to be wedged into the rest of our “stuff” isn’t very appealing. It calls up our Scarlett O’Hara persona and we put if off for another day.

Been there; done that!

What if I told you there was an easy, fun way to explore the question of “who will I be?” That the process can be easily wedged into the rest of your stuff?

All it requires are four simple things:

  1. Formulate the question.
  2. Remember to ask.
  3. Pay attention.
  4. Capture what comes up.

Formulate the question

“Who will I be” is broad. Instead, narrow the question’s focus and consider these areas:

  • Who am I now?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What am I really good at?
  • What did I love best as a child?
  • What shoots that bubble of delight up through my chest?
  • What’s most important to me at this point in my life?
  • Where do I find awe?
  • Where do I find meaning?

Questions like these will loosen up your imagination and allow you to find your purpose. That purpose doesn’t have to be big or TikTok ready. It only has to be right for you!

As you go along in this process, more questions will come up and these may change slightly. Go with it.

Remember to ask the question

Sounds simple, but new habits are squirrely and asking a question on a regular basis is a habit. What do you do to remind yourself of other tasks or events? Use that. Or go totally analog and write the question on some post-its. Place them on your vanity mirror, your dashboard, the back of your phone.

The goal is to see it – and ask it – often. Do not labor for an answer. Your only job here is to ask. And to ask frequently.

Pay attention

When your question is handy and asked often, the brain will be engaged and answers will emerge. You will notice news or magazine articles. Random conversations will hold clues. A billboard, a song, a stray memory. Don’t discount any of them. As one of my old co-workers used to say, “radar on, antenna up!” That’s all you need to do. It really is this simple, so resist the urge to complicate it. I’ve also been there and tried to do that!

Capture what comes up

You may think you’ll remember the answers that pop up, but the odds are not in your favor. It has nothing to do with age and all to do with busyness and distractions. Come up with a way to capture what emerges. The memory, the idea, the crazy scheme, the business idea, the volunteer organization, that place or thing you’ve always wanted to visit or do but never had the time.

Capture it all. You are only gathering data at this point. Don’t edit or censor and please don’t judge! And also, be very discerning with whom you share these ideas. Even the most well-intended remark can squash dreams like a bug.

You could try on some of the answers and do a little body check. “I am curious and love learning.” How does that feel? “I love helping others to do ____.” How does that feel?

If you have more time…

Try this exercise:

Make of list of words to define and describe yourself. Pay close attention to your language. Yes, you are a woman, man, partner/spouse, parent, son/daughter. You are an accountant, nurse, doctor, lawyer, baker extraordinaire. You have built a business, a career. Perhaps you’ve traveled the earth or gone to space. Wonderful.

Now go a little deeper. Go beyond the labels; peek underneath. At first, this may be uncomfortable or feel difficult. You may think that nothing’s there. Nothing’s coming up. Who the heck are you outside of what you do or your role in the world? (You could use the questioning format above for this.)

As you begin to list the labels, you may find yourself moving from nouns to pronouns. From pronouns to metaphor. From metaphor to analogy to a story of who you are without the labels. Eventually you will find yourself at the core of who you are.

Years ago, I attended a workshop to learn tips on running writing workshops for children. The teacher suggested a writing prompt that had them list what was in their backpacks. When you let them keep going, the tangible shifts to the intangible. The books and pencils lead to hopes, dreams and fears.

It will be the same for you if you keep going beyond the discomfort.

From there you can build outward. Reassembling yourself into who you’ll be and what you’ll do.

Pause for transformation

All of this requires a Pause. It requires time to think and wonder and ponder. Things we don’t normally spend too much time on in our second act or the first half of life. This is where all the good stuff comes from, the juiciness and richness.

Would you like to continue the process? I provide a very safe container in which you can pause, think out loud, say whatever you want, be outrageous, be hesitant, explore, experiment, course correct. It is transformation – deep and lasting. Contact me to schedule a coffee chat to see how we might work together.

Hello again

Hello!
Image by Benjamin Sow on Unsplash

Hello again! It’s me. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It must be months since I’ve written about what is important to me and why I do what I do. The last few months have been tough and, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been off my game. The sudden death of my youngest brother knocked me and my family for a loop. My husband’s recent health problems continued to keep me off balance.

This is not to say that I haven’t been working. I have. But to resume deeper dives into writing about topics that are important to me – topics such as the power of writing and re-imagining our “third act” … that hasn’t been happening.

Tasks are often easier than deep thought. I can make a list and check it off and that is satisfying. At the same time, I’ve started and stopped several blog posts. I can’t give specific reasons, only that my focus wasn’t there.

It’s time.

So, here I am.

What I have found is that challenges and loss can throw us off track, particularly in our second half. If we’re not careful momentum will keep us that track.

However, what I know is that writing and creating bring us back, give us resilience and hope.

Right now, for me it feels a bit like starting over and that’s okay. Each of us gets a chance to start over – every day. Even every minute of every day. As long as we are here on this mortal plane, possibilities live.

So, let me introduce myself once again. As a reminder to both of us.

I am a coach, blogger, writer and ardent advocate and supporter of women in midlife.

I want for those women what I want for myself: to thrive in our third act as we creatively navigate career, life and business changes and design an awakened, meaningful, rich and purposeful, multidimensional second half of life. I love to help other women figure out what’s next and, as so beautifully put by one of my clients, create “Me 2.0”. Or 2.2. As I said above, every day is a chance to start over, re-create, re-imagine life and self.

I want to see the spark that is in every one of us catch fire and grow. To watch the transformation that takes place. To watch us come alive in ways both big and small. It all counts.

Let’s talk

Are you a woman in midlife? I’d love to start a conversation with you and hear about where you are in your life, what your dreams are and what you need to step into them. Not a sales call. No pressure. Just a chat over coffee or tea, in person if you’re local, or virtually. An open-ended conversation.

Because every conversation tells me more about what is needed in this challenging yet exciting time of life.

Every conversation makes me better able to work with the next person.

Every conversation makes me a better midwife in the process of bringing to life the essential you in your Third Act.

Every conversation moves us all one step closer to the amazing women we are.

Click here to schedule your 30-minute coffee chat.

Joyous Contentment and a Multidimensional Life

Image by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

I recently wrote about doing the joyful work. It was in the context of individual coaching and our Find and Follow Your Spark program. The topic lingers in my mind. Along with the question of whether I’m talking about joy or deep- rooted contentment. Are they the same thing? Do I need to redefine Joy? Is it Joyous Contentment? It’s definitely part of your Multidimensional Life!

How do you define joy?

Is it a beautiful sunrise or sunset? The radiance of a full moon? A leaf turning from green to copper? The magnificence of nature that makes you gasp?

The birth of a child or a life-defining moment or milestone can also be a source of joy.

The smile of someone you love? The fist pumping elation of success?

All of this is joyful. But it’s also generated outside of YOU. I believe that JOY is an inside job.

Here are three things to help you redefine/rediscover JOY:

  1. Joy can be rooted in the ordinary.
  2. Joy can be found by simply paying attention.
  3. You need to be open to recognizing Joy.

What is ordinary JOY?

I believe Joy can be an everyday state, not an exceptional state. It doesn’t have to be spectacular. Or awe inspiring. It can be a very deep-rooted satisfaction. In life, in your work, in your surroundings, in your purpose. It can be contentment. Let’s begin to think of it as Joyous Contentment. I love this poem by Pat Schneider “The Patience of Ordinary Things”. There’s such simplicity and pleasure in her words.  Not a clamoring joy but rather a deep appreciation.

Joy also doesn’t need to be something for which you strive or struggle. That seems antithetical to Joyous Contentment. It can be as simple as enjoying bubbles in a bubble bath or just feeling good. For me it’s often found in the early morning in the quiet kitchen, the sunrise, a cup of strong breakfast tea. Joyous Contentment settles on me as I pause and notice the spiraling steam, the fragrance, the deep color.

How do you find JOY?

Mindful presence. Yes, mindfulness has entered the mainstream lexicon to the degree that it can begin to feel stale. But truthfully, if you don’t pause and pay attention so many things will pass you by. Those moments when you feel good about where you are or what you’re doing. The moments of Joyous Contentment. You need to be paying attention in order to find them. Not constant high alert. Just the occasional picking up of your head and asking where am I finding/seeing joy in this moment/what else brings me joy? (By the way, if the answer is nowhere, widen your search. Let it be simple and small. I’m pausing as I write this, looking out my window and loving how the fallen leaves make the grass look greener and lusher. Mmmm… I sought the joy in nature as opposed to stumbling upon it.)

Someone who is new to my list responded to my request to tell me three things about herself by telling me that being authentic brings her joy. I thought it was a wonderful example of being present with what is. With who she is at her very core. I liked that, that present feeling as a source of joy. Later she clarified this. “Being authentic is comforting,” she wrote. Other things that brought her joy included “hiking to the top of a mountain and looking at the view, a good book, learning new things, a good cup of coffee…” Even without my asking she answered the question of what else brings her joy.

How will you recognize JOY?

Discover where you feel joy in your body. Recall a situation that you would define as joyful and notice where you feel it. Identify that as your Joy-meter.

For me it’s that savoring Mmmm. Sort of like this smiling emoji 😊 Yes, I have fist pumping woo-hoo moments, too but I don’t wait for them. Ordinary, everyday Joyous Contentment is lovely and sustainable.

By contrast, there’s a lot in the world to give you a feeling of dread. Also notice that in your body. Don’t push it away immediately. Some small questions around that:

  • Is it real? True? Am I in danger?
  • Is there anything I can do about it? (Even small actions make a difference.)
  • Is there another way I can look at this? (A reframe or shift in perception.)
  • Does my feeling this way make a difference in the situation?

You may need to feel sad for a bit. But you have the choice of returning to Joyous Contentment.

I invite you to ask yourself what where am I finding/seeing joy in this moment? To pause and recognize the everyday, mundane, simple joy. A deep-rooted joyous contentment. What is it that brings you joy? And what else?

Why bother defining/discovering/recognizing JOY?

First, we are not on this earth merely to suffer. However, as we approach and travel through mid-life and beyond, stuff piles up. We lose sight of the simple joys as we tend to life. A bit of the “forest for the trees” situation.

But if you want to experience a Multidimensional Life, Joy has to be part of it. Joy will feed your creativity, have a positive affect on your health and happiness and bring more balance into your life. Creating a Multidimensional Life is the conscious work we do to make the second half of life richer, more meaningful and creative. Joyous Contentment evens out the good with the bad, the sweet with the hard, the beautiful and the not beautiful. It’s life, real life, your life.

This is joyful work we can do together. Contact me find out what a path to a Multidimensional Life could look like.

Perfection or Excellence?

Perfectionism
Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Do you believe your success depends on you being perfect? Do you strive for perfection? What if you were to strive for excellence instead? Excellence through continuous improvement.

In studying what makes people and organizations successful, Dr. Robert Maurer of The Science of Excellence has found that it is not perfection that leads to success. It is more often a matter of accumulating very small steps toward excellence. It is excellence by continuous improvement.

Is it real or is it…

After all, perfection is not real. It is an illusion. From my observation, a desire for control can masquerade as perfectionism. Or a need for safety, a fear of looking foolish, being wrong, being rejected or ridiculed. Ultimately, it’s unattainable.

Perfectionism is that thing that can creep up on you in all aspects of life and become a way to avoid doing what you’re here to do. If I can’t do it perfectly, if I can’t be an expert, then I may as well not do it at all.

Applied to yourselves it can hamper goal attainment. It can lead to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and a breakdown of relationships. It’s like trying to get a perfect point on a pencil and sharpening it down to a nub. When does something go from a masterpiece to ruin? From beauty to wreck?

When it is expected of others, perhaps in work scenarios, it manifests as criticism, micromanaging and the inability to be a productive, contributing team member or partner.

And sometimes, perfectionism is just a habit of thought. You don’t even realize you’re striving for it. It has become your normal.

In the end it would be so much more productive to shift your attention to excellence through continuous improvement.

Excellence

When you are striving for excellence, you are doing your best all the while knowing that you can continue to improve. You are stretching yourself, refining your skills, learning from others, collaborating for a shared goal.

Excellence is knowing when a thing is “good enough”. And speaking of “good enough”, is that an acceptable goal?  You’ve heard of the s*&%ty first draft. I say yes! Yes, it is a “perfect” place to pause and decide whether you’re done  (for now) or to continue.

And, by the way, switching from perfection to excellence through continuous improvement is not a lowering of standards. It is a way to continue moving forward. And the irony is that “good enough” for a perfectionist is most likely head and shoulders above the standards for a non-perfectionist. The issue is knowing when to be done. And in the end, as Scott Allen said, “Done is better than perfect.”

Consider this:

  1. Excellence through continuous improvement allows for creative detours. It allows for observation, curiosity, experimentation. Perfection puts on blinders.
  2. Excellence through continuous improvement is conducive to collaboration. Perfection is a one-person show.
  3. Excellence through continuous improvement is fluid, a series of points along a continuum. Perfection is rigid.
  4. Excellence through continuous improvement is a process. It is creative. On the other hand, perfection can set you up for disappointment and rob you of the joy of discovery. Think about how so many inventions have been built on the work of someone who went before. They don’t come to us out of thin air. They are often improvements on someone else’s work or come from an observation that sparks an idea. Steam engines existed but James Watt took it to another level. Someone didn’t set out to invent the microwave oven. The waves were there. It was “invented” when Percy Spencer’s chocolate bar melted.

Whether in life or business, whether in ourselves or in what we create, the struggle for perfection can be debilitating. Too often the perfectionist is paralyzed, the dream of perfection becomes a hindrance. It prevents you from shining because your work is kept under wraps until it is “perfect.”

Make a different choice. Be excellent, not perfect.

Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coaching can help. Contact me to find out how I can help you can break through perfectionism and move forward.

#perfection #creativity #secondhalf

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