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Creativity and Vulnerability

Rose Hips In Snow
Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Creativity and vulnerability. Unfortunately, they often come as a pair. And, by the way, life itself is a creative undertaking. Hence, we can spend a lot of time feeling exposed and vulnerable. We risk becoming victims of the “buts.”

You know how it works. You have a great idea. And before it’s fully formed in your mind, along comes a big “but.” Dragging along with it all of the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do it. Hey, you might fail. Or surely enough people have already done this or written this.

The excuses come flying out of thin air, propelled by fear, chasing you out of the creative chambers of your mind. And your heart. You go slinking out of the room.

Wait! Come back!

Consider an idea recently shared in an email from the author, Todd Henry. He posed the question “What would you do if fear had no power over you, and failure was an option? (His emphasis on ‘was’.) He attributes this question to commercial photographer and “creative mad scientist”, Jonbob Willis.

Let’s face it, failure is always a possibility. Not an option we’d usually choose but it’s always somewhere on the table. But at times we can conveniently forget. Remember the first time you learned to ride a bike, play the piano, or attempt sports? Did you approach them differently?

Perhaps these experiences weren’t immediately categorized as “creative.” When looking around in the creative world everyone else seems so freaking amazing, right? They’re all overnight successes. They didn’t have to face failure. Go ahead, roll your eyes. We know it’s not true and yet we go there at times.

Returning to the initial idea of the “but” statement, what if we substituted “and”? I’d like to try this creative thing and, hey, I might fail.

My process

Here’s what I do when I sit down to write, an arena rife with vulnerability. Feel free to apply it anywhere in life’s creative journey.

  1. I GET CURIOUS: Even before I sit down at my desk, I notice what’s coming up for me. There might be a quote, something I heard or read; an idea that emerged as I wrote in my journal, themes coming from multiple directions. I stay tuned in and watch for the synchronicities that keep me inspired.
  2. I MAKE A MESS: I make a mess on the page. Just the way you might pour paint onto a canvas, or take everything out of the fridge to conjure up a meal. The way a brainstorming session can go in an office meeting. Make a mess. While messes can be disturbing, they can also be a place for the unexpected to show up. Let it be a breeding ground for curiosity.
  3. I WALK AWAY: I step away from it. For those who have deadlines, can you take a five-minute break? Once in a while, I’ll switch tasks, do something more analytical. Or perhaps pay some bills, do mindless administrivia. I let the ideas percolate.
  4. I TAKE THE IDEA ON A WALK (OR INTO THE SHOWER): This isn’t a new idea. For example, Thoreau explored the connection between walking and creativity. I’m sure Socrates or Aristotle had something to say about it. I do this often. My body goes on auto-pilot and my mind is freed to roam. You’ve probably experienced this phenomenon as you take a shower, do the dishes, drive a familiar route. Ideas flow. How will you capture them? (For instance, I once sent a client bathtub crayons so she didn’t have to wait until she’d toweled off to capture her great ideas.)
  5. I RETURN: I return to the project and look at it with fresh eyes. What stands out? What inspires more ideas? Is there a thread to pick and follow. I find that when I come back to a writing project a lot of what’s there gets edited out. Sometimes I start from scratch. But – and this is the most important part – I have found an entry point. I can continue from there, even if it’s on a fresh page.
  6. I RINSE AND REPEAT: Lastly, repeat as needed. Even this post had breaks. Instead of laboring over it, I took a lunch break, let it settle overnight, read a good book. I came back with curiosity, made things a bit messier. I might walk away again. Or it might be good enough.

Now you

This is the creative process. Whether on the page, on a canvas, in the office, or in your life. It’s never a straight line and in the end it’s worth your time.

Let me know how it goes. Contact me and we’ll have a coffee chat about our “buts”.

Be vulnerable. You’ll survive. Now, go do awesome stuff!

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.

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

There’s Magic in Those Small Steps!

Magic Of Small Steps And Kaizen

To me there is something truly magical about the philosophy and practice of Kaizen. After all, how could such small actions and thoughts create such amazing results?

But, when I speak about Kaizen in front of a group, I occasionally get the eye roll and the “Ugh! Not this again”. This is from women who have grown up in companies that employ Kaizen as a quality control process. Or they had to certify in Six Sigma, another improvement methodology. In these settings it is about streamlining and continuous quality improvement that result in financial returns.

No, no! I exclaim. This is different.

While it’s true that Kaizen came out of manufacturing, the way that Dr. Robert Maurer presents it in his book, The Kaizen Way: One Small Step Can Change Your Life, makes it so much more approachable. It becomes a softer science. Continuous improvement for you, a lovely, warm, flesh and blood being. Not hard, cold manufactured stuff. It offers a way to live as we create a rich, Multidimensional Life, a life more truly connected to who we are at our core.

Sneaking past the amygdala

When I talk about Kaizen I’m talking about actions and thoughts, questions and rewards that are small enough to bypass the attention of the brain’s amygdala. That ancient section of gray matter, developed for the fight or flight response, is just waiting to squash any attempts to make a change, to do something a daring, take a risk, be yourself. It must hang out with the ego. It’s for your own good, dearie!

I see the amygdala sitting on the front porch, kicking back, feet up on the railing, filing her nails. But she’s alert. She snaps to attention if she hears any rustling noises or sees you sneaking out the side door or attempting anything out of the usual.

The beauty of the small steps, questions, thoughts and rewards of Kaizen is that they help you tiptoe right past her.

The four elements of Kaizen

Small steps that are so small that it’s almost impossible to not do them. But in doing them, they accumulate and give you traction. That leads to momentum. All of a sudden, your taxes are done because you’ve broken it up into tiny steps, small increments of time, and the dread and angst never get a toehold.

Small questions that don’t overwhelm and don’t require an immediate answer. They are small enough to bypass the amygdala and make their way to frontal cortex, the creative part of the brain. The frontal cortex goes to work while you go about your own business. These small questions are probably my favorite; they feel like magic. I prescribe them to my coaching clients all the time and utilize them myself. For instance, I wanted to know what one of my fiction characters was keeping from me. I asked myself the question frequently but didn’t struggle with it. Then one morning I woke up startled as I realized what her secret was. And even now as I prepared to write this post and remembered this example, I just got another download. Because my brain continues to chug away in the background.

Small thoughts which can sculpt our mind. Similar to visualization, it involves all the senses. Athletes have used mind sculpting to “practice” while sidelined from injuries or to improve their skills. The brain doesn’t really know the difference – real or imagined – and the results are tangible. In Kaizen small thoughts/mind sculpting is taken a few steps further. Dr. Maurer suggests that we experience what it is we want (public speaking, writing, weight loss) in our minds utilizing all our senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it, taste it. It’s not just seeing or visualizing ourselves doing it; it’s participating in our minds. Maurer gave a great example in a lecture I attended when he confessed that he really didn’t enjoy writing. But he needed to get his book written. So, he spent 30 seconds at a time imagining himself writing. How his body felt in his desk chair, the sensation of his fingers tapping the keyboard, the sound of the tapping, the ease of words flowing from his brain to his fingers to the page, the joy of the creative expression. His brain didn’t know that this was only his imagination; it created the habit he needed to get his book written. His brain chemistry changed, new connections were made and new patterns emerged. More magic?

And finally, small rewards. Often the bigger the reward the harder we try. We strain and struggle because the stakes are high and we don’t want to fail. The result is that nothing – or nothing special – happens.  By contrast, small rewards – a cup of coffee after writing 500 words, a manicure after losing 5 pounds, a new pair of fun socks for reaching a workout goal – don’t involve a lot of risks. As a result, we are more willing to take a bigger risk and stretch a bit more. After all, the stakes are low and there’s not much to lose.

Kaizen and creativity

Kaizen is about continuous improvement through small steps. I combine it with principles of creativity. The process becomes unique and powerful.

Consider yourself as the creative work. Discerning what you want, beginning to see it and to take the small steps to begin the journey to it. This is the most important work you will ever do!

Do you want a life that’s rich and full and constantly evolving and growing? Try practicing these four principles. In fact, pause for a moment right now. Ask yourself: “what is one small step I can take today to get me closer to my goal.” And then just listen.

Contact me to find out how this can help you…whatever your dreams.

Hamster wheels, Merry-go-Rounds and Sisyphus

Crashing Wave Like Overwhelm
Photo by Todd Turner on Unsplash

What do hamster wheels, merry-go-rounds and Sisyphus have to do with each other? Simply put, they provoke and exemplify stress and overwhelm.

So many successful, professional women spend their lives on a hamster wheel. It’s a constant push, always focused on getting things done and accomplishing things.

Or their lives are a merry-go-round. With that incessant music – someone else’s music – insinuating its way into our veins, taking over our natural rhythms.

We are like Sisyphus, pushing the rock up, struggling, paying for sins long forgotten. Perhaps just the sin of gender and the need to prove ourselves. The need to try harder.

Enter stress and overwhelm.

Sisyphus dared to fiddle with the plans of the gods. He was punished with a job that will never be done. Is that you?

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

(Opening lines from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese)

Here’s the truth.

You are already good. You can stand tall in that. And you will go on being good: at what you do, at who you are, at what you stand for. Stop wasting your energy trying to prove it. Come out of the desert into the cool green glade of your essence.

What I know is that when we try so hard to be all and do all, when we struggle, all we see is the struggle. All we see is the rock teetering above us and we lose sight of why we’re pushing. And, at the same time, we teach others to let us do the heavy lifting.

When we struggle, we get exhausted and those pieces of ourselves that renew and restore get lost. We don’t have time to do the things that make us a multidimensional human. For me, well, who had time to meditate, journal, play with watercolors. The garden was on the list but at the bottom. If I were to invite a friend out for a walk…wait, what friend? Most of my friends were really acquaintances or work colleagues. Ten-hour work days plus a long commute left no energy to meet new people, volunteer, join an organization that aligned with who I am and who I want to be.

I had let go of who I was and tried to become what the world thought I should be. Is that you?

Here’s another truth.

You can climb the ladder of success without a boulder on the rung above you. You can let loose your creativity in your business, your home, your interactions with the bigger world. And it can be joyful and satisfying and meaningful. It can be a model for the women who are coming up behind you. Because you do not have to sacrifice your whole self to attain this. I am still learning this; unraveling years of habitual, reactive behavior.

You can stay moored in the depths and riches of who you are at your core. You can choose how to spend this precious commodity that is your time. You know there is so much more to you and your life. Are you willing to explore and flow with it?

Yes, you can be anchored and flowing.

Let the world get to know the real you. You don’t have to push. You do not have to walk on your knees. There is nothing to repent.

Wondering how to step off the merry-go-round? Contact me for a complimentary discovery call. I’ve been there and I can help.

The Work of Art That is You

Hands Messy With Paint
Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

I recently put out a survey on the joys and challenges of the Second Half of Life. (If you’d like to take it, click here. It’s only 4 questions and takes less than 3 minutes.) The responses led me to contemplate, once again, how our lives are works of art.

We are alike and yet different

Out of 40+ responses, several common themes emerged. And, in spite of the commonalities, I loved seeing how the ways they showed up were unique to the individual.  For instance, where many responded that freedom was one of the joys they are experiencing, what they’re doing with that freedom differs. For some it was the freedom to set their own schedule, for others the freedom to change. There was freedom of choice and freedom to pursue hobbies. Does freedom resonate with you? It sure does with me. More than resonate, it starts the bells pealing in my belfry!

Frustrations and challenges

Frustrations included worry about money, the experience of no longer being seen, a shortening time horizon or the “loss of me along the way.” That last one particularly makes my heart ache. I understand it so well.

And then there are challenges. Procrastination showed up (although that isn’t unique just to midlife.) Health and fitness, need for structure, the difficulties of beginning to plan for the second half while still engaged in her career – what I call traveling the two-lane road. (Kudos to the respondent who was smart enough to take on that challenge!)

Perhaps I’m a little further along in my journey (that sounds so much nicer than “older”, doesn’t it?) but here’s what those extra miles have shown me: Life is a beautifully messy creative process and each of us will experience our own unique route.

Choosing how we move through our second half of life

When you choose to view your second half of life in this way it becomes an adventure. It gets easier. Injecting some playfulness can make it fun. It becomes a time of curiosity and anticipation instead of dreariness and dread.  And the hard parts, while certainly not pleasant, can also benefit from this approach when you use your awareness to focus on what’s working, sources of help, the need – and permission – for self-care, even if only in very small pockets of time.

What’s beautiful about this is that we gradually find that we don’t need to know how it’s all supposed to work out. We don’t need all the answers at once or a crystal-clear view of the future. It is very freeing. We only need to take our next small step and take our eyes off the rear-view mirror.

That rear-view mirror syndrome was prevalent in a lot of the survey responses. Along with the regret that usually accompanies it. I, too, find myself transfixed by that view. I wish I’d done some things differently; I re-enact a hurtful situation so I can come up the winner; I recreate old shames and embarrassments. Notice what’s missing here? I usually forget to revisit the wins and the joys. And the reality is that spending time looking back does me absolutely no good. Can I change the past? No. Can I learn from it? Probably, if I haven’t already. Do I need to hang out there? No. Just turn your gaze around.

Does any of this feel familiar?

Good. Awareness is the first step in any process of change or creation. It clears the mist and shows us our truth. We experience our moment. The good stuff and the not-so-good.

For instance, where are you feeling joy? What’s the essence of that feeling? Where else is it happening that you’re not noticing on a conscious level? What we focus on expands.

What would happen if you sat down with that frustration? Try bringing it to your journal page – without judgement? I find that when something feels defeating or like too much of a challenge and I look it in the eye, it begins to dissipate. Other solutions come up. I’m able to see it in a totally different light.

Your creative process

The creative process that produces paintings, symphonies, books, gardens and so much more also works in life. Reframing, thinking differently, adding play and self-care are part of the process. The decision to wean yourself from perfectionism and procrastination, to let it all be beautifully messy, to embrace Kaizen’s small steps and questions elevates it. All of this that conceives and manifests so much that is good and beautiful in the world – all of this is what makes a life of meaning and purpose, a legacy of being, a view at the end that has no regrets.

And midlife is the perfect time to dive right in and uncover this masterpiece, your Multidimensional Life!

Ideas, Dreams and Threads (Pamela)

Ideas Dreams Threads

She was fresh out of college, full of ideas and dreams. Pamela didn’t have a specific career in mind. She had majored in Liberal Arts, studied Spanish and comparative literature and later taken English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

While in school she had the opportunity to spend a summer in Spain and France. She got to immerse herself in the local culture and observed how she really enjoyed the mundane everyday bits of life, like going to the market. She found it and liked the challenge. It took her beyond being a tourist and allowed her to be a local, to sop up real life.

Her someday dream was to live overseas. But, in the meantime, like most of us, she needed a day job.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” *

Pamela started at one of the Bell companies in sales. They had an international presence and she thought that might be an avenue to get overseas. This was part of her  “someday” dream.

She also got married and had a daughter. The young family had a five-year plan, but, as so often happens, life took over.

And, as women are wont to do, she made compromises. She adapted.

A successful woman

In retrospect, Pam readily acknowledges that she had a great career. She is a smart and savvy woman. Not surprisingly, her favorite role was one in which she needed to become an expert in import/export regulations and procedures. It gave her the opportunity to learn international law. She had to deal with international trade across multiple countries. And, yes, she got to travel.

But, the more successful she became, the less freedom she had. It gradually ebbed away and she became a workaholic. There was a time when she was able to work from home and that helped bring some balance into life. But that didn’t last. It became increasingly apparent that work was beginning to interfere with life.

Sometimes that realization comes as a gradual awakening; other times it’s a whack on the side of the head. Either way, it gets our attention. If we are awake and paying attention, solutions present themselves.

Now what??

Like many large companies and retirement eligibility, Pam’s had certain formulas in place that took into consideration age and length of service. At the same time, a favorable interest rate environment presented Pam with an attractive pension opportunity. The decision to retire was a quick one. She grabbed it.

However, she was not mentally prepared. After all, “how does one go from a 24/7 work environment, fast paced, “married to my job”, high energy to retirement”? Now what, she wondered.

Old ways of being are carved deep on our souls and Pam was faced with a new challenge. Learning how to learn to relax battled against the habit of being busy. She grappled with the shock of going from an intense work/social environment to nothing. She certainly knew how to fill her time – three book clubs, the YMCA three days a week, some classes. Loading her calendar was a familiar – and comfortable – pattern.

Listening to her heart

It took a long time to find a level of satisfaction. Eventually, Pam was able to articulate what she wanted:

  • A good ongoing volunteer opportunity
  • Someone to play with
  • Places that contributed to health, relaxation, exercise and socialization

Oh, remember back to Pam’s college days? ESL? And about solutions presenting themselves when we’re paying attention? One day a friend suggested she look into Literary Volunteers of Morris County. It piqued her interest and she went a little further.

She followed her intuition; heeded her natural creative process. She volunteered and organized a conversation class. She got to select news articles and themes to discuss. She researched and presented cultural and historical subjects. Election day inspired a class on the American election process. She used other current events and “mundane” everyday things to stimulate conversation. There was a group that met for lunch, sharing the cuisine of their native country.

In the process, Pam got to enhance her own learning, have cross cultural exchanges, play and socialize while immersing herself in international flavors and staying close to home.

The Thread

And there was the thread that connected to her young dreams.

In the beginning, Pam never envisioned a corporate career. Her interests were language, literature, intellectual stimulation, cross cultural experiences.

In the end, she found fulfillment and enrichment and intellectual stimulation through LVMC students in and outside the classroom, socializing at lunch, developing close familial connections, all the pieces of everyday cross-cultural, mundane life that had intrigued her.

Finding the thread of yearning in your life and figuring out how it can be fulfilled today is part of the work I do when I work with clients to create their Multidimensional lives. It could be a second (or third) career. It can be volunteer work or just rediscovering an old passion. It is recovering old dreams or finding new ones and living from the inside out.

* Various attributions – John Lennon, Allen Saunders, Earl Wilson. Regardless, it’s a great sentiment!

Tapping into Joy

Can Joy Flow Like The Sap Of A Maple Tree?

Does joy flow easily through you? Like the sap of the maple tree in spring, only needing a spigot to gush out and fill the bucket?

It hasn’t always been that easy for me. I admit to getting a little stuck with this joy stuff. But, one of the elements I want woven into my Multidimensional Life is simple joy. Noticing and appreciating those small things that used to escape my consciousness or that became tasks, items to check off on a list.

Small Moments

For instance, do you know how quickly the sun moves across the sky? I can’t quantify it in minutes but I can tell you how quickly I can miss the spectacle that is the house across the road when the sun crests my rooftop and beams its joy on the yellow house across the street. It glows as if from within. It is liquid warmth even on a cold January morning.

That small act of standing at my front window and watching brings me joy. No matter how often I see it, it catches my breath. I no longer zip by on my way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and get my day started. I stand or sit and drink it in. Better than caffeine.

This is something I discovered by slowing down and paying attention. Recently I was thinking about whether we should downsize and move, and one of the things that came up was “Oh, I’d miss seeing Minnie’s house at dawn.”

Small, inconsequential? Yes.

Powerful road into a joyful, mindful experience? Hell, yeah!

Synchronicity

I started writing this post on a Saturday morning. Later that day, I met with an intuitive coach for an oracle card reading. The first card she pulls for me is Joy. (Yes, really.) I can feel forces conspiring, trains of thought converging.

As the river of conversation flows, “tapping into joy” shifts into opening up to receive joy. Can you feel the difference? It’s not so much going out and finding it as it is opening up to it. Putting yourself into a state of receiving. I no longer have to hammer the spigot into the tree; I am the bucket.

Now I remind myself in the morning to open up so joy can find me. (Writing this helps reinforce this goal.) I ask how can I become a vessel ready to be filled with joy. Part of this Multidimensional Life journey for me is to stop turning even joy into a task. It’s no longer something to be checked off a list. It’s the small everyday moments. It is being in a state of receiving and trust. 

Simple Joy

When I do this, I find that there is so much simple joy in my life. Yes, I will continue to appreciate the glow of the sun on the house across the street. I’ll relish the startle of red that’s a cardinal perched on the evergreen outside my kitchen window. I’ll continue to be in awe of the hummingbird as it whizzes past my ear while I’m sitting on the deck. I will be open to moments of joy and then some.

If you are building a Multidimensional Life and joy is an element you want woven into your day, consider this affirmation: I am open to receiving joy.

Very simple, very small, very potent.

Remembering Joy

Call it into memory as you come up through layers of sleep each morning or as you go to sleep at night. Write it on your tube of toothpaste, write it on a Post It that you stick to your car dashboard. Keep it handy and repeat it often until it becomes part of the flow of your thoughts.

A quote attributed to Buddha says “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world”.

Let’s all be joy.

Waiting for Retirement?

“I can’t wait to retire.”

I was at a party recently when someone made that comment. A chorus of agreement followed. They were all straddling 60.

As the conversation swirled around me, I realized it wasn’t just about retirement. They were talking about freedom. Freedom from the commute, freedom from deadlines, freedom from crazy bosses and angry customers.

Ah, sweet freedom!

But, wait. Open the door to that longed-for future, just a crack, and peek out at that distant freedom. What do you see? Who do you see?

It’s not just freedom.

Retiring is about so much more than just freedom. It’s not an end. It’s a beginning. It’s you transitioning to another stage of life. It’s you unfurling the many layers of who you’ve become – the rich, multilayered, beautiful, multidimensional you.

And it does offer freedom. Freedom to sleep in, go out to breakfast, run errands on Tuesday instead of with the throngs on Saturday.

But freedom can still have its own challenges.

Because what you may find on the other side of freedom is a yawning void. A vacuum, if you will. And you know how nature feels about a vacuum. It’s unnatural. It will be filled. Count on it.

It will be filled with so much that you will hear yourself saying, “I don’t know how I had time to work before I retired!” Days will pass and blur. Years will fly by, even faster than they already are. If you’re okay with that, you can stop reading now.

How about looking at freedom in a different way?

Looking at it as a vehicle that will take you someplace rich and unexpected. This is a time of life when you get to direct the action. It’s your Third age and you get to live from the inside out instead of the reverse, which we all do during the building, striving, tending second age of life.

With this freedom you get to recognize and tend to what is most important to you and to choose how to spend that precious commodity that is your time.

If you want a freedom that takes you someplace rich and surprising, consider this (first of 3 rules of the retirement road):

Rule #1: If you’re waiting for retirement to do something, stop waiting.

Don’t put it off any longer. Start it small but start it now. We have no guarantees on how long we’ll be on this mortal coil. Start practicing what it would be like to step out of that work driven world and into a Multidimensional Life that matches the multidimensional you. Start planning, imagining, trying on, discerning. It could turn out that the thing you’ve been putting off loses its allure when you go deeper.

I know a woman who always had an entrepreneurial itch. While she was working, she tried several different part-time selling ventures (jewelry, cooking tools) She couldn’t sustain it because it wasn’t satisfying a deeper need: to create.

Then she started making her own jewelry. She learned different techniques and got to experiment and design what gave her pleasure. She participated in juried shows and that pleasure radiated out to her customers. Now she’s retired and finds joy in this form of personal expression. Her whole demeanor has changed, her face is relaxed, she is beautiful.

How much better to have experimented sooner than later!

Recently, I visited a friend who was getting ready to retire. He was transitioning his business to his daughter and his mind was several months ahead into his new life. He was thinking about how things might be and told me how he was going to take his time to get used to this new stage of life, not rush into anything. He was also a gardener and told me about his plans for adding to his garden. He knew what he could do himself and where he might need some outside help. He wasn’t waiting; he was designing and creating. After all, a garden takes planning. Most of the work is done before you put the shovel in the ground.

Preparing

A lot of your prep work will be the inner work. Read, talk to people, explore. Just don’t wait.

This is a freedom that you can exercise while still working. You don’t need an empty nest or hours of unrestricted time to dream and plan. Take it where you can, in small bits, small steps that let you begin to acclimate to a new pace.

Just start by asking yourself what is truly important to you. Listen to what comes up; be curious. There’s unlimited wisdom already inside you just waiting to be mined.

Are you yearning for that future freedom? This is where I can help. There’s more to retirement planning than a pension and 401k. Contact me to set up a time to chat and learn how this type of coaching would ignite your freedom. Do you know someone who is at this stage of life? Please share this post.

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