Our greatest gift is our presence.

For many of us, the holiday season is busy with preparations for memory-making with family and dear friends. Today I received a message that caused me to pause and consider whether all this activity really gets us any closer to the connection we crave? I know I am guilty of spending too much of my time on my holiday lists when I could be spending that time in the pure presence of those that I love.

GreatestGiftSUChristmas_Presence

The fact that this message came to me via email is not lost on me. As much as technology brings us together, for me it can also cause just as much disconnection. Technology has the capacity to fragment some of my most cherished moments in ways that would never have been possible when I was a child. Perhaps worst of all, most of the time I don’t even notice it happening.

What if all the gifts, the food, the crafts, and the parties are actually confusing us into thinking that the activities alone yield the closeness that lives within promise of Christmas? If the greatest gift we can give to one another is our presence, how might we reshape our choices to create space for this greatest gift of all to emerge?

If you are curious, or if you just enjoy seeing lovely Seattle on film, enjoy the full video here.

Thinking beyond the major.

93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.

Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013.

Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part I)

s-LOST-largeFrequently I find myself sitting across the table from a college student who is anxious and eager to have me help them answer burning questions about major and career choice. The conversation is different depending on the student, but many of them have similar struggles finding their path:

  • What is the “right” major?
  • What jobs can you actually do with this major?
  • Would this major or that major be better?
  • What about a minor? Which will make it easier for me to get a job?
  • And the dreaded… My parents want me to do this, but I am not sure. What do YOU think?

At the heart of all of these questions is a longing to know: How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

I have great compassion for students struggling to find their place. I remember not long ago sitting in a career coach’s office with similar questions, although mine were maybe a little different. My struggle to find career satisfaction was less about not knowing what inspired me, and more about figuring out how I could get paid to do work that I enjoyed. In many ways I still struggle to feel like I am fully able to realize all my professional potential and interests through my day job. More on that another day.

Yet recently, I find myself pushing students and prompting them to consider whether they are really asking the right questions at all? Could it be that we aren’t even close to the target? 

The world of work has changed dramatically and traditional-aged “millenial” college students face an uncertain and thrilling new terrain. Regrettably many of their coping skills are not sufficient to help them weather the challenge. (For more on this see Brooke Donatone’s recent Slate article: Why Millenials Can’t Grow Up).

So what are we to do? Shouldn’t we push these students to ask tougher questions? The kinds of questions that will help them find their place, clarify their purpose, and contribute their greatest gifts in service of the world?

Of course we should.  

Frameworks for pushing students to consider bigger questions abound, yet one particular initiative has captured my attention this week. The Association of America’s Colleges and Universities (AACU) has launched an initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). What intrigues me about LEAP is that it brings together educators and employers, challenging both groups to consider what skills and qualities are most needed to meet the demands of our global community and economy in this time. Consistent with other surveys, LEAP suggests that the skills needed to thrive in this new landscape extend beyond narrow professional training.

By defining Learning Outcomes, High-Impact Practices, and Assessment strategies, the LEAP initiative outlines a framework that career coaches, academic institutions, families, employers and other concerned groups can use to challenge our nation’s young professionals to consider bigger questions about what meaningful work will mean to them.

Further, they highlight successful partnerships between colleges/universities and employers that demonstrate how mutual interests can be achieved through careful planning. One of the most interesting results of this effort found that “93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major” (Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013).

If undecided and exploratory students (and working adults, for that matter) are struggling to figure out how to decide, wondering if they will be okay, trying to sort out who they are and who they wish to be… Is the question really, “Which major is right?” Absolutely not.

So what questions should we be asking? And where can we find the answers that students, families, and our communities truly need to thrive in this uncertain space? 

Stay tuned for a future blog post as the conversation continues in Part II. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

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Challenges to scheduling rest

At first glance, the idea of scheduling rest seems worthy. Yet in my case, it is far more likely to be a harbinger of burnout on the horizon. Let me explain why…

This year has been a wild ride of hard work, difficult days, and an overabundance of blessings. Since finishing graduate school, landing a job I love, moving across country, and buying our first house (phewf!) – I have been hyper aware of the multitude of things that “need” my attention.

Overcome with the blessings in my life, I have been fixated on honoring them to the fullest by working harder and harder to make things click at work, home, and in my relationships. Why? I do this all so that I can feel at peace and open to all the grace in my life. (This is also a major downside to having “responsibility” as one of my StrengthFinder strengths).

So I have been scrambling for the last several months. Got it. This is how so many of us live.

Well the trouble is that tonight is Tuesday, yoga night, and I am not there.

This happens to me. I “schedule” my downtime (responsibility) but when it comes time to rest and renew I am not up to it. I get so worried about everything I think I should be doing (one responsibility competing with another) that the fleeting thought of doing something kind for myself (yoga) falls victim to my never-ending to-do list of things I’m stressed about getting done.

This all has me wondering: How often are productivity systems just ways of hiding from our worries or our fears?

I recently spent a good deal of time tinkering with some new ways to streamline my to do lists at home and at work.

That’s all nice, and I value organization, but if I critically look at the lists I see my worries and fears jumping out at me:

  • Will we be happy in this house?
  • What will we eat this week and how can I handle all the prep?
  • Are we saving enough?
  • What really are my passions and interests?
  • Am I good at my job? Is this really what I am meant to do?
  • Are we living in accordance with our values?

How do I know my productivity systems are masking my worries? Capturing my “should do” or “ought to do” items in a list doesn’t simplify anything. I’m still not at yoga tonight. If I said yoga was important, and I scheduled it, it should happen. Something else is going on.

What if the simplest way to simplify isn’t to work tirelessly to capture and do it all? What if it actually lies in looking at the questions and worries driving all these tasks to see how they align with my real priorities? 

You won’t get any answers from me tonight. Just an invitation to ponder the questions behind your “to-dos” and explore the ways they may be challenging your priorities, values, and your deep desire for peace in your life.

  • What might it look like to re-invent your to-do list so that it honors, but does not mask, your worries and fears?
  • So that it clarifies and affirms your priorities?
  • So that it puts your responsibility for taking care of your needs, hopes, and passions first?