Fear + decisions

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”
― Michelle Obama

One short little sentence, but such a profound insight. This quote resonates with me today because recently I have been leading several workshops that engage students and professionals in reflection on decision-making in their lives. Our conversations about decisions always end up with some time talking about fear and the very real struggle we experience trying to muster the courage to move beyond fear to make sound choices.

What are your biggest challenges to making effective choices? Does fear catch you by surprise or show up in your self-talk more often than not? How have you learned to trust your fear instincts to stay safe when the situation warrants, but be flexible in overcoming fears when they simply represent limiting beliefs? What grounds you in these chaotic moments?

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Recognizing “enough” in my life and work

Earlier this week I found myself in a nasty mood. My whole disposition to the world was one of irritation and bother. I was drained, unhappy, and frustrated by all kinds of small things that should have never even registered as irritants. I think many of us have days or weeks like this and like most things, they pass. What finally shifted things for me was going outside to sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair and read a book for a bit.

I should have sent myself to an out-of-doors timeout much earlier that day. It was clear I was burned out, tired, fatigued, and needed to rest and process all the chaotic thoughts and feelings stomping through my head. Yet I felt like I could not sit still and rest. There was one more load of laundry to be done, one more hour to spend business planning, one more visit to Facebook that needed to be made. None of it urgent and most of it not really even important to me in the grand scheme of things.

So when I found myself settling in under my oak tree to read my book I had to laugh at my selection: Wayne Muller‘s “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough,” which originally crossed my path through a church book club that I was too busy to ultimately attend. I am not joking.

Wayne Muller's book, "A life of being, having, and doing enough" from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Being-Having-Doing-Enough/dp/0307591395

Wayne Muller’s book, “A life of being, having, and doing enough” from Amazon.

While I am not all the way through the book, it was surprising how much of it resonated with how I was struggling that day. It is as if Muller used my experience that day to illustrate his argument perfectly!

I kept coming back to this passage again and again:

“In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time.

Then we can rest.

But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives and we cannot take that first step back. So we keep going. And going. Without permission from culture, workplace, community, or even our own inner, grinding work ethic, how can we know it is time to stop — for now, for today — and know that what we have done, and who we have been, is absolutely enough? It is time to put it down, let it be, go home, and call it a day” (p. 6).

 

This blog is all about finding, claiming, and living out one’s purpose in life and work. So you might expect me to be an expert in this area, but in truth, I am like so many other writers before me: I write to understand, rather than to tell.

Reading the words from that passage prompted all kinds of questions to pop up at me from the page:

  • Why do I feel that unless I am physically weary or mentally empty I have not done enough?
  • Why do I see each day as a struggle to prove my worthiness through productivity?
  • While I may believe it intellectually, why do I struggle in practice to accept that I am enough just as I am, even without being perfectly productive?
  • Who’s permission am I seeking to be “done enough” to rest?
  • How can I better tune into the cues in my life that I’ve had enough, been enough, and contributed enough that day or week or season?
  • Why is it such a struggle for me to practice self-compassion to myself by recognizing when I have found “enough” in life or work?
  • And perhaps the scariest question of all: If I did finally feel I had done “enough” for a day – What on earth would I do with myself????

Like me, I’m sure reading over the passage I quoted above sparked all kinds of questions and concerns in you. What resonates with where you are struggling? In what ways are you proud to stand in your own truth and know when you have had enough? What strategies or tools do you rely on to recognize when you have found “enough” in your life or work each day? I welcome your wisdom!

Hold fast to your passion

The natural human spirit is irrepressibly radical; it wants the unattainable, yearns for the impractical, is willing to risk the improper. But as we conform ourselves to the practicalities and properties of efficiency, we restrict the space between desire and control; we confine our intention to an ever-decreasing range of possibilities. The choices we make — and therefore the way we feel about ourselves — are determined less by what we long for and more by what is controllable and acceptable to the world around us. After enough of this, we lose our passion. We forget who we are.

Gerald May, from The Awakened Heart, as quoted in Wayne Muller‘s book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough

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.

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? 

“I left.” The times we walk away.

Why am I here? What am I called to do? What work is mine to do?

These questions regularly bounce through my mind. Today was no different. I spent the day at a conference that invited me to examine the role that race and equity play in my life. Naturally this has me thinking about connections to vocation and community. What am I called to do… and, within which community am I called to be? These are the big questions.

Community is never perfect, but I know that without it I am lost. I think we are all lost without a sense of community, at least in some shape or form. What it means to belong may look different for different folks, but at the end of the day, this belonging is necessary. This need to have a place rests at the very core of our being.

During the conference today, Paul Gorski, presented on Consumerism as Racial Injustice. Whew! A big topic. I had not really considered the way my consumer choices support racial injustice. Sure, I have considered how the foods I buy may or may not be sustainable, but I never thought about my purchases as being at all connected to racial injustice.

Considering the ways that small choices in my life, like the foods I eat, may perpetuate racial injustice was painful. It is difficult to think that by living my life, through my very basic actions, I am participating in a system of oppression that not only hurts people of color, but also hurts me. When I heard the presentation I was uncomfortable. I wanted to be anywhere but there. A few people left, but I stuck with it.

Later in the conference we had a debrief session with a guided facilitator and one of my fellow participants said that she was one of the people who had to get up and leave. She said she felt powerless to change things, and the problems seemed overwhelmingly big. I get it. I felt the same way. Thinking about how small I am and how hard it is for me to really impact my community can be painful. Yet I also realize that because I am a White woman, I have the choice about whether or not I want to sit with the discomfort I felt during that presentation. I have the privilege to be able to decide to what extent I am going to invite challenging topics into my life. Or not. When it hits a bit too close to home or begins to challenge me enough, I can say stop. I can retreat to my place of privilege and ease.

My ability to select when and to what extent I feel vulnerable in my life reflects a special power I hold as being a member of a privileged group. It is not a given for folks from other racial and ethnic groups. For many people, there is no choice to decide whether or not they “want to go there” today. Systemic oppression in our country is there all the time. It is daily, it is ever-present, and it is everywhere. I am lucky enough to be able to choose when and how I engage with systemic oppression in my life. Sometimes this power to decide saves me. If I had to let it all wash over me all the time it would overwhelm my spirit in ways I cannot imagine. Of course this is all too familiar for many folks.

During our small group debrief of the presentation we also talked about the ways White people typically follow and perpetuate the predominantly individualistic U.S. culture.  It is up to me to change these oppressive systems. have to be good at this work in order to engage. I should know how to do this work well. When we fall short in our minds, or when it feels too hard? I might choose to opt out. Oh my.

So then. How to find the way forward? Can I be healthy and happy AND do this work? What would such a life look like? Living from a place of guilt and shame is no way to live. I must move beyond this, but the path is not clear.

For me, the question comes down to asking myself, “What is mine to do?” What piece of this work can I take on? How can I do my part to build a more just society? Perhaps I can do only so much today, but maybe tomorrow I can do more. Or next week.

These questions lie at the heart of considering what I personally feel called to do. What is my sense of vocation? For me, a piece of it is in discovering my unique gifts and figuring out ways to apply them in the world to make it a more just place. A more sustainable world. A healthier community, not just for me, but for us all. It is not just a dream. I have a deep faith in believing a more equitable world is possible, and I feel confident that a piece of that work is mine to do. It may not be clear to me now, but there is a quiet voice I cannot ignore. 

What do you feel called to do? In what ways is this impacted by your sense of belonging? In what ways do you want to get up and leave? When would it be easier to walk away than to engage? What would it take for you to lean in to the discomfort instead of retreating?