Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part II)

How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

In my post on Part I, I suggested that college students and working adults ponder these same questions. Many struggling with the same fears about the future. In my work coaching students and joining with colleagues to help college students find their way, I have found that we sometimes linger too long considering the wrong questions.

What if instead of trying to help students look out in to the great world to find their place, we instead invited students to turn inward. To look deep inside them for the truth — the wisdom of their very nature that would unlock the answers they desire?

At the heart of decisions about major and career plans is this question – will I be okay?

Am I enough? Do you see me fully?

During my time at a Jesuit institution, we invited students to consider these three key questions:

  1. What are my gifts?
  2. What brings me joy?
  3. What does the world need?

What a difference it makes when we begin by asking the right questions. Rather than dedicate time dwelling in their fears about what could go wrong, students begin to open up to a new sense of freedom. Maybe we are not just good or bad? Maybe we are each here to share some spark of creativity, some twinkle of a strength, a perspective not yet considered? Perhaps greatness does lie within us all?

Reframing the questions to invite students to consider the possibility that they may already be perfect just as they are tends to open students up to far greater potential for meaningful contribution through their work. Their aspirations extend beyond surviving, to thriving.

There is an aliveness about them when they are invited to grow their wildest dreams beyond the most stringent limitations they have outlined for themselves. 

This moment, when it happens, is magic. What a privilege it is to see the wisdom and spirit working deep inside these students as they search for who they are, and the ways in which they are uniquely needed in our world.

What might it be like to accept a deep sense of trust in ourselves?

To have a faith that in the end all will be well… and all will be well…. and all will be well.

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.

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? 

Do not worry about the landing place too much.

A friend and dear mentor recently sent me a lovely card in celebration of my upcoming graduation. Enclosed was a small magnet of a little yellow butterfly with a note saying the gift was to remind me of the butterfly’s annual wisdom of growth, transformation, and metamorphosis.ButterflyMagnet

This friend did not know that the butterfly has been an important symbol for me over the last year. I love the image of transformation we can take from the butterfly and I have done a lot of thinking about butterflies over the last cycle of seasons. For these reasons, this small gift from my friend ended up being far more touching than even she intended it to be. It brought me pure joy.

In the last year as I have been thinking about what I can learn from butterflies and their cycle of life, they have started to show up in different ways. I notice them outside, on clothing people are wearing in meetings, on a little note card from a friend, in bowls I use daily in my kitchen but ignore. Now, finally, one arrived at my door just for me. An affirmation of the noticing I have been doing all year.

In this spirit, and because it fits with my intention for this week of “Open hands, warm heart,” I share a simple poem I wrote one day in May last year when I was struggling to find my way. This was written after a walk along the Sammamish River Trail near my home in Woodinville, WA. I hope it brings a bit of lightness to any heavy spots in your heart.

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Begin with the end in mind.

How can we strive to move through our lives with more openness and trust, especially in the times and situations that scare us and challenge us the most? In what ways can we begin to cultivate a spirit of abundance, even in small ways? How will we find the courage to break open our personal and professional lives and extend a bit of grace and peace in a world with such deep need?

Through this blog I will explore these questions from a multitude of lenses, focusing on leadership, inspiring change, supporting personal and community wellness, and I will share tips and strategies that I discover through my own experiences, interactions with students, conversations with mentors, and from the big ideas that captivate my attention and inspire in me a sense of excitement and hopefulness for the future.

It may seem like a wild mix of topics, but my hope is that the themes and concerns that inspire my writing will capture the space you hold for deep reflection in your life. I hope you will feel inspired to add your voice and perspective to help shape the dialogue here. I invite you to join me in this conversation as I dive into an exploration of what gives me joy. The place of purpose in my life.