He is so desperate, I am so blessed.

He is so desperate, I am so blessed. 

I found myself saying this to myself today after a series of coaching appointments with clients facing deep struggles in their paths toward finding meaningful work. Or any work at all… sigh.

Days like today weigh heavily on my spirit. Seeing the very real barriers – internal or external – that complicate the job search process can break my heart. Especially when I look at how blessed I am in my own life and my professional path.

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I struggle the most when the barriers individuals are struggling to overcome are the result of structural or systemic oppression. Where language, access to health care, disability, mental health status, cultural differences, or poor self-advocacy skills create huge roadblocks that overcome even the last glimmers of resilience.  I feel helpless.

I worry I am not doing enough, and on the really tough days:

Am I causing more harm than good? 

Considering my own blessings in contrast to those who are sincerely struggling to sustain daily living can leave me feeling guilty. When I was first exploring my identity as a white person I thought a lot about the guilt I felt being born part of the privileged dominant group in my country. I also think about the ways I can use my privilege to fight systemic oppression.

As I have grown in my field, I also think more about the ways my own privilege can get in the way for clients I serve who are from underrepresented groups. I know I find myself in the “buffer zone,” as social justice educator, writer, and activist, Paul Kivel, describes:

“If most people receive minimal levels of care and those who die do so in hospitals, at home, in rest homes, or in prisons, it is less likely that people will add up the total impact of the concentration of wealth. So there are many jobs for people to take care of those at the bottom of the pyramid: nurses, attendants, social workers, teachers, youth workers, child care workers, counselors—poorly paid jobs that are primarily done by women and that provide minimal services to those in need.

“Taking care of those in need is valuable and honorable work, and most people do it with generosity and good intentions. But in our society, it is also unsupported, low-paid, exploitative work. It serves to mask the inadequate distribution of jobs, food, and housing, and to hide the full impact of the concentration of wealth” (Source here).

It may be honorable work. It may be valuable work. I may dedicate my whole heart to supporting those I meet with. In turn I hope that I am supporting a vibrant and equitable community. However on days  like today I feel so overwhelmed trying to parcel out all the pieces at play. The struggle to do my part of  the work towards social justice can feel overwhelming, especially when I struggle to even sort out what “right action” looks like in the moment.

I feel called to serve, to support, and to empower. The idea that the very act of trying to help can get in the way and perpetuate all kinds of inequality — it just feels too big. Too daunting. It makes me feel so small, so unsure of what my next right choice should be.

Comfort comes in faithfully believing that I am doing my best to put my heart to the work, praying for grace, and as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, living the questions:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

In the middle at the New Year

This New Year snuck up on me like a fog and vanished just as quietly. Typically I would spend a lot of energy thinking about the upcoming New Year, reflecting on the last year and jotting down my hopes for the year to come.

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But this year felt different.

I took a yoga class on New Year’s Eve and our teacher grounded the practice in being in “the middle” – inspired because the holiday fell mid-week this year. This got me thinking about the many ways I feel “in between” in my own life right now. Not yet settled in my new life after dramatic changes this year, but also not a stranger here. This “middle” place has become its own season of life.

Today is the middle of January – some time has passed since the New Year:

    • In what ways do you find yourself “in the middle” at this time?
    • In what was do you see yourself emerging?
    • In this dark and cold season – are there places still healing while others inch towards new growth?

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.