Category Archives: Personal story

Preach what you practice

Yesterday I was thinking of the common expression “practice what you preach” and considering why it is an admonition of sorts. Probably because it is easier to tell others what to do than to take our own advice sometimes.

So let’s turn that one on its head and instead preach what we practice. It occurred to me that I am trying to do this on my blog. There are certain things that really help me to live a better life: meditation, yoga, writing, eating real food, choosing love over fear, etc.

I love to experiment with practices to see how or whether they work for me. If they do, after some time and testing, I adopt them as part of my daily or weekly routines. Of course, you will have to practice them yourself to know if they work for you. I am not saying they will. But I really do like to “preach” some practices that work.

Blogging has led me to some really fascinating and insightful people online. The ones I enjoy most do this very thing: they preach what they practice. They share what works for them. They show some vulnerability in admitting they are not perfect, that they have made mistakes. And they invite others to learn from their experience as well.

Today I just want to thank a few of them that I read regularly and have given me feedback on my work as well. I am grateful that the internet has enabled this kind of virtual connection and that like-minded people can collaborate on this great experiment of life.

Steph at Make More Meaning is doing some fascinating things with minimalism. Jessie at Hoosier Mystic is doing some significant personal work. Julie de Rohan has given me some great shout-outs as well, and I appreciate her support. And also raynotbradbury is a source of creativity and delight, so check out her humor when you have a moment.

I know there are more of ya out there, and I thank you for your comments and contributions to the world of ideas and this ever-expanding universe that is the blogosphere. Cheers & happy Friday!

Advertisements

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

 

 

Simple Abundance

This morning I was trying to find the charger for my smart phone, and I had a small ’bout of de-clutter urgency. I get these now and then (though my husband may say not nearly often enough). So I was going through a few stacks of items, trying to figure out what room I inadvertently must have set down the cord.

simple abundance

A book caught my eye from the pile on my nightstand that I had pulled out from my big bookshelf recently, by Sarah Ban Breathnach entitled Simple Abundance, and it had been a going-away present from a group of coworkers back in 2000. I had decided to quit working for a bank after two years as a project coordinator, and was heading back to school. My intention to work in the social service field, or for a nonprofit. (I did not realize yet that life had something different in store for me).

Inside the front cover, they had all written very lovely things, and it brought tears to my eyes to remember them. Some of my favorites:

“Good luck with everything! Follow what you believe in. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to work with you – you are a special person.”

“Best of luck in all your future endeavors. You are a wonderful, kind person and deserve all the happiness you find.”

“Good luck with your plans to return to school and enter the social service field. You will make a big contribution wherever you go.”

I share these not to brag about what a great person I am (though I do claim that I can work with almost anyone, and I tend to get along with people in every workplace). I share this because I worked with that team for only 2 years when I first moved to Minnesota. I had gotten a temp job placement for a bank in Downtown Minneapolis, only a 20 minute walk from our little garden-level apartment.

The job itself was actually pretty boring to me and largely administrative, but after I had been there for a couple of months, I received an offer for a permanent position. Since I wanted health care benefits and I liked the idea of some stability while I was figuring out what to do next, I accepted the position. In the meantime I had applied to grad school because it was fairly clear to me that bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology was not really enough to get me a “science” job.

Also, it can be hard to make friends in Minnesota! School has always been an easier way for me to meet people with whom I have things in common than the workplace. Even though I had family in Bemidji, I did not really know anyone in the Twin Cities. My spouse at the time had moved with me to the Twin Cities shortly after my grandmother had heart surgery. It seemed a good time for me to be closer to family after 6 years away (4 years at Swarthmore for  college and 2 years in the Bay Area of California). My parents lived in Wisconsin and grandma lived in northern MN, so we split the distance.

After living in San Francisco for two years, we decided we could not afford to keep up with the lifestyles of our mostly engineer and I.T. geek friends: they liked to go out a lot and we were going into debt trying to keep up. Rents were high and we did not have the kinds of jobs that could compete with the high cost of living there.

After arriving with maxed out credit cards and no jobs, we had to figure out what was next. We did not know what type of work we would find, but temp jobs in offices had always been plentiful in the 90’s, so I had little doubt I could find SOMETHING. When you’re in your early 20’s and a recent college graduate, I believe it does not matter that much what you do. Just get some work, learn some skills on the job and figure it out along the way. It helps if you know what you LIKE to do, and if you know that, by all means: do that!

But if there are a lot of things you like to do, and your biggest priority is not having to move back in with your parents because you prefer your independence, just find SOMETHING not too awful, and work hard at it. Develop a reputation for being reliable and getting things done. Pay attention to those internal signals you get when you need to move on, and those moments of joy which help you find a better path for you. If you have kind coworkers and a healthy work environment, life will really be okay, even if you have not yet figured out your larger story or mission.

Reading those kind words from the gift book from 18 years ago, I realize that I have always made friends wherever I go. I am kind, and I am approachable and things just tend to work out for me. There have been difficult times, and tough choices, but I realize this is the meaning of simple abundance: what you have in this moment is enough. When you have people around you that you love, and that love you, you will always have enough. Recognizing the great abundance around you and within you is your treasure. 

 

 

 

Do you have a few minutes?

Happy February! To those of you who live in northern climates, we are three fifths through the winter, mas o menos.

Somehow when we get to February I always feel a surge of optimism. Spring is not so far away now, and those of us who get a little “cabin fever” this time of the year start noticing more light in the evenings.

Last February I started a habit of daily meditation. I had been meditating before that, and developing some consistency. But last year, I fully committed to a minimum of 5 minutes per day. It was a do-able goal, and I count my yoga sessions as part of my practice, so with 3 classes a week, that made the goal easier as well. This weekend I will celebrate an entire year consecutive days of meditation.

It has changed my life, particularly since I have struggled in the past with a.d.d. Meditation has helped me calm my mind and become less reactive to the “bouncing” thoughts. I can observe them and not follow them. I notice when I am caught in a story that I am spinning, and start to question whether that is even true. I hold less judgment about my mind, and more curiosity.

To those who have been thinking about starting a practice, I encourage you to start small. Literally commit to only 2 minutes the first time, focus on your breathing. It may not be easy at first! But then add a minute a day, and see how this changes the quality of your days overall. It may take a few weeks before you really start to notice benefits, so give it at least 30 days.

People used to tell me I needed to have at least 15 minutes for it. That was a big barrier. I simply could not imagine how I would fit that in every day. Now I average a lot more than that. But if I only fit in 5 minutes in the morning, and then get 10 minutes on a lunch hour, I still do it. It is not always easy, and sometimes I feel “too restless” to want to do it. But those are the times I am most likely to benefit, I now realize.

Last fall I read Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Goleman and Davidson). For a clinical researcher like me, I loved learning about experiments, past and present to demonstrate the value of meditation. The authors actually critique some of their early studies, the bias and the lack of proper controls. They review the field and conclude that yes, even with some flawed studies in the beginning, reliable science is beginning to emerge on the benefits of meditation.

If the idea of silent meditation is not your cup of tea, there are many guided meditations available at the Insight Timer app that I use. Jon Kabat Zinn has a book called Mindfulness for Beginners with some guided meditations that I really like also. Another resource that was great for me about 2 years ago when I first wanted to commit to practice was Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

For those of you who have a regular practice, I would love to hear how you got started. As I like to say about sleep, doing more of it is like a super-power! If only I had known when I was younger. But I know now. So I will continue to encourage people to try it, and see what works for them.

 

 

 

Paradise found

I woke up with the song “Remember Me” in my head from the movie Coco. If you have not seen it yet, please do. It is a sweet movie.

I wondered what it was my brain wanted to remember. And since it is January in Minnesota, the most logical choice is summer vacation.

We get something we call “cabin fever” right about this time, a little restlessness with being inside so much of the time. It got up to 42 degrees F yesterday which is actually quite warm for us, so I did fit in a little run outside in the fresh air and to get some sunshine. While I take my vitamin D religiously in the winter, since are all deficient at this latitude, there is really no substitute for real sunshine.

Paradise, Michigan

Photo taken from Paradise, Michigan – July 201

I thought back to the lovely motorcycle trip last summer around Lake Superior, and checked my phone for pictures. Ah, sweet memories. One night when we had made it to Paradise, Michigan, we stopped at our campsite, realized it had rained a bit that day and the campground was soggy. So we opted for a hotel that night, a place with laundry facilities. Hot showers and a real bed were awesome, and the view from the hotel was amazing.

This is why you often hear the advice: buy experiences, not things. When you spend money on a vacation, not only do you get to enjoy a lovely time away, you get the benefit of anticipating and planning the trip. Then you also get the experience of fond memories on the trip, and stories you can tell after the trip with your loved ones.

Granted, vacations can be expensive. But they do not have to be when planned in advance. My hubby reserved campsites for 8 out of our 10 nights on this trip, and then 2 B&B’s/hotels so that was quite affordable. When traveling on a motorcycle you have to plan alternatives in case of rain, so we did forfeit the campsites twice and opted for hotels. But still, a lovely and memorable trip around Lake Superior with good memories was a bargain for the cost.

Those of you who are indoors and tired of the cold and snow: try thinking about where you may want to spend some summer vacation time. It gets your creative juices going and if you plan now, you may be able to put aside some savings to make it happen.

Ah, Paradise!

 

Costumes

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post in advance, then “scheduled” it so I could read it in the morning, edit and publish. Apparently WordPress ate the 700 word post. Oops. I have no idea how that happened. But spending a lot of time trying to recover a lost document is a waste. It’s best just to get started on the next one without a lot of drama or delay.

This morning I will meet with a VP for our Corporate Science and Technology division at work, my director’s boss. He has been a career mentor for me, and my director has encouraged me to meet with him once a quarter as I figure out my next move.

I am typically anxious about what to wear to such meetings.

My work “costume” has been evolving a lot in the past year or two. I already wrote about “grown up clothes” in a previous post. I had always read that you should dress for the  position to which you aspire, or at least a level up, not necessarily the position you have. In corporate leadership functions at my company, that typically means for women dresses and heels.

As someone more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, that was a transition for me. But I embraced my feminine side and realized that dresses are actually more comfortable than pants most of the time. A friend of mine likes to say they as comfy as pajamas but people actually think you look nice! She’s right about that, except during Minnesota winter, when they just seem stupid when your legs and feet are cold for the sake of fashion.

Work clothing can be a kind of “armor” we put on in the morning, to convey a sense of authority or power. As long as we feel comfortable with what we wear, and it does not “clash” with our sense of ourselves, I think it can enhance our confidence. Fake it until you become it, as Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk. A few wonder woman poses before a big event will not hurt either. Your body language may speak even more highly than your clothing, so it is worth being mindful of how comfortable you feel and what you project.

Clem in chaps - Canada

My hubby in chaps during our trip July 2017. This was taken in Canada.

I realize that what I project at work does not really capture authentically who I am, and I am trying to figure out if I can bridge that gap. My husband bought me riding chaps last year before our summer motorcycle trip around Lake Superior. A friend teased me about it because he thought of chaps as a sex fetish thing. But hubby likes to say “dress for the slide, not the ride.” I know that my work colleagues would probably be shocked to see me dressed in jeans, chaps, and a black motorcycle jacket. It definitely does not alight with my work costume or the image I have sought to project at work.

At the same time, the motorcycle gear “costume” expresses my desire for freedom and for being engaged with the world in a different way. In a very practical sense, it is safety gear. And it is also represents a different part of my identity that is not something I feel comfortable bringing to work.

As I write this, I also know that the mask I wear as part of my work costume is getting a little old and tired as well. Having to feign enthusiasm for a job that is “over and done” for me in a fundamental way takes a lot of energy. It is not something I can do for much longer.

I believe that when we bring our whole, authentic selves to work we excel and produce our best work. Maybe there is room for that in my corporation, and maybe not. It is worth speaking up about my real feelings and thoughts to see if this is met with acceptance or with rejection. Either way, I will know whether I might find some other place in the organization or whether I need to move on.

Costume change, please!

 

 

 

 

Outgrowing your boss

When you have a boss who has been very supportive of your career growth and has helped you take the next steps in terms of your leadership, it can be hard to move on. But when you come to a point at which your boss is no longer helping you grow, and seems to have “checked out” a bit from the work, it is time to consider what is next.

They say people do not leave organizations, they leave managers. Even if you work in a highly dysfunctional company, having a good boss can be a beacon. Even one of my favorite books on Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter begin with Career Wellbeing as a foundation to our overall wellbeing. Having a boss who cares personally about you and engages with your efforts in a meaningful way can have a very positive influence on your life. This is one reason I take my work as a manager very seriously and I am very intentional about how I work with each member of my team.

However, at some point you may realize that you and your boss may have different goals for the organization or a different outlook on the future. By necessity they have a view of the organization that may not be the same as yours. They have access to different networks and information. They may empathize with your position but not be able to connect their decisions with the operational reality of your work.

It is important to have open dialogues about your perspective and to be as direct as possible about your position. Your boss may not agree and this is not fatal to the relationship in itself. But your boss may make decisions that compromise the execution or the quality of your team’s ability to deliver, or the credibility of your organization. It is probably not intentional. It may reflect their relationships in industry, or fears that saying no will limit future possibilities.

bird rising watercolor

This watercolor reminds me of the song “I’ll Fly Away.”

I have so much gratitude for the opportunities that my director has given me over the past 4 years while I have reported directly to him. At the same time, he is making decisions that compromise the ability of our team to deliver. There is political pressure for these decisions, and I realize that higher up, the forces are different. But I can no longer support a department that puts what I view as undue stress on its employees.

I enjoy being creative and finding ways to be efficient in our work. It is an area where we have grown into a team that is known for going the extra mile. But now we have a situation where we are below “critical mass” in terms of our ability to execute. Dumping more responsibilities on top of an already over-committed team will not work. 

And yet, he continues to add, despite the promise that we would only do this with more resources. I realize he may define resources in terms of dollars, while I define resources in terms of people. But I find myself unwilling to swamp my team yet again when we have barely recovered from the last restructure.

So in a way, I have outgrown my boss. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had for personal and professional growth in the past few years. And I am ready to move on. This is something I have had to grieve at some level. I believe my boss cares personally about people on the team. It has what has kept me here so far. But it is not what will help me grow to the next level in my career.

Goodbyes are hard. And it will be especially difficult to say goodbye to my team. They are wonderful people. But they may have outgrown me as well, who knows? My soul is leading me toward a big leap of some kind. I am ready to listen, look and leap when the next step becomes clear. It is almost less important to me WHAT that move is, than the fact that I will go. That’s how I know I have outgrown my boss.