Doing the exercises

I am a sucker for a good self-development book, especially one that is meant to help you “find your purpose” and live the life you truly want.

Sounds like a cliche, eh?

I agree.

But that is probably because the “life I want” seems to change from decade to decade. When I was in my teens, I wanted to grow up and get away from my small town where I felt confined. When I was in my 20’s after college I just wanted to earn my own money and not have to live with my parents.

When I was 30 I got divorced because what I wanted was very different from want my ex wanted. (I tried to explain I’d never wanted children when we married. He was pretty sure I would change my mind. At age 44, I am still grateful I was not “talked into that.”) I finished my graduate degree with a Master of Liberal studies focusing on Nonprofit Management, but I still did not really know what I wanted to do.

I kept reading self development books to try to figure it out. But while I read a lot, I did not often do the exercises recommended in the books. 

pivot, concise coaching, dare to lead
my desk on Sunday afternoon, while taking a break from coaching homework

In my 30’s I disintegrated some networks, I jettisoned a great job and burned bridges without a plan or a safety net. Probably not the best move. But I am resilient, and I knew I’d find *something* to earn a living Fortunately found a job I enjoyed at a very large medical device company. This path allowed me to travel to Latin America regularly, which got me to reconnect with my roots in important ways, and re-discover my enjoyment of travel.

One of my mentors told me a year ago that I needed to figure out what my definition of success is. But I told him I have already succeeded. I was making more than twice the money I thought I could earn at my age. Materially, even though we still do not own our home, I have everything I need every day. That is more wealth than most people on the planet. He said “then you have to give back.” I agree.

A nagging voice inside me says I am not working “up to my potential.” I used to hate it when my middle school teachers told me that. I graduated salutatorian of my high school class. What more did they want from me?

In retrospect, I can can see that my ability to focus on many things at once is not a detriment. Lack of focus means I had a LOT of interests. Choosing just one, or even just two, has always felt like Sophie’s Choice to me.

Emilie Wapnick
Clip of 12 min Ted Talk on multipotentialites

I am working with a coach right now who is helping me whittle this down. But I may just have to accept that I am a multi-potentialite (a term coined by Emilie Wapnick). Please watch her Ted Talk if you can relate.

For now, I am doing the exercises that my coach (and most of the self-help books I have read) have recommended. The habit of devouring books is not something I will get over any time soon. Now, I have to stop using that as a diversion and do the work, finish the exercises, and see what they reveal. Scary, no?




Unstructured time

Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.

clem in boat
My hubby, captain of the fishing boat

It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).

Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.

I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.

I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.

pelicans on big wolf lake
Pelicans out on Big Wolf Lake. Taken August 6, 2018.

There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.

Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully.  I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.



Making trouble

I recognized a pattern in myself recently, and I shared it with my husband last night. I am not so proud of this pattern, but it seems like something I should try to understand.

When things are going fairly well in my life, either in my relationships or in my work life, I tend to stir things up. I tend to make trouble in some area, like I cannot be still with the sensation of peace and calm.

I guess in my work life, that process begins once I feel that I have “mastered” the work at some level. I have learned the procedures, practiced them, and they are no longer difficult. The work starts to bore me a bit when it hits a certain mastery stage, and I start looking around for what is next.

Relationships have been a little bit less like this, but I managed to defeat a “rescue” habit I used to have, thankfully. However, I realize that when things are going too well, too smoothly, I have a tendency to throw a wrench in the works, and test things.

Why is it that I cannot rest with a life that is too peaceful, that is too calm? I wish I knew. I blame it on my a.d.d., and probably that has something to do with it. The a.d.d. brain craves novelty and stimulation, more than the average brain. It is one reason I am a voracious learner and reader. Sometimes it feels like I cannot get enough of ideas, of stories, of vivid imagination.

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Photo credit link – Deviant Art

It could also be something like what Brene Brown calls “foreboding joy.” There is this sense that when everything is going really well, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, some even around the corner that will mess things up. But then maybe I want to be “in control” of that phenomenon, so I do the messing up myself…?

I don’t know about this one. I do know that yesterday I yelled at my boss during a meeting (actually a conference call).  I was upset with myself for behaving that way, and I apologized for letting my emotions overcome a calmer head, but I also felt relieved that I had spoken up in defense of my team. Fortunately my boss told me no apology was needed. He feels similar frustrations, and says we have to try not to be discouraged.

Here is where I disagree with that notion. Sometimes active resistance is not possible, that is true. But sometimes walking away is an option. Once we have done everything we can think to do in order to reform a system which is not working, we need to reserve the option of disengaging.

I am done making trouble here. Time to find another place to stir things up. The new opportunity I am pursuing has “drive disruptive change” in the job description. That is what excites me most, the idea that someone might actually pay me to be a trouble-maker… is that really possible? I hope to find out.

Your job

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I am making a compromise with myself. I may not write every day, but following the advice of Brené Brown, Liz Gilbert and Martha Beck, I will indulge in creativity every day, have a little fun with this blog, and sometimes post quotes from favorite authors.


I recently discovered a great graphic design tool called Canva, and I am experimenting so that I can design brochures, banners or info-graphics. It is a free tool, so check it out at if you want. For those of us who are a little shy about graphics, but occasionally would like to invent a meme or frame a cool quote, it works very well!

What ways will you have fun today and express your creativity?

fun with Canva.png



Rumbling with our stories

I just love Brené Brown’s work on how to use what she calls “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.” She is a Texas born and bred professor, researcher and storyteller who studies shame, wholeheartedness and how we use story and narrative to shape our lives. Her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 33 million times. It is one reason I decided to start this blog.

Her definition of spirituality as a belief that humans as inherently interconnected, and in a loving force greater than ourselves is something I truly align with personally. Brown’s work is starting to make its way to families, government and leadership in large organizations. Her approach has wisdom that has been profound for me.

story book
Photo credit link

She uses a term coined by Anne Lamott which is a personal favorite, the “shitty first draft.” Her process of identifying the stories we get “caught” in, and realizing they are stories we make up in our own heads to explain things, but that they are not reality, has helped me enormously. I wrote on this theme last week, but I want to explore it from a different angle here, since I finished re-listening to her audio program again recently.

The idea is that we need to recognize when we are in a difficult emotion (the reckoning). Instead of eating it or damping it down with alcohol or buffering it by numbing out on facebook, we get curious. We examine those feelings, own our story, and “rumble” with it. This step means we get honest about the stories we are making up, challenge them to determine what is true, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.

The final step is the revolution, in which we write a new ending to our story based on the key learning from our rumble. We then use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live love, parent and lead. (summary from page 37 of Rising Strong).

presence of mind
Photo credit link

Some of us who have been to therapy recognize this is something that counselors do while we are figuring out what is causing pain for us in our lives. When suffering from depression or anxiety, it is critical skill to understand that it is our thoughts that cause us emotional pain, not our circumstances. Sure, if we are experiencing grief or loss or a traumatic event, then there will be pain. This is human, and though we are terrible about allowing grief as a culture, it is absolutely necessary for healing.

The tricky part is that we often add to our pain by layering shame and self-hatred on top of those life experiences. “I should be happy” we tell ourselves. “I should feel grateful” all of the self-help books tell us. But “shoulds” are not helpful. Feelings are what they are. They are not good or bad, they are part of being human.

Feelings often provide some helpful clues to us on what and who we want to move towards or move away from in our lives. Brené Brown makes the point that we often believe we are people that THINK and sometimes feel. But the actuality is that people always FEEL and sometimes think. Perhaps this is a remnant from the Descartes’ idea that “I think therefore I am,”  but it is inaccurate.

storytelling and brain
Photo credit link – Educators Technology

Neuro-biologically we are wired for emotion. We are wired for story. Our brain actually gives us a dopamine hit when we create a story that explains whatever disparate facts are in front of us. It makes no difference whether the story is true, it just takes comfort from making sense of the world. The stories we tell shape our lives. And when we tell them enough times, they evolve into theories about how the world works. Any theory we belief for long enough becomes a belief.

The awesome thing about humans is that we can choose to believe new things. When we encounter a belief that is causing us pain, we can unpack it, question it, and possibly change it. We often find we believe things we may have been taught when young, or observed in our family systems.

What if we write our stories as though we are the heroes and not the victims? What if we are able to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, and the mistakes others made? When we can free ourselves in this way, we free our energy to stop living in our past and to take brave steps into the future.

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If you want a free link to this roughly 3-hour audible presentation on this topic, where Brown explains her work, and also answers questions from the audience please email me at I am happy to share this with anyone who may want to do similar personal work.

Invited but not included

I just finished Brené Brown’s new book (via audiobook), Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I love the funny, irreverent, earnest voice of Dr. Brown and her way of expressing concepts in a way that are user-friendly, actionable and realistic.

Her stories remind me of an experience I had a year ago last September, when I was invited to a meeting held by my company for the international field clinical operations team in one of the largest business units here. I was one of two Latin America team members invited to participate and it was held in a lovely resort in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a 3-day meeting, with numerous opportunities for team-building and professional development, along with rich content from the various cardiac areas for which this business unit provides medical technology.

Phoenix desert

One morning there was a group run, led by a manager for the field clinical group, to be started out in the trail area of the resort near the hotel. It was a 6 A.M. meeting time, behind the tennis courts and as a runner myself, I thought it would be a nice way to connect with a team that I did not know well. But networking while on a run seemed an excellent idea. My company sponsors a marathon in the Twin Cities, and there are a lot of runners who work here. As a leading healthcare and medical device company, there is a lot of competitive spirit here. It is part of the culture, and I appreciate that it. People do not settle for mediocrity and quality is a value we all share.

I am known to foster a spirit of cooperation over competition on my own team. These values are not mutually exclusive but the paths may look different. Individual competition can be a valuable thing and I admire and respect people with high internal standards for their work. I hope I can count myself among those, and I work hard to demonstrate that.

Interestingly, the group was all women. I was a bit surprised at this. I thought that perhaps these women knew each other fairly well, and probably had run together before, at least sub-groups of them. Sure enough, several people were training for 10-miler races or marathons. I am not a fast runner, and these days I typically run at a 10- to 11-minute mile at race pace. I run for fun and I run to clear the static from my brain. I sometimes run with groups of friends, or one other running buddy but mostly I run alone and I enjoy the solitude

Here I was with this group of about 8-9 very fit women who had just all introduced themselves. I explained that I was training for the upcoming 10-miler many others were planning to run in October as well, and that I was not a fast runner, but hopefully could keep up with them. In group runs in my past experience, there is a tendency for faster people to pair up and lead, and others to pair up to run with others at a similar pace. Usually there is a periodic “scoop” where the faster runners (maybe once or twice a mile) where they run back to the slower runners and then all are more-or-less in a group again. We spread out, we re-group, in a few cycles, until the end. The faster runners get a little more mileage in, but all runners feel included in the run.

But this group was different. They took off and the pace was unsustainable for me within the first 3-4 minutes. I typically start with a warm-up pace and then gradually go a little faster as my 40+-year-old body catches up and gets a good aerobic flow going. Another woman in the back of the pack was struggling too, so about a mile in she said: “Wow, this group is fast. I am not keeping up, so I think I will head back.” I told her I agreed, but said I would be fine running with her at a slower pace. She thanked me but said she did not want to slow anyone down.

So I continued, far back from the pack now that we were a mile in, deciding that, even though it was no longer a group thing, I still want to get the miles in. Right around mile 2 the group paused and waited for me to catch up, rather than scooping and running back to get me. I caught up to them and felt a bit silly, knowing my pace was slower. Having them pause and wait for me felt like judgment rather than a playful “scoop” to meet me and be sure I did not get lost on the desert trails, or step on any snakes. When I caught up, I told them to go ahead and finish, that I was fine running on my own. I suppose it’s a matter of pride, but I did not want to feel I was struggling or slowing these women down.

So they took off again and somewhere around mile 3, I must have taken a wrong turn on the trail, since it did not seem like I was heading back toward the hotel in the loop I had seen on the map. I stopped to walk and to try to figure out the direction I should run. Two men from the same company group had the same dilemma and came across me, lost also, perhaps starting later after the 6 A.M. early start of the women’s group. We compared notes on how to get back to the hotel, and then once they picked up the correct trail, they ran off at a much faster pace and left me also.

Running back towards the hotel alone, the sun was rising and right in my field of vision. On one of the rocky trail rises I was temporarily blinded by the bright sunrise, and I tripped and went flying onto the trail, cut my shin and bloodied up my knee. Ouch! After a few seconds of testing out the knee, I realized I was fine to continue walking, and I was only a half mile from the hotel, so I finished out by being careful and returning.  A couple of runners had done an extra lap for more mileage and were just finishing as well. They were alarmed when they saw me bleeding and injured and asked if I needed help.

I told them I was fine, no need to worry, I just had a little accident and was now going to head back to my room, get cleaned up and move on with my day. Fortunately the scrapes were not serious enough to need emergency care or stitches, but now I had decided that this group rejected me. I had options about how to respond to that rejection, and in the end, I chose to move on and attend all the conference sessions I wanted to join, but to pace my introvert self and take breaks when needed. I wore my scratched up knee, visible under my skirts as a badge of courage rather than a mark of shame. Two days later, I got out on the trail again and ran on my own to prove I could do it, and to demonstrate to myself my own courage in taking my own path without permission or group validation.

I am not sure I would have chosen that path had it not been for my self-awareness about my own belonging and worthiness. So many of us search for where we belong, whether at work, in our communities, in our families, in our nation, in the world. We are part of a social species and a sense belonging is fundamental. But what if Maya Angelou’s quote (which Brené Brown cites) is true:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.”

By claiming my worthiness and beginning the spiritual practice of accepting myself fully, as worthy of love even in all my faults and shortcomings, I begin to claim that place that Maya refers to, that every place that is our universal humanity. Brené Brown refers to it as the wilderness and concludes in her book that we ARE the wilderness.

I have more to say on this topic, but this was to get the ball rolling. Do you have thoughts on this story? Have you ever felt a strong sense of belonging (to yourself) in the midst of what seemed like a rejection from another person or group? What does it mean to be brave and stand in your truth instead of going along with the group? Is there a difference between choosing to stand alone versus feeling abandoned or left behind? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments below if you are inclined to share, or in a message directly to me if you prefer.