What do you most want to learn?

It is said that we teach what we most want to learn. Research is “me search.”

One of the exercises I have tried while crafting my “offer” to my ideal clients is to consider the topics I most enjoy exploring through writing. By looking at my “tag cloud” or my category list, well-being and consciousness are big on my list. I also love thinking about and experimenting with how to increase employee engagement and career satisfaction.

Regarding my well-being focus for the past few years: in 2015-2016 I realized I had gained more weight and life felt stressful. More travel and meetings were required of my position as a manager for an international division. I knew something had to change. I did not like the feeling of my clothes getting tighter, or my need to take the “edge off” with a glass of wine as soon as I got home each day.

I decided to take a 10-day pause from my nightly glass (or 3) of wine when I came home each night. Whew, lots of emotional stuff came up. Then I realized I’d started taking the “edge” off by over-eating more often, or justifying extra chocolate or dessert because my day had been stressful and “I deserved it” I told myself.

But what if I could live a life where I did not feel a need to buffer my emotions with alcohol or food? What if I could learn to feel my difficult and uncomfortable feelings, without needing to dull them? 

As someone slightly on the introvert side of the introversion/extroversion spectrum, being with people for the majority of my day is taxing. Susan Cain advises introverts to find “restorative niches” of quiet or tranquility in our day, in order not to be overwhelmed by the social interaction required.

As a nexus point for 5 different departments and many different countries and regional units, it felt like constantly being “under fire” from far too many bosses or project managers, to whom I was accountable, even though I technically reported to just one director.

Restorative niche? Only if I could work at home (and I did now and then). I craved “deep work” assignments when I could have uninterrupted time to work on a project or develop a tool or workload model, for example. But the number of conference calls and meetings grew exponentially with the number of different initiatives we were called upon to execute.

I got really good at saying “no” toward the end, and also much better at delegating to fellow team members while developing their skills. Not always a popular choice for the entities which funded our small team. But a necessity nonetheless, since we were not able to deliver high quality results when spread too thin.

Fall inlove with taking care of yourself. (1)

So what do I want to teach and learn?

  • We must make conscious choices in our lives. We cannot do it all, nor should we. We must decide on what is essential and strategic, and do only that.
  • Wellness is non-negotiable. Our employer may think our mid-day run or yoga class is optional, but for many of us, it is the restoration we need to be most productive.
  • Working harder is not an option. Most of us are already maxed out. Working smarter is an alternative. Turning down calendar appointments is an option. Setting boundaries and expectations and communicating those is critical.
  • Being willing to receive tough feedback as a leader is essential. When people know you trust them, and are willing to listen and make changes, or help influence the process based on feedback, they trust you. Trust is essential to getting the work done efficiently.

These are some of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my time as an operational manager in a very large medical device company.

What do you most want to learn? Do you spend time writing about this topic as well? 


What are your misery stabilizers?

Okay folks,

I need to come clean on another addiction that I have. I am a recovering “food” addict.  I no longer use food (very often) to buffer uncomfortable feelings. Occasionally, ice cream is my gateway drug though…

My other addiction? Self development books, self-help literature and courses from Udemy and Skillshare…and podcasts where I learn new things.

I have talked before about how some of us use “buffers” to avoid certain things in our lives, or to avoid feeling what we feel, dealing with reality. Terry Real, (a psychotherapist who has some wonderful books including The New Rules of Marriage) calls substances like alcohol or drugs “misery stabilizers.”

He explains that they can keep people miserable instead of turning to each other, staying engaged, and facing their issues. He explains ways that men and women typically avoid their lives or issues in a relationship and I want to directly quote his words here, because I saw myself in them.

“Men tend to use workaholism, substance abuse, risk taking, gambling, food, exercise, television, the Internet, and sexual compulsivity. Women tend toward love dependence through over-involvement with their children, food, prescription drug abuse, spending, exercise, “busy-ness addiction” and love dependence on a romantic adult.” ( bold emphasis mine)

When I first read about this, and considered my relationship to food, I realized I had been using food (and sometimes wine) as a misery stabilizer in my life and in my relationship. I was using it to avoid what I did not want to face, my truth about not living aligned with my purpose. At various times I have used the others I highlighted as well.

As I started seeing the ways I was avoiding uncomfortable conversations, I began to examine ways in which I inadvertently “learned” this behavior when I was young. My family is squeamish about conflict, to put it mildly. Well, we live in Minnesota… directness is not something we do well.

Do you know the expression “Minnesota nice“? It is not a compliment when someone uses this term. What it means is that someone is nice to your face, but they are actually thinking “You’re full of shit.” Or they will be nice in person, and then go gossip about you behind your back. Yikes.

Photo credit link – Hypable

We all have buffers, or misery stabilizers, that can keep us from diving right into an issue, facing our truth. They can keep us from having a difficult conversation, working on our budget, tracking our finances, dealing with the reality of our situation. We avoid and distract ourselves rather than “go there.”

I was doing it this for the last couple days with some of my “homework” for my WomenVenture class on Getting Ready.  It is a pre-requisite for the Small Business Essentials class I will begin in September. We were asked to track all of our household expenses for 2 weeks. I was supposed to start last week, but I was on vacation with my sister, and I self-justified not doing it: “it’s an unusual week, and vacations are not a household expense.”

But really I was avoiding it because looking at the reality my spending habits can feel uncomfortable and annoying. I have saved for this sabbatical, and planned for this time off, but I don’t want to face the day-to-day “chore” of looking at my daily money habits. It feels “graspy” and stingy to me. I have an abundance mindset, and I know I can generate more where that came from… “Why should I have to track the “little” stuff?” my inner brat whines.

Anything we do not want to examine in our lives, however, is probably something worth studying. While I would rather watch Skillshare videos and read self-development books all day, the action of getting clear on my finances and on our money habits is something that will serve us in the long run.

I will put my self-development courses on pause, and start working on my 2-week budget tracking exercise. I resist committing to “Financial Fridays” but it may be good for me for a month or two… Ugh, not there yet. But let me know if you think airing my “dirty laundry” in this area would be helpful to you. I might be able to motivate myself to write about this if own misery is in service to a larger community. Lol.

Are there any things you “binge” on when you are avoiding an important task or conversation? What are your misery stabilizers?


P.S. If you are also a course addict and you want to try 2 months free of Skillshare, you can use this link to get started. I claim no responsibility for enabling your addiction if you suffer the same affliction. 😉




Un-buffering your life

We are often taught that going “outside our comfort zone” is where the most growth happens. I believe this is true, to a large extent. Our human species evolved to seek comfort or pleasure and avoid pain. These impulses largely kept us alive, along with developing communities which could provide protection and safety in a wild world.

bird rising watercolor

But as humans evolved to go beyond our basic necessities, we must also evolve in our consciousness. We must make different choices beyond survival day-to-day in order to respect the long-term sustainability of ourselves and of our planet. I write this knowing that many people around the world lack clean water, or sufficient food to eat, and I am aware of my privilege in writing these words.

The practice of creativity and if making things purely for own pleasure is one magnificent part of our existence. Whether composing songs, decorating one’s home, writing a story, or playing with color on canvas, we are a species that delights in using our imagination and creating something from nothing.

Liz Gilbert writes and speaks so elegantly of this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in her podcast Magic Lessons. I am grateful to have re-discovered her work, along with uncovering the Joy Diet book I have by Martha Beck last fall. Also around that time I found the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage, Daring Greatly among them, but I recommend any of her books.

As I confronted my habits of “buffering” my emotions through alcohol, food, over-working, etc, I realized that I needed to slow everything down. Right before I reached for that drink, or chocolate, or “buy” button to get myself out of my feeling of discomfort, I needed to pay attention to what was going on in my body.

tissue healing watercolor

Typically what I discovered was that an uncomfortable emotion was present. It might be loneliness or fear. It might be a response to avoidance I had about doing certain tasks at work, or anticipating a difficult conversation and not knowing how I wanted to speak my truth, while respecting another person.

Mostly what I found is that I used my buffers to avoid or resist the truth that I was feeling in my own body. When I learned some tools like meditation and yin yoga to help me get “comfortable with discomfort” I realized that I could sit with a feeling and just experience it all the way through, without resisting it and without attaching to it.

Once I acknowledge the emotion, named it and thoroughly sense where it resided in my body, I can move on, and not let it hijack me or my behavior. But that process of slowing down, feeling an emotion all the way through, without reaching for my phone, something in the fridge, or some other distraction, has radical implications.

Paying attention and becoming fully aware of what is happening not just around me but within me feels like a “magic” tool. I accept things as they are, embrace the suck, or just note when I feel fear, uncertainty, doubt, rage or discomfort. That allows me to examine what thoughts and stories feed these feelings.

variable infinities

When I back up and understand that emotional and physical cascade that resulted from certain thoughts, I can question whether those thoughts are even true. Sometimes I can do this from a “thought download” or a hand-written journal I use daily to get out all the junk that piles up in my curious monkey mind. Other times, it is locked in there pretty deeply, so I use some other medium, like pastels or watercolors to tease it out.

I joke with my husband that these always turn out like 2nd grade art projects (I posted some examples today). They are not really for anyone but me, but at the same time, they sometimes give me clues to what is really going on in my psyche. Words can do this for me, but sometimes they fail me. That logical, rational, ego-driven part of my mind can protect me mightily from my inner truth.

The ego knows some truths may be painful, and require me to make certain changes in my life, definitely stepping outside the comfortable world I know. Since my brain is trying its best to take care of me, to keep me ensconced in safety, it does what it knows best, seek pleasure and avoid pain.

after the rain watercolor

And yet, this is not the path where personal and spiritual growth happens. Often it takes a painful life event to get us to a place where we MUST make some change. Sometimes there is a powerful realization within us that we have become too comfortable. In my past, I find that I tend to “make trouble” for myself when things are a little too comfortable.

Looking back, I see how many times I was running from something, rather than facing up to it. Or how many times I tried to avoid my discomfort and fear, by keeping myself from know some truth that was billowing up within me. I feared as soon as I acknowledged it, I would need to change MY WHOLE LIFE and would disrupt my loved ones’ lives around me. I did not realize I could take action steps toward what was next, at a pace that worked for me.

Sometimes we must leap into the fire and destroy the previous life (or lie) we have lived, if it was not authentic to the essence of our being, who we really are. And I believe sometimes this fire burns from within, and allows us to rise from the ashes of our prior belief systems which no longer work for us.

As we un-buffer, and become comfortable with discomfort, we develop courage and determination to rise up and do what our soul calls us to do. May you, dear reader, slow down and know when your buffers are getting in the way of your highest purpose.



Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 2)

“How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human? Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?”

-Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior)

I have always been pretty good at learning things from books, or so I think. I have always valued my smarts, my cognitive abilities, my academic pursuits. I suppose that makes sense, given that I come from a family of teachers. My Dad, Mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles and many in my family were formally trained as teachers, and many of them taught until they retired. Today I view every person as a teacher. Every person I meet may have some bit of wisdom or some lesson to teach, if I stay open to hearing it. But I digress. Some readers may want me to return to the next chapter of my story, and get on with distilling some of those lessons I have learned about body awareness.

When I went back to read the first part of what I wrote yesterday while preparing myself for today, I realize that I revealed a bit more than I thought wanted to share out on the world wide web. It reminds me a little of Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, in which she described a “vulnerability hangover” after she confessed her “breakdown -> spiritual awakening” to a group of what she thought was just a few hundred people. If you have not heard Brene Brown’s Ted Talks on the Power of Vulnerability or Listening to Shame, please do so. I am serious. They are about 20 minutes long, and they are gold. After watching the videos, I bought and read every book that Dr. Brown has written, and a few of them are in my little book pile of recent influential books below.

Book pile
Some favorites I have read in the past year.

I have always had this tendency, when I feel like an author is speaking directly to me, I then go and read all the books they have ever written. This is what happened to me about 14 years ago when I discovered Martha Beck. I started with Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. To this day, when Martha comes out with a new book, I am likely on the pre-order list because I think she is a modern day guru. She basically invented the concept of life-coaching and her wisdom is unmatched when it comes to career exploration and figuring changes you may need to be more aligned with your soul’s purpose.

So I promised more of my story, and I keep trying to deflect and talk about stuff I learned in books rather than stuff I learned through my own experience. Whew, I guess that is because it is so difficult to share one’s personal story when it reveals what we consider something about us that is “weak” or shameful. Brene Brown explains that “shame is an epidemic in our culture” and tells us that empathy is the antidote to shame. When we consider the shame so many of us feel about our bodies, about the things we are supposed to control, about the ways we are supposed to behave but cannot, it is no wonder we are the most addicted, over-medicated, depressed people in the history of the species.

I began realizing that I was using food and alcohol to buffer my emotions, and to not feel the things I needed to feel, in order to point me in the direction of my truths and my my soul’s calling. In my nurse practitioner’s office in July 2016 I realized that, even though my health numbers seemed fine, I was not fine. I knew it. I knew that coming home each night and feeling a strong urge to have a glass of wine was an indicator, and it was a warning sign to me. While I am not an alcoholic, I wondered what I was trying to avoid. Having been through depression before, I realized that I never wanted to go there again. That dark fog has been present in my life probably 3-4 times and it had been years since I had gone there.

So I asked my kind  fiance to help me stop drinking for 10 days, just to see if it would make a difference to my quality of life. The first thing I noticed was: I had some really uncomfortable emotions coming up that I did not want to face. Fortunately a friend at the time shared a similar struggle and desire to give up drinking. She pointed me in the direction of Brooke Castillo’s podcast.

One of the most important things I learned here was that emotions are just vibrations in the body. They pass like waves, and they are fully endurable. Those of us who afraid to feel our emotions sometimes may have learned that emotions are dangerous. We are not “supposed to” feel sad, angry or disappointed. But these human emotions are universal. We may not like them, but we all feel them. When we learn to embrace all of our emotions, knowing that they will not destroy us, we become in tune with the messages of our body, which are delivered through our emotions.

Geneen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God: an Unexpected Path to Almost Anything was recommended to me by a therapist and it spoke to my concerns about the constant weight struggle. Years ago (in college, in fact) I had read Feeding the Hungry Heart, back when I was first learning about how I had used food to numb my emotions. It was my first clue into why I struggled so much with food. But at that time, I learned the lesson academically, not through mindful work with my own experience.

Working with a therapist on some of the issues I had around commitment and vulnerability in relationships, I realized what I really was trying to avoid. I was trying not to be seen for who I was. I was trying not to show up as an angry, hurt or vulnerable, and trying to push down the reality of those feelings.

As I started fully awakening to the possibility that I would not always have to use food to calm my feelings, I began to use my awareness of when I wanted to eat, especially outside of mealtimes, and what that was telling me. When I went to the fridge prior to a uncomfortable 1:1 call I needed to make to a direct report, rather than eat, I took a moment to reflect and ask: what is making me uncomfortable, that I want to escape my emotions and eat instead? I started tuning into that thought stream and doing a “thought download” (handwritten journal entry) every time I felt that urge to eat,  to explore was was really going on in my head. It was no coincidence that I had been studying meditation for about a year before that, and starting to learn how to calm myself and observe my thought-stream without getting caught up in it.

When I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Love Warrior in December 2016 I felt as if she was speaking directly to me. I went on a vacation with my sweetie in Hawaii, where I was able to go to a wedding of two close friends from college, marrying each other after 20+ years of being a couple. I had lost about 12 pounds in the 4 months before that, and I brought a couple of books along to read on vacation. Glennon was putting in words things I had not yet even begin to understand, about my relationships, about my struggles with food and my fear of vulnerability. I must quote her because it is too good to paraphrase (from p 113 of her book):

We’ve spent our time together talking about everything but what matters. We’ve never brought each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life along. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt…At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Preach, my dear.

Dear Reader, it is now time for me to go to work again. I had thought this might be a 2-part series, but now it appears that it may have to extend it one more day. (Who was it who said: I could have made this letter shorter, but I ran out of time…?)  I still have not explored how yoga has helped bring me back into my body (and out of my head, where I tend to live). And this entry is far over a thousand words, which I think may be the limit for a concise and readable blog post. Do you have comments? Do you have feedback for me? Feel free to share anything you would like in the comments section below. Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote books. I have an Amazon affiliates account that may pay me something like a penny per book if you do end up clicking through my site to order something. But that is not the point of the links – I really just want to share some of the learning I have done and the teachers that have guided me along the way.