Stay in the game

spider_woman_fan_art_ultimate_alliance_game-anPe

I stepped out of the game last week. I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, and defeated. It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders.

I needed a break. I needed to hit the reset button. I needed a walk in nature, a chat with a friend, and a glass of wine.

I also needed to get still and sit with my suffering.

I was angry with the world last week. I was sad that people lost their lives in a random shooting in Thousand Oaks. I was overwhelmed by my students who were in various forms of crisis. I was horrified that homes and communities were on fire all over my state.

And inside my anger was fear. I was afraid for my own mental health, my own safety, my own family. I was afraid of what the world is becoming. I was afraid of change and loss.

I felt small, mortal, finite, and powerless. I felt uneasy and restless. I felt trapped like an animal and wanted to run away from this dark place. I felt empty.

As I sunk into deeper suffering, I listened for my inner voice. I tried to remain open, awake, present, and still – without anxiety. My inner voice is quiet and elusive, but it brings me closer to understanding, to love, and to peace.

When it spoke, my inner voice reminded me that we are in a game. We are all in the game together, but it’s just a game. We are all in the game having a human experience.

In the game, we experience wins and losses. We are transcending levels as we move through each challenge. We are given new tools, new powers, and new partners to defeat the evil forces. And, we get to play, create, build, and enjoy it.

There is a lot going on in the game, and there always has been. We can choose to sit it out in the corner, stay on the bench, and shut it down. Or, we can choose to play it, engage in it, move through it, and live it.

We cannot hold on to anything in this mortal world. When we do not understand this, we continue to suffer. Our first step to understanding is to stop running away from our suffering. We must give ourselves permission to sit with our suffering, and stop distracting ourselves from it. In the stillness, our inner voice will speak to us.

Our inner voice wants to connect with us. It knows that everything passes and nothing is permanent. It knows our true purpose. It wants us to play the game and enjoy it. It wants us to transcend the levels. It wants us to take risks and learn from our mistakes.

It also wants us to feel all the emotions that are part of the game. And when we understand that painful emotions are part of the game, we do not need to suffer from these emotions. Instead, we can accept them and live to play again another day.

Game on, my friend.

Advertisements

Bending Spoons

 

IMG_2171

A year ago I read a book by Martha Beck, and I knew I needed more…more of her, more of her tribe, more love, more freedom, and more peace. But I almost set the book down and turned away from it all because of one chapter. She described bending spoons, and that’s where she almost lost me. I went to my kitchen and said to myself “if this spoon doesn’t bend, I’m not in.” The spoon didn’t bend. I thought maybe it was all too woo woo for me. But I took a step in faith and I signed up for the Martha Beck Institute. This weekend I went to the Martha Beck retreat and they passed out the spoons. I didn’t bend a spoon at the retreat either. I felt like it might not happen. And then this morning while drinking my coffee, I dropped into a deep relaxed state and bent the spoon.

I share this because it’s a reminder that life is a journey. We don’t always get what we want when we want it. We sometimes do things we didn’t think were possible. And sometimes we have to take a leap of faith.

Creating Big Magic in Student Affairs: A Book Review

IMG_9889

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and a few interesting things happened to me. First, many passages resonated with me and I kept coming back to the book. Next, I found myself sharing her message with other people. And then, I started creating. Since reading the book, I have tapped into my creativity in multiple ways. I have written blog posts, created comedy scripts, produced projects at work, painted my house, and it goes on. So I thought I would  share her message with a few more people that I love in Student Affairs, and I offered a workshop on “Creating Big Magic in Student Affairs” at our division-wide staff development day.

What is Big Magic? Think of a time when you created or finished something…and thought, “That is gooooooooood.” It may have been an assignment you completed in school or a picture you drew. Maybe it was something you built or a food you cooked. Another way to describe Big Magic is that while you were doing something you felt it flow easily from you. Gilbert describes it like being on a conveyer belt in an airport…you are being propelled. The time passes quickly. Or you are in the zone.

Big Magic is about tapping into our creativity. EVERYONE IS CREATIVE. Creativity is important because it’s the way we show our unique selves to the world. We need it to be our true and authentic selves. YOUR CREATIVITY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE REVOLUTIONARY OR SERVE A PURPOSE. According to Gilbert, there are no “creative” and “non-creative” people. There are just people who use their creativity and those who don’t.

Some people think creativity is self-indulgent. For some of us it was shut down when we were children. But, if we don’t express our creativity, it can result in resentment, grief and heartbreak. Brene Brown’s research shows 85% of people remembered an event in school that was so shaming that it changed how they thought about themselves for the rest of their lives, and 50% of those shaming events were around creativity, i.e. told they can’t sing, you’re a bad artist, your writing is terrible.

Here are the six principles I took away from Gilbert’s book:

  1. Acknowledge fear but don’t let it drive you. Gilbert says fear and creativity are like conjoined twins. This is why we cannot kill off, deny or avoid fear. Instead, we need to thank it for doing its job (which is to keep us alive) but then recognize that creativity is not (99% of the time) going to kill us. We must make space for fear – Gilbert describes going on a road trip with creativity and fear. Both are invited on the trip, but fear is not allowed to drive. Our fear can manifest itself in excuses, guilt (mom guilt), procrastination, and perfectionism. And it can prevent us from taking the leap towards creativity. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF IT HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION TO BE CREATIVE.
  2. Be open to ideas. IDEAS ARE LOOKING FOR HOSTS. That which we are seeking is seeking us. When we are relaxed enough to notice and receive clues, information, and connections, then ideas will come to us. When we let our defenses down and ease our anxiety, creativity will come to us. When we are open, we can receive the physical and emotional signals of inspiration (chills on your arm, hair standing up on your neck, feeling like you’re falling in love). When you’re about to have a big idea, there will be coincidences, signs, everything will remind you of the idea, you may wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it (like I did with my comedy script).
  3. Become partners with your idea. When an idea finds us (because it is chasing us, we are not chasing our ideas), we have the choice to join up with it or let it go. Our creative inspiration can also be called our GENIUS. Gilbert makes the distinction between HAVING A GENIUS VS. BEING A GENIUS. Gilbert describes how the Greeks and Romans both believed in an eternal spirit of creativity – like a house elf from Harry Potter, who lives inside your house and sometimes assists you. The Romans called this your “genius.”
  4. Work hard. This may seem self explanatory, but when it comes to creativity working hard is also about being creative even when you don’t feel inspired. Gilbert emphasizes that our inspiration doesn’t owe us anything. She doesn’t romanticizing quitting your day job and running off to open a night club or kayak shack. She says if we decide to take a leap of faith it should be for the ride not the landing, because we can never guarantee the landing. She also says every creative endeavor has the bits we don’t enjoy. So if you want to pursue something you must choose a pursuit that you enjoy so much that you’re willing to put up with the unpleasant parts. She asks, what do you want to do? What would you do even if you failed? What do you want to do because doing nothing is unacceptable? We must also be patient and compassionate with ourselves when we engage in creative work. People don’t stop being creative because of lack of discipline or willpower. They often stop because of disappointment or judgement. Getting back to work requires forgiving ourselves and having empathy for ourselves.
  5. Be courageous. Gilbert says, “Your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here. That’s what we all want for ourselves.” She says, “You have hidden treasures in you – everyone does – and bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion.” I strongly believe that statement. Many years ago I created a presentation on time management. The whole reason I created it was because my mom was diagnosed with kidney failure. I wanted to make the most of my time with my family from that day forwarded, and I then I wanted to share that message with everyone. Because life is precious. And we don’t have time to wait.
  6. Channel your inner trickster. SUFFERING IS NOT A PREREQUISITE. Elizabeth talks about the martyr vs. the trickster. There are many artists and writers who are martyrs. In academia there are many martyrs who feel we must suffer and labor, putting in miserably long hours to get published or tenured. Maybe some of us feel like martyrs in our jobs in Student Affairs. The trickster is the opposite of the martyr.

In conclusion, these are the major themes of her book:

  • Everyone is creative
  • Your creativity does not have to be revolutionary or serve a purpose
  • It doesn’t matter if it has been done before
  • You don’t need permission to be creative
  • Ideas are looking for hosts
  • Having a genius vs. being a genius
  • Suffering is not a prerequisite

Try this activity to tap into your creativity:

Fold a piece of paper into four squares.

In the first square, answer the following questions: What do you love to create? What are you curious about? How do you express yourself? What kind of maker are you? What’s worth doing even if you fail?

In the second square,  name any fears or barriers (or guilt) that may keep you from pursuing this interest. Acknowledge them. Thank them and invite them along for the ride but tell them they will not be driving.

In the third square, answer the following questions: What does curiosity want you to do? What would it say to you?

In the fourth square, name one small idea you have for creating what you want to create. Give yourself a deadline.

2017-03-15 04.45.33

 

Experience more happiness

Download-myself-project-02

It’s tempting to feel disappointment when things don’t go our way. It could be work, a relationship, or financial, but when we experience bad luck or unfair treatment it can feel debilitating. However, our perception of these situations is largely shaped by our circumstances and expectations.

There are two great stories that demonstrate how a situation can be perceived as both good or bad.

This is a Jewish folktale.

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went. 

The rabbi greeted him and said, “I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.” 

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.” 

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?” 

“I promise,” the poor man said. 

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?” 

“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.” 

“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.” 

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house. 

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!” 

The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.” 

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”

Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  How unfortunate you are!. You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral. 

Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck.  “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg.  One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune.  “Oh, what a tragedy!  Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad”.  they said.  Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg.  “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!”

Last night, I read the story of The Farmer’s Luck with my daughter. I asked her to think of bad things that have happened which turned out to be good. It took her a while to think of something, but after a few minutes she was able to quickly think of several examples. When she split her chin open and got stitches, she learned how to stay calm and that stitches weren’t so scary. When she was stung by wasps, she felt she secured her status as a real cowgirl (don’t ask me what that means). When a boy at school made fun of her and her girlfriends, they stuck together and formed a cheerleading club. Often our bad luck can lead us to something better.

I can think of my own examples as well. When I was scheduled to return from my maternity leave and broke my foot, I suddenly had six more months to spend at home with my daughter. When I was furloughed due to state budget cuts, I was able to use the much needed time to work on my dissertation. When I was overwhelmed with a sexual assault investigation and then fell sick with pneumonia, I returned to work feeling grateful to have my health and be able to finish the investigation.

Growing up, my mom used to tell me, “Que sera, sera.” It was a way of saying “accept it.” There are things beyond our control (other people’s actions, budget cuts, the weather, the shape of our bodies), which can cause us frustration and anger. But, refusing to accept what is keeps us stuck in the past and prevents us from experiencing happiness in the present.

Often our interpretation of the situation is the cause of our pain and suffering. The problem we assign to the situation is the story we create – “I have lost all my independence because I’m injured,” “I will not be able to pay my bills,” “I can’t get all my work done.” These were the worries and fears which caused me disappointment, frustration, and anger. One way to eliminate suffering is to reframe the problem by asking if the story could possibly be the opposite. Is it possible that I could remain independent even though I’m injured? Is it possible that I could pay all my bills? Is it possible that I could get it all done? Often, the answer is yes!

Therefore, we can reduce our pain and experience more happiness by:

  • Acknowledging that our circumstances and expectations shape our interpretation of situations
  • Adapting our interpretation to recognize that bad and good are relative
  • Practicing acceptance of what is
  • Reframing our interpretation of the problem

8 Things to Do While You Wait

GirlWaiting

“Everything is hard before it is easy.” – Goethe

Over a lifetime we will wait for many things – a vacation, a resolution or verdict, the perfect shot, the arrival of a baby, the homecoming of a loved one, a job opening, and sometimes things that are less pleasant. Waiting can bring excitement, uncertainty, fear, and hope. Whether we are waiting with optimism or anxiety, waiting can be difficult.

How can we make waiting easier?

1. Breathe.

When waiting makes us feel overwhelmed or anxious, breathing can relax us. Deep breaths help slow the heart rate, calm the nerves, and lead us to clearer thinking.

2. Prepare.

Get busy preparing yourself – get in shape, get educated, or get organized. Preparation will increase the chance of a successful outcome when the waiting is over.

3. Let go.

Identify what is in your control, and let go of everything else. Things within our control include our attitudes, words, and behaviors. Things out of our control include airline schedules, weather, other people’s opinions, acts of nature, and a whole lot of other stuff. Don’t spend your time and energy on what you cannot control.

4. Live fully.

Don’t waste your time. Keep living your life. Say yes to social invitations, take risks, and try new things.

5. Stay positive.

When we are waiting, we are vulnerable to fear and doubt. The future is full of uncertainty, but it is also full of potential. Being positive is a choice.

6. Be grateful.

When we have our sights set on the future, it’s easy to forget how great things are in the present. Take a moment to count your blessings.

7. Do your best.

The game of life is won one point at a time. Focus on the shot that can be taken in the present moment.

8. Find community.

Surround yourself with encouraging and supportive people. Whether you have a formal or informal support system, your friends and family can help you stay positive and focused during a challenging waiting period.

Image Steve Slater

10 Tips for Getting It All Done

gettingI_it_done

I recently revisited some of my old blog posts and found this gem. I have been a hobby blogger for the past seven years, and when I first started blogging I wrote a lot about balancing my personal and professional life. Although my days are filled with different responsibilities now, I still find these tips extremely useful!

The past twelve months have been extremely busy. At the height of it all, I was working full time, preparing for a baby, writing my dissertation, serving as a committee chair for the local United Way, and running a side business. How do you do it all – balance home and work while finding meaning in modern life?

Here are ten tips for getting it all done and feeling fulfilled at the end of the day:

1. Set small goals. Most of my commitments are part of a larger long-term goal, such as finishing graduate school. It these cases, it can take a long time to reach success. Instead of measuring success by the completion of my degree, I set goals each quarter to work on my assignments each week. By setting small goals, you can benefit from achieving success more quickly.

2. Build self-efficacy. When I achieve a small goal, I am motivated to work towards another goal because it reinforces my belief that my actions can lead to positive results. This is in effect building self-efficacy – the belief that our actions have certain consequences. Remind yourself of your achievements. Research tells us that people who believe they can accomplish a goal are more likely to achieve that goal.

3. Write it down. I don’t know about you, but ideas and thoughts swim in my head all day, and every once in a while I have to “unload” my brain. Writing things down allows us to focus our attention on the important things, rather than spending energy remembering a thousand little things. By writing down everything that’s on your mind, you’ll also be able to group similar items (just like when you file papers). You may find that some items can be accomplished simultaneously.

4. Nurture your relationships. I have all my girlfriends on speed dial. If I’m having a bad day or need someone to give me an “atta girl,” I call up a friend. Relationships are like our emotional armor – they protect us from disappointment, fear, loneliness, and set-backs. Medical researchers have found that those who have friends tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer than those who do not.

5. Work it out. A few years ago, I was talking to my physician about all the stress in my life – her prescription? Exercise. In our modern world, we sit at desks, talk on the phone, and type on our keyboards all day. There is no outlet for our natural fight or flight responses to deal with stress. Over time, either days or weeks, the stimulus we take in begins to accumulate. Exercise is a natural stress reliever and a mood enhancer.

6. Schedule the “big stuff”. The best analogy for this comes from Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If your time is analogous to a bottle, and you first fill your bottle with small rocks and sand then there is no room for the “big rocks.” However, if you first fill your bottle with “big rocks,” then the small rocks and sand will fit in between the cracks. Covey’s message is to schedule the important stuff first – a date with your spouse, a phone call to your best friend, a workout, a massage, etc. Otherwise, these things won’t fit into your schedule.

7. Be grateful. No one can do it all alone. It takes many people to achieve a great accomplishment. Acknowledge the contributions of others to your own successes and show gratitude. Gratitude has many benefits as well, scientific evidence indicates that grateful people feel more inclined to share, and that gratitude is linked to optimism, better health, and positive social interactions. New research tells us what philosophers and religion have told us for thousands of years – being thankful can increase our overall happiness.

8. Be patient. When I have back to back meetings, a looming deadline, and I’m trying to catch the last bus home, it’s easy to lose my patience. In this modern world, we often find ourselves in long lines, traffic jams, and put on hold. However, without patience, we are left annoyed, frustrated, irritated, and angry. When you lose your patience, remember to be grateful. Count your blessings – you have a job to provide for your family and a house to call home.

9. Enjoy the moment. With a packed schedule, I have made the mistake of thinking my “to do” list is only temporary – that once I get through it I can enjoy life, my family, my vacation. There will always be items on your list – phone calls to make, cards to write, projects to finish. It’s part of being alive! John Lennon once said, “Life is what’s happening when we’re making other plans.” If you wait until you have checked all the items off your “to do” list, you’ll miss everything!

10. Learn to live with imperfection. Whether you have many or few commitments, no one gets it right all the time. The need for perfection turns our attention to what’s wrong with something and leaves us feeling dissatisfied. This is not to say don’t do your best, but rather try not to be overly attached and focused on how things could be different. Remember what they call the guy who finished last in his class in medical school – Doctor.

There’s one more item not included in this list, but of great importance – Keep your sense of humor!

5 Strategies for Dealing with Disappointment

Flikr_Road

This weekend I watched my sister perform in the musical “Into the Woods.” And she did a great job, by the way! In the story, the woods is where the action happens – challenges, lessons, temptation, and loss.

I work with a lot of students who are in the woods. They are struggling with a challenge or disappointment and trying to navigate their way through it. Almost daily I find myself reminding students and parents that there are many paths to success.

Disappointment can come in many forms – low grades, loss of employment, ending of a relationship. We don’t always get the life we planned – and even when we do, it’s not always the way we expected it to be.

Here are 5 strategies for dealing with disappointment:

1. Don’t take it personally. This is not to say it doesn’t hurt. Rejection, criticism, and disappointment can be painful. It’s ok to be sad, upset, or angry. But don’t let your ego get you stuck there. Our ego tells us everything is personal, but many of life’s disappointments are not about us but rather about the way someone else sees the world.

2. Try again. The way you respond to rejection is a choice you make about who you want to be. You may be steps away from victory, but if you give up now you will never know. Let your disappointment fuel your creativity and drive. Focus on your strengths and look for opportunities to take another chance.

3. Be flexible.Disappointment is the result of reality not meeting our expectations. When we allow our expectations to be flexible, we create more possible acceptable outcomes. Look for another path that may lead in the same direction. Think of rejection as redirection.

4. Remember you are not alone. If you have been rejected, you are in good company. Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, and Marilyn Monroe were no strangers to rejection. If you aren’t getting rejected, you aren’t taking enough risks.

5. Have an awesome backup plan. We don’t always have control over getting what we want in life – having a baby, getting a job, meeting someone special – but there are still plenty of great options that are within our control. If plan A doesn’t work out, what is something awesome you can do that is within your control? Invest your time, money, and energy into yourself – plan a vacation, pamper yourself, or pick up a new hobby.

Image by Nicolas Raymond