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Label-Makers vs Change-Makers

I dread that question — the question that leaves you with a label.  The question that for whatever reason leaves the questioner sizing you up in a way that misses the essence of who you are.  You know that question?  

My Identity is on the line. The chore of taking someone day by day through years, experiences, moments of triumph and agonies of defeat in order to understand that label doesn’t fit me feels too daunting.  So I don’t.  I don’t make myself known.  I don’t choose to step in.  I don’t work at real relationship.  I leave the label in tact and find myself unknown.

Our choice to accept the disconnect often feeds more disconnect.  Humans long for connection.  Connection is at the center of our design.   When you actually see me — no assumptions, no accusations, no misunderstandings — it’s invigorating, energizing, confirming.  It’s not difficult to confirm each other’s worth but for some reason we’re not in that habit.

Labels are quicker, easier, save us time and allow us to put people in nice, neat categories.  You probably recognize that you don’t fit in a nice, neat category.  Neither does anyone else.   

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Last week, I sat around the table with some friends who purposely took some time to affirm a comrade. We highlighted qualities and characteristics in her that impacted us — not because she was in a bad place and needed encouragement, not because she was feeling fragile and we wanted to prop her up, not because she was focused on her weaknesses and we wanted to promote her strengths — just because.  Being at the table, affirming a friend took all of us to a new level of connection, even though only one of us was being affirmed.  Looking for the strengths, the positive impact, the value another person brings and verbalizing it to them elevates everyone.  

As change-makers, let’s stop letting the labels stick and start looking for the value every person we meet brings to the table. What would that look like for you?  What are the tangible steps you could take this week to turn the tables? 

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STUCK

Last week, my sister and I made plans to clean the pergola covering my parent’s back porch.  It is a cream color and gets covered in grime. Every year there have been three or four of us come together to tackle the job. This time, there was just the two of us — myself and my sister.  In the past, someone (never me) went up on the roof and sprayed a cleaning solution on the top of the pergola. It seemed like an important step.

I grabbed the big aluminum ladder on the side of the house, carried it to the back yard, set it as close as possible to the roof line.  There are many obstacles to getting a ladder up against the house in the back yard.  I climbed the ladder, moved down the roof line and perched next to the pergola. The hose and bottle of solution hoisted to me, the solution sprayed, then rinsed.  The bottle refilled.  The solutions sprayed, rinsed, repeat.  Back to the ladder I go.  

Everything has gone just fine until I attempted to get back to the ladder — reaching the ladder from the roof was different from reaching the roof from the ladder.  Due to the raised flower beds, the ladder was a distance from the roof.  Now, halfway on the roof and halfway off, I cannot squarely place my feet on the ladder.  By this time my hiking boots are wet, the ladder rungs are damp, everything feels slippery. Wobbly, wet, way far away.  As I hung off the roof reaching for the ladder with my feet, I knew there was no positive ending to this dismount.  

After some hanging and a boat loud of laughter from my sister (don’t worry, I’m used to it), I hoisted myself back up onto the roof and tried to think.  My sister moved the ladder to the porch where it could sit on solid concrete.  All I had to do was swing myself around the edge of the pergola to make contact with the ladder. Anyone taller than 5 feet 3 inches could do it.  Did I mention I’m 5’3”? Some say 5’ 2-1/2”   Again, I attempted.  Again, I hung half on the pergola and half off but was unable to connect solidly with the ladder.  Again, there was excessive cackling from below.  I’m without a doubt stuck.  

I’ve done the work to get here.  I’ve done the work required while I was here but I cannot seem to move on from here.  

There is one way, short of calling the fire department, for me to get unstuck. I have known of it all along, just never planned on taking this route.  If I climb to the peak of the roof and move half way down the other side, I can drop myself down onto a much lower roof above the shop.  The ladder can be placed on the concrete outside the shop door and I can dismount with ease.  (Let me emphasize, we have long since passed ease!)  The climb to the peak of the roof was something I wanted to avoid.  After the failed dismount attempts, excessive analyzing, and the consideration of just making a home on the roof, I’m crawling like a cat to the peak.  I lay my body flat across the peak (yes, my sister is doubled over with laughter, completely unfit for relocating the ladder), swing my legs over to the other side, begin to descend, again like a cat but without the grace.  

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Later that day I was thinking about how we get stuck in life — in a job we don’t like, an organization that isn’t effective, a routine that’s not helpful, a dysfunction that’s destructive, a pattern that no longer serves, a reaction that brings no benefit.  

We try several things to get unstuck.  Until finally, we resign ourselves to this "stuckness" knowing all along there is a way to get unstuck but we’re just not willing to go higher.  Imagine the absurdity of living on the roof because the first two ways you attempted to get down didn’t work.  So often, we’re not willing to face the fear or push the envelope or challenge the obvious.  We simply settle for STUCK, like it’s a geographical location.  

Where are you stuck?
What are you pretending you don’t know?
What action step is required for you to take the higher route?

Growth is painful, change is painful but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.
— Mandy Hale

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A Women Worth Knowing, Part 2

Rachel Carson, among the earliest female scientist, discovered she was designed to take scientific material and translate it into understandable writing that peaked the interest of the non-scientific mind.  Her early life is reviewed in A Women Worth Knowing, Part 1.  In 1937, Undersea, an article Carson wrote for Atlantic Monthly, drew lots of attention.  The editor wrote to her, “The findings of science you have illuminated in such a way as to fire the imagination of the layman.”

On the heels of this article, a publisher commissioned  Carson to write a book, Under the Sea -Wind.  It created quit a buzz. Scientific experts and literary critics loved it.  Weeks after publication, Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor.  The nations’s attention turned to war.  All book sales slowed dramatically.  An excellent piece of science and literature lay unread — a true disappointment to Rachel.  A decade later in the summer of 1951, The Sea Around Us hit the bookstores.  The result: New York Times bestseller list for eighty-six weeks, thirty-two weeks at number one.  

After The Sea Around Us, a steady income from book royalties enabled Carson to resign from her job and start a new project.  Her responsibilities as chief caretaker and provider for her extended families never waned.  Only now, she navigates her own health issues.  Her new book released at the end of 1955, The Edge of the Sea, landed on the New York Times bestseller list for a season and brought her a couple of awards.  Despite the fame, Rachel’s household (consisted of her ailing mother, her niece, Marjorie, and Marjorie’s young son, Roger) took center stage.  Marjorie was hospitalized in January 1957 and died a few days later.  Rachel was now the guardian of a preschooler.  

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The rumbling of controversies surrounding synthetic pesticides broke out across the nation and Rachel decided to focus her research in this direction.  By mid-1958, her mother and life-long encourager passed away.  Alone but propelled by the sense that her research on pesticide was to be her most important work, she concentrated on a connection between human exposure to pesticides and cancer incidences.  With the help of two assistants and a network of professionals, her research was gaining momentum. In Spring 1960, Carson wrestled with a number of serious medical conditions, chief among them — metastasizing cancer.  Radiation brought with it rheumatoid arthritis and temporary blindness.  She kept her health issues private, fearing her critics might question the objectivity of her work.

After extensive research, Carson knew that acute contact with DDT and other similar compounds caused potential fatal damage to major organs.  Her book Silent Spring, published in 1962, sounded the alarm.  Just before publication, Carson’s doctor uncovered that her cancer had spread.  The next round of radiation beat her up so much that she kept her public appearances to a minimum.  As her book and research broke, American’s were outraged to learn the dangers to which they’d been exposed.  Her work forced the government to do their own research.  Public outcry pushed for reform.  Carson was called to testify before Congressional committees.  April 14, 1963 she died at the age of 56 leaving the earth a better place.  

For the last decade of her life, Carson worked without the backing of an institution.  Even though she was reserved and soft-spoken, Carson intentionally spoke out on a huge controversial issue.  As she gave voice to her cause, she did more than identify critical problems and potential solutions, she pointed us to a path of awareness and action cautioning that we go with humility and wisdom.  

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
— Mother Teresa

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The Power of Engaging

This is such a rich story about how she was trained to hate.  Most of us don’t think we were trained to hate and we probably haven’t displayed our hate in the same way but our thinking might be just as faulty.

 

What would it look like for us to have conversation with people who don’t make sense to us and really attempt to understand, even when we don’t agree?  Letting go of harsh judgement for understanding is the only way to get where we want to go -- goodness, health, peace . . .

Megan's experience, "They approached me with pointed questions, tempered with kindness and humor.  They approached me as a human being and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence."

"The end of this spiral of rage and blame begins with one person who refuses to indulge these destructive, seductive impulses.  We have to decide it will start with us."

 

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The Overflow

There is one line in a piece of ancient writing you’ve likely heard quoted, “my cup runneth over.”  You may not have afternoon tea in your world but if you did, it’s not likely that you would want your cup to be filled to overflowing.  That’s just not proper etiquette. Because I’m curious about words, I did a little research on this idea of running over or overflowing.  In the original language, it’s the word saturated.     

Across a large part of Texas in February, we experienced rain and more rain.  The ground was fully saturated and then we had a full day of even more rain.  I live in a home that backs up to a a sweet little golf course pond.  When the pond gets full, there is a spillway that carries the over flow into a creek just a few yards away.  On this particular day, the pond was full, the spillway was carrying water as fast as it could into the creek, and the creek was directing the run off into the nearest river.  At the same time, the rivers we’re filling the lakes and reservoirs all over the area.  The rain continued and for a few hours the golf course flooded as it waited for all the canals to catch up with the rate at which rain was coming down.  

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Saturated.  Things were saturated that day and as a result everyone benefited, not just the pond.  The creeks were filled, the rivers were filled, the underground reservoirs were filled, the lakes were filled.  

As I was looking at this poem King David wrote a lifetime ago, it struck me that a cup that overflows, overflows for the good of everyone else.  That’s not a statement that reflects how great our life is, although that’s typically how we use it.  It’s a statement that reflects how much we are impacting, improving, investing, and pouring into the lives of others.  

It’s just a little different perspective on a very familiar phrase.  Where’s the overflow of your life going?  Who is benefiting from it?

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A Women Worth Knowing, Part 1

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to remind us all of Rachel Carson, born in 1907 to a traveling salesman and a piano teacher, grew up on a small farm that nurtured her special admiration for nature.  Her mother, a former school teacher, introduced her to great literature, as well as a love for the outdoors.  Rachel was the only one in her family to graduate from high school.  Her enrollment in a four year college brought additional financial hardship to an already strapped household.  China was sold.  Acreage was liquidated.  More piano students were recruited.  Four years later, with a degree in Biology and a flare for writing, Rachel was admitted to a PhD program on full scholarship.  

As her families financial situation worsened and her father’s health deteriorated, Rachel moved her family in with her — her aging parents, her two adult siblings and her sister’s two daughters.  At the beginning of the Great Depression, her brother and sister struggled to find employment, leaving Rachel as the primary provider.  She cut her course work in half and took a job as a lab assistant.  

In 1932, at the age of 25, Rachel was awarded her Master’s degree in zoology at a time when women were not represented among scientist.  As she moved toward her doctorate, she continued to financially support her extended household.  About the time Rachel’s sister was diagnosed with diabetes, Rachel’s brother decided to move out taking his small but meaningful income with him.  Rachel withdrew from school to find a full time job.  Months and months of searching turned up nothing.  

 Rachel Carson's 1928 Yearbook Portrait - Pennsylvania College for Women

Rachel Carson's 1928 Yearbook Portrait - Pennsylvania College for Women

A year and a half after her sister’s diagnosis, her father died of an heart attack.  She still did not have full time employment. Two days a week she wrote a script for a government educational radio program about the sea.  The success of the program prompted her to try the same thing for the general public —translating scientific material into comprehensible and interesting material for the nonscientific reader.  She was published in magazines and newspapers which brought her many accolades. This, as it would later be revealed, was what Rachel was designed for — translating scientific material to the general public. In June 1936, she was the second women to be hired by the Bureau of Fisheries as a full time scientist.  

This is only the beginning of Rachel’s story but we can already so many moments when she must have felt overwhelmed, frustrated, disappointed. She never resigned herself to settle for what her emotions were dictating.  She continued to press forward and when she did, she stumbled upon a way in which she would forever change the world.  (Keep watching the blog for more of her story.)  

Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.
— Ann Patchett

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The Pull of the Mundane

People feel stuck — want something more.  They even see a vague path to get there (wherever there is?) but something holds them tight to where they are.  

I recently changed my morning routine in order to grab three uninterrupted hours — moments to work on thought projects before the world awakes.  What a glorious idea!  Did I mention, I’m not a morning person? Day One of this new routine, I awoke at 5:00, did great work, went back to bed at 7:30.  I have never found morning warm and fuzzy.  The benefits that come from these hours of solitude are clear. I’ve already experienced great progress as a result of this change in my routine.  Unfortunately, my body begins to rebel loudly at about 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening.  The rebellion is so intense that daily I consider going back to my former routine.  Why?  Why would I go back when I’m seeing good results?  Shockingly, it takes every ounce of strength to not go back.  

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We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic. Our brain creates neural pathways from repetitive thoughts and behavior in order to make life easier.  Retraining our brain requires real work, work that is uncomfortable.  Psychologist tell us that our reaction to change starts with denial, moves to anger, crosses over to confusion, then dips into depression before it feels like a crisis.  After all that we then move into acceptance, followed by new confidence.  If there are that many stages before we arrive at acceptance, no wonder change only comes with intentionality.  I want the benefits of the change without disruption.  

While we are creatures of habit, we are also creatures of comfort.  It’s just plain uncomfortable to change something you’ve done for years.  Discomfort is typically a signal to retreat, go back, change course.  Like me, you may have to decide that you are willing to be uncomfortable to have the results that you want.  

What are you doing to get un-stuck?

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How's your Vision?

In Wonderland, Alice encounters a fork in the road.  She’s lost.  When she sees a feline with a big smile looking down on her, she asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the grinning cat replies.

“I don’t much care where,“ Alice responds.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” the Cheshire cat answers.

Vision sheds light on both who you are and where you are going.  Most of us move through life without a vision of where we want to go.  Vision will map out the road ahead, as well as clarify where we are going to end up.  

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Writing out a vision for your life doesn’t mean it will turn out exactly as planned.  Taking time to examine the depths of our heart and make plans that propel us in that direction is time well spent.  Most of us operate under the belief that we’ll get to the more important stuff tomorrow, next year, in the slow season.  But the slow season never comes.  We’re either going to be proactive or reactive today, this month, this year.  

Take some time to think about your future.  Identify the areas in your life that are most important to you — Community, Relationships, Career, Finances, Faith, etc — and write out a vision for each of those areas.  A simple example, if you want a deep connection with your children as adults, thinking through what that looks like helps you decide what you need to do daily, weekly, quarterly, annually for the next 10 years, in order to get there.  Crafting a solid vision of your future is both logical and emotional.    

Vision evolves. It needs to be reviewed, updated, revised. Work on your own clearly envisioned future until it compels your heart. Avoid being like Alice on the road to I-don’t-much-care.  

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Who Wants to Fail?

Nick Foles, an NFL quarterback, was not having much of a career.  In fact, he was contemplating quitting.  Less than three years ago he was traded by the Eagles — they didn’t want him.  He had a mediocre season with the Cardinals and asked to be released from his contract.  They gladly obliged.  Then played in Kansas City for a short season, and returned to the Philadelphia Eagles as a back up quarterback. A backup quarterback is only needed when the quarterback gets hurt, but he never does. Not much success or glory there.  

When the Eagles bright, young starting quarterback injured his knee, Foles walked on the field.  Having been cut from this team less than three years earlier, not experiencing any real success anywhere else, and contemplating leaving his NFL career, Foles walks onto the field.  Who’s feeling good about this?  

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There is no reason any of us would believe this is going to end well.  And yet, Foles carries his team to the Super Bowl, wins it, and becomes the Most Valuable Player of the game.  In an interview with NBC Sport, Foles says,

I think the big thing is don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a part of life. It’s a part of building character and growing. Without failure, who would you be? I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times. Made mistakes.

He came.

He failed.

He got back up.

He failed.

He worked hard.

He failed.

He was only ready when the opportunity came because failure had forced him to practice often, forged tenacity, and enlarged his capacity.

“If something’s going on in your life and you’re struggling? Embrace it. Because you’re growing.”  ~ Nick Foles

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Collaberation is like Entertaining Angels

You’ve heard me say I don’t consider myself a creative but what I really mean is I don’t create with art supplies.  All of us have creativity within us. Often times creativity comes in the form of problem solving or wordsmithing or idea generating.  Not all creativity hangs on a wall.  

This past week I had the rare opportunity to be in the presence of some great creative minds.  They offered me their time and generated idea after idea.  I’d ask a question, the gears in their minds churned out marvelous, wild, and moving ideas.  It was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.  

It’s humbling to recognize how desperately I needed their creative minds in order to move forward on my project.  And, at the same time, it was so comforting to be on the receiving end of their generosity and enthusiasm.  We may be able to go faster alone, but we won’t go far.  In other words, if you can do it alone, you’re not working on a big enough project.  

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In the ancient Middle East, there existed a code of hospitality in the desert.  These hospitality customs were a vital part of the culture — even sacred.  The arid, desert land is harsh.  Travelers need access to water while the settlers need protection.  Strict codes of conduct developed to govern these encounters between travelers and settlers.  Bedouins (desert dwellers who lived in tents as they followed the grazing of their herds) were obligated to provide for travelers that stopped at their tents and could expect of the travelers protection from any hostile action.  The host provided food, water and shelter — a place to wash their feet and rest.  The traveler was expected to accept what the host offered.  To refuse was an insult that only an enemy would inflict.  The entire code of hospitality in this ancient world was so strong it evoked a warning, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unaware.”  

As I reflected on my time with people who freely offered me their ideas (food for my project), I saw how this collaboration (code of hospitality) benefited both of us.  They used their gift of creativity, I provided a place their gifts were needed, valued, and protected.  I used to think collaboration meant finding a business partner, or hiring more help, or at the very least, it required people who were working for the same company.  This experience shifted my understanding.  Hearing the desert code of hospitality helped me tie it all together.  It’s sacred to give what you have to those who need, value, and protect it.  

Who are you collaborating with?  How can you begin to operate in the desert code of hospitality?

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Misunderstood? No Way!

Everyone does life from a little different perspective.  Just like we all have unique fingerprints or hair follicles, we all see things from our unique vantage point.  As a result, we communicate with each other from our perspective.  It seems so clear and obvious to us when we say it.  It’s unbelievably surprising when we realize that someone has misunderstood us.  In fact, we are so deeply entrenched in our perspective that it is difficult to even uncover that someone else has misunderstood us.  

I found myself consistently angry with a boss I had for a couple of years until I realized that I misunderstood him.  I finally wrote myself a note in big red letters, “If it doesn’t sound like a good plan, if you feel angry about it, you have misunderstood him.”  I went into every staff meeting with this note in front of me, so that I would not react to whatever he had communicated.  His perspective was different than mine and I was having trouble seeing things from his perspective.  

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When we understand other people’s perspective, we are better equipped to communicate well with them.  I have a friend who is detail-oriented, logical, reserved and has a high need to be accurate. (By the way, she’s a bookkeeper.  That style of hers is a perfect match for keeping the spreadsheets organized.)  Her biggest fear is being wrong.  Disorganization stresses her out in a big way.  When she is dealing with someone who is enthusiastic, talkative, all about people — not the task, she cannot expect facts and she needs to find a way to be encouraging.  No one perspective is better than the other, they’re just different.  When an outspoken, competitive, quick action, strong-willed boss, who needs control and fears being taken advantage of communicates to a friendly, sympathetic, agreeable, considerate, listening employee, what could go wrong?  Right?  The more we can understand those four different styles I just described, the more communication will flow with ease.  

As we begin to think about the other person’s perspective, their fears, their needs, the things that stress them, we will have the insight we need to communicate in a way that makes sense to them.  If you’d like more help with this, contact me at michele@lifebydesign.guru.

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Push Pause, Not Repeat

I like to end the holiday break with 1000 pieces of 1/2" by 1/2" cardboard lying on the dining room table calling my name.  The challenge of fitting oddly shaped pieces together into a work of art is the kind of demand my heart loves to indulge.  I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone.  This year, I tackled a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  Most 1000 piece puzzles are slapped together in a weekend.  Perhaps 2000 pieces will take two.  Not so fast.  This delightful snowing scene where the sky and snow covered ground use the same shades and the pieces are very nearly all the same shape has thrown me a curve ball.  What used to be a thrill and even a race, is starting to feel laborious. The old way of getting it done is not working.  The back up systems I resort to when it’s getting difficult are not bringing it together.  And yet, I continue to stand there doing the same thing in the same way.  The only difference, I feel frustration instead of delight.  

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When we keep doing it the same old way, we keep getting the same old results.  It may sound like, "Credit card debt like this is normal."  "You can’t control teenagers these days."  "I have to work these long hours to get ahead."  "I need these to help me relax." Moving forward involves finding out why things aren’t working and discovering new ways to approach it.

When my extended family got together to celebrate Christmas, we played a raucous game of charades.  My very talkative niece kept repeating the same gesture to her team until her brother-in-law said, “That’s not working, we’re not getting it.  Move on to something else.”  And then she repeated it a few more times.  We love to do what we know isn’t working.  Maybe we think something even worse will happen if we stop our current action.  Stopping the repeating cycles and the recurring hang ups, starts with simply looking at the obstacle in a different light.

What do you need to push pause on instead of repeat?

Fresh Start

The smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven is undeniably the best aroma ever.  Fresh flowers sitting on the dining room table always bring a smile.  Fresh ideas can be incredibly energizing.  What we all love about the new year is it gives us a place to start fresh.  

This year I’m going to be intentional about allowing freshness into my life.  Fresh bread takes some work, it doesn’t just happen.  Turning the calendar year over doesn’t guarantee a fresh start.  It does provide an opportunity for something fresh.  A few things I am going to do this year to keep my life fresh.

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Look for Adventure — Find things that move me out of my comfort zone.  I’ve decided that 2018 is going to be my most adventures year yet.  What ideas do you have for me?  Going for the adventure invites new experiences.

Accept Change — Recognizing that change is good because it brings growth is a great way to step into a new year.  I’m the kind of person that drives the same car until the wheels fall off, never re-arranges the furniture and works for the same place for a couple of decades.  Change has never been my favorite but I’m learning to re-frame the way I look at change and see it as an opportunity.  Change keeps things fresh.

De-clutter — There is just something about getting the closet cleaned out or the junk drawer organized or the garage orderly that helps us make space in our world and mind. Go ahead and take the plunge, de-cluttering opens up new territory.  

Connect with new people — Friends are a human necessity.  Even if you have plenty, go find one more. If you feel like you don’t have enough, go find three more. New people in our lives bring fresh perspective.  It’s good to be around people who see things differently.  I’m very intentional about this one and am looking forward to the new relationships I will develop in 2018.  

Laugh often — So much of what is required of us is serious business — raising children, managing finances, investing in a career, serving the people around us.  With all this responsibility, we sometimes forget to laugh.  This Christmas break, my extended family got together and laughed raucously.  It was a blast to laugh and to be in the presence of people full of laughter.  Let’s do more of that this year.

Here’s to 2018!

The Essence of Christmas

Last night, I watched Josh Groban’s A Home for the Holidays special.  Throughout the hour of music, families who’ve adopted children were featured.  As each family was introduced my heart swelled with their story of love.  Many of the children being adopted were close to aging out of the foster-care system.  One girl expressed how her time was running out and what it felt like to be chosen.  Her parents talked about how closed off she was when she first came to their home.  They worked hard at connecting with her and breaking through to her.  She sat in front of the interviewer and cried as she explained what it was like to be loved for the first time.  Her story, and the story of all the families, pushed me to think about what love is and challenged me to consider who I’m loving well.  

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Love fights for you.

Love sees you.

Love wants you.

Love doesn’t force.

Love trusts.

Love looks for the best.

Love never looks back.

Love keeps going.  

Christmas embodies love. To find love, to become love is to find the source of love — the essence of Christmas — Christ.

Merry Christmas!

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Fling JOY

Festive parties, spectacular light shows, delicious holiday food and sweet Christmas music interlaced with extra doses of joy are tasty morsels that make this season special.  What creates joy in our lives?  How do we get intentional about experiencing it all year long?

Every time someone wrings their hands together and says, “What if?” or “If only,” joy leaves the room.  This uncanny ability to spend our moments in the future forecast of doom or the past experience of regret creates a joy vacuum. Tomorrow’s grief may never come and it’s less likely to come, if we’re not willing it in to being.  Yesterday’s sadness is over and can be left in the past.  If joy is what we’re after, it seems like staying in the moment is the best way to be joyful.

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Consider making a list of small things you can do right now, to usher a little joy in your life. Then start doing them daily.  Here are a few little moments of joy on my list:

  1. Music, for me, is the very embodiment of joy.  If I can turn on the music, almost any kind of music, it puts a smile on my face.  
  2. Get outside, breath the air, hear the birds, feel the sun on my face, watch the wildlife — the beauty of creation fills my heart, soul and lungs with pleasure.
  3. Doing something valuable for others, not just running errands or bringing gifts or providing a service (although those are fabulous), but also, depositing encouragement, inspiration and vision.
  4. Unplug.  There is something about powering down the electronics that forces me to find the joy, rather than be entertained.
  5. Practice understanding.  Entering a relationship or conversation with the intent to understand the other, rather than to push my message on them brings me real satisfaction.
  6. Gratitude.  Every time I practice deep gratitude for the things and people in my life and world, I experience sweet delight.
  7. Breathe.  In my non-joyful moments, I’m often holding my breath or breathing shallowly.  When I am intentional about taking slow, deep breaths, it releases a freshness within me.
  8. Create.  I don’t fancy myself a creative  -- you’ll never find me sitting at the table doing something crafty.  But when I sit with words, ideas, concepts and create something new, a special place in my heart comes alive.
  9. Build a tribe.  When I am in the room with smart, savvy, deep thinking people who can bring a different perspective into my life, it jazzes me.
  10. Read.  Books hold great intrigue for me.  Getting cozy with a book that takes me on an adventure or teaches me new concepts sends my mind and spirit into a place of bliss.

Joy to the World . . . Fling joy everywhere!
 

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I'm Not the Only One

Peace.  Peace on Earth.  Goodwill toward men.  Popular phrases in the Christmas season.  And yet, peace is not highly valued in our current climate.  Peace has been replaced with polarization. We and they are labels that pull us apart.  Understanding is what brings peace and collaboration.  

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. - Albert Einstein

In his Ted Talk, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks asks, “Is there something we can do to face the future peacefully?”

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I’d like to share with you two stories of individuals who worked at understanding and the result is something that goes even beyond peace.  

Journalist Robyn Passante tells these two stories. 

In 2011 Mary Parry was homeless and living in a tent in Pennsylvania when she began befriending hikers along the roughly 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail.  Today she’s one of the trial’s most well-known “trail angels,” routinely opening her two-bedroom apartment a  block from the trail to strangers with backpacks.  In a typical year she shelters or shuttles up to 800 hikers who text her or knock on her door, giving them home-cooked meals, rides and the use of her car, and a place to shower and sleep.  

To weary, grimy, hungry hikers, Trail Angel Mary is a godsend.  But she says God sent them first.  “Helping them,” Parry says, “is my way of thanking God for him bringing those people to me when I was having a rough time in my life.”

Each of these stories appeared in SUCCESS Magazine.

When Aidan Thomas Anderson got involved with charity work at age 8, he thought he’d be inspiring his generation to give back. “But adults are coming into the picture,” says the now 16-year-old, who speaks and performs music at corporate events for up to 10,000 people.  “The need is so great for people to learn how to give. . . We don’t need to be a big deal.  Just a ripple.”


Polarization is too much I, too little we.  It’s the people not like us that make us grow, our understanding of them brings peace, and our serving them brings life.  

Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.  - John Lennon

 

Be the Light

This is my favorite time of the year.  I love the smell of fresh baked Christmas cookies, the twinkle of lights on evergreen trees, and the joy of the holiday music.  The reason I love this season so much is the hope that swirls in the air.  In the middle of the uncertainty in which we live — mass shootings, abuse of power, and barbaric behavior — a single thread of hope is powerful.  Hope anchors the soul.

Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, a South African clergyman says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”

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In the July issue of SUCCESS Magazine, Jamie Friedlander tells this story of hope:

Los Angeles resident Mohamed Bzeek, 62, encompasses what it means to be selfless. He has taken in terminally ill children who are in the L.A. foster care system for the past 20 years — initially with his wife, Dawn, and now alone since her death in 2014.

Bzeek, originally from Libya, has cared for 40 children throughout the past two decades and currently takes care of a 6-year-old girl who is blind, deaf and paralyzed.  He says that although he knows she cannot see or hear him, he always holds her and talks to her so she knows she’s not alone in the world.

Hope anchors the soul.

Journalist Jesus Jimenez tells this story:

 When Johnny Jennings visited Georgia Baptist Children’s Home, he felt it was his life’s mission to help the children.  He was 18 at the time and not ready to adopt a child, so he started helping financially.  Jennings began collecting scrap paper and aluminum so he         could cash in his collections for money.  Today Jennings is 86 and has donated more than $400,000 over the course of his lifetime.

A single thread of hope is powerful.  

Start hunting for the stories of hope and tell them to everyone who will listen.  Better yet, create stories of hope in the middle of your world.  Be the light despite all the darkness. Christmas is many things, above all else, it’s a story of hope.

Secret Sauce of Happiness

When I have the privilege of traveling in Mexico, I’m always struck by the happiness of the people.  People everywhere are laughing, smiling, enjoying life.  Most of them don’t possess much by US standards.  It’s not what we possess that brings happiness, it’s how we appreciate what we have — whether it’s much or little.  The amount of appreciation we express is directly tied to the amount of joy we experience.  

If gratitude is the secret sauce of happiness, then consumerism robs our very souls of happiness.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the thought process of “never enough.”  This insanity of ingratitude often resembles addiction.  We are driven to get the latest gadget, the most updated wardrobe, a few more of . . . just in case it brings us happiness.  That’s why gratitude is so important.  It serves as an immunization against this addiction we can so easily fall into.  

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Start a new gratitude practice this November and keep it going throughout the year.  Here are a few ideas:  

Make a list of the things you are grateful for, be specific, add to it daily.  Work toward 1,000 things or 10,000.  When we are grateful for things we experience every day — curiosity, communication, creativity — this ushers in an attitude adjustment.  

Set aside a time during the day where you will stop and be intentional about appreciating your life at the present moment — all of it, even the tough stuff.   In every single moment, we have an opportunity to find something awe-inspiring.  

Consider using a blueprint to walk you through gratitude.  Start with your body, be grateful for your toes and work your way through your body from there.  Next move to things outdoors, then people, add institutions.  Creating some kind of pattern to follow, can help you get started.  

Neuroscience tells us we are creating pathways in our brain, much like ruts in a dirt road, that become deeper and deeper, and therefore, more difficult to pull out of.  Why build a road to a place you don’t want to go, like negativity, despair, complaints.  To get the place we want to go requires appreciation.

Here’s to Thanksgiving every day!

Who's in Charge Here?

Last night, I was talking on the phone to my 26 year old son.  In the course of the conversation, he told me he hadn’t been very productive in the evenings when he gets home from work and he was struggling with getting his paper work completed.  As the conversation unfolded, I suggested perhaps he needed to work out regularly.  He responded enthusiastically to that idea stating that’s exactly what he needed to do.  And then he added a barely audible phrase, “That’s not going to happen.”  My response was, “Wow! Who’s in charge of your life?”  He said he wasn’t sure but he was confident it wasn’t him.  We both roared with laughter hearing him admit out loud what so many of us internalize — this can’t be my responsibility.  He’s 26, single, lives alone, has a great job and makes plenty of money.  We both know he is completely responsible for his unproductive evenings, his paper work and his workout schedule — there is no one else to blame.  

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Monday on Facebook Live, I talked about the fact that we are 100% responsible for the outcomes of our lives.  It’s not the event or the circumstances that dictates the outcome, it’s our response to it.  Not long after a devastating earthquake in Los Angeles, a CNN reporter was on a highway that had been damaged.  The typical commute was one hour but the damage to the road system elongated the commute to two and three hours.  The reporter decided to get out of his media truck and interview the drivers — since they were all at a standstill.  The first driver told him how much he hated California, how no matter what he did he never got to work on time. He was bitter, discontent, and angry.  The second driver, with a pleasant tone and a big smile,  said he left his house at 5:00AM, he knew his boss would not expect anything more in light of the situation.  He had a thermos full of coffee, a snack, a book, his favorite music, an audible language lesson and his cell phone.  He was making good use of the time and was perfectly happy with his outcome.  If the event or circumstance causes the outcome, both of those drivers would have been in the same boat.

We are conditioned to blame things, people, animals, even the weather; to complain about the circumstance; to assume there is nothing we can do.  If we don’t like our outcome, we can change our response. If you’re not getting the outcomes you want, I’d love to have a conversation with you about what is blocking you.  Contact me at michele@lifebydesign.guru.

 

What if There is Enough?

What if there is enough?  How would that change your perspective, your attitude, your decisions, your actions?  The conversations you have today?

There is not enough for everyone.  Therefore, someone gets left out.  Either we’ve decided we’ve been left out of love, wealth, success, you fill in the blank.  Or we’ve decided we must get our slice of the pie before someone else does.  Media, grandparents, co-workers, friends reinforce this idea. We repeatedly hear messages like, “I can’t seem to get ahead. I guess I’m just destined to be behind.”  “I wish I could afford that.” There is not enough is simply a myth we accept. If we simply changed our language to, "I choose not to buy that right now" or "I have different priorities," the message of scarcity would disappear.  This scarcity mentality keeps us from finding the resources, time, attitude or whatever it is we think is so limited.  If we’re not looking for it, we will not find it.

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I met an energetic, enthusiastic, humorous women named Carrie this morning.  Two of her friends are currently waiting on a heart transplant.  Her innovative idea to meet this need is to require people who are not using their hearts to the fullest degree, meaning choosing happiness and spreading it, to turn their hearts over to someone who will.  I know that’s absurd but it does cause you to think about ways you are limiting yourself.  

Much of our life is limited by the thought that there is not enough money to get something done; there is not enough time to learn something new; there are not enough resources to accomplish that huge task. There is not enough . . .  What if there is enough?  What if you believed there is enough? What would be your next step?

It’s November and we are less than 60 days from a new year.  Start 2018 believing you are enough and there is enough.  If you would like support in shifting your mindset, contact me at michele@lifebydesign.guru.