Life Vision: Balance & Priorities

This weekend I was sick with a cold.  My cubicle neighbors at work have been hacking up a lung and the germs must have circulated.  Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I take zinc lozenges, which usually make the cold half as bad as it would have been otherwise.  I can’t stand the idea of being knocked out for 5-7 days, given all that I do in the course of a week, and I also just don’t like feeling rotten.  Taking zinc, along with drinking water and getting extra sleep, allows me to feel semi-decent and not cancel too many activities.

I remember the last time I felt a cold coming on, I had run out of zinc lozenges.  I considered stopping by a drugstore for more, but decided not to.  Maybe it was laziness or lethargy, or maybe it was the fact that I’d been going at full speed for weeks (months?) and simply wanted a break.  I wanted to crawl into bed at 8 PM and sleep till 8 AM.  I wanted my job to be blowing my nose and drinking tea.

Why can’t I give myself permission to take a break when I’m not sick?  It seems there’s always something to do.  I need to print tax forms, dust and sweep the house, get groceries and do food prep, choose music to play for Easter.  The list can feel practically endless at times.

I can take steps to reduce my stress and the length of my to-do list.  For example, I’ve been meaning to hire a cleaning service to help me once a month or so.  I can ask for help, I can leave some things undone, and do other things in a cursory fashion.

When our out-of-town family stopped over for tea and dessert, I was a little embarrassed that the house wasn’t without a speck of dust (I regret to say the bed may have been unmade).  But the dishes were done, there were comfortable places to sit, free of clutter– and besides, they came to visit, not to inspect every corner.  Do I want to enjoy a full life, or do I want to become a crazy person who stays up till 2 in the morning, cleaning?

There are ways to let life be more manageable.  There is room for more ease, more routines that will help me with my goals.  In the meantime, I can give myself a break.  I work in publishing in the city, am a professional coach, landlord, musician, and wife.  I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which I love, but it too takes time.  I also try to make it to my yoga mat or the treadmill a few times a week.

I enjoy stretching myself and doing things that make me feel truly alive–more connected to others, and to who I am at my core.  Sometimes I do enjoy plopping down on the couch to watch a movie, and I need that to recharge–but I’m glad that a sitcom binge is a relatively rare occurrence.  I can practice being mindful about how I inhabit my own life–how I structure, stretch, and play with it.

When I’m sick and want to absolve myself of any responsibilities beyond sleep, it’s a sign that I’m craving more balance.  Perhaps I’m craving time to prop up my feet and look out the window–just look, and let my thoughts come and go like clouds.  I might need time to write in my journal, to reflect or meditate.

Life is lived both internally and externally.  Both are important and they complement one another.  The time I spend reflecting or journaling powers me up to engage more willingly and productively in the world.  Once I’ve been active, I have much more enjoyment in a quiet night (or weekend) at home.

I’ve made a list of my top priorities the next couple of months, so that I’ll know if I’m on track or veering off:

#1 Wellness: this means sleeping 8 hours, doing yoga, and running.  Trying to eat real food for lunch, and enough food that I don’t raid the candy drawer at 3:00.

#2 Fun, love, and friends:  for me, this means spending time with those I love–especially my husband, friends and family–and doing things simply because I enjoy them.

#3 Mastering the organ pedals:  if not now, when?  I have an excellent teacher, and my year will only get busier as it goes on.  So I’ve committed to practicing 4 or more times a week.

#4 Expanding my coaching business:  I’m taking more workshops at CTI and going to events through Meetup.org to connect with people who may be curious about coaching.

If I’m craving down-time, the non-essentials have to go.  As a result, there are other activities I’ve turned down because they don’t fit with my vision of my future self.  At this point in my life, while I might derive certain benefits from them, they ultimately get in the way of my top priorities.  If they divert from where I want to put my focus, they don’t serve me–even if I would enjoy them.

So right now, I can forgive myself when the house is a little messy.  I can feel good about leaving things undone and getting a good night’s sleep.  I can be proud when I devote time and energy to my coaching and music businesses.

Having a vision reminds me of who I want to become, and what trade-offs I’ve decided I’m willing to make in order to get there.  Let the rest fall by the wayside… there will be another phase of life when I could pick some of it back up.

Are you ready to explore your life vision?  Who do you want to become?  What’s something that if you never did, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled?  Visit my coaching page for ways to connect with me.  You may find that setting up a free sample call with me could be an important step towards creating an even richer and more fulfilling life.

Advertisements

A 35-Point “ZAG”: Scrabble and Singing

On Sunday, I sang at our local church where I volunteer as a soprano.  I love singing there because of the beautiful and often challenging music.  The five of us in the choir loft that morning sang “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and three other English-language Lenten hymns in four-part harmony.  During Communion, we sang chant with psalm verses in Latin.

By the end of Mass, I felt filled with breath, music, and gratitude.  We stopped in the parish hall for a light breakfast, where a few older women in the parish chastised us:  “good voices, but the Latin’s got to go.”  Was this what I’d signed up for?  Their remarks stung and I felt unappreciated for what I had offered, until I remembered that a gift benefits the giver, no matter the reaction of the recipient.  Then I was freed of an expectation of a wholly positive response.

Sometimes as a musician, whether it’s singing or playing the organ, I long for appreciation.  In a musical performance, I am offering a gift to the listeners, and hope it will be well received.  However, its value is determined by creativity and self-expression, rather than the reaction of the listeners.

I will probably continue to volunteer my singing, whether the reception be effusive, lukewarm, or nonexistent.  It’s something in which I have some measure of talent.  I’m not a bad singer–sometimes I even think I’m pretty good.  You won’t be hearing me at the Met anytime soon, but I sing better than I could two years ago, before taking lessons.  (I had thought I was an alto until my voice teacher proved otherwise, and now I can sing a high A-flat, like in “Missa Choralis” by the little-known Refice that we’ll sing tonight.)

I sing primarily for two reasons, which are intimately linked:  self-expression, and the joy of giving.  The pleasure a recipient takes in a gift has value, but it doesn’t determine the value of a gift.

*

On Sunday night, I was playing Scrabble with my husband’s cousins, who were in town for a few days.  It was a close game.  My first play was “ZAG” with a triple-letter score on the “Z,” for 35 points.  I had an early lead, but none of my subsequent plays lived up to the glory of the first. 

As we neared the end, all four of us had around 100 points, give or take.  We all had strange combinations of letters in our remaining titles.  I had three E’s and two O’s.  My cousin-in-law had a J but nowhere to play it, as I discovered later.  He was considering skipping his turn because he felt that anything he could play would be too low-scoring.  I suggested that scoring any amount of points would be a good thing.

Not every play will be 35 points, not every musical offering will be loved by everyone, and not every blog post will go viral.  It’s okay to risk failing, rather than become paralyzed and prevent future successes, as well as failures.  Success comes in different forms at different times.  As a former yoga teacher of mine, Molly, used to say, “No effort along the path is lost.”

I don’t know what my current or next project will teach me.  If I think I know, it’s my ego talking.  If I think I know what the results will be, it’s really my ego talking.  I don’t have to let fear of not being perfect–or not being appreciated by everyone at all times–stand in the way of doing a good-enough job.

I finished the Scrabble game with all three E’s still on my rack.  My cousin-in-law finished with his “J” unplayed.  And it was OK.  It was good.

Practice Balance by Saying Yes and No

Like many, I’m in the habit of using Google Calendar to schedule a lot of my comings and goings.  I used to only use it for appointments.  Recently, though, I’ve started jotting down reminders like going to the gym, practicing the organ, or doing grocery shopping for the week ahead.  It’s especially helpful for mundane tasks that I’m tempted to avoid, like scheduling a doctor’s check-up.  While most of what I do in life is not on the calendar (nor do I wish it to be), it helps keep me on track and reminds me of where I have chosen to put my focus.

Do I always stick to my decisions? If not, am I still on track?  This evening’s calendar reads: “7:00 practice organ, 8:00 zumba, 9:00 blog,” yet it’s 7:00 and I’m writing my blog.  So how do I know when I can, in good conscience, blow off the gym or whatever projects I have going on?  How do I know when improvising my evening is practicing self-care, or even when it is more productive than what I had planned, rather than a form of laziness?

At the Coaches’ Training Institute (CTI), where I’m training to become a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, I’ve been exploring such concepts  as balance and fulfillment.  While most of us long for balance and fulfillment in our lives, the many options which confront us often become obstacles if we try to say yes to all of them.

When we say yes to anything in our lives, we necessarily say no to something else.   One simple tool that can help clarify our choices is making a list of things in our lives to which we say yes and no.  This morning, I woke up at 5:45, an hour earlier than usual.  I took advantage of the time to write such a list over a cup of coffee:

Q.: By hiring an accountant, what would I be saying yes and no to?

YES: Having more time for myself and with my husband.

NO:  Spending three weekends doing our taxes.

Q.: By seeing a doctor for a check-up, what would I be saying yes and no to?

YES: Self-care.

NO:  Deprivation, procrastination.

Becoming clear on the values attached to various options enables us to choose consciously how to move forward.    Normally, I would automatically rule out hiring an accountant on grounds of expense.  However, applying this tool makes it clear to me that important values are involved.  The time I will spend with my husband and by myself is of much greater value than the fee charged by the accountant.

So tonight, I ‘m saying yes to reflection, writing, relaxation, watching the sunset over the park, enjoying being in our peaceful home with the cat curled up next to me.  I don’t really need that zumba class (after all, I walked to and from work), but I do need to keep up the momentum with my writing.  Therefore, I’m saying no to zumba and practicing the organ.

It’s a good feeling to honor what we need on a given day, even if it’s different from what’s on the calendar.  Even better, when we do it in order to honor a value, we can do it free of guilt.

How do you honor your values when life gets busy?  Where are you saying yes?  Where are you saying no?

If you’re interested in working with me one on one, visit my coaching page for how we can connect.  I’d be happy to offer a complimentary sample coaching session.

Liebster Award

I’m honored to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by Upasna Mattoo at LIVE OUT LOUD!  Thank you — I always enjoy reading your blog, and am looking forward to connecting more.

The goal of the Liebster Award is to help generate attention toward new and upcoming bloggers; typically those with 200 followers or less.  I will nominate 10 other bloggers once I’ve given it a bit more reflection.  In the meantime, here are my answers to the questions I was asked:

1.  What’s the best adventure you’ve ever had?  Traveling through Sicily must have been one of the very best adventures I’ve had.  My husband and I took a ferry from Rome to Palermo then took trains around the island.  We saw Mt. Etna from Taormina, ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, and wandered through food markets in Catania.

2.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  Doing lots of writing, working one on one with coaching clients, playing the piano and organ, hiking, and traveling.

3.  If you were an animal, what would you be?  Definitely a cat.  They are experts at being present and perceptive.  They engage in lots of sleep, cuddling, playing, exploring their environment, and deep observation.

4.  What’s the one food you can’t live without?  Dark chocolate.  In Modena, Sicily, I went to a chocolate shop with hundreds of kinds of exotic chocolates including 99% chocolate.

5.  What is your life motto?  Be present.

6.  What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?  I’m not sure what this would be.  Probably calamari.

7.  If you could go back and visit any time period, what time would you travel to and why?  It would be hard to beat meeting Jesus.  Meeting Sappho, Shakespeare, or Lincoln would also have been amazing experiences.

8.  Name a gift you will never forget.  My husband is the most thoughtful gift-giver.  He once gave me a yoga membership to Om Yoga in New York.  Another year he gave me a weekend NY Times subscription because it made for a leisurely Sunday afternoon.  For our fifth anniversary, he gave me two books of organ music–German/Austrian and Portuguese/Spanish.

9.  What is your biggest addiction?  Caffeine.  I’m working on breaking my adrenaline addiction and being content with a half-cup of coffee rather than two cups.  Peacefulness is so much more relaxing.

10.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  See #2.  I will add to my answer:  being of service–in my career, through volunteer work, and to my family.

Weekends in Newark: Nicer than You Think

There is nothing like the weekend.  It’s been said before.  Still, there are times when I wake up from a nap, make myself a cup of tea with soymilk, and sip it on the living room couch, looking out the window onto snowy Independence Park, and am struck with so much pleasure and gratitude that I’m nearly incredulous.

I’ve lived in the house that I share with my husband, our cat, three sets of tenants (and their dog and two cats) for a little over two years.  We spent the first three years of our marriage in a 3-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we rented out the other two rooms.  It was supposed to be temporary, but we hadn’t planned on it being 3 years.  That’s a long time for a married couple to share a kitchen and bathroom with roommates!

Granted, the location was amazing, with Manhattan just two stops away on the L train, cafes aplenty outside our doorstep, and a backyard with a cherry tree, fig tree, and grapevines…yes, trees grow in Brooklyn.  Once, a NY Times reporter contacted me for a story on the number of responses Williamsburgers get to Craigslist ads for subletters, and it’s true, there was no shortage of interested parties.

Regardless, a certain strain was inherent in our living situation, so moving to our own house has been a little piece of heaven.  I’m still getting used to having a guest room, living room, and dining room.  I don’t have to guess if it’s our food in the fridge or someone else’s.

My husband doesn’t even seem to mind taking out the trash, a job that we (thankfully) assigned along traditional gender lines.   Maybe he enjoys the feeling of proprietorship.  (It’s *our* trash, well ours and the tenants’, ha ha).  In any case, I get it–when I mop the kitchen, something I could probably stand to do more often, I have the feeling that this is *our* floor.  It’s a feeling I never had as a renter.

I should take this opportunity to clear the air and share that we live in Newark, and it’s a lot nicer than you think.  🙂  (Don’t tell too many people, though, or you’ll drive up the cost of living.)  We live in the Ironbound, a mostly Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood 22 minutes on the PATH train from World Trade (hence the title of this blog).

Purchasing a multi-family house with three bedrooms for ourselves wouldn’t have been possible in the urban core of Brooklyn.  We just have to put up with the occasional response, “you live in Newark?  You just hear Newark and you think…” (then they make a face, trailing off).  People’s memories of the ’67 riots die hard.

Yet I feel like I’m in Europe or South America.  My hairdresser kisses me on the cheek.  I can get a “galao” (Portuguese for latte) for under two bucks, and an excellent fish dinner at any number of restaurants.

There are tons of cultural amenities.  We live near NJ PAC, where we’ve heard the NJ Symphony Orchestra, and brought my family to readings at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival.  My brother-in-law gave us a patron’s membership to the Newark Museum one Christmas, whose Asian, American, African, and Classical art collections we’ve enjoyed, as well as the Ballantine House.  There’s excellent hiking 25 minutes away–not to mention Branch Brook Park in Newark proper, with the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the country.

I’ve gotten involved as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which paired me with an amazing 10-year-old girl.  We go on “dates” as she calls them, to all the best that the area has to offer, both in Newark and nearby towns (like the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn where we saw “A Christmas Carol,” and Turtle Back Zoo).  I’m hoping to take her to the Newark Museum and the Dodge Poetry Festival later this year, and perhaps to see a game at the Prudential Center (where the Super Bowl Media Day was held).

snow

It’s good to have a home, and good to have a neighborhood.  I’m grateful for small pleasures on a wintry day, like writing my blog with the cat on my lap and a cup of tea, watching late-afternoon strollers in the park and hearing the chatter of birds.

What are you most grateful for about your neighborhood and home?  Do you have any special morning or evening rituals?  What do you enjoy about weekends where you live?  I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment and click “share!”