Here’s a beautiful reminder that we have the power to design our own lives. What do you want to create in your future?
At a friend’s suggestion, I recently made a list of challenges and achievements, and discovered that many of my greatest accomplishments have been things that scared me silly at the time. Here are some items on that list:
+ Lived and studied in Paris
+ Ran a half-marathon
+ Finished first on my team in a regional cross-country race on a rainy, muddy day
+ Canoed through rural Quebec
+ Studied Italian and traveled through Sicily
+ Studied and played organ professionally
All of these experiences involved adventure and challenge. Some entailed physical anguish: aching at mile 10 of a half-marathon or portaging on a canoe trip. Other times, the anguish was mental: realizing I had a ways to go at speaking French fluently or being a virtuoso at the organ.
Stretching my limits is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Since it’s Easter weekend, I’m doing a lot of singing and playing the organ–activities that are very rewarding but make me nervous, because improvement is always possible. When I’m offered an opportunity to play, my inner response tends to be, “This makes me nervous, and I really want to say yes.”
I’ve played the piano since I was seven, but only started learning the organ a couple of years ago. It’s easy to think people will notice every mistake, but the truth is, no one’s standards for my playing are as high as my own.
Before playing, I often think, “It won’t be perfect, but it will be beautiful.” This mindset helps me to stay present. Playing is worth the nervousness–it’s creative, rewarding and fun. It’s also gratifying to see my progress, no matter how slow. It gives me a sense of achievement, and hopefully has a positive impact on others.
How can we light the path to our achievements? Visions can be powerful tools. I use visions in many areas of my life: work, family, health. My “music vision” continues to evolve, but core components are a pipe organ, choir loft, beautiful sanctuary with stained glass, singing a foreign language, decently paid, and pastoral support.
One church where I played last summer checked nearly all of these boxes. It was gorgeous, like a jewel box or music box–a music box decked with jewels, perhaps. I played on a 3-manual pipe organ and sang Italian hymns. It had a choir loft, so I didn’t feel conspicuous. It didn’t check one or two boxes, but otherwise, it was a music dream come true.
I knew less about the pipe organ when I began playing at that church than I do today. When I sent in my resume, it was because I believed that I knew enough to get started, to pick up what I didn’t know, and to do a good job.
I had enough passion that I took the right steps to get hired, and filled in the gaps later. I studied registration more closely–principals, flutes and reeds; 8, 16, and 4 foot stops. I learned about couplers. At first, I relied primarily on pistons (pre-sets), but after a few weeks, I was doing my own registration (or selection of stops).
My vision got me to that point of playing the organ and singing Italian in a jewel-box of a church. I can look back at various mistakes I’ve made–playing at the wrong time, missing a note or two, ending a hymn too soon–and congratulate myself.
Why? In most lines of work, someone who is successful fails more than someone who isn’t successful; she just recovers more quickly from her failures. Who remembers a missed note–or even notices? If I always played it safe, I wouldn’t leave my house. Some of my “peak experiences,” or vivid memories that reveal my core values, involved stepping way out of my comfort zone, being scared silly, and taking action anyway.
Speaking of leaving my house, the first month I lived in Paris, I barely ventured outside my new neighborhood as I acclimated to new surroundings and a new language. Yet by the end of the year, I felt at home in the City of Lights. My comfort zone had widened. I had learned to navigate the subway, shop for groceries and order lunch at a cafe–all in French. I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable doing those things when I arrived.
Passion conquers fear, but not without courage and persistence. We need to be willing to fail, and keep moving forward anyway, to make our dreams a reality. So keep failing, keep succeeding, and you’ll move ever closer to your wildest dreams.
What is something that you’ve achieved in spite of adversity, because your passion was greater than your fear? What challenges have you taken on because deep down, you knew that you had it in you? Most importantly, how can you apply that learning to what you want next in your life?
I am loving that the long-awaited spring has finally returned. NYC and Newark, like much of the country, had a particularly harsh winter. We had our highest bill ever for the gas heating. It was a chilly and long, if beautiful and snowy, winter.
A few clear signs that spring has arrived: I see an occasional egret, its snowy-white body with a long neck and beak, in the Meadowlands of NJ from the train. The cherry blossoms are (finally) beginning to bloom. Independence Park across the street is teeming with people playing catch, shooting hoops, and–most notably–there are usually three or four soccer games going on simultaneously.
A new sign of spring this year–bocci games in the park. Several of us use a site called Nextdoor to share local happenings, and I was delighted to see an open invitation on the site to come play bocci on the weekend.
You may ask, what do egrets and bocci have in common? Playfulness and joyful presence.
During winter, many of us huddled indoors, conserving energy. The warmth of spring is an invitation to play. Whether the egret doing its little dance, flapping its wings, or whether the bocci and soccer players in the park, play allows us to be present, to enjoy our surroundings and the activity we’re engaged in. Play lets us abandon our worries and immerse ourselves in the pure joy of living.
If I were writing a word-chain, it would be something like: play-nature-joy-peace-movement. Physical movement helps us not to stay stuck in tired mental or emotional energy. When walking in the woods or splashing in water, we let it go. We move into a new energy.
Play also lets us be creative, spontaneous, open to new ideas. How could that not spill over into the rest of our lives? When we’re open to being playful, we see creative possibilities that before, we were unable to see. We can be more flexible at work. We see new ways to be healthy–solutions, rather than problems.
So enjoy the unveiling of spring, and let yourself be carried away by the sheer beauty of it–fragrant cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers, dancing egrets and all.
I have always been an amateur psychology buff. In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology, but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own. It is part of what led me to coaching. I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.
Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys. I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses. They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.
I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point. Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me. I took the MBTI twice, several years apart. Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P). I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.
Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion. My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.” For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were. My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.
How do I do this? For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:
- On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom. It truly restores me.
- I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing. Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
- I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am. It inspires me and makes me feel alive.
Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity. One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.” The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations. Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”
My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?” Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do. My mind isn’t naturally wired for it. Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.
And thus, we change and grow.
Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self. It can be a little scary. At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.
So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right. Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable. We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step. We get to be at choice.
CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.” I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths. Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”
What does it mean and what is its impact? I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey. There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof. What does it mean to hold beauty? I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart. How will it impact others? That story is still unfolding.
What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself? Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?
I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want. What matters? What are you drawn to? Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.
In honor of spring, I spent a good few hours over the weekend de-cluttering my kitchen. It had become painfully obvious how much inconvenience I had been tolerating: my microwave was about a foot off of the floor, requiring me to bend down to make a cup of tea; one of the cabinets in prime real estate was filled with paper plates, camping dishes, i.e. junk; and the coffee maker was on a porous stand so that when we poured coffee, drops would leak onto the floor.
I have a hard time throwing anything away. Consequently, most of my tupperware containers were either missing lids or were 10 years old and showing their age. Also, any containers that didn’t fit in the Hoosier cabinet spilled over onto the counter tops, competing with space for food prep.
Frugality has served me well in many areas of my life (I attribute it to subscribing to Pennywise magazine when I was a pre-teen)… but this wasn’t one of them. I finally reached a breaking point. I didn’t always know where to find things in my kitchen.
I threw away 98% of the tupperware and kept only matching ones that were in good shape. I used the newfound space for pots and pans. I moved the coffee maker to the counter, and filled its old space with the microwave, which now sits at eye level.
Why do we tolerate things that we have the power to change? There can be more than one reason. In my case, the disorganization of my kitchen was neither urgent nor hugely important. I was adaptable enough to make it work–until I no longer wanted to put up with it. Gretchen Rubin has blogged about putting aside an hour a week to do such things, as part of building good habits. Otherwise, we can procrastinate endlessly, and what begins as a small inconvenience snowballs.
Our time is important, and I have so many more meaningful things to do on the weekends (e.g., practicing music, playing bocci in the park with neighbors) that I hadn’t set aside time to organize the kitchen. However, the disorganization eventually turned into a big time sucker. All those wasted seconds and minutes add up.
After I finished reorganizing the kitchen, my feet and back hurt. Still, I felt pleased and took pride in telling my husband what I had done. Even to my own ears, it sounded so pedestrian, so mundane–yet it was satisfying to have some control over my physical environment, like a bird building a nest.
What worked? For me, it helped to turn the job from a “should” into a “want.” As long as I thought, “I should organize the kitchen,” I didn’t do it. As soon as my thought became, “I want to have an organized kitchen where it’s easy to find things and do food prep,” I was motivated to take action.
By keeping this “want” in mind, and banishing the “should,” I intend to prevent the kitchen from escalating into a big project again. Even if orderly tupperware falls into the “not urgent” category, it actually falls under “important,” when I consider the effect that my living space has on me. It may not be as important as taking my Little Sister to a jazz concert at the Montclair Art Museum, but it helps me to feel happy and grounded. As with to going to the gym, building momentum and discipline transfers over into other areas of my life.
For most of us, there are higher priorities than home organization. Nonetheless, it’s helpful to realize what we’re tolerating in a given area of our lives, to question why we’re doing so, and ask whether it’s necessary. As for me, I’m glad to have an organized kitchen, and feel a little more comfortable and secure in our nest–just in time for spring.