A Simple, But Not Easy Truth

One of the hardest things for most of my clients to accept is that it is possible to love themselves just as they are.

I understand the difficulty because they’ve come to me at a time of some kind of distress; something is wrong, and more often than not they’ve diagnosed that the thing that is wrong is THEM, like internally, inherently, and deeply. I’m familiar with this diagnosis as it is one I found for myself for many years: “There’s something wrong with me.” I could scoop up all kinds of crap with that cup. It’s amazing what kind of evidence you can find for such a thought if you want to keep it. It’s a great big general crap collecting and destruction generating belief. Vague enough to be right and specific enough to really hurt, just like we them, eh?

Slide1Here’s the thing, I tell them. You can love yourself and fix this or you can hate yourself and fix it. I have opinions about which will work better, but I’d like to know what yours are. It’s interesting because most people seem to go with the hate it and fix it school when it comes to themselves. We believe we have to despise ourselves, or at least the part that’s generating the problem in question. We believe that if we love it, we won’t fix it, that somehow loving it will make us complacent, accepting of the offending flaw, that we will forever carry the extra weight or the bad judgment or the poor career choice. We can only fix it through strict discipline and punishment.

Wow.

This is one of those moments when I am stunned by the way we treat ourselves as compared to the way that we treat others. With ourselves there is no quarter. With others… I’m pretty sure we love in spite of flaws all the time, like every single day. Do we dismiss other people because of one flaw? Do we hate them until they fix themselves completely? Do we have to discipline them into being alright for us? That’s a no.

The only relationship I can think of where one might even be tempted to do this from a disciplinary standpoint is the parent/child relationship and even then there is no hating and disciplining. There is loving and correcting. There is loving WHILE they learn, WHILE they grow, WHILE they change. There is loving WHILE they are imperfect, WHILE they make mistakes, WHILE they do the wrong things.

Slide2Could you learn to love yourself and make change if you pretended for a moment that you were your own child? What if you were raising yourself? What kind of adult would you like to help bring into the world? What kind of human would you like to help create? How would you treat yourself if you were simply raising yourself, taking yourself from one stage of development to the next, monitoring your own growth and change, noting problems as they arise, thinking about them and being encouraging, asking questions when it doesn’t make sense? How would that feel? I think it would feel a whole lot more like love. And I think change that comes from love is the change that works, and it works because it FEELS good. It feels good to accept ourselves. It feels like water on cracked earth. It feels so necessary and so overdue.

But I don’t know how, you say. I don’t know what that means. I say start small. Think of one thing you love about yourself. Sit, with your eyes closed and really focus all of your attention on that one thing. Feel into it. Let yourself delight in it. Allow yourself to feel your own affection for as long as you can tolerate it. See what happens. It just might change everything. Why? Because that kind of feeling expands; it grows and self-acceptance that is taken in as a small seed grows the fruit of love right there in your scared heart. It will be okay. You can still want to change, even after you learn to love yourself. I promise.

Trading Places

No, I’m not talking about the old Eddie Murphy movie (and to show my age I felt weird about calling that old, but I digress). I’m talking about the idea of trading places with another person in order to get a fresh perspective. We talk about this pretty regularly, particularly when we’re trying to encourage our kids to be aware of other people’s feelings.

“How would you feel if someone did that to you? What do you think she felt like when you said that? Do you think he was happy? Were they trying to hurt you? What do you think they were thinking about?” Maybe it’s just me and my poor tormented children, but these discussions happen pretty often when trying to untangle whatever happened at recess. This notion is a big part of our adult culture as well: “Walk a mile in their shoes.” Now, don’t misunderstand me all of this talk we’re talking doesn’t mean we’re walking the walk, but that is a subject for a different post altogether. Right now I’m just interested in this idea of ways that we can shift our perspective by trading places.

Slide1The difference for me right now is that I’m less interested in developing empathy (just for the moment, no worries) and more interested in gaining some perspective on the things that are going on for me. One parent in seminary and one parent as a fledgling entrepreneur can make for a lot of household uncertainty. Some days the uncertainty feels daunting and we just want more information. We just want to know what’s going to happen. Where will we be? Will all of this work out? Should we be doing things differently?

When I’m feeling freaked out or if that freaking out turns into some kind of b.s. self-abuse about being good enough, it is a good mental exercise to trade places with a friend. Let her look at the situation and tell me what SHE thinks. We’re not always good at being kind to ourselves. We’re not always good at seeing the big picture when we’re part of the landscape. We’re not always good at taking a longer view, but oftentimes someone else who knows us can, and sometimes we can access that without even talking to them. When our self-kindness and calm fails us, we can borrow some from someone else. I do this regularly. When I need calm and compassion I mentally trade places with my sister and see what she would say. When I need business advice, I mentally trade places with my mentor and see what she would say. When I need a pep talk, I imagine what my dear Dad would say. When my own capacity to be kind to myself and pick myself up is out of gas, I call in for a little mental trade.

But this trading places thing can go farther, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Every now and again I make it a point to imagine my future. I choose a point down the road, maybe a year, maybe five, sometimes ten, and I picture everything I can about that time. I try to get detailed. I try to see everything. I try to know exactly what’s happening, not by pushing, but by inhabiting that mental space, seeing it, being the me of THAT time. When that vision is really solid and I’ve been living there for a few minutes, I ask HER for advice for today. What do I need to know? What should I do? How can I get there?

Slide2It’s been fascinating. She always calms me down, and I guess that part isn’t surprising, but the rest of it is. There’s real advice there. There’s steps to take to get to the future I’m imagining. There are things to consider and plan, with a vision of what that will bring. THAT is powerful magic. THAT is motivating and grounding all at the same time. THAT makes moving forward feel both brilliant AND safe, like of COURSE I’m going to do X because that’s how I get THERE. And when I’ve gotten my questions answered, I trade places back. I return to my present with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a list of next steps on the road, and a vision to guide me.

What would your future self tell you about where you are today? What would you ask? What would happen if you tried trading places for just a few minutes? I can help you with that.

 

What Seeds Are You Planting?

Early in establishing my business, I got some excellent advice from a mentor. She advised that I think of everything I do today as something I might see in my bank account 6 months from now. It was an excellent reminder of the time that cultivating clients and developing programs takes, but really it was more than that. The advice came with an analogy, one of planting seeds. And I think in our fast-paced, immediate gratification, reactive world, it’s a perspective that it’s helpful to drink in every now and again.

Slide1As a Mom and as a business woman, there are probably several times every day when my next move is dictated by the necessity of the moment: meals, laundry, dog walks, client calls, sick kid at school calls, trips to urgent care, assistance for aging parents, the usual stuff that comes along with adulting, parenting, working. And it would be easy for me to fill my day with that stuff. I could literally, especially now during the summer months spend my entire day reacting to every situation that arises and participating in resolving it. But then what? Over time my clients would complete their work with me and I would have no more clients. Over time my children will, well at least if all goes according to plan, move out. Over time there will still be laundry, although it will be less as there are fewer of us here. The question is how much of my time I consciously devote to planting seeds, how much time I spend considering what I want in the future and taking even the smallest steps to get there. What kind of seeds am I planting for the day after these days?

I’ve been talking a lot about pretty BIG VISION stuff – aligning with the best part of you, dreaming big, asking questions – THIS is how you get there. You start with a vision, just like a gardener would. You develop a notion of what you want to grow. Maybe you’ve even gotten some colored pencils out or cut up some magazines or written a stream of consciousness journal entry about it – that big vision, that heart dream, that secret desire. THAT is good magic, all of that envisioning, and I believe there is some power in holding that vision close, but I believe the reason it’s powerful is because your amazing mental machinery will work on that vision. You ask yourself what you should do first to get there, and you have to very swiftly tell your brain to STOP it when it says: “I don’t know.” Just shut that stuff down, and then ask again. “What are some things I could do to get there?” and write down the list that comes to you, as ridiculous or obvious as some of those items might be. THESE are your seeds you see. To get to that big dream, big vision, “someday,” you HAVE to plant your seeds.

The funny thing is that once you do that, help often shows up in unexpected forms. Just like in the garden where rain and sun show up to nurture the plants, help and hope will come to nurture your big vision as soon as you start to work on it yourself. And, well, okay… just like the bugs and the deer come, so too will unexpected problems present themselves as your nurture your big dream garden. These too get tackled one step at a time, more effectively when we drop the “I don’t know what to do” in favor of “How can I solve this problem? What would make this better?” Just like the gardener figures out exactly what bugs she’s dealing with, we examine the problems that present themselves as we pursue our big vision, and rather than taking them as a sign that we should give up, we persist and work through it, because that garden is counting on us.

Slide2Our big dreams and visions are counting on us to stop the hustle and bustle of reactive living and take a big enough breath to remember that there are seeds to plant, and that those seeds will come with challenges, but will bring a harvest of delight, growth, and fulfillment that goes much deeper than the day we get all of the laundry done. If you’re not sure how to go about seeing your big vision, or you’ve got that but can’t seem to find those seeds, I’d love to help you out.

Challenging Our Scripts

The theme for Sunday’s service at my church was dissent. Our brilliant minister took us on a walk through the Supreme Court as an examination of the nature of dissent and the truth content of legal opinion. No, it did not stop there for me… as you’re likely guessing if you’ve been playing along with me for any length of time. Dissent is definitely a key part of the American political system, and any functioning democracy. I’d take a step farther and say dissent is part of an extremely healthy adult life. What am I talking about?

Slide1I’m talking about the frequency with which our adult decisions rely on assumptions, rules, and habits of thought and action. So much of what we do has to do with what “should be,” “needs to be,” or “has always been.” These starting points become our sacred scripts just as much as a holy text might for some folks or a legal precedent might be for others. We don’t question them. They are fact. They are written. They are tradition. They just ARE… But ARE they?

Let’s expand our view a little to a cultural level and imagine what would be true if we used the “has always been this way” standard to make all of our decisions. Leaving things the way they’ve always been would make the United States a very different place, right? We would still have slavery. Women would not own property. There would be no public schools. Medical care would most often involve bleeding and hoping for the best. Dental care would feature wooden teeth for the wealthy; no teeth for the rest. I could go on for a while here. The point is that all systems are dynamic. Things change, and thank goodness for that. People also change, and thank goodness for that.  On the changing nature of everything, James Baldwin offers: “For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.” Even in the repetitions of earth’s natural cycles, change is born.

So what unleashes change in us? Sometimes it is born out of crisis – something in our environment or community creates a need for us to change individually and communally, to find new resources within and without. Sometimes change is born of growth, the moment when the skin we are in is no longer big enough to hold who we are becoming. And sometimes, change is born from dissent, the increasing dissatisfaction with the way that things are, the struggle to pinpoint the root of that dissatisfaction, to question its necessity, and to change it. This is true both in community and within ourselves.

So often people describe what is and isn’t possible in their lives and I gently inquire: “Are you sure? When did you decide that THAT isn’t possible? Would you be happier if that WERE possible?” I’m checking to see if that notion of possibility is a sacred script, an idea that is defining reality for them without being questioned and checked. “Are you sure?” So often people describe what they need to do and I ask: “Why? Do you really NEED to do that? Do you WANT to do that? What would happen if you DIDN’T do that?”  The sacred scripts that dictate so many of our decisions are, by their very nature, unconscious. We accepted them a long time ago, but maybe it’s time for a little dissent. Maybe it’s time to have a little internal protest. If you could make a sign for yourself, what would it say? What rule are you following that you made up for yourself? What parts of your current experience would you protest if you thought you had the time and the ability?

Slide2If “nothing is fixed,” why on earth would we expect ourselves to stay the same? How could we possibly trudge on under the same assumptions, the same internal rules, the same traditions? If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to change. If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to think new thoughts, which means we need to start by discovering and finding the old ones. What’s keeping you the same? Are you ready for a little internal revolution? I’d love to help you paint your signs.

Where Are You in Your Spreadsheet?

Many of my clients come to me when they have a big decision to make. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s a relationship start or end, maybe it’s a move or career change. We’ve all got them, big decisions, at least at some point, and it can be daunting to approach that decision. What my clients tend to do, and well, pretty much everybody I know, is to approach the decision with some sort of pro and con list; the lists vary and some get more complex, more of a comparison grid where you can see all the possibilities at once. They gather all kinds of information about all of the elements of the decision. They investigate salaries. They look at housing prices. They find out whether the potential partner wants kids. They examine opportunities in different careers. They look at school performance data. They look on internet forums for firsthand accounts of all of the above. They collect enormous amounts of data.

Slide1This past Sunday, my minister brought up the idea of Dataism, the rise of big data in our culture and our economy and our increasing tendency to rely on and consume huge amounts of information and to analyze and attempt to use that data to predict the future in all fields. I see this in my clients and friends. When presented with a fork in the road, the instinct is to gather information. We value information so strongly that our knee jerk reaction is to go get some whenever there is a moment of indecision. The interesting thing about that is that in my own case, and with most people I know and talk to, when these big decisions arise, gathering all of the data doesn’t seem to help people make a decision. It seems, actually, to drown them. They are awash in information and no closer to making a decision than they were when all of their data-collecting efforts began.

Some data analysts might suggest that they are not using the right methods to consider their data. I think the problem is simpler than that. It doesn’t seem simple as someone describes all of the complicated parts of their decision, describes all of the possible outcomes, describes all of the different risk factors, describes the way that trying to absorb all of that data has given them hours of worry and stress. But the truth is that they are usually missing some data. There is a critical piece of information that they’ve failed to collect, and it’s one we are not culturally encouraged to consider very often. They’ve forgotten to check in and see how they feel about the options before them.

Slide2When I’m coaching someone, I wait until they are done with their data dump. They’ve described all of the stuff, and then I ask them: “How do you feel about it? What do you want to do?” Most of us are so wedded to our information that we initially respond with another run down of the key points comparing evidence and highlighting pros and cons, and almost without exception this still leads to a shrug and a sigh. I then say something brilliant like: “Take a deep breath. Stop thinking about it. Tell me how you feel about Option A.”  The rest of this conversation usually takes about 10 minutes, because you know what? They almost always know how they feel about it. They almost always KNOW what they want to do. They may want the data to support that, but they know. The move from the question: “What should I do?” to “What do I want to do?” almost always bears more fruit.

That’s when things get really interesting, because that’s when my friend or client reveals that there are many reasons why their preferred option isn’t possible. Me: “Okay, so don’t do it.” Client/Friend: “Wait? What?! You’ve just helped me realize I actually DO really want this!” Me: “So change the question.”

The questions we ask ourselves have everything to do with the outcome we get. “What should I do?” will yield data and society’s ideas about you. “What do I want to do?” gets you your own doggone preference. Finally: “How can I make that happen? What’s the first step?” tears down the barriers that your scared primitive self puts up for you and tells you to watch Netflix in bed with a bag of chips. “How can I make it happen?” allows fresh thoughts, creativity, help from others to play a part. “How can I make it happen?” assumes IT can happen rather from starting from a big, fat NO. Because, hey, what if it can? What if you can have what you want? What if you can be who you want to be? What if it IS possible? Don’t you want to find out? Big change is hard. You need to ask the right questions to get to an answer that will not just be right, but will be right for you, no matter what big data says.

 

Who Would I Be if I Stay?

It was miserable hot here on Friday, and I had promised the kids some devoted Mom time. They wanted the pool. I just couldn’t face it, so I pulled my Ace out of my sleeve and we went to see Wonder Woman. I have to preface anything I say about this movie with the fact that while I love movies, I generally enjoy them more at home. The big screen, the loud volume, the explosions, it all gets to be a little much for me. I frequently have my fingers in my ears (or ear plugs if I remember) to dampen the volume. With all of that said, I LOVED THE MOVIE. I especially loved watching it with my 10 year old daughter and seeing her mouth hanging open taking in a female super hero.

There’s a lot I could share from Wonder Woman, but I suspect most of those articles have been written, but there is one moment from the movie that really struck a chord with me (well, okay there were others, but I’m going to pick THIS one). It’s early on, too, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything. Anybody who goes to this movie KNOWS she’s not staying on the island with the Amazons. This is the moment of the story I want to zoom in on (heh, see what I did there?). Diana has to decide whether to stay in the safety of her island with her people or to go out and challenge the foe that has kept them in hiding for her entire lifetime.

Predictably, her mother would prefer that she stay, especially after getting a preview of the violence that awaits elsewhere. Diana wrestles with what to do, summons her strength and power and decides to go, in the middle of the night, when nobody can stop her. Her Mom, clearly equipped with Amazonian Mom radar, catches her and begs her to stay, to which Diana replies: “Who would I be if I stay?”

Slide1I actually gasped in the theater because of how great a question I thought it was. It cuts right to the heart of aligning our actions with the kind of person we WANT to be rather than the kind of person others want us to be OR the kind of person we’ve “always been.” You see, Diana is examining the cost of not choosing to be her biggest and best self. The metaphor is so clear I have to hang out with it for a minute.

So often, when we have a big choice to make, there is risk involved. It could be financial. It could be emotional. It could be just about anything. If there’s something worth thinking about doing, it probably has a potential downside attached to it. And those downsides are so often very easy to identify and quantify. We can spreadsheet the hell out of the pros, and especially the cons. The cons in the story, for Diana, are especially clear as she is standing on the beach where so many of her people were destroyed only hours before. Her mother, as many mothers would – and as many scared voices inside of our heads would, wants her to hide.

It is easier to hide. It is easier to stay safe, whatever that means. It is easier to continue to do what we’ve “always done,” but the cost that Diana calculates that we so often miss out on is the cost of making a choice that goes against who she is at her core, that doesn’t line up with who she believes she can be in the world, that trades vision/ aspiration/ fulfillment for security.

Slide2We all face these choices, choices where the voice in our head says: “That’ll never work. You can’t make enough money that way. You have responsibilities! That idea is just too crazy. NOBODY lives like that.”

But what if that voice is only part of the equation? Better still, what if that voice is just plain old wrong, and the only thing that’s driving it is fear? What would be different if you asked yourself: “Who would I be if I stay?” Who would you be if you never took a risk? Who would you be if you always let the fear drown out your sense of purpose? Who would you be if, instead, you dove in? What would be different if you asked yourself: “Who would I be if I stay?” Who would you be if you didn’t listen to what your heart knows is true? What would be different if you asked yourself: “Who would I be if I stay?”

Are you standing on the shore of your own life, arguing with the Mom voice in your head? Are you taking yourself, your heart, your purpose into account? Who would you be? If you’d like some help imagining that journey, I’d love to help.

When You Feel Lost

We are all feeling a little worried and sad over here because my sister’s pooch jumped out of her car the other night, ran across a busy intersection and hasn’t been seen since. We have shared it all over the place on Facebook. My sister and her family put up flyers in the area where this happened. They talked to people. They’ve contacted animal control. No dice so far. And so we try to think of more things to try, and we wait, and we hope.

My daughter asked me what happens if they don’t find sweet little Rey. I explained that the best case (the one I’d like to imagine) is that someone else found her who fell in love with her right away and decided to take care of her forever. I’ve tried holding very positive outcomes in my mind, just in case that makes a difference. I picture little Rey being taken to Animal Control (who knows she is missing). I picture someone reading her tag and calling my sister. I picture her arriving home safe if a little scared. I picture them together.

I picture other things too, though, when I don’t work at it. I picture her lost and scared. I picture her hiding from the very busy and loud part of town where she decided to have an adventure. I picture her being uncertain of what to do because she is young. And when I picture these things, I consciously will her to come out of hiding, to seek help, to use those amazing puppy eyes to get some help from a kindhearted human.

Slide1And in that moment of wishing the best for her, I can’t help but think of how we all feel when we are lost. We think we are totally alone. We’ve maybe made a decision that turned out to be pretty terrible in retrospect. We’ve taken a risk that didn’t pan out and now we’re adrift in unfamiliar territory. We feel the loss of what we thought would happen. We feel regret or remorse. We may tell ourselves we’re incompetent or foolish. We hide. We quiet our fear and loneliness any way we can find. We tell people we’re fine but so busy we can’t see them right now. And maybe we even want to reach out and make a change or ask for help, but we’re not sure who to trust or what to do.

Slide2If that’s you, if you’re feeling a little adrift, know that I am picturing you right now. I am surrounding you with love and compassion. I am consciously willing you to come out of hiding, to seek help, to find your kindhearted human friends, to know that being lost is temporary and that the way home is always inside of you. The things you learn while you are lost can all be taken home with you, made part of you, in the safety of your heart. I’m here if you need me.

A Tale of Two Bosses, A Lesson for Adults

I just returned from a road trip to Long Island to see dear friends. The kids were plugged in to movies in back, so I actually had a long time to think while navigating around the edges of NYC. I also had a lot of time to listen to music and sing loudly, to listen to podcasts, and to talk to people on the phone, but the thinking is the point here.

This coaching enterprise is my first foray into really being (and feeling) self-employed. I have done some contract work where I was technically my own boss, but I made my client my boss. Now, I am, without question, the boss of my business. And that reality has a lot of pros and cons that go with it. The thing that I was mulling in the car as I stopped and went between Brooklyn and Canarsie, and between Canarsie and JFK, between JFK and the Southern State Parkway, was that perhaps the most important decision I make as my own boss is what kind of boss I intend to be. And the funny thing is that this same decision applies to all of us, self-employed or otherwise, because no matter your employment situation, you are surely your own boss for some part of your day. If you are not ever your own boss, I would seriously like to talk to you about that.

Slide1But I digress… being the boss of yourself at any time means you have some decisions to make about how you are going to handle that responsibility and what kind of boss you want to be. My old tendency was to be the taskmaster boss: making big (often unrealistic) lists of things that need to get done, cracking the whip on “down” time, demanding high levels of performance and imposing emotional consequences for a job not completed or not well done. My employee self was always scurrying, trying to get those items crossed off, but also always afraid of underperforming, rushing to move from one to the next but occasionally becoming paralyzed by the sheer amount being asked or the difficulty of making a clean decision when faced with harsh penalties. My employee self had trouble sleeping, would wake up early and run To Do lists mentally to ensure everything got covered. My employee self was not terribly productive, but sure was busy, and tired, oh so tired.

Slide2That’s not the kind of boss I want to be, and it really isn’t the kind of boss I am to myself anymore, although there is still the occasional pull in that direction. The boss I am now uses words like “learning curve,” “creativity,” “experiment,” and “balance.” The boss I am now sees value in her employee as an individual before, during, and regardless of the list of tasks that “need” to be done. The boss I am now wants to value growth and integrity over productivity and checklists. The boss I am now reassures her employee when things get hard and when she can’t, she calls in a friend to do it: “You can totally do this. You really can.” The boss I am now celebrates successes (even the really small ones), ensures adequate time for training and thinking, and occasionally insists that I go home early on Fridays.

Slide3And all of this is a choice. It’s a choice I make as a boss, as a self-employed boss, but it’s also a choice I make as an adult human. I get to choose to value my own growth and integrity over productivity and checklists. I get to choose balance and time with my family alongside of ambition. I get to choose how I talk to myself when I don’t get something right or when things don’t turn out the way I expected. I get to choose, even if it’s only for part of the day. Sometimes seeing myself as boss and employee in my non-work life helps me remember that these are all choices. The boss in me gets to choose how I will treat the oh so willing employee. The employee in me gets to ask questions and occasionally put her foot down if the boss is getting all kinds of crazy.

And here’s the funny thing, the part that will surprise absolutely nobody who’s worked for an excellent boss, when I am the best boss, I am not only honoring my values and feeling confident, I’m also insanely productive. It really does work best this way. The scolding and hardness only breeds discontent and feelings of incompetence. The encouragement and confidence creates new opportunities, abundant energy and creativity.

I love my boss. She’s awesome. How’s yours?

When the Frog You Should Have Swallowed Becomes An Alligator

Okay, okay, I understand the biological nonsensicality of that, but play along with me for just a few minutes. I wrote last time about the fact that my mother’s leap into a downsized life has brought some new items, some new STUFF into my house. I chose these items, so it’s all stuff that I either like or means something to me, but it is still STUFF and we already have, well as much as I hate to admit it sometimes, a LOT of STUFF. I’d love to tell you that I am a mindful minimalist and every thing in my house is perfectly curated for my education, entertainment or joy, but yeah, that’s an avenue I’ve not walked down yet. I still have a lot of stuff of ambiguous origin.

Slide1Integrating this new stuff into our home has prompted some furniture moving and some questioning of how rooms and spaces are being used, which has prompted more furniture moving and amongst all of this shifting and shuffling, we could no longer avoid the alligator in the basement. The alligator in the basement started in the “tool room,” so-called because we used to keep the tools there, along with a backup fridge, extra paint from various paint jobs, some gardening supplies and the crab and roaster pots. Somehow, over time, the tool room became a dumping ground for out of season decor, bulk purchases that didn’t fit neatly elsewhere, and old curtain rods that had been taken down. We also began to keep tools for specific jobs in trays or boxes with the necessary parts and when those repairs got interrupted, we simply dumped the tray, to pick up later… you know when we decided to do more of that work… I think you see the trend here. What started as a few misplaced crates of Christmas lights became the beginning of a hoarding situation.

The thing is, it didn’t stop there. We became so accustomed to this catch-all space catching all that even when it was difficult to find a reasonable place to put things, we just kept bringing them down there, as though it was really the Room of Requirement and would grow to meet our needs. And so we began stacking things OUTSIDE of the “tool room.” In case you are wondering, searching for tools in the so-called tool room became increasingly difficult throughout this time. Over time a situation developed where walking down the steps into the basement meant walking into a haphazard pile of stuff that didn’t have a home. A giant wall of chaos and indecision. It drives me completely insane. In order to accommodate my annoyance with the wall of chaos, I simply stopped going down there. I don’t have anything I really need to do in the basement. Children can be sent for milk when we run out upstairs. People can bring things up when they come. I avoided the crazy way all of that stuff made me feel by literally avoiding the cause.

Now we have stuff to move around and things to repair. Now we have a vision for what SHOULD be happening in that space at the bottom of the stairs and implementing that plan would make this working Mom’s life SO much easier. Now there is incentive, but it’s still a giant wall of crazy. So crazy it makes my stomach hurt. So crazy I can’t possibly figure out where to begin. That’s what I mean by a frog turning into an alligator.  See, this problem started small. It started with the kind of task that you just do to get it over with and move on, the kind of problem people call a “frog.” When you have something you don’t want to do, you “swallow the frog” (which is really gross, why did I settle on this analogy anyway) and then get on with things that are easier, more enjoyable. This task could have been just that MANY MANY months ago. But now it is SO much bigger, it feels impossible. It feels unapproachable and even a little scary. I know I can’t swallow an alligator.

What to do in these situations? When we’re faced with something that is too big to tackle, consider, comprehend? The only way I’ve ever had any luck facing a giant looming wall of crazy is to stop seeing it as one BIG thing. Did you know you can scare otherwise aggressive animals by having many people group together and make noise together – to be ONE BIG THING? Now, I don’t recommend doing this on purpose, don’t test my anecdote with a grizzly or something, but I have heard, from Canadian park rangers, that this is the case. And it’s because to that big aggressive animal, a huddled group of people looks like ONE BIG NOISY THING. The bear (or whatever) retreats because it doesn’t want to fight a big noisy thing; it just wanted to get to the berry bushes on the other side. The bear doesn’t know that if it just took a minute to see that that big noisy thing was actually made up of several less noisy pieces, it might be able to get to those berries after all.

Slide2The truth is that most of our messes that seem unapproachable, intimidating, too big to ever really accomplish are really lots of little messes, which might not make them any more appealing, but most certainly makes them more approachable. If we can just be still and quiet long enough to look at that ONE BIG THING and see how it is composed of smaller pieces, we can get a handle on how to tackle it.

For my initial attempt to resurrect the purposeful tool room I used a method I favor for any housework related task that I don’t feel like doing (which includes most of them). I grabbed my phone and pulled up the timer and set it for 15 minutes. I then figured out a category of stuff that I could collect and put away. I work best that way, but I could have just as easily decided to clear an area or a specific space first. I worked at it for 15 minutes and because I focused on one part of the whole, I could actually see a difference after only 15 minutes. Now, there are many more 15 minute increments to go, and it still looks awful, but it’s not such a big deal in my head anymore. The alligator is gone. It’s just a bunch of frogs in the basement, and they need cleaned up.

What project or change have you been avoiding because it just seems to big to even think about? What frogs are you letting turn into alligators? How can you break it down? What are the smaller pieces making up the whole? What piece can you tackle that will help you on your way? As always, I’m just a digital message away if you need a frog whisperer or someone to huddle with and make a lot of noise.