Come Home to Yourself

“You don’t need to change yourself. You need to come home to yourself.”

I was sitting in the grass listening to a talk by the Reverend John Scherer (mentioned in yesterday’s post) and this line really stood out.

It was not a new idea for me. Martha Beck, with whom I studied life coaching, often talks about coming home to peace as the foundation of personal growth and transformation.

The concept of improving things by coming home to peace, to yourself, is a game-changer, and it was a good reminder to me even now.

blackboard-board-chalk-21696I’ve been thinking about shaking some things up in my business, in my practice, and when I think about that really hard, which is my temptation as one who has regularly been rewarded for the thinking in the past, I am usually inclined to add a bunch of stuff, to seek out and take advice from the VAST multitude of business consultants out there (if you’ve never worked for yourself and seen this first hand, trust me you’d be blown away by how much money is changing hands learning how to make money change hands). I get really busy, big lists, big tasks. I check in with a lot of people: what do you think, how does this look, will this work, am I okay?

I spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to change what I’m doing, which sometimes morphs a bit into changing who I’m being. I know some of you feel me on this. We make concessions. They tend to start small, but can end up feeling really big when we realize that we’re proceeding in a way that we not only don’t really recognize but that feels foreign in a not exciting kind of way, that feels icky not just scary, that feels like a compromise with someone you really don’t like. We change to fit the world, or at least our understanding of the world.

It reminds me of my first couple of years teaching high school. I remember shopping for clothes for that job. I remember needing those clothes to look a certain way, some sort of picture I had in my head of teacher. It had nothing to do with modesty. It was just some idea of what I thought a teacher should look like. I also had ideas about how a teacher should act. I made my choices carefully (which isn’t always a bad thing – don’t misunderstand me). I SO wanted to get it right. As for the work itself, I worked my behind off. I was an excellent teacher. Or, I should say, the me that I constructed for the purpose of teaching, was an excellent teacher.

Because the thing is that I wasn’t really there. I was so busy making sure I was being right for the part that I forgot that I was not an actor. I forgot to bring my actual self to work with me.

And it broke me. There is little as draining as being someone other than who you are all day every day (especially when you have to get up at 5 am to do it).

I was so exhausted from all of that being perfect that when I got home, well, after I finished the part of the job that I did at home, which was usually at 9 or 10 pm (I am not receptive to comments about how easy teachers have it), I had no energy to come home to myself, to try to plug back in and remember who was in there, to find the parts of me that might help make things feel better.

And so I concluded that I just needed to get better at the job to feel better doing it. I needed to get better at all of the parts that teaching is made up of. I needed to get better at planning (I did, by the way). I needed to get better at creating materials (checked that one off the list too). I needed to get better at asking for help from colleagues (some progress). I needed to get better at organizing systems for the classroom (no progress, ever). I needed to get better at all of the mechanical elements that took up so much time.

It never once occurred to me in those first couple of years that I needed to pay more attention to my relationships with students. We had a good, working relationship. I was deemed “professional and friendly” in observations. Sounds good. Except that the relationships, and my capacity to be helpful to them was the thing that might have saved the entire experience.

It is easy to see this now as a life coach, someone who still teaches, and who is very clear on the fact that what I teach is only part of the gig. The relationships that come with the job and the fulfillment I get in being allowed to witness important transformations feed me.  It is easy, in retrospect, to see what might have made a difference in my early teaching experience.

It is easy because now, so many years later, I know that the trick is coming home to myself.

And yet, I am still tempted to just better myself, to get better at the mechanics of the job, to get better at marketing, to get better at organizing things (still a big zero on that front), and don’t misunderstand me, getting better at the mechanics is not a bad thing. It’s a question of how I make that decision.

If I come at improving myself from a place of fear and a willingness to be somebody different so that my world will not fall apart, so that I will win in some way that my culture defines for me, so that things will “work,” I just may get what I want, but it won’t feel very good.

alone-back-view-blonde-247195If I come at my work from a place of figuring out who I am and bringing that person to work with me, it’s still scary, because I’m a little afraid of letting all of you see her all of the time, BUT every decision after that is so much easier, and the results feel better no matter what they are, because I am home.

Are you home? Would you like to be?

Mind Your Business

4th-of-july-american-bright-461917In the U.S., the 4th of July brings with it a lot of revelry, a lot of gathering, a lot of flag waving, and sometimes some reflection on our national culture.

The founders get referenced heavily. I both understand and respect that. I taught government and history in high schools. Classes on political philosophy in my graduate program were my favorite.

I support the urge to reflect while we celebrate whatever it is that this holiday means for each of us individually and as a group. I especially support the urge to reflect on our ideals NOW, when so many of us feel that we are not living up to them in any way that we want to recognize.

I don’t want to wax too heavily political here, not because I fear losing you or upsetting you, but because there are so many spaces for that. I can engage in these arguments, and get heated about it, but I know that I need spaces for quiet reflection in order to make sense of my world. Maybe you do too. So that’s part of my mission today, and maybe every day, to create a space where we can step away from the raging of the world and check in with our ideals, check in with our hearts, and check in with the path that lies before us. Sometimes those paths include politics.

A friend told me the other day that when the founders were trying to come up with a motto for the baby United States, Ben Franklin suggested (with humor as he did most things) that “Mind Your Business” would make a good motto. It reflected the drive toward commerce that was so much a part of the American character even then as well as the fear of interference in private and business affairs that the colonists’ experience with England had reinforced. Franklin acknowledged that his suggestion was not adequately transcendent. Eventually E Pluribus Unum was chosen.

I think it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about both of these phrases as part of our celebration of independence.

Frankly while I like the idea of E Pluribus Unum (from many, one), it doesn’t seem to have gotten us much unum.

I wonder, instead if Franklin might have been onto something, but that he limited his scope of interpretation such that he missed his own brilliance. I think a case could be made for Mind Your Business as both a more accurate reflection of the American character AND as an aspirational tool – an idea that could create transcendence.

On the accuracy front, Mind Your Business would have, at the very least, been a more honest reflection of the reality of most of the founders as men of money and commerce. It certainly would have been a more accurate reflection of those who were slaveholders and who protected that practice in the Constitution. From Many, One doesn’t mean much if the many are all propertied white me. Unum is easier to achieve in small groups.

As for transcendence, I’d like to propose an alternative meaning for Mind Your Business, one I’ve mentioned, but only at the surface level, before. This understanding of Mind Your Business is not an admonition to leave someone alone, but instead, an urging to really dig deeply into what you are trying to do in this world, to check in with your heart, with your intuition, with your values, with your god if you have one, to actually attempt to align your life with the things, ideas, principles, and feelings that matter the most to you. Minding your business is not about privacy so much as it is about intellectual honesty and active integrity.

I wonder what would have been different had the founders decided to mind their business in this way. While I cannot overlook the founders’ failure of morality in institutionalizing slavery in law, I recognize the conflict that it presented internally. I wonder what might have been different for them, for African Americans, for ALL of us had they taken those misgivings more seriously than the approval of their peers, if they trusted that they would, in fact, be able to continue to survive and even thrive financially if they just learned to live in integrity with the sense of the grave injustice in which they were participating. I wonder what would be different had they chosen to mind that kind of business. Mightn’t they have taken their misgivings to heart and defended them as passionately as they defended things like individual rights (for propertied white men) and the need to establish a government that could actually act in the common interest (of propertied white men)? Could they then have made slavery a thing of the past 75 years ahead of the Civil War?

What would be different?

It’s an intellectual exercise to be sure, but it’s also a clarion call as we enter these days of celebration and festivity. If we are to celebrate our founding with any seriousness, can we not also examine its limitations and see what lessons they might hold for us today?

E Pluribus Unum – From Many, One.

Mind Your Business – Act with Integrity for Principles that Matter

I admit to a heavy heart heading into this holiday.

agriculture-cloudscape-cloudy-skies-129539I will still go to see fireworks, because I do love them.

I will still find wisdom and inspiration in some of those old ideals.

And I will hold them up to the light of my heart. I will check them and how they are used, carried out, and desecrated. I will act in integrity because that’s what not just patriotism, but responsible humanity demands of me.

So be it.

We Get So Attached to the How

I have been, historically, a very goal oriented person. It has served me well in many ways. I did well in school and got letters and accolades to reward me for that. I have some degrees. I landed roles in plays and sang in bands. I got jobs and finished projects. I became a homeowner and saved for retirement. Check. Check. Check.

calendar-checklist-list-3243Looking back, I would say that only a relatively small percentage of that time, when I was checking off so many boxes, did I focus on what I thought that box would get me. I thought my education would get me a good job and the good job would make me happy I think. I think that’s how it went, although I suspect “happy” included some other more complicated dark stuff like “prove I was worthy,” “show what a good person I am,” “make other people approve of me,” but I digress because if you can actually believe it, that’s not what I want to talk about today (WHAT?!).

The point here is that in deciding what was going to deliver the desired state of mind or being, I became exclusively focused on the HOW. This is how I’m going to get THERE, instead of remembering to look for the THERE here. What? I know, too many vague words. I’ve got you.

I have heard this story a few times, and I don’t really know where it originates, so if you told it to me and you wrote it, I am super sorry for not crediting you. Shoot me a note and I will fix that. The story is about two fishermen.

One of the two starts his day at sunrise, catches as many fish as he can all day long, often until dark. He keeps the fish he needs for his family and sells the rest to friends and neighbors. He saves the money so that he can buy a boat to expand his fishing territory and hire some help.

He notices (and shakes his head at) the second fisherman who usually arrives at their secret fishing spot at around 10 am. The second fisherman fishes for a few hours and usually packs up when he has enough fish for his family plus one. He then, by mid-afternoon at the latest, packs up his things and returns home.

One day, the second fisherman surprises the first by asking what he does with all of the fish. The first fisherman explains that he has nearly saved up enough for a boat and he hopes to hire a second fisherman so that he can catch even more fish. “And what will you do then?” The first fisherman explains that he will then buy a bigger boat, and then maybe a second boat so that he can catch even more fish. He will increase his profits and expand the business as much as he can. “And then what?” asks the second fisherman, as he slowly reels in one of the four fish he will likely catch that day. The first fisherman explains that if he grows his business enough he will then be able to save enough money to retire and spend time with his family.

The first fisherman is pleased with his plan, and glad the second fisherman asked because maybe hearing about his ambitious plan will help the second fisherman realize how much more he could be doing. The first fisherman is very curious about the second and asks: “What do you do when you’re not fishing?”

action-beach-brother-749079The second fisherman explains that he wakes up and takes a walk first thing in the morning, eats breakfast with his family and then walks his children to school. He returns home and he and his wife spend some time together before he gathers his equipment. He fishes and when he is done, he returns home in time to play his guitar for a while before he meets his children after school. He plays with them and then he and his wife cook together, experimenting with all of the different ways they can enjoy the fish he has caught. Sometimes in the early evening, the family will walk together or even go down to the shore and swim before retiring for the night.

The second fisherman smiled, enjoying his own vision, his own story, his own reality now.

The second fisherman never lost sight of what he was trying to create, what he craved, what he wanted. He looked around and found that happiness, ease, and community were all already available. The only “HOW” in getting them was being clear enough to see what was right in front of him so long as he did not fill the time with some other how.

It is so easy to get attached to the how. It is so tempting to create that list with all of the check boxes. It is REALLY satisfying to check boxes (I know I’m not the only one). But what if you’ve made the HOW the goal? Worse still, what if your how is getting in the way? What is it that you really want?

Personally, I think I am going to need to schedule a check my HOW meeting with myself. What do I want? Am I sure that what I’m doing is about that? What would happen if I let a solution present itself? What would happen if I believed that being happier, feeling better, being connected and awake could just be easy?

Fish for thought.

With so much love,

julia

The Grind

grinder-hitachi-power-tool-flexible-162529I am writing this on a Monday morning and once in a while on Mondays I’ll sort of float the thought: “back to the grind,” in solidarity with everyone returning to work. But I don’t really think that at all and in fact, it is so far off the mark that it often makes me giggle a little. I never feel like I’m going back to the grind on Mondays.

This is not to say that I don’t sometimes find my job exceedingly difficult. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are chock full, one thing to the next, a little frenzied. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are all about massive productivity, sort of grinding things out, but it never feels like a grind and on the surface, I think that’s because I LOVE my work.

I have had many jobs. I come from a crew of multiple career folks; it seems to be in our genes to make major shifts more often than most, and I did my fair share of that. And it is tempting to say that NOW I found it. It certainly feels like that’s true now, and maybe it is true forever. Maybe this job is THE JOB, but I think my happiness with my work is more complicated than that and I think that complication might be useful to those of you for whom Monday really is a grind.

You see I had no intention of choosing this work. When I first began trying to make a decision about what to do for work after my kids went to school, I fully intended to go back to the classroom and things only got difficult when that idea started making me want to throw up. I think that’s a step beyond “the grind,” but maybe I’m just being dramatic.

At any rate, when I was trying to sort out what to do, I just kept looking at my options and their trade-offs and benefits. I kept sorting through the logic of all of it. And I kept bumping up against really old ideas about what I could and should do. “I couldn’t possibly… I HAVE to… What if I fail?” But that bumping was so old and practiced I didn’t even notice it any more. I just hit that imaginary ceiling, my self-imposed limit, and stopped, convinced I had laid all of the options on the table and I now needed to choose the one that was the best of the awful. And that made me want to throw up, as choosing the best of the awful is likely to do.

So I worked at all of that. I figured out where those limits were. I dug down to see what kinds of stories I was telling myself and there were quite a few there. Some of them sounded like my parents (although an old, more stressed out and judgy version of my parents). Some of them sounded like my siblings. And some of them sounded like the meanest version of myself. And I went through the process of unwinding it all.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd when I did that it was like opening a door. No, it was better than that. It was like suddenly removing the top of the building so I could see the sky (in a non-dangerous, totally non-creepy way). It was like looking up and seeing space and openness, limitlessness and freedom rather than seeing all of the reasons I couldn’t change things and THAT, that feeling changed everything.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to do that work WHILE I was still in the classroom. It’s not regret or self-abuse; it really is just a wondering. I don’t know that I would have stayed in teaching, but I know I would have felt differently. I know I would have experienced the difficulties of the job differently – and I’d say that about any of the jobs I’ve had. I would have been different in them if I had been able to free myself from the mental baggage that was weighing me down, chaining me to whatever desk I occupied. I would have been free and felt more like I was choosing, and freedom and choosing – they don’t feel the grind the same way. Freedom and choosing find opportunities for growth. Freedom and choosing feel like power. Freedom and choosing are possible, but may require that deep internal work to find. And that deep internal work can work wonders on moving toward freedom and choice in the larger world. Liberation from the grind is a two step process. I suggest you lead with your mind. If you need a guide, I’d love to help. If you’d like to work on changing those thoughts on your own, I’d like to recommend my mini book, How to Rewrite Your Story.

So much love,

julia