Tag Archives: change the world

Joy. And how to use both faucets

A couple of months ago, my friend Misha asked me to write a guest post on J.O.Y.

So it’s been in the forefront of my mind, each day, since then.  Looking for it. Feeling it.

And since then, life has happened. Some little pleasures. Some little sadness’s. Some big delights and thrills. And some deep sorrows and heartache too. And, in between, all the beige when life is just ordinary.

I used to think that joy would pour into, or out of, me (not sure how that works) like British water taps (faucets).

ALL.  Or,  NONE.

Hot and scalding joy on the left.

Or FREEZING to the point of numbing whatever body part was unfortunate enough to be under the spout, from the negative emotions out of the tap on the right.

But in my life’s journey, joy isn’t usually that all-encompassing.  Like mixed taps in the rest of the world, I find joy usually blends in with whatever else is going on, across a whole range of my emotions.

 And although the Brits are probably right that separate taps are character building, I don’t find it particularly pleasant. And, I’d much rather my life, and its impact on others, lean towards the pleasant!

 When Misha asked me to write on joy, all sorts of examples jumped into my mind, immediately.  Most of them small, everyday delights. Much of mine felt through my senses, as though sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, are receptors of joy.  There’s a physical component, whether it’s savoring a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon on my patio, sensing the Divine as I watch the sun set in a cacophony of orange and red, making love on a lazy Saturday morning, catching sight of my kids sleeping peacefully in the twilight, or the rush of seeing my ‘sent’ folder ping with the deliverable I just completed. My senses help me realize when joy is happening.

I think joy can quickly turn from the warm glow of pleasure as you visit with a friend, to all-encompassing ecstasy, when that visit turns into laughing from so deep within, for so hard and so long, that someone ends up wetting themselves. And then you laugh even harder as your joy somehow expands even a little more (especially if it’s not you that did the wetting. That might have the opposite effect.) And finally there’s tears streaming down your cheeks and no room for much of any emotion, but blissful joy. (Of course the memory might have a touch of embarrassment too. For their sake.)

But, even when it’s a milestone JOY, like delivering your first speech as a Vice President, the emotions can be mixed. After all, we really are complicated creatures.  What if the technology failed on you?  Or your boss, or spouse, didn’t make it?  But, I venture a guess that your overarching feeling on that day, and the memories afterwards, are painted with big, wide, brush strokes of joy, with only smaller strokes of irritation or sadness.

The opposite extreme is true too.  I’ve sat with friends whose precious six-month-old has died. And with friends whose parents are gone, much, much, too soon. The sadness is almost unbearable. And the grief palpable. But, there is still a trace of joy. From sharing sweet memories. From silly pictures. From simply showing up–being together and helping to shoulder the pain.  From the shared love.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is room for joy in the mundane, to extreme pain.  Joy can be found each day. In the routine. In the grey.  Our job is to look for it. Acknowledge it.

But I also think that for both faucets to operate together, you have to allow it. No, even stronger, you have to WILL it.

For some unknown reason, which I find sad, we humans see the pain quite easily.  That faucets seems to always work well. All the time.

But, in the extreme moments of pain, I have to make a choice that the event doesn’t, and won’t, define me.  That I am more than the event of my suffering. Sometimes good days are hard to come by, and I have to look for the joy.

I am not the victim of abuse. I am not the spouse who was cheated on. I am not the mother of boy who was hit by a women who had been drinking, and forever changed the trajectory of his life. And the list could go on, of events that have happened in my past. Not one of which defines me. And honestly, none of which I carry with me.  I have chosen to turn on my joy-faucet.

The same is true in the everyday, where joy is not obvious. Where sometimes it is harder to remember to turn on the joy-faucet.  When I’m heads-down, lost in Excel-induced torture, and under the gun for a deadline, there is joy in my accomplishment and expertise.  Joy in the logic and organization of each formula I finally get right (believe me, I celebrate each one).  Or how about when it’s grey and rainy, with nothing but organizing and cleaning on the day’s agenda?  I find joy in the completed accomplishments as I check of my to-do list, but I also revel in my health and physical abilities while decimating spider-webs in those hard to reach places.  And then I celebrate the day is done with a glass of robust, red, wine. That tickles my tongue.

Happiness and joy are not inherently found in my job. No corporation or boss is going to give me joy. Even if it’s the company I founded.  Joy is found, or rather, made, by who I am. By my passions.  This  has been a new revelation for me. I thought this year of travel and experiences we’ve just completed would translate into THE job.  The dream job. The one that would help to change the world.

It hasn’t.

And I’ve had to re-evaluate why I work, and how to find joy in what I do. Because I’m not doing my dream job (and one day, hopefully soon, when I am that fortunate, it won’t bring me joy either). So, I look for joy in things that bring me fulfillment–like the joy I give others when I fix what was driving them crazy. When I create process where there was chaos. I find joy in the skills that I use. In the quality of my work. In the expertise I share. And of course, in seeing the paycheck hit my account.

Many of us intuitively look for, and experience, joy. For others, it is a learned experience. I think joy can be a favorite viewpoint, a way of life, a habit that becomes a discipline.

Because you know what, joy builds a foundation for me to be strong. For me to have hope. For me to dream big. For me to love well.

Here are some steps I follow, to awaken my life, and turn my joy-faucet on full-force:

  1. Know myself. Stick to it. Don’t let someone else’s behavior (or poor choice) make me feel inept or get lost in self-doubt.
  2. Make a conscious choice about what matters to me, things or experiences, without apologizing for it. And then spend my time and money there. And find others with the same values.
  3. Be honest. Life is hard. It’s not all rainbows. Admit how I’m feeling. Both positive and negative. Don’t live in denial. Personal and professional transformation happens when I look inside and ask the hard questions and face up to what I’m feeling.
  4. Be a friend. To myself. To my  Dreamboat. To my friends. Not just when there’s drama. When things are ‘normal’/beige/boring.  Have a conversation with someone who really knows me, when there is NOTHING to      catch up on. That’s when I get to the good stuff. When we have to share from the heart. Or sit in silence. Either way.  Be. Together.  Just show up.
  5. Be brave. Trust my heart. Change the atmosphere around me by stepping out. Bravery is contagious.
  6. Be vulnerable. (Read anything by Brene Brown on joy and vulnerability.)

So I challenge myself, and each of you, to turn on the joy-faucet and make it a habit, to infuse our lives’ paintings with joy. And therefore not make others’ interactions with us, an opportunity to build their character :-)

BE joyful!

 

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Filed under July 2014

Fierce and Clueless – My Messy Beautiful

I’m fierce.

I know that. Maybe not Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”. But, fierce nonetheless. That’s who I am inside. I feel like my world is big. BIG. I feel like the impact I’m called to have on the world is big. BIG. I feel summoned.

But to WHAT????

The doors just keep closing. I’ve read all those helpful sayings, or not so helpful in my case, about rejection simply being a way to push us in a new and better direction. Or that when a door closes, a window opens. I’m looking. I’m watching. Believe me, I am. But, no apparent window or new direction has surfaced. Yet. Just more rejections. And ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. And phone calls saying they’re sure I’ll do great wherever else I land.

The temptation is to lower my ideals, reduce my dreams, so there’s less gap between them and my reality.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. After getting rid of all our ‘stuff’, quitting our jobs, and taking just over a year to travel and volunteer, I thought we’d land somehow different. Better. I thought this year of intentional discovery and challenge and growth would be like a magic-carpet-ride. Transporting us to a magical place in our lives.

And for a while, with three amazing, different, jobs, it almost did.

Where I could help change the world.

But it didn’t.

And, I’m still at a crossroads.

But you know what? If I hadn’t taken this time ‘off’, I’d live with regrets. Big ones. And that’s NOT. ACCEPTABLE. Not to me.

And I know that it took huge courage to step out and make this dream happen. To rid ourselves of the things that kept us busy and scheduled and focused on things that weren’t the most important to us. And to take the kids out of school, against the wishes of Peanut’s therapists. And to spend our savings. And to go. And to do. And to see. To really see.

Seeing the Eifel Tower. For the first time.

And I know that I bring all those learnings and the amazing experiences with me. I know that Dreamboat, myself, and our three kiddo’s are forever changed, in a multitude of ways, from this year.

In addition to our new skills of surfing and Spanish, and our love of Ceviche, we have taught the kids how to love those who were unloved. (Now that we’re back, I have to admit, I’ve regretted this a teensy bit. I’m just a tad nervous, but proud too, as I watch them befriend those who are lonely, and odd, and without friends.)

How to give generously of our time, skills, and resources.

We’ve all learned to be more flexible (some of us more so than others, but nonetheless, I, oops, I mean ‘we’ have improved…at least a bit).

How to focus on others, while not losing sight of who we are. (For me, this one is hard. Unfortunately, it’s still a daily lesson.)

To appreciate the beauty of things being unique and different. And to not be frightened by them. Or to judge.

So, I’m reminding myself of these and all the other gifts we’ve received from this year. (And of course the two gorgeous bags I had made in Marrakech. I’m pretty grateful for those as well.)

And I’m trying to drown out my fears with my gratitude.

I remind myself that I would chose this path again. And I’m taking to those lessons and insights into who I am.

And I’m refusing to lower my faith in myself.

As a wise friend of mine said to me this morning, “Being uncomfortable is OK. Necessary even, to move forward and grow.”

And, she’s right. Of course. (Thank goodness. ‘Cause I AM uncomfortable. That’s a very benign word for the angst that comes in waves. Big, scary waves.)

But, I’m choosing today. Again. Not. To. Lower. My. Dreams. To continue to find a way to make my reality reach the seemingly impossible. To see the invisible and hear the inaudible and then make those things a reality. (That last sentence is shamelessly stolen from Scott Aughtmon’s FB page this morning. I love it.)

And, I’m giving myself a not-so-little pep talk, to suck it up and keep looking. Keep trusting. Keep doing life, even though I’m afraid.

We can be fierce, AND afraid. Right?

——This post and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under April 2014

Missing things

As the countdown has begun to leave our international destinations and head back to the US, for the driving-across-the-country/US-history portion of this amazing year, I catch myself making mental lists of things I miss about home. And lists of things I will miss when I leave here.  These are some of them, in no particular order.

What I miss about home:

  • Friends. (That includes you, family). When it comes to reducing stress, talking with friends produces better results than Valium, therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, or a stiff drink. And I had it in spades. I was surrounded by amazing people (some from a physical distance, but at least they had good internet and phone service which I’ve had only sporadically this year). And I miss them more than anything. Dreamboat has been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s ready for me to start sharing my thoughts and dreams and fears and and hopes and menu and frustrations and laundry dread, and the list goes on, with several someones other than him. And, if I ask him, even one more time, what he’s thinking, this trip may be over. Today.
  • Plumbing that is made to handle toilet paper. I miss this one a lot. Every day.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and the easy availability of healthy foods. And that food packaging is printed in English. And that I had a car to drive to the stores and didn’t have to walk up to eight miles to get there. (I know this one sounds snarky, and it is. But, it’s also true.)
  • The lack of ear-piercing car alarms, constant honking, trucks rumbling, music blaring, combined into noise pollution that never stops. This week, I heard a car’s reverse beep (not enough for only the large-sized trucks to have them here in Lima), to the tune of J Lo’s “On the Floor.” Swear.  I love the energy of a big city, but now, I crave me some stillness and peace.
  • Matching glasses (stemware). A full set of silverware. Cloth napkins. Pretty, shiny, things.
  • Not living out of a suitcase. And with only the clothes, and the shoes (especially the limited shoes), that I can fit into one suitcase.
  • Time alone that doesn’t equate to all five of us at a Starbucks, with everyone having received orders to READ and BE QUIET, to give me some uninterrupted thinking. Or a nap. Either would be fine.
  • My kids’ teachers. God BLESS them.  There are times, ok – they’re fleeting (or maybe not), when I long for having to go in to the office, for some kid-free time.
  • People Magazine (which I know is full of trash, and now has great, new trash on people I’ve not heard about after being away for so long), and Marie Claire (which has amazing fashion which I can no longer afford since I’ve not worked in so long), and House Beautiful (which is just silly as I’ve not been in a house in almost nine months, and my house is rented through the end of the year, and, once again, I can’t hire one of those amazing designers to come add their creativity and beauty to my home). But, I miss each and every one of these publications nonetheless. And, at every airport and kiosk and bookstore and checkout counter, I look for them. Finally, in Spain, six MONTHS into this trip, I gave away the Marie Claire I had brought from home. It still pains me to think about not having it.
  • Going to the movies. If I’m being totally honest, which of course I am, we didn’t often go to movies before we left home. There were the rare girls-night-out, or movie dates with Dreamboat. But, it had been months since I’d been to a movie before we left, and it has been the ENTIRE nine months of our trip so far, since I’ve seen a new release. I don’t even know what I’ve missed. But here’s the secret, when I was trying not to get buried under the stress of life, sometimes, without telling anyone, I would go to a matinee and just escape to be entertained and laugh or cry or dig my nails into the arm rests.  I loved the escapism and perspective it brought. The reality of my life was always better than the movie I saw. (By the way, you’d be surprised who is watching movies at 2:00pm on a Monday.)

What I will miss when I’m home:

  • Time. Time with the kids. Time with Dreamboat. Time to workout. Time to volunteer. Time to explore and learn. Time for naps. Time to write. Time that is all mine to spend as I wish, unencumbered by school and sports schedules, commitments, or work. The beauty and joy, from life without the morning rush to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door on time.
  • Knowing I’m following my dreams. Knowing I’m making a difference, every day, in my life, and the lives of my kids, and the lives of those less fortunate.
  • Low cost of living!  Cheap housing. Cheap food. Cheap wine. Affordability ROCKS.
  • Sunshine all year long! As we intentionally followed the sun, except for a freak snowstorm, we got to skip winter. After living in Seattle for 6 years, this girl has been soaking up the happiness of daily vitamin D.
  • Always being just a little off-kilter from being in a foreign place. Being ‘new’ which has kept me aware, learning, on the edge. And, more sensitive to others who are new, and able to reach out and make them feel welcome.
  • The lack of Hallmark Holidays and the freedom from the production of having to decorate and celebrate for every. Single. One. As much as I love my kids’ schools and their teachers (and believe me, I love them a LOT), there will be many times (every single holiday), when I’ll wish to be back in Africa and free of the guilt-inducing celebrations that require planning, effort, midnight runs to the store for materials, and time-off-work to attend. If I were to have more children, they’d have to draw straws to see who gets to have mama attend their event.
  • The intentionality of teaching and modeling the character I want to nourish in my kids. The daily challenges and lessons we have faced ‘on the road’ which serve as reminders that success is waking up every morning with your soul at peace. Of teaching them that compassion takes energy and attention, but is not hard. So if they’re not being kind, they’re just being lazy. And selfish.
  • Seeing poverty every day. And the joy of those living in it. And being reminded everywhere I look, that happiness is a choice, not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Surfing. And the sound of the waves. And the view of the ocean (not the one in Conakry with all the floating trash and the rotting fish, but the pristine one in Spain).

What I will not miss, ever, is a Hammam. I like to think of myself as stubborn, and anything but a quitter. I’m game to try most anything once. But, I quit the local Hammam mid-experience. After I had talked a friend into joining me and we were both stripped down our underwear, and had made it through the two outer chambers and into the, what was supposed to be, ‘hot’ room, to find myself chilled, grossed out by the slime and smell and wishing I could hide from the big, naked lady approaching with a dark brown fatty substance that looked like axel grease, I turned and walked back to the locker rooms (wet room with hooks lining two walls and a bench I wouldn’t set Peanut’s poopy bottom on), unconcerned with any semblance of dignity, and got dressed while all the women, in various stages of undress, sat and ate and watched us. Nope. Anything resembling a Turkish Bath, and I’m heading the other way, while spraying Lysol over my shoulder. No matter what country I’m in.

This year has enriched my life in more ways than I can name. And, is cutting out chunks of my heart, to leave behind in each of the incredible places I’ve come to know and love.

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Filed under May 2013

Coward’s way out

This one was untitled, because I couldn’t bring myself to write down what I think it should be called. Because this post is about not liking one of my kids.

Gasp. I can’t breathe. I feel like I shouldn’t admit that to myself, let alone write it down and then post it!

I see and hear others gush about their lovely, smiling offspring. It’s not just others—my FB page is full of admiration for all my kidlets. Here’s a recent pic of them.

My kiddo’s, smiling for the camera

But, this morning, and for several days now, one of those cherubic smiles was missing. And, I was biting my tongue (really hard) to keep from nagging them, wishing for the clock to speed up so it would be time for them to head off to school. (Yes, the kids are attending local school while we’re in our little, Spanish village. That makes me sooo happy. Especially today!)

My irritation has been building with this child. I’ve not been enjoying time with them, mostly due to their lighting-speed launch from ‘normal’ to ANGRY. And, for being unkind to my other kidlets. Dreamboat and I have talked about what to do to make it stop. And our frustation. And our sadness.

I was just about to pull back a little emotionally, to allow some space between us, to try and hide from them how taxing I find time together. Because of course, that always works. Right?  Because when someone pulls away from me, without explanation, it always helps the situation improve. Right?

Then I read my little one’s letter home to a friend.

And my heart broke.

This tender child wrote that they’re lonely. Missing their friends. Struggling. Lost.

As I myself wrote just this week, “the people that are the strongest are usually the most sensitive.” The strength of my little one’s anger, is an attempt at a self-protective shield from the pain they’re feeling. I know that.

Or, I should have known that.

And, I know from friends telling me of their kids’ reactions to culture shock, and the many books I’ve read on the subject, that anger is one of the main responses to being in a new environment. It’s natural, normal, and healthy.

I knew that too. At least it my head.

This emotional reaction will help my kiddo work through their unease of being new, different, uncomfortable. They need to work through the pain and privilege of currently inhabiting both a local home, and a new, foreign ‘home’. To maintain their friendships and identity in their local home, but to establish new friendships and identity in their new, temporary home. Their reaction is a reminder of how important that work is, and what is at stake. And what they can gain from working through it.

What wonderful people, and friends, they will become if they can learn to overcome their feelings of unease, but remember what it’s like to be new. To be the foreigner. And to reach out to others, throughout their lives, who are also new and in need of friendship and support.

I should have been there, offering the support and understanding they need, drawing us closer. Pointing out gently the process they going through. Instead of taking the coward’s way out. Instead of withdrawing.

Yet here I was, about to distance myself from this child who needs me most. I wasn’t looking beyond the emotion, to see the root of the issue. To look for understanding. Instead, I allowed my buttons to get pushed (which my children are so very well-skilled at finding). I lost my clarity, blurred into oblivion behind my own emotional reaction.

I share this today, hoping you will avoid the mistakes I’m making, not only if you have kids, but with friends. With parents. With spouses. With partners.

Be bigger than me.

Be the gracious and understanding person I wish I’d been. Don’t withdraw. Don’t cause more pain.

If only I had said, “Sweetheart, you don’t seem yourself. Is something bothering you? Are you finding it difficult to settle in here? Would you like a date with me to have some special time together?”  I wish I had immeditely offered additional encouragement, supporting them while they figure out how to adapt and get their equilibrium back.

The good news is that I’ve not blown it completely. I have a chance to make it right.

And guess what?

I’m off to plan some special time tonight with my kiddo.

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Filed under February 2013