Expect The Unexpected During Times Of Change

I had a lovely and helpful Zoom meeting yesterday with a group of my women friends. We had gathered virtually for our usual in-person twice a month meeting. Our focus was on checking in with how everyone was coping with the coronavirus situation. I was fascinated by the variety of reactions expressed about being isolated at home while social or physical distancing. Some of my friends were really struggling with being alone while others were fine to be on their own. Some found they were experiencing less everyday anxiety because there were fewer expectations for having to accomplish anything. Others had increased anxiety. There were a few people who, like me, already work from home in a solitary endeavor so they are used to being isolated. Some really missed their social engagements, others not so much. Many were taking advantage of nice weather to go outside for walks in nature. Some were grateful for Zoom and other ways to engage with each other virtually. Too many Zoom sessions in a day exhausts me, so I am setting limits on my virtual social interaction. Gratitude came up frequently.

Although there were some similarities and themes for how we are handling our day-to-day, I was struck by how differently we were all managing this change in lifestyle. There is no one right way to get through an experience that you have never had before. And that is truly what makes this an unusual time. Most of us have never been through a pandemic and we don’t have any foundational understanding of what to do and how we will react. One of my friends was being hard on herself because she feels like she is overacting and not behaving calmly and leaderly like she usually does in times of upheaval. Be kind to yourself if you are reacting very differently from how you have in the past to unusual circumstances. And allow that how you react may be very different from your family, friends and loved ones. Now is a chance to talk to each other to make sure that you understand each other’s fears and needs and desires. As I have been personally experiencing, those fears and needs and desires can change rapidly so check in with each other often.

I find that simple questions to start the conversation are really helpful. “How are you feeling?” “What do you need right now?” “What’s going on for you today?” “How are you managing having the kids at home?” Allow the other person to feel safe about describing their experience by quietly listening to what they have to say. And it might be helpful to set ground rules, like, “I really want to talk about the corona virus and how it’s being handled,” or “I really need a break from talking about it.” Be flexible and open to what the other person needs. And of course let them know what you need. And keep in mind that people have rhythms through the day for how they process information. I do not want to go into too much depth in the evening—I am just not at my best at that time and get overwhelmed easily. I am a morning and day person. Others need to percolate on issues and want to talk later in the day. That isn’t always easy to coordinate between two people, but do your best.

My husband asked me yesterday to think about what I want to take away from my experience during the coronavirus pandemic. What a great area to explore! What do you want to remember about these weeks? What are you learning about yourself, about your loved ones, about life during these times? Ponder these questions with love and kindness and see what you discover. We have a tremendous opportunity to be present for each other right now, so take advantage of opening your heart to one another, share your experiences and show your gratitude.

xoxo Rachel

Searching For What Enlivens You

In my last blog I wrote about finding personal values to help get more of what you want in life. I got to thinking about this topic because lately I have been feeling a bit dissatisfied about what I am doing. Clarifying values helps you to discover activities that you might enjoy more fully. Because when you align your activities with your values, you will feel more in tune with your true wants and desires.

However, the process is more nuanced than just generating a list of values then matching them to activities. For me, passion needs to play a role. I want to feel passionate and enlivened about what I am doing and I need the right mix of solitary and social activities to accomplish this. Frankly, I am always searching for passion and life-giving experiences. Perhaps that explains my career shifts from psychology professor to media executive to life coach to wedding celebrant back to life coach.

Most of my working years were in corporate where I was on the work treadmill. I was ambitious and excited about the next level up, always searching for more and more, even if it was more and more of something I didn’t really want. Not that I dismiss all my work. I did enjoy much of it, but did it really matter to me? Yes and no. The enjoyment of the work itself was lifted by the experience of being recognized as good at my work. The promotions helped me financially, sure, but equally important they helped me to feel respected, needed and contributing to the world. And I enjoyed working with others. Many of my core values were being met. But something was missing. I was always doing.

I see now that my “helping others” value got short-changed in my media career. Although I was certainly in a service role and could be seen as helping others, helping others for me has as its core a connection to social causes. I grew up surrounded by social activists. And though I enjoyed being part of the media industry, the work I did had no connection to making social changes in the world. I did have a positive impact on various individuals and companies just as they had a personal impact on me, but I wasn’t part of a larger cause. My value of helping others was never fully satisfied. And I had little time to think about the big-picture of my life.

I have a tendency to try many things because I enjoy variety and I am always on the search for more. That’s my learning and growing value. I love writing, coaching, psychology, philosophy, meditating, painting, dancing and beading to name a few. Although I have loved these endeavors most of my life, which one I have in focus shifts rather quickly. I am quite fickle. Yet when I think about causes that I am passionate about the list is constant and crystal clear: equality for all—no exclusions. I am starting to realize that helping others needs to be tied to that passion for me to fully realize my value.

I am passionate about feminism, racial equality, gay rights, animal rights and body love for all sizes and shapes and abilities. I am working to explore my own biases and sensitivities with the goal to be a more compassionate and helpful person in the world. Yet the question always stays with me: am I doing enough to promote these causes? Am I using my talents in the world to help leave a better world behind? Am I active enough? Or is it okay to simply live my vegan feminist life quietly having a smaller impact on the world? Is not my existence enough? Can’t I just be?

Being versus doing—that question of balance comes up all the time. In our society most of us are busy doers. Yet, being shouldn’t be dismissed because it is the basis for how you live your life and what you stand for, regardless of how much you do. I doubt that I will ever fully resolve the push and pull between being and doing. And that is alright because questioning and exploring what is true for me is clearly part of my DNA—part of what I value. It is my search for meaning. What’s yours?

xoxo Rachel

What Do You Really Care About?

I am thinking a lot lately about how we end up doing what they do in this world. Now that I am semi-retired and my hours are very flexible, I am meeting many people who are retired. Often they had a number of years in a career that they enjoyed yet they are now discovering issues and activities that they find more meaningful. It is fascinating learning about the variety of things they really care about. For instance, a friend of mine just became deeply immersed in creating beautiful pottery. Another friend recently went to Nairobi on a mission to help undernourished children. And another friend is passionate about teaching others to meditate.

Whether these activities are paid work or volunteer work doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these friends are deeply and personally drawn to these activities. They are more fulfilled because these activities support their personal values and needs. Certainly many of us find great enjoyment and meaning from our main work in the world, but far too many of us don’t while working or ever for that matter.

What do you really care about? Whether you are retired or not, isn’t it worth exploring so that you get greater satisfaction from your days? I find that complacency is such an easy path to take. Motivation is required to push beyond staying still. When you are working to pay the rent, so to speak, that may be a big enough motivation to keep you engaged in the world. You may be inadvertently fulfilling your wants and needs. However, deliberately aligning your daily life with what really matters to you will give you greater fulfillment, whether you are getting paid or not. If you haven’t ever thought about it before, I suggest you think about what are your top 10 values in life. I’m not talking about morals or ethics. By values I mean what is most important to you that will help guide you in your choices so that you get more of what you want from life. Here is a list of some examples:

Inner Harmony
Meaningful Work

Personal values are different for everyone. My corporate life fulfilled a number of my values: recognition, helping others, connection, learning and growing. My huge need for connection was filled by having to show up for a job each day that included other wonderful people. Now that I am on my own working at home, it is easy to retract into hermit life. My personal values of connection and recognition and helping others have gotten side-lined. Fortunately finding ways of learning and growing is second nature to me.

Of course there are needs on my personal values list that were never or rarely fulfilled at work: playfulness, romance, independence, nature, nurturing and spirituality. This past decade post-corporate I have been enjoying living those values more fully. For me, life is always about asking questions and exploring (that’s my learning and growing value in action). So lately I am discovering that connection, recognition and helping others wants to be more front and center. That’s the next direction for me. I hope that you discover what you really care about and take some action to get your values and needs met.

xoxo Rachel

Living Gracefully: Ballet and Body Shaming

There is an urgent bubbling inside that has me fully questioning how I want to live my life right now. I am questioning whether I am living too small of a life and then in turn questioning what is too small? Shouldn’t I be living large, the nasty inner voice nags? Living large in the colloquial sense means taking life with gusto, reaching for all that you want, even if that means you have to go out of your comfort zone. Must I live large to experience life fully? Or should the questions be not about living too small or too large of a life but instead around the richness and complexity of how I choose to live my life? Do I choose actions that make me feel good physically? Do I choose routes that serve my emotional well-being? Do I want to always feel comfortable or do I want to want to push my limits? What are my limits? How does aging impact my experience of life? And then it hits me where it hurts most: how does being a large woman impact my experience of life?

As I explore this I am struck by one really big part of my life that tests all these questions: my ballet class. I started taking ballet class again as an adult this past summer and I haven’t stopped since. Ballet class gives me an opportunity to at once feel wonderful and also push my level of comfort, to feel the highs and lows all at the same time. Tonight is my class so as I anticipate the evening I am welcoming all the mixed emotions that come forth.

From my first class to present, although I look forward to each class, I also get very anxious. There are so many reasons for my anxiety that mostly stem from my internal insecurity and shame around my body. Oh, that ugly socially created and perpetuated problem of body shame. Whatever your size or shape, you most likely have experienced body shame. Will people look at me because I’m large? Do I look graceful—can I ever look graceful at my size? Does the teacher spend more time with me because I’m large. Does the teacher spend less time with me because I’m large? Am I too outspoken to counteract my feelings of insecurity? Am I outspoken because I’m confident? The answer is probably yes to all these things. And thus these conflicting thoughts demonstrate the complexity of living and breathing and thinking in a human body—of any size.

Although I can’t know what everyone else is experiencing, I know from all that I have read and studied and from my clients that most of us have internal dialogues going on inside our heads all day long that impact our experience of life. Meditation and other practices exist to help us suffer less as a result of all this internal talk. Through mindfulness and meditative practices, instead of attempting to remove those inner monologues, we work to be with them and not attach to them as truth. And so with regards to my ballet class, instead of trying to tame the inner voice, I am simply going to witness all that it has to say. I will attempt to be with the thoughts and recognize that they are simply thoughts. What I think is not the truth. What I think other people think is not the truth. They are all simply thought constructs made up in my mind.

The interesting part of this exercise is the realization that although I get anxious because I will be in the class tonight around other people who might judge me and my ballet skills and my body, what others think about me really isn’t the issue. What is real is that I am myself judging myself. I am the one who is creating all this anxiety. I am not blaming myself. Instead I am simply pointing out that without my own acceptance of myself in my beautiful graceful body—that I do recognize here and there—I will continue to suffer and get overly anxious about my ballet class.

The truth is that I love my ballet class. I love moving my body. I love stretching. I love the music. I love the other people in the class. I love the teacher. I love that we are all ages from late 20s to 60s. I love that we all have different bodies. I love that I feel sweaty. I love how my leotard, tights, leg warmers, ballet slippers, wrap sweater and skirt hug my body. I love that I smile throughout most of the class. I love smiling to myself when facing the mirror. I love that I feel strong even when my calves ache. I love that I feel strong even when I am exhausted after the long class. I love that I am ballet dancing. I am choosing to live life gracefully, inclusive of the running thoughts in my head.

xoxo Rachel

Ceremonies For Year-End Closure

Because January 1st was on a Wednesday, last week felt like a continuation of the year-end holidays and not a new start. This week finally feels like it’s a new year. Although you may be eager to push into 2020, I find that something is needed to gain closure for the prior year. I suggest some kind of closure ceremony or ceremonies.

Closure is an interesting topic. When anything is over, be it a relationship, a project, an education, a phase in your life, a season, a year, a decade (depending on how you count decades), it is helpful to process and reflect on that transition. Closure is gaining some insight into the transition so that you have some resolution and acceptance for what took place. It helps you to move forward. It can be particularly helpful if the transition feels painful.

Each year I am partial to starting the closure process for the past year by reviewing the calendar to remind yourself of all that happened during the year. You will probably be surprised by all that you did, people you interacted with, experiences you hadn’t planned for, and things that you had already forgotten about. If you have some notes from earlier in the year that are forward-looking, it is very fascinating to see how what you anticipated matched what actually occurred. No judgment is imperative. Just use the process to see what you learned, what you let go of, what you welcomed, what risks you took, what help you provided, what gifts you gave and received and who you have become. Don’t rush the process. Find some quiet time to review and reflect.

When you are ready, you might create some kind of letting go ceremony. Perhaps you want to light a candle and say so long to the past year. Maybe just writing your thoughts down is ceremony enough. If you paint or draw or take photos perhaps an image will help you to summarize your feelings for the year as you bid adieu. There are no rules. Give yourself an opportunity to fully feel any emotions that arise from this transition. Take as long as you need. Remember that closure is about getting ready for the next phase of your life but that doesn’t mean that you have to forget. Instead honor yourself and what the year meant to you. For each year brings with it new experiences from really awesome to really awful. As we cycle through our lives, the richness of being human is made up of our everyday moments with all the highs and lows and in-betweens. Ceremony is celebration of that complexity. May you find peace with your past.

xoxo Rachel