Finding Balance with Goals

I have always been a goal setter. Goals give me a point on the horizon to move forward. Goals give me focus. Goals give me something to achieve. I experience great satisfaction when I accomplish a goal I set out for myself. Read any productivity book or listen to any expert on this topic and you will find goal setting to be an integral part of their system. And believe me, I should know – I have researched just about every productivity system or hack out there. Make them S.M.A.R.T! Break them into tiny chunks! Keep them front and center!  At this point, I have accumulated enough knowledge on the subject, I could probably write the book on goal setting!

I agree with the research – goal setting can be a valuable activity. But what happens when the satisfaction of achieving your goals does not result in inner happiness? What if the opposite were actually true?

Two and half months ago I returned home from a 10 day personal yoga retreat to celebrate the year of my 40th birthday. I came back feeling at peace and my inner light shining brightly. My life’s purpose was clear. Afraid of the light going dim – I did what was familiar to me. I set some goals. And I followed all the “rules” of goal setting. I gave myself a two month window. I posted the goals on sticky notes to keep them visible. Each week I broke the goal into chunks with smaller tasks. I was the poster child for productivity!

The result?

Stress. Burnout. Feeling unconnected.

I paused. What was happening? Where did that peace go from my retreat? I realized that in my quest to achieve, I had created an imbalance. My energy was so focused on pushing through to an outcome and looking ahead, I sacrificed nurturing my current growth and receiving what was right in front of me. Eastern cultures call this the balance of yin and yang.

My A-type, goal setting, western brain likes to think of it as the difference between performance goals versus development goals. (A particularly relevant framing as we are in the middle of end of year review season at work!) To me, performance goals are the things we need and want to achieve in a given timeframe. They help provide us with focus, direction and priority. Development goals are about personal (or professional) growth. They help us to become better versions of ourselves. We need both types of goals to thrive. But each goal type requires a different energetic approach.

Performance goals are outcome oriented (yang!) With performance goals we need to be direct and disciplined. We need to push hard and be determined to achieve a desired outcome. Our modern world (and us A-types!) tends to place higher value and reward performance goals.

On the other hand, development goals are growth oriented (yin!) And require a different energy. We need to allow ourselves to be more open, receptive and adaptive to our growth. Growth is not something we can push through or achieve. Like a new flower seedling, our personal development requires nourishment, care and patience. Our development goals are the fuel to nurture our personal growth. And we need to be careful not to “overwater” our growth. To try to speed it along. That’s when development goals cross the line into performance goals. That’s when we lose balance.

And that’s what happened to me after my retreat. I pushed too hard to achieve growth.

I have dialed back on the aggressive goals I set for myself. I am working to find that sweet spot of balance between doing and being. Between performing and developing. Between the yin and the yang. At times it feels uncomfortable. But this is all part of my journey. And what I can say – so far it seems to be working. Today, as I write this post, I feel at peace, happy and content.

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Purple Days

“Is today going to be a Purple Day?”

That is the question I pose to my kids every morning when I wake them up.

What is a Purple Day? In my home, A Purple Day is the highest achievement on the Good Choices chart that visibly hangs on the wall in the center of my living room. The chart, inspired by my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, intends to teach children positive behavior. Seven pieces of brightly colored construction paper are linked together to form a single vertical line stretching almost four feet tall. A behavior is written clearly on each piece of paper. My daughters each have a clothespin with their name on it hanging on the side of the chart.

Every day the clothespin starts on the center: “Ready to Make Good Choices”. If my children behave in a less than ideal way they move down the chart. First to “Think About It “, then “Lose a Privilege”, and then the worst punishment of all: “Call to Daddy.” Alternatively, if they make good choices they move up the ladder. First to “Working Hard”, then “Went for It”, and then the highest achievement written on a purple piece of paper: “Do Your Best.”

That’s a Purple Day: An attitude of trying to do your best.

Lately, I have been thinking about how to apply the chart and Purple Days into my own life.

I recognize that my chart has one distinct, but important, difference than the teacher’s. In her chart, you start the day on the top and can only move down into the punishment zone. Whereas in my chart, you start your day at neutral and can either move down or MOVE UP.

Because at it’s core – a Purple Day is about making conscious decisions to be the best version of ourselves. It’s about setting intention to behave in accordance with our value set.

Over the past few weeks I re-framed the morning question for myself to be: “WHAT would make today a Purple Day?” Each evening I then reflect on this question: “Did I accomplish what I set out to do?”

And let me tell you, it’s hard to achieve a Purple Day.

It takes lot of strength and willpower to live up to your best self.

Frequently there are times I behave in ways I do not intend to. I lose my patience. I yell at my kids. I interrupt. I judge. I avoid. I procrastinate. I indulge. I complain. I desire. I gossip. I blame. The list could go on and on.

And as my trail of less than perfect behaviors manifest and build up in my mind, I beat myself up. Without an adult version of “Lose a Privilege”, I punish myself with shame. I get upset. I get angry. I get disappointed in myself.

To stop this cycle, I have recently found great power in forgiveness.

Rather than punish myself for less than perfect behavior, I focus on forgiving myself.

I only allow myself to go one step down on the chart to “Think About It”. I reflect on my behavior for the day. Or even behavior that is deeply rooted in my past. I investigate the reasons why. I take responsibility for my actions and commit to improving. And then I cultivate the power to forgive myself. I remind myself that I am a good person. I remind myself that I am working hard to have a Purple Day. I remind myself that sometimes I will slip. I remind myself that I am only human. And as the English poet Alexander Pope wrote: “to err is human”.

The power of forgiveness is then magnified when I start to think about others.

I like to imagine that everyone in the world is also trying to have a Purple Day, and that they too will occasionally slip. It might be an acquaintance or stranger that interrupts me or judges me. Or it might be someone close to me that behaves in a way that hurts me or causes me pain. Rather than punish or retaliate, I work to try to forgive them for their less than perfect behavior. I work to let go of anger and resentment. I recognize them as a human, just like me, with flaws and imperfections. I recognize that deep down they are also good people trying to have Purple Days.

Forgiveness is the bridge that enables me to give love and compassion to myself and to others.

It has given me the power to let go. Forgiveness is a gateway to a new and lighter way of living.

I know that each day will not be a Purple Day – but everyday I intend to try and also forgive.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude — Martin Luther King Jr

Holding Space: The Practice of Empathy

“So … who did you vote for?”

Did he really just ask me that? I thought to myself. A total stranger just came up to me and asked me THAT? Who does that? I was sitting at the hotel bar by myself enjoying a glass of wine, about to dig into an article on my iPad that I had been looking forward to reading. It’s one of my favorite pastimes when I travel solo for business. Sit at a bar, feel the energy of people around me – but be completely by myself.

And now this stranger wanted to talk. And about politics! Sigh.

I quickly sized him up.

He was an older gentleman in his 60s. He made a comment to the bartender. Oh great – a Trump fan, I quickly concluded. And then continued to assess him. And one with no social grace – everyone knows you don’t bring up politics with strangers. He is obnoxious and rude. We have nothing in common. There is no point in engaging with him.

I smiled gently to acknowledge his question and then looked back down at my iPad – hoping he would get the hint that I was not up for talking.

“I know it’s a weird question to ask out of the gate – but I am just so curious about all types of people.”

Pause.

His statement about being curious about people caught my attention. It triggered me to back to the workshop I had taught earlier that day. As a design thinking educator, I teach people in the business world how to solve problems by being more human centered and how to design solutions that serve the needs of people.

The key skill underlying design thinking is empathy.

A basic definition of empathy is: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.

Surprisingly, this is an ability that does not come naturally for most people, myself included. However – it is a skill that can be developed and practiced.

To practice empathy first requires understanding the behaviors associated with this skill. The behaviors I teach are:

  • Hold space: listen and let the other person talk 80% of the time
  • Be curious: ask questions that enable the other person to share more
  • Withhold judgement: remove personal bias and create a safe space for sharing
  • Refrain from problem solving: allow. the person to feel what they feel

These are simple behaviors – so why is it SO hard?

Because building empathy requires vulnerability. It requires a level of consciousness for us to be in touch and aware of our own feelings first.

“Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” — Brene Brown

When I dig into this concept more, I realize that empathy can be an equalizer. It helps us remember that no matter what race, ethnicity, political view, social class, etc. – we are all connected as humans. We all share and experience the same emotions. While I may not agree with a person’s point of view or decisions – I can connect deeply with what that person is feeling.

This goes beyond politics. Empathy can be applied in everyday interactions.

For example, I may be in a situation where someone is mad. I may not understand or even agree with an outlook that has caused someone to be angry or upset, but I know what it feels like to be angry and upset. I have been there before. So rather than criticize that person for the way they are acting because of that feeling, I can share in that feeling and show them understanding. Hold space for them. Be curious. Withhold judgement.

In that moment with the gentleman at the bar I realized I had failed to practice what I preach about empathy. Rather than see him as another human that I could connect with, I made a snap judgement and quickly dismissed him. Once I recognized that, I decided to behave differently and change my response.

I turned back around and said “You know what – I am curious about people too!”.

I made the conscious, vulnerable, choice to hold space for him, be curious and refrain from judgement.

And it was one of the most engaging conversations I ever had with a stranger.

Note: To learn more about empathy versus sympathy check out this greatYouTube video by Brene Brown

Red Shirt

I put on my red shirt this morning and headed to my office.

Too much work prevented me from participating in #ADayWithoutWomen. Even though I was fully supported by my bosses – a day off would have only resulted in me working evenings or on the weekend.

But there was this other thing below the surface.  I felt superficial protesting.

What was I truly protesting against?  I recognize intellectually that, as a woman, I am technically a minority. Yet – I have never personally felt marginalized. I grew up in a white upper class New Jersey suburb. I was fortunate enough to attend a top ranking private university fully paid for by my parents. I have worked in professional environments with strong female leaders. My male colleagues have always been collaborative and respectful. My current employer offers many opportunities for women. The right to do what I want with my body has been in place since before I was born.

Rather than protest, the red shirt served as a reminder to reflect today.

Each person, female or male, I saw wearing a red shirt today reminded me of the connection we all share. The red shirt allowed me to smile at an otherwise would be stranger and acknowledge – yes we are all in this together. No matter our gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.

The red shirt reminded me of the responsibility I have for my two young daughters. To help them feel empowered to do whatever they want and not hold back. To remind them that they are strong and capable.

The red shirt reminded me that there are minorities in this world that are marginalized. And even though I don’t personally feel impacted – I have a responsibility to advocate for those who don’t have a voice and not take my privilege for granted.

The red shirt reminded me of those trailblazers that came before me to set the path for women’s rights. And that I have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure those rights are upheld so future generations can benefit.

So as I get ready for bed and take off my red shirt, I am reminded that I am fortunate to be a privileged woman and my responsibility to serve is greater than myself.

2017 Intention: Stepping Out Of Fear

Fear had take over.

Down below my colleagues were oblivious to my momentary moment of panic as I stood frozen on the ladder for my turn on the trapeze. We had decided to go to trapeze school for an offsite team bonding activity. The idea seemed fun at the time. Get out of our mundane office and perform circus tricks. I was certainly not prepared for the personal discovery I would experience.

Back on the ladder I stood there frozen. I took a deep breath. I reminded myself to focus on the present. One step at a time…step…step…step. I repeated this until I got to the top of the platform. The instructor adjusted my harness and told me to put my toes on the outside edge and lean forward to grab the bar. He was asking me to suspend myself 30 feet over a concrete floor.

It happened again. Fear took over.

My mind became consumed. I don’t want to do this. This is too scary. Get off. Heart beating faster. Thoughts racing. An emotional surge overwhelmed me. I was close to tears. And then the instructor’s voice came through and brought me back to the present.

“Trust me. I’ve got you.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. I can do this I thought. I am wearing a harness. There is a net below me. I just watched four of my other colleagues do it. I am safe. He instructed me to jump. One more deep breath. I squatted down low. Tightened my hands on the bar. Closed my eyes.

I jumped.

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Location: TSNY Washington DC

My feet left the platform and I soared through the air. And then something unexpected happen. Something I certainly was not prepared for.

I giggled.

Yep. A loud, joyous giggle came out of my mouth. How crazy is that?! Less than 10 seconds after being close to tears I was soaring through the air, giggling and smiling! My entire body went from being overwhelmed with fear to being overwhelmed with joy. After the first “flight”, I proceeded to go up that ladder and swing from the trapeze two more times.

I had learned that if I step out of fear, take the leap, I can experience pure joy.

Before I started my journey – I would never have been the person up on the trapeze. Thrill seeking is definitely not a quality used to describe me. I like to play it safe. I am practical. As shared in a previous article, even ocean waves scare me. Yet as I dig further and deepen awareness of my emotions, I realize fear is one that bubbles up frequently. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Fear of failure. Fear of judgement. Fear of speaking my truth. Fear of losing my identity. Fear of opening myself up to others. Fear of abandonment. Fear of feeling pain again. The list goes on and on.

But here’s the thing. We ALL experience fear. It’s part of the human condition. Recognizing that fact brings me a lot of comfort. We are all biologically wired to go into fight, flight or freeze mode when struck with fear. Yet we also have the enormous capacity to move past it and experience joy – if we can identify it.

It’s easy to recognize fear in a more obvious setting like jumping off a trapeze. Less obvious situations require more careful investigation.

As I look forward to 2017, my intention is to “step out of fear”. First – I will look for the signs. When am I feeling agitated? (fight!) When I am distracting myself? (flight!) When I am holding back? (freeze!) Then – I will go inward and ask myself if I have the courage to move past it. I do not want fear to hold me back from the life I want to live. I can be my own voice saying “Trust me. I’ve got you.” I have proven my ability to rise strong in tough times. I am safe. I am strong.

And you never know. I just may let out a giggle.

“The dark does not destroy the light. It defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy” into the shadows.” – Brene Brown

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Location: TSNY Washington DC

 

 

Problem Solved

I love to solve problems.

It’s actually what I do for a living. My job is to teach design thinking inside a Fortune 500 company. Design thinking is an approach to problem solving that starts with empathy and puts humans at the center of everything.

My days are consumed with searching for problems to solve.

I coach people to frame their problem from a human need. I suggest design tools and methods to approach and creatively solve their problem. For most analytical folks design thinking feels very uncomfortable and uneasy. Trust the process, I say, lean into the uncertainty

So when a friend recently told me he was feeling like he was lost and wandering a bit, my immediate inclination was to help him solve his problem. Frame your human need and then you can solve it! Trust the process, lean into the uncertainty.

But then I paused.

I wondered — is feeling lost really a problem to solve?

You see for months I have not been able to shake a feeling. It’s a feeling that something is missing. A feeling of yearning. A feeling of wanting more than I have. I feel like I am searching to find the missing piece. Searching for the problem to solve. But I don’t know what I am looking for. Like my friend, I feel like I am wandering and lost. I can’t sit still. I constantly feel unsettled.

The medical term for this unsettling feeling is restlessness. According to WebMD, restlessness is a symptom of general anxiety disorder. It has taken me a while to recognize, but I finally accept that I do suffer from anxiety. And it makes sense – I have experienced two major traumas in my life including my mom’s passing at a young age and going through a divorce in the past 18 months.

But I refuse to accept that I have a disorder. Anxiety does not define me as a person.

According to Buddhist tradition, restlessness is one of the five hindrances in progressing in meditation and getting closer to a state of tranquility. And the way to overcome a hindrance is to investigate and understand it.

For me, taking the first step to become aware of my feeling of anxiety has allowed me to begin to liberate myself from my suffering. Even consciously saying “aware of my feeling of anxiety” versus “I have an anxiety disorder” enables me to distance my sense of self from the feeling and not take it personally. When I distance myself from the feeling it helps me to get to a steadier state of calm. To feel more settled.

As I investigate, I begin to understand that my search to solve the problem is ironically the problem itself.

I recognize that my anxiety stems from trying to control the future. That searching feeling is my subconscious working to ensure that I find happiness so it does not endure pain again. Even though my conscious mind says lean into uncertainty, my subconscious keeps searching for the key to happiness.

And there lies the tension. My subconscious and conscious minds are in constant battle.

It’s only when I can quiet my mind that I can recognize the search in itself is what makes me feel incomplete. When I am coming from a state of awareness and consciousness I realize there is nothing to search for. Happiness is right in front of me. I just need to allow myself to choose it.

There is no problem to solve. I am not lost. I am right here. And I am complete.

We spend our lives looking and searching in every conceivable corner of the world for that one thing that will bring us the fulfillment we desire above all else, only to find that it is glowing deep within. – Darren Main, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

Escape to Reality

I sat crying in the car in a parking spot of a suburban strip mall. It was dark and the hail and rain were pouring down hard.

“I can’t do this.” I thought to myself. “I don’t want to go.”

I lifted my palms to my eyes in hopes that would put an end to stop the water that was pouring out uncontrollably. I called my (now ex) husband and told him I think I am coming home. He had stayed back home with our two daughters, ages 7 months and 3.5 yrs at the time, to allow me to go on my first weekend yoga retreat. He never put up a fight and fully supported my trip.

And now in the middle of suburban Virginia I was facing enormous internal conflict. The unexpected hail storm had created horrendous traffic causing the first hour of my supposed 3-hour drive to take nearly 2.5 hours. I don’t want to drive another 4 or 5 hours in this weather, I thought to myself. I would arrive after 11pm. I would be tired. It’s not fair to leave my husband with my babies. I am a bad mother for leaving my children. I am being selfish.

That was my rational self doing the talking.

Because the truth is underneath all those excuses, I was afraid.

What was I going to do there all by myself? Being alone was not something I ever did. I have always surrounded myself with people. As an extrovert, people give me energy.

I sat there in the car struggling. Mad at myself for having thoughts of coming home. For years I had wanted to go on retreat and never could muster up the courage to go. I would try to get a friend to go with me because doing it alone terrified me. I remember one request to a friend was “I have wimped out the past two years – want to come with me?”

Why was I so afraid to be alone? I realize now I was afraid to face my truth. To go inside and uncover my deepest needs and desires. To directly take on my thoughts and emotions. To face my unhappiness. To admit that I was not feeling fulfilled. I was afraid to go inside because I did not know what I would find. Afraid I would not know what to do once I discovered my true self. Afraid that it would be too late to live the life I wanted. Afraid I might lose everything I had built up around me in order for me to live my truth.

Life is a lot easier when I can stay busy, socialize and not put up the mirror to myself.

That day in the parking lot I made a decision. I turned around and came home. I wimped out. I did not have the strength and confidence to face my truth.

A lot has changed since that day three years ago. Since my divorce I have been forced to be alone. I have spent countless hours writing in my journal. Sitting in meditation. Going on walks. And listening to myself. Asking myself the tough questions. What am I feeling?What do I want? What do I need? What makes me happy? Going inside to uncover my truth. To find and unleash my authentic self.

And it is hard. It has been an emotional roller coaster. It takes a lot of courage to go inward. To learn from my past. To honor where I am today.

I just recently returned home from a solo weekend yoga retreat. And here’s the thing I have realized. Going away on retreat is not a luxury vacation. It’s not a spa weekend. It’s not an escape from reality.

Going on retreat is about escaping from the external world to go inside and find out what is real.

And here’s the other thing I learned. I don’t always need a grand gesture of a weekend retreat to face my truth. I have the capacity and choice every day to retreat from the external world, take a pause and go inside myself. Bear witness to my thoughts, my emotions and my needs to face what is real.

I have the strength to step out of fear and escape TO reality.

Waiting for Low Tide

I can’t control the sea but I can learn to ride the waves.

With two young children, I have finally started to accept that beach vacations are no longer what they used to be. Long gone are the days of getting lost in a good book, relaxing in the sun and dozing off to the rhythmic sounds of waves hitting the shore. Beach vacations are now all about the kids and giving them the space to explore ― build sandcastles, look for seashells and play in the waves.

Play in the waves. Sigh. That’s the worst part for me.

You see. I hate going in the ocean. Always have. I actually can’t recall a time when I enjoyed playing in the water. To me going in the ocean is purely a functional means to cool off or avoid finding a restroom.

Waves scare me. I don’t like their force. I don’t like their unpredictability. I don’t like their enormous power. I don’t like the feeling of losing my footing when a wave takes me to shore.

As a single mom I have to face this fear of mine.

My children want to go in and play. It’s not fair to deny them that opportunity. Fortunately, last week on vacation I had my best friend and her two kids accompany us at the beach. Not only could she lend an extra hand but she’s also savvy on navigating beach conditions. Before each day she looked up the low tide schedule and recommended we wait to hit the beach until the tide was at its lowest.

Holy cow. Game changer. I admit I am pretty ignorant about this stuff but waiting until low tide shifted my whole outlook on my fear of ferocious waves. I never stopped to think about the changing conditions of the sea. When the water receded during low tide, the ocean was less scary and more approachable. The waves were gentle and I felt at ease. I was able to play with my kids in the waves while enjoy the sensation of my body flowing in the water.

And then my vacation came to an end.

Re-entry back to the real world post beach was tough. I had a lot to juggle between a busy work week and home demands. Anxiety mounted as I looked at my calendar and what lied ahead. The next few weeks will be extremely busy between back to school activities, work projects, personal projects and some travel.

I felt myself brace for the impending impact of what the month has in store. Even though in isolation each event, project and activity is a positive, the culmination of all them felt overwhelmingly powerful. I have too much going on I thought. I can’t handle it. I became plagued with stress and my entire body tightened.

And then I closed my eyes and went inward. What was I feeling in that moment? My mind drifted to waves. I recognized I was feeling that same fear of a big powerful wave crashing and hitting me. The fear of unpredictability. The fear of losing my footing and being knocked down.

But the truth is waves will only knock you down when you put up resistance and stand still.

I breathed and let my body relax. The feeling of overwhelm started to retreat.

It was in that moment that I recognized that I have the capacity to change the conditions of my life from high tide to low tide. To bring a gentle ease and calm to my being.

I know I am wired to get overwhelmed. It’s a natural byproduct of my A-typeness. That’s a truth about me that will likely never change. But what I can change is my response. Rather than brace and tighten, I can release control and allow myself to go with the flow and ride any wave that comes my way.

The Year I Reclaimed My Identity

She called my number. I almost missed it. I had been sitting there for hours waiting. It was a simple routine transaction. One that she did multiple times per day. She talked to the teller next to her about weekend plans as she rapidly typed my information on the keyboard. I don’t think she even looked at me once. To her I was just another transaction. Just another number. But to me this was so much more than another “change of name” transaction. For me this was monumental. This was a tangible symbol and representation of my new way of being.

This was about reclaiming my identity.

Now I first want to say that I do not believe the act of marriage and taking on my ex-husband’s last name caused me to lose my identity. I think for years I was going through the motions of life and never stopped to really ponder the question “Who am I?”. Add to that becoming a mother of two small children and my life went on autopilot trying to just survive.

Becoming a parent is hard. Like really hard. There are tons of resources about how to raise children but no one prepares you for the toll becoming a parent will take on your sense of self. It brings up questions, doubts and insecurities many of us don’t even know we had.

As a new parent I spent so much energy trying to care for my children that I forgot to take care of myself and lost myself along the way. Six months after my second daughter was born I went to a place of complete darkness. Everyday tasks became hard and I could not see anything positive in my life. I just wanted to shut down. I thankfully recognized that I was suffering from postpartum depression and sought out professional help.

It was at this time in my life that I discovered the power of self-care.

Self-care is not about being selfish – it’s about consciously going in to discover and respond to our deepest needs and desires. It’s about taking care of ourselves first so we can in turn be more generous with others.

Fast forward two years and the power of self-care helped pull me out of the fog of my marriage separation and move me forward. Rather than go to a place of darkness I saw a light. It was a light glowing inside of me that wanted to shine. I made a declaration to myself that I would have a Year of Jen. I would not date anyone — I would only date me! I wanted to reconnect with the person I once was and discover the person I wanted to be.

I sought to explore different areas of my life – spiritual, physical, mental and emotional. I started a meditation practice. I took myself on a yoga retreat. I dug into eastern philosophies and the teachings of Buddhism. I learned how to cook healthy meals for myself and my family. I took an improv class and pushed myself outside my comfort zone. I learned how to use a grill and mow my lawn. I discovered my inner artist and writing as a form of self-expression.

It’s now been a year since I made that declaration. And here is the biggest thing I learned. There is no Year of Jen. The path to self-discovery is ongoing. It is not something that has a time stamp or that I cross off my to do list. Reclaiming my identity is a frame of mind. It’s a new way of being that makes self-care a priority. The truth is I did date during my year of Jen – but I did not abandon myself in the process.

I will not allow myself to get lost again.

There is a light inside of me that wants to shine brightly. And I have the power to let it shine. Here’s to the Life of Jen.

An Encouraging Nod

“I am scared Mommy.”

“I know sweetie. You feel uncertain.”

We were in the car on the way to my daughter’s first day of summer camp. In the mind of a 6-year-old this ranked high on the list of most stressful life situations. Just two weeks prior she had finished her first year of school as a kindergartner and was in a groove. She had friends that she sat with each day. A teacher she adored and greeted with a big hug every morning. Her days were predictable. And it felt safe.

Now on the way to camp she had no clue what was in store for her. It occurred to me that this was her first real summer. The first time for her to understand what summer meant–no school for 10 weeks and a chance to play every single day!

So while I knew that camp would bring her pure joy, in this moment, she sat in the back seat filled with fear of the unknown.

We pulled up to the new location. We walked to the registration table outside the main entrance. She clung on to my leg tight as I checked her in. Tears started to flow down her face. The cheerful camp volunteer gave her a huge smile and outstretched his hand.

She clung my leg tighter.

“You can do it. Be brave.” I looked her in the eyes and told her.

She hesitantly let go of my leg, timidly grabbed his hand and slowly started walking. When she turned back around to look at me I gave her an encouraging nod. I needed to give her faith that everything would be okay. I imagined her tiny little heart beating fast as she walked the short 25 yards to open the door.

The truth is — I knew exactly what my daughter was feeling in that moment. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown have been overwhelming emotions for me as I have adjusted to my new single life post-divorce. For so many years I was in a groove and things were predictable. I was comfortable. I felt safe.

Today my life is in total flux. So many unknowns. Where will I live after my lease runs out? Where will my kids go to school? Where will my career take me? What will happen with this blog? Will I find a partner to share my life or will I be going solo? The list goes on and on.

I hate uncertainty. It’s unsettling. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. But it’s really a transition feeling. It’s that moment my daughter had walking the short distance before opening the door to enter camp. It’s not knowing if the future will bring joy or if it will bring sadness. Will an endeavor be a success or failure?

The A-type in me gets pre-occupied with trying to solve uncertainty and quickly move through it in order to find out the answer. While clinging on to my comforts of routine and planning to help me feel secure.

But uncertainty is not something I can solve.

Yoga teaches us to find the space between ease and discomfort. I took a Yin class this morning to remind me of this principle. For those not familiar with yoga, Yin is a slow paced class where poses are held for longer periods of time – typically 5 minutes or longer. Yin is extremely mental because holding a pose for that long is uncomfortable and kind of sucks at first. When I got into the first pose this morning my monkey mind went wild trying to figure out how to relax. I wondered when the teacher was going to call time. I wanted to get out of the pose as quickly as possible.

But then something happened.

I allowed myself to just BE in the pose. I focused on my breath. I had faith that my body was not going to break and I would be okay. I focused on the present and found the ease in the discomfort.

And that’s all I can do with the uncertainty that is going on in my life. I can make myself aware of the feeling and allow myself to just be in it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Give my own self an encouraging nod as I go through a life transition. Have faith that no matter what happens it will be okay.

I will be okay.

If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
― Lao Tzu