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Don’t Settle for a Life You Don’t Love

I love dogs because everything they feel, they reveal. When they are happy, they show us their unmitigated joy with the most beautiful, exuberant expressions of mind and body. People, in contrast, are often hesitant to seek joy for themselves and celebrate joyous moments when they are lucky enough to find them. Why is this? Is it because in today’s fast-paced world joy is seen as frivolous? Extra? Unnecessary? Is a joyful person seen as one who isn’t taking life seriously? Are joy and success perceived as mutually exclusive?

I teach a course called Advanced Professional Writing. Most of my students are college seniors majoring in a range of disciplines. I have made it part of my mission to encourage students to make it their goal to find a career that they love: “If you love what you do,” I tell them, citing the old adage, “you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve discovered that most of them do not think finding work that they genuinely love is a reasonable or realistic goal. “My dad hates his job,” one student told me, “but he makes great money and he only has to do it for 8 hours a day.” It is mind-boggling to me that someone could see spending 8 hours a day doing something one hates as okay. As I see it, if going to work feels like you’re showing up in someone else’s life, then that’s not okay. We don’t have to settle for a life we do not love. Really, we don’t.

I’m not saying that everyone should expect to land their dream job right out of college. Obviously, most people are going to have to do what they need to do to do what they want to do. (Oprah–did I take that from you?) I am saying that if, from the get go, you’re ready to settle for a job that pays the bills and lets you afford some of the nice things in life–a house, good stuff for your kids, etc.–then you’re setting your sights too low. Life is too short to just write off 8 hours a day as time that doesn’t matter as long as you bring home a paycheck.

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A person should not settle for anything less than a job that aligns with his or her purpose. As I’ve said before, I believe that everyone has a purpose. Our passions direct us to our gifts, and our gifts direct us to our purposes. Is it easy to figure out what our purposes are? Of course not. Nothing worth doing is easy. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. To be sure, seeking your purpose is not for the faint of heart; the faint of heart should embrace the suck and do it anyway. Why? Because you only live once? Nope. As my friend Kelley Moore is fond of saying, the idea that you only live once is a lie. The fact is, we only die once; we live over and over and over again between the day we are born and the day we die. That’s why we owe it to ourselves to make the most of every hour of the days between our birth and our death and that includes the 8 hours we spend working.

But isn’t it selfish to pursue your passions and purposes by insisting on pursuing ways to do work that you love? No. It is not selfish to seek out a way to live a life of purpose because inevitably that life of purpose will involve service to others, in one way or another. As Dr. King insisted, “You don’t need a college degree to serve. . . . All you need is a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” It is selfish not to seek ways to do work you love. It is selfish not to invest your energy in finding your purpose and work that allows you to serve it. To deny yourself the opportunity to fulfill your purpose(s) is to deny others opportunities to reap the benefits of what you and only you have to offer; that is selfish. Will there be resistance to your efforts to seek work that serves your purpose? You bet. Shake it off. Others’ willingness to settle for less-than-is-possible should not get in the way of your pursuit of work that allows you to find joy in the work that you do and fulfill your purpose in the process. Will you find your purpose right away? Probably not.

Take my friend Erica. Erica is super smart, stunningly beautiful, ridiculously talented, and was blessed with the resources to do pretty much whatever she chose to do in life. As a youth, she participated in musical theater and she showed horses competitively winning more World Championship titles than she can count. She gave up theater to pursue her passion for horses. After high school, she gave up her amateur status to become a full-time horse trainer and attended college part-time, eventually earning a degree in Communications. She was successful as a horse trainer–almost immediately she had a stable full of six-figure horses and talented riders. She was also miserable. Erica missed showing her own horse as an amateur and she hated the politics and pettiness that plagued the world of horse training. So she stopped training and sat out for the time required before she could resume competing as an amateur.

Meanwhile, she went to cosmetology school. She finished the program, worked in the industry for a while, and discovered that the career for which she’d trained wasn’t for her after all. Along the way, she got married, had two beautiful baby boys, and kept her eyes open for whatever it was she was supposed to be doing with her life. Today, Erica and I were messaging back and forth on Facebook and she shared with me that she is going back to school to earn a BSN because she has decided she wants to work in labor and delivery. The birth experience, she said, is “magical, unexplainable. My heart has never been so open and full.” When Erica said that, it dawned on me that we’ll know we’ve found our purposes when we find what makes our hearts feel open and full like never before and figure out how to do that for a living.

Sadly, most people stop looking for whatever it is that makes their hearts feel that way. Instead, they settle for work that pays the bills, or that they don’t mind doing all that much, or for something they like. But don’t be fooled; doing something you “like” isn’t enough. It’s just a slightly more pleasant version of settling.

Erica did not settle. Instead, she kept looking until she found what was “magical, unexplainable” and what made her heart feel more open and full than ever before. Was it easy? No. Was it frustrating? Yes. Did she take a lot of flack from people who couldn’t figure out why she kept trying different things, but couldn’t seem to settle on any of them? Yes. Did she waste precious time? Absolutely not. She did not waste any time at all because each step she took from earning a degree to having her babies was a step toward her discovery of what she now knows, with certainty, is her purpose. It’s about the journey.

I will tell my students about Erica and I’m sure there will be some who will settle for a life they do not love anyway. I hope they understand, though, that settling is a choice; it is not an inevitability. It IS possible to live a life which involves doing work that you love. It IS possible to find your purpose and a career that allows you to serve it. It is possible to tune out the naysayers who may be well-meaning, but who are terribly misguided. We owe ourselves and the world nothing less than the best we have to offer. We can find what that “best” is when we find a way to do work, day in, and day out, that seems magical and unexplainable and that makes our hearts feel more open and full than ever before. It is just that simple. Have you been on such a journey or are you on one now? Please share your story.

As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

Why I Love Crossfit

Why I Started Going to Crossfit

It’s 2:35 a.m. and I am up and at it, writing a blog entry before I leave for Crossfit at 4:30. Pretty much every morning, Monday through Friday, I get up, pour myself a cup of ambition, and head out the door to the 5:00 a.m. class at Slaton Kinesiology in Magnolia, AR. I’d been a runner most of my life–track in junior high and high school– loved it, even though they had to time me with a calendar. Thereafter, I ran 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons and, when I was 28, I ran a full marathon–26.2 glorious miles that hurt like hell. I did it for the t-shirt, not the glory, and I probably won’t do it again though I’ve learned never to say never.

At any rate, by January, 2017, I’d become focused on horse showing and pretty much abandoned running and a regular regime of fitness. I decided I needed some structure in order to get back in the game because I could feel time ticking away and my body was beginning to feel old and tight. I wasn’t overweight, but I felt less and less mobile. I had no intention of being one of those fifty year old women who pants when she walks up a flight of stairs.  So, I joined a “box”–the weird and accurate term used to describe a Crossfit facility, most of which are surprisingly no-frills–and fell in love with an activity during which death seems imminent each and every day and after which I can’t wait to go back for more.

But why,  one might reasonably ask,  would one do such a thing? Why not do something that does not make one feel regularly like she is going to meet her maker? Why not go among those in a traditional gym who read magazines on the treadmill while strolling at a leisurely pace before weighing and measuring their thighs and celebrating the loss or bemoaning the gain of inches? The answer, quite simply, is that Crossfit culture does not celebrate the appearance of a commitment to a healthy, functional body; it demands such a commitment and it makes space for each and every person’s reasons for and ways of making it.

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Why I Keep Going to Crossfit

I love Crossfit because there are no scales in sight. No one is obsessing over pounds and inches. No one is looking at the size of anyone else’s thighs or booty unless maybe it is to praise or admire them. (One of my proudest moments was when Coach Carrie commented on how  my butt was showing the effects of the workouts.) Crossfit is about functional fitness. It is about training our bodies to be able to do the things we want to do–play another sport, run around the playground with the kids, or being able to say “No thank you” at the feed store when the cashier asks if you need help loading the 50 lb bags of feed you’ve just purchased.

I love Crossfit because no one is judging anyone’s character on the basis of his or her dimensions. No one is trying to starve himself or herself to thinness. On the contrary, our coaches emphasize the importance of balancing macro-nutrients–proteins, carbohydrates, and fats–so that we fuel our bodies to do the work we’re asking them to do. That requires eating a lot more than most of us have been conditioned to think of as “appropriate.” “You can do all the lemon squeezes (an ab exercise) in the world,” Coach Ben says, “but if you’re not eating right, it won’t matter.” In the Crossfit world, food is our friend. Let  me say that again; in the Crossfit world, food is our friend. That is a concept that many of us take a little time to wrap our heads around. 

Another of my favorite things about Crossfit is that it is an activity where everyone participating in a WOD (workout of the day) works at his or her own level and everyone is too preoccupied with doing his or her own thing to worry about what anyone else is or is not doing. That means “RXing” for some–performing the moves to particular, prescribed standards–or scaling for others. For some of us, RXing is a long, long way off. For others, it’s just what they do. It’s an exciting day when someone “RXs” a move for the first time. It’s also an exciting day when someone pushes the prowler up and down the length of the box four consecutive times without stopping. It’s often said, and it is true, that Crossfit may be the only activity where whoever finishes last gets cheered for the loudest. Where else in the world does no one care who is the fastest or who is the slowest?

What I Have Learned from Crossfit

At Crossfit, each person has his or her own mountains to climb, obstacles to conquer, and moments to celebrate. Crossfit culture is one in which people pull one another up those mountains and help each other over the obstacles through high fives, encouraging words, or by noticing that someone did something better than he or she did the last time. For me, that’s not only the heart and soul of what Crossfit represents, but it is also why it represents a model worth integrating into other realms of our day-to-day lives.

So, fourteen months ago I started Crossfit to reintroduce my body to a structured fitness program expecting to gain the kinds of benefits that I knew came with a regular fitness regime. To be sure, I have gained those benefits, but my Crossfit takeaways go far beyond stronger quads and a slightly rounder booty.

Crossfit reminds me–no, it teaches me–to look at other people as individuals who are making their way through the day-to-day challenges of life doing the best they can with whatever resources and abilities they have in the moment, even when those are in short supply. Crossfit reminds me to remember to pause before judging others’ behavior or performances by some rigid set of standards; it reminds me to consider that others may have legitimate reasons for “scaling” on any given day, even if I am not privy to those reasons.

Crossfit forces me to be honest with myself about whether I’m working as hard as I can or not. Crossfit invites me to celebrate small things as well as big things. Above all, Crossfit is a place where I meet people who show me what it means to be strong and how to become strong in more ways than one.

Crossfit is my happy place and that’s why I’m going to finish this big, beautiful cup of ambition beside me and head to the box to see what exciting WOD Coach Carrie and Coach Ben have planned for the 5:00 a.m. crew this morning.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you.

 

It’s Now or Never!

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The woman in this picture is Colleen Sillito. I met Colleen in junior high; we ran track together. In October of 2015, Colleen was killed in her driveway by an ex-boyfriend. The world lost an artist, a musician, a loving, altruistic, kind, funny, insightful, mother of five, and lover of one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met, Michael Cameron. I’d not been in contact with Colleen for years when she died, but through Michael I came to know her as an adult and to appreciate her belief that one should live with no regrets so that, at the end of the day, whenever that is, there are no “what ifs?” to haunt us.

Maybe it is because I am just one year and one month from turning 50, but my own mortality is suddenly very present in my mind. I find myself thinking about all the things I still want to do. It’s not that I haven’t done things; I finished bucket list #1 in 2010. However, I’ve long preached to my students and to others that everyone has a purpose. I believe that our passions direct us to our gifts and our gifts direct us to our purposes. So I know there are more things to do–that I’m meant to do– and I’m on the hunt for them.

One of my gifts, simple though it may seem, is that I am a little less likely than the average bear to let an idea pass through my mind and slip away unnoticed. That is not to say that all of my ideas are good ones; they are not, of course. But I am a little more likely to say, “let’s try this” than others. What this means is that I listen to  my gut and follow its lead more often than not. Lately, my gut has been talking nonstop and encouraging me to take on some new challenges. I’m a bit overwhelmed, to tell the truth, by the number of ideas that are flooding my mind, all of which are exciting to me. My life feels like a huge adventure that is about to unfold and I am both excited and nervous. Those two emotions are a powerful combination! They make fecund terrain for moments of metamorphoses.

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One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could share the ideas and possibilities that I’m pondering and exploring. For example, becoming a wedding officiant, working on a life coaching course with my friend and mentor Kelley Moore of  See Your Possibilities, and finding opportunities for additional streams of income that I can earn from home to support my horse showing habit and passion. As the song goes, “This is my life. It’s now or never. I ain’t going to live forever. I just want to live while I’m alive.” So I’m alive and I’m living and I’m ready to see–no, I’m ready to decide– what today and tomorrow and the rest of the future holds.

What about you?  Has your “now or never” shown up and begged to be acknowledged? Are you ignoring it or paying close attention? And are you ready to join me in exploring the next stage of this crazy journey we’re on?

First Cup

So here it goes–my first blog post, or letter from the coffee shop. I’ve had a couple of other blogs before, but I didn’t keep them going.  This one is different. It is “set” in the framework of a coffee-house. I LOVE coffee houses. I’m talking about ones like Central Perk on Friends or, my very favorite of all time, Rhino, which is in Shreveport, Louisiana, a mere 90 minutes from my house. Heck, I might as well give them an unsolicited plug and post a link because this place is definitely worth visiting. It’s cosy, the various coffee drinks are awesome, and it simply invites lingering for long periods of time. Until about 14 months ago, there was no such place in the town where I live–a college town, if you can believe it, with no real coffee-house. Crazy!

I don’t know why I am so enamored of coffee houses. I guess it is because they speak comfort to me and I’m a creature of comfort. Homey spaces suit my introverted nature perfectly and so I seek them out. I love the smell of coffee and just the feeling of a big cup or mug of strong, black coffee in my hand drops my blood pressure by many points I am sure.

The time I spend in such spaces is part of my self-care. I’m big on self-care. What is more important? If I don’t put my oxygen mask on, I’m no good to anyone else. So, a cup of something warm and comforting, a book or notebook, and a pen in a weloming space are the best medicine for me when life gets crazy. I hope you enjoy reading my letters from the coffee shop. 

I appreciate you. 

Why I Love Coffee, Sunsets, Sunrises, and Mornings

I grew up in a small town, Port Elgin, on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. Legend has it that National Geographic once declared Port Elgin’s sunsets as the second best outside of Hawaii. Most people from the town claim this honor though I have yet to meet anyone who has ever laid eyes on the article. It hardly matters, though. The town’s sunsets are unbelievably stunning. Even locals turn out in droves on the beach in the summer to stroll on the breakwalls and watch the sunset. I think one should never miss a sunset. It’s not like you can open a drawer and pull one out any time you want.

But sunrises…they’re pretty special too. I am a morning person and the best part of the morning is watching the sun rise. Lately, my daily routine changed drastically. My significant other (s.o. hereafter) has been away for most of the month staying with one of his sons while his ex-wife was with their youngest child in Mexico at Hope4Cancer, which is an alternative treatment facility. While he’s been gone I have been waking up at 3:00–wide eyed and ready to go.

Normally I get up at 4;00 to attend a 5:00 a.m. Crossfit class in town. So getting up early isn’t exactly foreign to me. Getting up at 3:00, however, seems a bit ridiculous. Still, there doesn’t seem much point in fighting it so I use the time to do things that get lost in the evening or put off when I have tomorrowitis. The floor gets an extra sweep, an extra load of laundry makes its way into the machine, I prep extra thoroughly for my classes, and so on. 

It turns out that I like getting up that early. It feels like finding a few extra hours in the day. The only problem is that I am pooped by 2:00 p.m. That’s an easy fix if I remember to go to bed early.

As a person who has lived with depression for some time, I love waking up excited about the day, feeling eager to get out of bed and start living. Sunrises are such fantastic moments of optimism. They’re about new beginnings and the unknown and freshness. Getting up super early and witnessing the sunrise with a huge mug of coffee in hand is kind of like having a secret meeting with a friend who shows up each morning to remind me that it’s a new day with no mistakes in it yet.

I’ve missed my s.o. while he’s been away. At the same time, I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the quietness of the “before everyone else is awake” part of the day.

Such opportunities for quiet reflection and solitude are so rare. Where do you find yours?