This week I met with an artistic director of a theater company as I investigate ways to get involved with Washington’s creative community. He likes my variety of business and art skills. This was also true when I interviewed for my current job at my ed tech startup. My weird and winding road, my New Yorkiness, is of value in Washington where being unique isn’t always seen as desirable. This has been a welcome surprise for me and I feel like I’m in just the right place at just the right time. I’m not sure exactly where this next chapter of life is heading, but I’m excited for the adventure and possibility!
Progress isn’t something that just happens over time. It’s something we have to build, especially when we find ourselves back at square one. I’m terrible at endings, even the ones that are good for me. It feels like a defeat. It’s very hard, almost impossible, for me to walk away from something or someone I care about, even when I know it’s the right thing to do. I think I can fix anything, and anyone, and that’s just not true. So in my email I keep a list of all the reasons that this ending had to come to pass. Whenever I get wistful, I open that list and remind myself that I’m better now and will continue to get a little better every day from now on. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time.
I hate setbacks. They are a drag with a capital D. They’re also a natural, albeit nasty, part of life. Anyone who tries to create something or change something experiences them. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Come close and listen. Those setbacks are jewels. They are roadblocks in the best sense of the word. They make sure you don’t go down paths that aren’t meant for you and that you stay focused on the people who are meant to be in your life. Not everything, nor everyone, is your work to do.
So take the roadblocks as they come. Take a deep breath and look around for the clear way forward. It may be a different road than you envisioned but that’s the nature of adventure. It’s never how you imagine it to be. Relish the surprises and take them in stride. They’re there for a reason, and someday that reason will be clear. Trust.
“You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.” ~Deepak Chopra
External circumstances affect our state of mind. They help us to make excuses for ourselves and others. We point to time, a lack of experience, too much competition, or money as obstacles to having the lives we want and deserve.
But even in your darkest hour there is a light. Maybe small, maybe hidden from plain sight. Somewhere inside you, there is a place that believes in goodness. A place that believes your life now doesn’t have to be your life tomorrow. That light burns with the belief that change, growth, and joy is not only possible, but probable, if only we could tap into its strength.
When life seems overwhelming, I close my eyes, I put both hands on my heart, and I breathe. I breathe right into that tiny light. And with every breath, I let that light grow. I spread it around into every dark corner of my mind and my body. Especially the parts that hurt. Especially the parts that house fear, anger, or loneliness. That’s where the light is needed most, and all we have to do is allow it to do what it does best—shine.
Sometimes we might not feel like doing something we need to do. Writing. Getting out into the world. Unrolling the yoga mat. Going for a run. Having a tough conversation. What I find is that once I get going, I’m glad I did even when the result isn’t exactly what I wanted. The effort to try our best is enough. Starting anything is difficult. There are so many reasons not to begin. We can’t let that stop us. Muscle through.
I’ve been thinking a lot about effort recently. When it’s warranted and when it’s not. When it’s time to let life unfold and when it’s time to actively unpack it to see what we’ve got.
In general, I believe in being proactive and I always believe in being honest with ourselves and others. It’s not always easy or comfortable to honestly (and respectfully) express how we feel. But I always find that in the end I’m glad I’ve done so.
If people stick around through my honesty, then I feel like we may be able to get somewhere. If they walk away, then I know our paths were meant to go in separate directions. And either way is okay as long as I’ve been true to who I am and expressed what I need.
“The best way to do it, is to do it.” ~Amelia Earhart
I’m a planner by nature. I love nothing better than a good decision tree with many intricate branches accompanied by an extensive pro/con list and supplemented with a healthy dose of if-then statements. However, if I’m really honest with myself, 99.9% of the time I know exactly what I need to do. My head, heart, and gut operate in lock-step most of the time. The decision tree, pro/con list, and if-then statements are usually just reassurance. To do something, I need to just do it. I’ll learn from my mistakes. I’ll get up if I fall down. I’ll manage through the bumps, bruises, and disappointments. I’ll keep going.
In recent months, I’ve done a much better job of letting go. I’ve stopped second guessing myself. I’ve reminded myself, very often on an hourly basis, that I really am going to be fine no matter what. I’ve learned how to ask for and accept help and support. And perhaps the most amazing discovery is that if we bet on ourselves, really put all our faith in our abilities, the Universe comes through with a pair of aces. Every. Damn. Time. Once we decide to commit, once we really decide to go after something with everything we’ve got, the world rises up with us.
Trust—in ourselves, in others, and in the greater forces that have a hand in good fortune—is hard. The older I get, the more I realize that every once of the difficulty to cultivate it is more than worth it. And once we have trust, action naturally follows.
When I was a kid, I loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I loved that he spent his day making people smile and using his imagination to help them learn. I especially loved that he transitioned his wardrobe when he got to work and before he went home.
It occurred to me that I do similar things with my job. I walk from my home through Rock Creek Park to my office in about 40 minutes. It’s a walking meditation really. I use the time to plan the day ahead and transition into work mode. I’m usually the first person there, and the first thing I do is put on my sweater and change into my work shoes. I spend the day with a fantastic team doing imaginative work to help children make the most of their potential.
Then when the day is done, I put my sweater away, change into my walking shoes, grab my backpack, and walk back home the way I came. I use the walk home to think about what I learned that day and to give thanks for the opportunity to do work that matters so much.
Mister Rogers taught me well. There’s something to be said for transition time, for having a dedicated place for work and play. I missed that time and space when I worked primarily from home. I’m grateful to have it back.
“Forget mistakes, forget failures, forget everything, except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.” ~Will Durant
The biggest roadblock to our own success is us. We doubt ourselves. We spend time and energy reviewing when we didn’t do something right or when something didn’t work out the way we wanted. We beat ourselves up. We take ourselves out of the running before we’ve even entered the race.
Here’s the tough love advice I give myself, and I mean it in the best possible way: get over yourself. Literally. You get out there right now, into the world that needs every ounce of your magic and talent, and get to work. The only thing that matters is what you do now.
You don’t need any more permission, advice, training, or ideas. You don’t need to spend any more time or money figuring things out. Just go for it, whatever it is, with everything you’ve got and you’ve got a lot. You’ve got you, and that’s all you need.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ~Mark Twain
There’s comfort in numbers, in people telling you that you’re doing the right thing and that they couldn’t agree more with your decisions and ideas. But approval can be a dangerous trap. We can enjoy it so much and seek it out so often that we end up limiting our imagination and ability.
The best things I’ve done in life are the very things that people told me I was crazy to even consider, much less attempt. The things I regret are the things that everyone said I should do. If it weren’t for Mark Twain, I’d think that was just a strange coincidence. It’s not.
If ever we want to do something really new, truly breakthrough on a personal and / or professional level, we’ve got to do something a little crazy. We’re going to have to go well off the well-trodden path. People will shake their heads. They’ll sigh and say things like, “Well, if you think that’s the best thing to do…” while clearly conveying that they certainly don’t agree.
Those are the ideas to stick with. Those are the dreams to follow. You can’t hope for a new, better, happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. You have to build it. You have to move beyond the majority and the boxes they’ve defined. Go way outside the confines of comfort. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.