What Do You Really Want To Do?

That is the question.

It is a question I grapple with a lot.

It sounds simple at first. Of course you know what you want to do. But do you, really? Can you separate what you really want from what you think you should want? Or more to the point, what other people think you should want and since you want other people to approve of you, you adopt that as your wish? Yes, you might have to read that through one more time.

My backyard Hammock

Complicated as it is, I would say that what most people want is for other people to approve of them. And there lies the problem. This is often something people are not consciously aware of. It’s so ingrained to want approval that we often make choices based on what we think others’ reaction will be, without questioning whether it’s something we deeply desire.

I haven’t written a blog post in months. I’ve thought about it often. Various topics have run through my mind. But I’ve been too busy. The nagging feeling that I “should” write a blog post has continued to bother me. Why? Because when you begin engaging with people online you “should” keep it up on a regular basis. And I admit, I have let things slip. The truth is, I’ve been trying to do too many things. I know I have to cut some things out and I’ve been at a loss.

So this question: What do you really want to do? This has been hanging over my head. Every day. For months.

The underlying topic of pretty much all my blog posts has been self-care. I love this topic. The importance of self-care never goes away. You never get finished with self-care, just like you never get finished eating or sleeping. It’s an essential part of life. There are so many layers to it. It comes up in big and small ways around everything we do.

It fascinates me because I am always craving more self-care. I fantasize about taking myself to the coast, going for a walk in the woods, lying in my hammock reading a book. But all too often, I put these things off because I’m trying to get other stuff done. And I’ll tell you, there is an endless amount of other stuff to get done. When I am exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, even burned out, the question always comes up. What can I do to take care of myself? What do I really want to do?

The quiet spot in my driveway

One of my projects is writing a book on self-care. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t had time to write blog posts. My previous posts inspired the book. There’s a lot to this topic. It’s important for our health, for our well-being, our sanity. It’s so important to take care of ourselves because it’s so easy to get worn out and have nothing left to give. You are no good to anyone when you are burned out, including yourself. Especially yourself.

My favorite books are about people’s journeys. I love memoirs and self-help books. These books help me feel less alone when I realize how other people have struggled and how they coped. They give me ideas and inspiration. And they inspire me to write my own stories. It is why I am writing a book on self-care, as I spend every day and every week exploring the issues around this. I am also writing a memoir about two very difficult years of my life when I attempted a career change that was not right for me. It was the ultimate in doing something that everyone approved of but was not a good match. There were some big realizations I had that I want to write about as I tell the story. It was quite a journey and I will someday finish that book. But I have put it aside for the time being to focus on the self-care book. This is how I end up with too many projects.

Relaxing on my patio

The more I write about self-care, I keep seeing an underlying issue. And that is, we get very strong messages about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to want, what our families should look like, what the progression of our careers should be. These messages affect our choices. Whether the messages come from our parents, our teachers or even our close friends, everyone has an opinion on this. Whether the message is to conform or to be a rebel, people have very strong opinions. One only needs to take a quick look at social media, to the abundance of selfies to see how important it is for most people, to have approval. “Look at me! And for God’s sake, like this post!”

So, what happens when you want to do something that perhaps no one understands?

First off, it’s not necessary to tell people everything you’re doing. It’s perfectly okay to keep parts of your life private. In fact, it’s a good idea to have privacy around some of the things you do, just so you don’t have to think in terms of how you will be judged.

Here’s the thing. You are totally okay exactly the way you are. No matter where you are in your process, it’s okay. Whether you are on your way to developing a new skill, a new career, creating something, or choosing to take it easy and not do anything new, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your right as a human being to be however you want to be.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have a right to living the way you want to live.

I have a lot of difficulty allowing myself unproductive time. Wherever I got those messages that I should be getting things done, they are very deeply ingrained. One of my biggest self-care practices is to allow myself to do nothing. To simply rest. I have set up a number of resting areas around my house because this is so essential to me. Yet, I struggle to take advantage of them. I have a hammock strung up in my backyard, a chaise lounge on my porch and another chaise lounge under a tree, down my driveway. These are all very attractive places to relax. I am embarrassed to admit how rarely I take advantage of them. My goal is to spend some time relaxing in one of these spots every day, but honestly, I am doing well if I do so once or twice a week. Everywhere I look, I see things that need to get done. The garden always needs weeding. I’m always behind on my writing projects. There are too many papers on my desk than need sorting and discarding. My closets need to be cleaned out. My emails have not all been read. On and on it goes. I cannot wait until everything is done to relax. Otherwise I will wait forever.

What do I really want? Honestly, it’s to feel less pressure. And that pressure comes primarily from within me.

When I realized I didn’t feel like writing a blog post I gave myself permission not to write posts for a while. The world would not come to an end if I did not write a blog post. Instead I focused on the book when I had time to write. I have a great critique group where I get wonderful feedback. The process of crafting a good book fascinates me so this is clearly a project I want to keep.

All the books I have about writing say that you need to have a writing routine, so you can get so many thousands of words written every day. I do not have a writing routine. I don’t want one. I just want to write when I feel moved to. So that’s what I do. Maybe I will never finish my book. It’s okay. I am not depending on my writing to support me, so these things really don’t matter. Even though I can see the ghosts of writers shaking their fingers at me, telling me I won’t amount to anything if I don’t get my writing done, I know ultimately it doesn’t matter. I am not living to gain their approval. They are, in fact, my own spooky creation. I am not living to gain anyone’s approval. How freeing it is to say that! I am not living to gain anyone’s approval! I needed to say it again!

Each day that blooms is fresh. Each day is an opportunity to do what I really want. Or to not do things I don’t want. Regardless of the expectations.

My work schedule provides a little structure for which I am grateful. I am someone who needs a little structure. But beyond that structure I get overwhelmed trying to do way too much. My biggest challenge with time is narrowing the list down so I can spend more time lying on the chaise lounges, and rocking in the hammock.

What is your challenge? What do you really want to do that you have not yet made room for?

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A Fresh Start for 2017

How are you feeling about entering the New Year?

The turning of the year has always been an opportunity for a fresh start. Whether last year was the best year or the worst year, it is now over. Time to let it go and embrace the new, whatever that may be.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

I like to use this as a time to reflect and evaluate things. What is working? What is not? What do I need to release in order to make room for something better? What is missing from my life? What annoying things do I need to get rid of? Are there bad habits I need to stop? Good habits I need to foster? It’s time for a change, so what needs to be different?

Winter is a time that calls us to go inward and reflect. It’s cold outside. It’s dark. It’s comforting to curl up with a nice, hot cup of lemon, ginger tea, lean back against some cushions and think about how we want to go forward with our lives.

In 2017 there is a huge change coming and I don’t know what exactly it will be but it has me unsettled. When things are beyond our control, and so much of life is, it’s helpful to take charge of the things we can. The best way I know to channel that anxiety into something positive is to create my own landscape for what I would like to see. It is my form of prayer.

Every New Year’s I have a ritual that I do. I have a special journal set aside for this purpose where I write my aspirations. Here’s how it goes.

First, on a piece of scrap paper I write down everything I want to let go of and I put GOODBYE at the top of the page. It can be anything. Bad attitudes. Five pounds. Clothes I never wear. Feeling guilty. Anything that is not serving me that I can actually let go of. I write these things down and then as an act of release I burn the paper. Goodbye.

Next I look at my list of things from the previous year that I asked for. Always fun to do this part. I love to see what I wanted that actually happened. I check all of these things off. It’s amazing how many things I ask for do happen. Intention is powerful. It’s not magic. It’s being clear and focused, so that when the opportunity comes up to bring in something I want I act, rather than let the moment pass.

The first list I write down in the journal is also part of reflection. “Thank you for…” I write down everything that I’m grateful for that happened in the past year, whether it’s something I specifically asked for or not. It’s interesting to realize that great things happened that I didn’t see coming. I published a book. I met some wonderful people at a writing retreat. I found a fitness program that has transformed my body and my health. I am reminded that life is full of possibility. It’s so important not to forget this.

And finally…”2017 Hello…” and the big list begins.

I frequently like to do this at a quiet restaurant, where I can get a glass of wine or champagne, order something special from the menu and have my precious, solo time to write and reflect. (I don’t do the burning part in the restaurant. I save that scrap of paper for later.) There’s something about whisking myself away from my family that gives me the peace of mind and uninterrupted time to treasure this practice.

Later in the month, I make a collage for the year. This is another practice I have been doing for over 30 years. I love creating collages for important things I want to see in my life. I have done them for career, for love relationships and I even made one when I was looking for a house to buy so I could find just the right place. They work! Again, it’s not magic. Spending time paying close attention to what you want and taking the steps to visualize it helps you recognize it when it’s in front of you. Make sure you have the right magazines to find the images and words that you want to put in the collage. I have been known to buy a particular magazine just to cut up for this purpose.

This year I’m going to make two collages. One will be personal, for my life. The other will be for our country and the world. I don’t have a lot of control over the future, but I can voice my hope, with cut out pictures and words. This is my positive vision for the world.

No one can take away our dreams and our visions.

Or our sense of humor.

Happy 2017!

Radical Self-Care Step Eight – Balance

Finding the Balance or Managing the Feel-Good Meter

On one of my trips out of town, I was overcome with the feeling that helping others is what life’s all about. In big ways. In small ways. Offering to give a hand to a friend whom you know is struggling. Tipping the person who prepares your coffee. Helping a confused person find their way. Being friendly to strangers when you’re out running your errands. Being helpful whenever you can. Meeting a person’s eye and smiling. Or just holding their gaze for a moment so they know they have been seen. There are a thousand ways big and small to help other people.

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Thinking about things like gratitude practices, I wanted to promote the practice of kindness and helping others. Whether it’s doing something practical like helping someone get something done or doing something that lifts a person’s spirits, spreading helpfulness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can do.

Giving doesn’t only make the other person feel good but it makes your own heart feel good.

I went to Portland a few months ago for a writing retreat and every place I went I encountered helpful, friendly people who made me feel good to be alive and happy about humanity. I met many strangers who were extremely kind to me and helped me with directions, when I was walking through the city, because I’m terrible at finding my way in new places. I’m famous among my friends for getting lost or taking the wrong turn. They took the time to explain to me where things were, and how the city was laid out (numerically and alphabetically) so I could figure out how to find the address I was looking for.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

The women at the writing workshop shared their fears and vulnerabilities in words and tears and exquisite pieces of writing that made me feel less alone and not so different. I went to this writing retreat hoping to become a better writer but really, what it did was open my heart. I saw so many ways that people were doing what they could to help other people. The presenters gave us all books from writers they knew, whom they were supporting by sharing their books. They said they take a percentage of what they bring in from the workshop to help upcoming writers. A beautiful practice of Helping.

At the hostel-like Society Hotel, where I was staying, the staff were very friendly and chatty. They greeted me with smiles every time I entered the lobby/lounge/café area. They had a little take-out bar where they made healthy breakfasts and lunches and they remembered each day that I wanted yogurt with their homemade granola and a fresh orange for breakfast.

The people at the front desk were patient in explaining how to find places in town and how to navigate the neighborhood. And in order to get a good night’s sleep they gave me a quiet room on a top floor away from the street noise.

I was so overcome by the openness and friendliness of the people I was meeting in this city, where I arrived alone, discovering the fresh, artistic nature of Portland. My heart was blasted open.

On the flight home, as I reflected on my four-day excursion I thought about how delightful it was to go to a place where the people were so forthcoming and inviting. Life is all about helping each other and being good to one another, I decided.

But then I had another thought. Being an open, giving person is all very well, but we need to take care of ourselves, too. We need to have a balance between giving and receiving. When we talk about balance between giving and receiving, how much is too much?

One of the reasons we are here – or if I want to get all pompous about it – one of the meanings of life, is to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves. When people go too far to the extreme in either direction, devastating things can happen.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

When taking care of oneself obliterates everything else it turns to greed, which can become meanness or even war, at the extreme level. And giving too much of oneself, without taking time to recharge, can result in a state of severe depletion, or become an addiction to being needed at its worst.

Finding that balance between helping others and helping oneself is a tricky dance. Like any balancing act it is easy to tip to one side or the other. It feels so good to do something for someone else where you can immediately see that your action is making a difference. It also feels good to unplug, slow down, and indulge in some self-care. When tackling anything big, the best thing to do is take small bites. Go back and forth. Find the comfort zone between manageable acts of kindness and bite sized treats of self-care.

When is Enough Really Enough?

We live in a world that values achievement more than inner peace.

There is a craziness I see in our modern culture. We are constantly receiving messages telling us that we’re not enough.

different pastries

We are told that we can always do more, acquire more and create more. With this kind of thinking, people are never satisfied. They may think that if they can get 10 new clients, sell 100 more books or get a 5% raise that they will be content, but no sooner does that happen than they start to visualize a new goal to reach.

How do we feel good about ourselves and our lives when we keep thinking we should be doing better than we are?

I know people who make six figures who are still pushing for the next level. They want more business, a promotion or a new title in an endless climb up a mountain whose peak is always over the next pass. It’s nuts but they are responding to society’s expectations.

I think about this because all around me I see people who are stressed. They are living for the future,  even when, for the most part, they already have really good lives. Another reason I am writing about this is because I get caught up in it, too.

Can you relate to this?

I have to stop myself and ask, “What’s really important?”

What’s really going to make us feel good isn’t reaching a greater threshold of success. It’s appreciating what we have in our lives right now.

We have to learn how to balance the stress that is part of life. And it’s not by obsessing on achievement.

This past month, not far from where I live, a fire in Northern California destroyed hundreds of homes devastating thousands of lives. I read daily about refugees, fleeing unbearable conditions, risking their lives in a challenging quest for survival, to find a place where they can belong and live in dignity. And internally, everyone I know is grappling with some kind of struggle.

So the question I have is, what can we be grateful for exactly the way things are right now? Whatever our circumstances. Whatever we have or don’t have. What is present, in this moment, that we can be grateful for? I suggest we take a moment to appreciate those things about our lives that are soul satisfying. The people we know who make us light up. When our work is appreciated. The uniqueness about where we live and everything in our lives that makes them valuable. Perhaps many of these are things we take for granted, focusing more on how to get that thing that is out of our reach.

We all have many things that are precious and worthy of our appreciation. And that, dear friend, is truly enough.