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Lessons from the Playa

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Photo by Jessica “The Hun” Reeder under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Burning Man, the intentional community event that happens each year in the Nevada desert, just concluded this past weekend.  As I’ve seen photos from this year’s event crop up in my social media feeds, I’m reflecting on what I learned from my adventures there ~15 years ago (yes, we’re talking Y2K!)  And no, it doesn’t have to do with nudity, illicit substances or lots of dust (though there’s plenty of that).  The lessons I took away from my time on the playa these many, many moons ago as a carefree, single 20-something are ones I find myself calling on now and adapting, as an almost 40-something parent in the next chapter of career and life:

The importance of play. I’ve been reminded of this as a parent more recently, but being in an atmosphere where throngs of adults were playing and creating for the sake of play and creativity felt new and nothing less than magical.  I remember wandering into a group of people launching watermelons with a trebuchet and pitching in….because…why not?

And very much linked to this idea:

The necessity of creating open, unstructured time. Spontaneity, adventure, reflecting, being — all of these need space and freedom to occur.  As a parent living in a busy, scheduled world, I feel I often have to defend creating this open space and time for my family and for me.  We had one of the best family days the other weekend when we did just that.

The role of community.  Community is crucial when you’re in the middle of the Black Rock Desert and someone gives you water after yours runs out. It’s also just more fun, like when someone invites you to jump on the giant trampoline they lugged out and set up.  

Destruction is part of creation.  The final night at Burning Man involves burning the enormous art installation that required endless time and energy to create. Sometimes you gotta Let it Go in order to move forward. This isn’t easy.  Watching my son struggle with destroying a Lego creation to build another one feels a little reminiscent of my own struggles to let go of a professional identity I carried with me for a long time.

Finally, on a lighter, yet no less important note, once you get playa dust in your tent zipper, that tent will never be the same. Similarly, once your kids’ cracker-infested car seats have lived in your car, your car will never be the same, no matter how much cleaning you do.

I’ve been struggling these past few months, and it has taken me awhile to figure out why.  There’s not an obvious culprit; my family is healthy, our kids are generally happy and thriving, things are going well career-wise.  I shouldn’t feel like I’m struggling.  But, after sitting with this for awhile, I’ve gradually realized that I’ve been going through my own (relatively unacknowledged) transformation.  Over the past 2+ years, I’ve gone from working full-time to a brief stint of not working, and gradually have been transitioning back to working almost full-time. I think I’m pretty good at noticing the developments and stages my kids go through, but I often forget that I’m still growing and going through my own transitions.

Meanwhile during this time, our kids have grown from babies/toddlers to little kids.  And in light of all these changes, my husband and I are figuring out how to organize our lives to respond to our changing lives and selves.  That’s translated to figuring out what to farm out and how to cut corners on (i.e. quick dinners, dinner delivery, online grocery shopping, being ok with giant piles of laundry cluttering the house, etc).  For him, that’s meant leaning in more to family and childcare responsibilities, and for me, it’s meant some Letting Go (Thanks again, Queen Elsa). It’s not always easy and graceful, and there have been plenty of bumps in the road (i.e. rushed mornings, grouchy evenings, forgotten class projects, etc.) But being clear about what’s important and top priority to us as individuals and as a family makes the process easier and helps me live with (embrace?) the chaos and fullness of our lives and well…enjoy life and parenting more.

So, this post-Burning Man season (which for me these days is really back-to-school season), I’m trying to remember that like my kids, I’m ever-changing, too, and that change is hard. And we’re all changing together, as a family, constantly.  Change requires patience, persistence and self-kindness.  As Ann Betz and Karen Kimsey-House write in their lovely new book, Integration: The Power of Being Co-active in Work and Life: “Change is uncomfortable and often uncertain and yet, nothing evolves – not a person, a relationship, an organization or the entire human race – without the development of new patterns, new neural pathways.”

And I’m dusting off these lessons gathered from Burning Man, most important, making time to play (again, echoed in Brigid Schulze’s meticulously-researched, brilliant book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time). So, if I’m not blogging as regularly in the months to come, that might mean I’m working more, or maybe I’m off playing with my kids, or just playing by myself, or perhaps, helping a bunch of people launch a watermelon.

Let’s go play.

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Finding Jewels in a Sandbox

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Photo by Louisa Hennessy under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Every other week or so, my daughter, LC, comes homes from preschool clutching an envelope containing a handful of colorful sequins and plastic rhinestones.  This means the “Jewel Fairy” has recently visited her preschool, sprinkling jewels in their sandbox area.  Often on these special days when I come to pick her up, I’ll find a gaggle of kids scouring the sandbox for little plastic jems.  LC revels over her jewels on the way home, admiring each one, often showing them off to the adoring teachers at my son’s afterschool program.  When we get home, LC carefully tucks them away in her jewelry box (usually after arranging the entire collection elaborately on the floor first.)

It was on one of those days at preschool where the Jewel Fairy had recently visited that I had just come from a career coaching session with a graduate student who likened her job search to “finding a needle in a haystack”.  And now here I was at LC’s preschool watching 3 and 4-year-olds crouching down and intently searching for plastic jewels in a giant sandbox. It was a game, yes, but something they were all taking quite seriously.

Finding jewels in a sandbox.

I’m not saying a group of preschoolers hunting for baubles in a pile of sand and searching for a job is the same thing.  LC and her preschool friends (luckily) aren’t shouldered with bills to pay, visa issues, health insurance, families to support, etc. And still, there is something valuable about the element of play here, the pursuit and dedication to it. And there’s a lovely message, too, that I want to share with that graduate student (and all of us): yes, searching for a job can be like a needle in a haystack if you choose to view it that way.  But does that help you? And how true is that? (And more obviously, ugh, that makes it sound like a drag.)  What if searching for a job was more like searching for jewels in a sandbox: there is more than one out there for you, if you don’t find what you want right now, the Jewel Fairy will be back soon, and maybe, just maybe, you can even have some fun searching for it.

The Art of Roast Duck

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The other day, my son wrote this story (it’s either a tragedy or slapstick comedy, not sure which.)  It felt like some sort of milestone — the first “voluntary” story he wrote, completely initiated and executed by him.  He worked so hard on it, asking his dad and me how to spell various words over the course of an evening and working very carefully on forming his letters. And he was so proud, asking us to read it over and over to him and revelling over the finished product.  The next morning, he rolled it up into a neat little scroll and presented it to his teacher. (Or at least that was his intent.  It’s not clear if the scroll ever made it out of the bottom of his backpack!)

I’m not sure if this project felt momentous to me because I have a special affinity for words and stories.  Maybe it was because my son hasn’t historically logged tons of time drawing/writing/painting.  Perhaps I felt a connection with my recent project launching a career and leadership coaching practice.  Whatever it was, I felt like I witnessed something special, intimate and human: that creative process of taking a vision in our heads and  shaping and anchoring it in the world, to see and to share.

How about you?  When did you last make roast duck?

Being With

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Photo by Ariel W under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

In one of my coaching trainings a few months ago, we were charged with the task of writing down a list of things we couldn’t “be with.”  The goal of the exercise was to become more aware of our blind spots so we could more effectively manage ourselves as coaches.  I started thinking of things that really boiled my blood and couldn’t deal with…bigotry, cruelty, lack of respect of boundaries, etc.  You get the picture.  But the one that kept popping into my head that I didn’t want to see or hear was this: my daughter’s whining. Really? Is that really one of the other bedfellows of things I can’t “be with” along the lines of cruelty and bigotry? Ouch.

I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s the truth for me these days.  At 3, my daughter’s personality has blossomed and I am honored to witness this.  I love the conversations we now have – amusing, often silly, sometimes deeply profound.  I love watching her master new skills and make new connections.  And…then there’s the whining.  It’s a bit reminiscent of a 3 year old version of Louis C.K.’s daughter.  It’s loud. It’s very regular. It fills the house. And for some reason, it can produce in me the kind of nerve pain I experience at the dentist.

But after my reflective coaching training on “being with”, I decided I needed to get curious about this rather than being ashamed of it.  I needed to “be with” my daughter’s whining.  So for the next week I did just that.  Whenever I felt that nerve pain stimulated by the whining, I took a breath.  I let her whine. If I was nearby enough, I might say after a minute of non-stop whining: “You sound frustrated.  Can I help you with something?” And I noticed two things: First, that Pavlovian response of whine –> pain for me didn’t go away, but it lessened as I let her be.  And second, when I let her continue whining, I noticed how it (usually) died down after she figured out how to put a puzzle together she was struggling with or get the cap off a pen.  And through that experiment, I saw that her whining was often just part of her learning.  Yes, it was still annoying, but it was just a symptom of her struggle to figure something out or master a new skill.  And through noticing that, something shifted for me and something tender emerged.  I stopped hearing the whining only through my ears.

The other connection I made by “being with” the whining, was that my own version of whining is fidgeting.  It’s very hard for me to sit still (blame it on my genes – ask my mom).  In fact, during the writing of this blog post, I’ve gotten up several times to make tea, fold laundry, get the mail, empty the dishwasher, reorganize my desk, etc.  I’ve stopped writing to check email and random web pages.  Fidgeting is my whining.  So I’m trying to take some of my own medicine and “be with” my own struggle – the struggle to flesh out an idea, to create a website, to build a business.  All things I’m struggling with, and trying to at the same time, be with.  And I’m reminding myself that the fidgeting means that I’m doing something I care about. I’m creating something. I’m learning something.  And the fidgeting, like the whining, is just part of that messy, beautiful journey.

What’s the thing you can’t be with?  And what can you learn about yourself by being with that thing?

 

 

Year End

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Photo by alicepopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

I wanted to squeeze in one final post in these last hours of 2014.  I started this blog a little over a year ago, and for anyone who knows me or follows this blog, you know I err on the reflective.  On this blustery winter day, warmed by a toasty fire and recent memories of our now annual tradition of my-dad-as-Santa celebrating each grandkid’s milestones from the year, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned (or been reminded of) this year:

Get your dreams dirty.  Don’t keep them locked up in a cabinet like your great aunt’s china. Use your dreams, try them on, wear them out.  Yes, there’s a risk in putting your dreams out in the world and a risk that they won’t look like what you pictured in your head.  Ann Patchett describes the experience of translating the stories that are in her head into words as “pinning a butterfly to the page”. It can be struggle, a letdown, even, when the words on the page pale in comparison to the vision in your head.  But the bigger risk is to not attempt to pin down the butterfly.  Don’t keep the dreams in your head forever.

Vulnerability can build powerful connections.  Sharing myself and my heart on these pages has created engagement with friends and strangers in a way I hadn’t anticipated, but am so grateful for.

Cookies are delicious, but cookie dough is tasty in its own right. I’ll admit I’m kind of a planner, so starting things when I don’t think I’m ready or don’t know where they’ll go can be uncomfortable. But this year has reminded of delight that comes with unexpectedness, of seeing where and how things develop in a way you can’t predict or plan.  And I’ve been enjoying the process, tasting the cooking dough.

Living well is a delicate balance between being and doing, between forward movement and stillness.

I’m constantly challenged by and in awe of the ever-evolving role of parenthood.  It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had but the most rewarding. Despite the frustrations and the relentlessness, there is overwhelming joy and honor in witnessing the blossoming of these little souls.  The learning never stops and it’s a magical mix of both the lofty and the everyday, from learning patience and unconditional love to throwing a football (which I’ve been learning this trip!)

And while I don’t have any resolutions nailed down right now, here’s what I’ll be trying to create more of in 2015:

  • more sharing (resources, time, food)
  • more celebrating
  • more whole & wholesome foods that nourish the body and soul
  • more quality time with friends and family
  • more dance parties
  • more laughter

Thank you for reading and being part of this journey with me this year.  I wish you more of whatever you’d like to welcome into your life in 2015!

Yes Please to Playing Big

You know those products you always rave about to friends, family and complete strangers, and you feel like you should be a salesperson for them?  That’s how I feel about Tara Mohr’s brilliant new book, Playing Big.

While I was about halfway through the book, I left my copy in a restaurant (and had to buy another copy).  I’m hoping that the universe arranged it so the right person found it.

I’ve followed Tara Mohr’s work supporting women’s leadership for awhile, so when I learned her book was coming out, I pre-ordered it.  Based on years of coaching women individually and then through her workshop, Playing Big in Tara Mohr’s own words, “is about bridging the gap between what we see in you and what you know about yourself.  It’s a practical guide for moving past self-doubt and creating what you most want to create – whether in your career, in your community, or in a passion you pursue outside of work. It’s not about the old-school notion of playing big – more money, more prestigious title, a bigger empire, or fame. It’s about living a life with a sense of greater freedom to express your voice and pursue your aspiration. It’s about playing big according to what playing big truly means to you.”

From helping you identify and “manage” your inner critic, to connecting with your inner mentor, to presenting a lovely and powerful way to reframe the concept of fear, Playing Big carries so much truth. It spoke to my head and my heart. I only wish I would have had it 15+ years ago when I was graduating from college and starting my career.  Mohr has a chapter focused on the “good student” habits that serve women well in school, but that we have to replace with a different set of skills when we enter the working world.

Even though I’ve found a great deal of wisdom in many of the books I’ve read over the years on this topic, the bulk of them have often left me feeling deflated, like I’m not trying hard enough, I’m not tenacious enough, I’m not…enough.  Perhaps this book hit me at the right moment in my life.  Whatever it is, Playing Big left me feeling inspired and energized.

And I *love* that it’s about playing.

A few days later, I received the only other book I pre-ordered this year: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.  I liked her on SNL and then fell in love with her as Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation.  I was struck by the overlap between these two books. Poehler talks about her inner critic (and it is hilarious) and her inner mentor.  She’s smart and funny and vulnerable.  Here’s woman who is seriously Playing Big:

“So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready. This is America and I’m allowed to have a healthy self-esteem.”

I would love to have dinner and drinks with these two brilliant women.  Or if that never happens, I hope someday Tara Mohr and Amy Poehler have dinner and drinks together.  That would make me happy.

Yes Please.

Potty Talk: Lessons from Toilet Training

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“Bathroom Reading” by thejbird under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The other day, an acquaintance asked me how I was doing.  I found myself unloading (no pun intended) about the trials and tribulations of potty training for several minutes.  I could hear myself rattle on and on about potty training…like I was floating above myself watching this unfold but couldn’t. manage. to. stop.

This poor woman.

The backstory: My daughter recently started a new preschool that requires that kids be potty trained. When I signed her up for the school earlier this year, September seemed like an eternity away — of course she’ll be trained by then, I rationalized.  Of course, as life would have it, the more Nice Tall Guy and I “encouraged” our daughter to use the toilet, the more she clung to her diapered ways.

But why oh why is this potty training stuff taking up so much headspace?  Sure, work is a corner of my life these days and not a cornerstone, and you could argue I was busy caring for a newborn and returning to work while my son was potty training, so I had bigger fish to fry. But I realize this potty training experience with my daughter is about more than actually getting her to keep her Hello Kitty undies dry.  There’s deeper learning buried in this struggle and I’ve been ruminating on it these past few weeks (and inadvertently subjecting innocent friends, family and strangers through my explorations). In the process of cleaning up puddles of pee and nuggets of poop, I’ve discovered some nuggets of wisdom to apply to parenting that can perhaps be extended to life, particularly to my own current career development:

  • There’s a lot we can’t control.  Sure, there are things we can influence in life through preparation and planning, but there’s a limit.  (As someone very wise once told me, potty training is one of the very few things kids can control at this age.  So they will!  Just wanted to stick that in there in case any readers were expecting to find actual potty training tips.)
  • Transitions take time. They are a process. Be patient.
  • At the same time, transitions spur amazing moments of growth.  (As any parent or teacher knows, development in kids doesn’t happen incrementally.  It happens in steps, or sometimes even leaps.  And perhaps that doesn’t change as we grow up.)
  • Never underestimate the power of a new environment to stimulate learning and change.   (For those who are curious, about a day or two after my daughter started her new preschool, she was potty trained – minus a few accidents, most still at home!)  It’s true, right?  When we feel stuck or uninspired, there’s a lot that changing our view can do to stimulate our brains or change our perspectives.

So whatever version of a potty training challenge you may be facing in your life, I raise my glass to you in solidarity and understanding.

And I hope yours doesn’t involve cleaning up actual human poop. But if it does, I would advise you to fill your glass up with wine. And take a deep breath.

 

 

Stop editing. Start dreaming.

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My Super Man-Pirate.

Several months ago, during our evening ride home, I asked my four-year-old son what career he wanted when he grew up.

As soon as I was home, I had to capture what he told me. Here’s his list (and I may have missed a few!):

-Discovering new dinosaur bones

-Teaching kids how to read and do math

-Playing on the 49ers

-Playing on the Golden State Warriors

-Driving an ambulance

-Being a (toe) doctor

-Being a nurse

-Driving a race car

-Coaching a soccer team

I love this list for so many reasons – the breadth, how aspirational it is, how action-focused it is (it’s not necessarily about being a profession, it’s about doing stuff.) I’m inspired by the possibility, the variety, the lack of editing….this kid believes he can and will do all these things.

And though I think my son is unique, I’m certain he’s not unique in this way. I’m sure if you polled any preschooler you would get an equally ambitious and creative list.

How can we tap into our four-year-old selves?  How can we reconnect with that sense of possibility, that ability to wonder, to dream big?

I spent last weekend at a coaching training, so I’ve been chewing on these ideas, unlearning a lot of things, learning to identifying the inner critic that tends to grow stronger as we grow up.   We opened the coaching training with an ice breaker: milling around the room and introducing ourselves to our fellow classmates, posing the question, “What’s your dream?”  It’s a powerful way to connect with a group of strangers.

At the beginning of the exercise, it felt a little high pressure — what is my dream? What if it’s not the dream? What if it sounds silly? What if I have spinach stuck in my teeth? And on and on.  But circling through the room, hearing the beautiful, creative, brave dreams of all these strangers and soon-to-be friends, I saw that I needed to stop editing and stop worrying.  I needed to start listening and keep dreaming.

So dream.  Dream big.  Dream a lot.  Dream like a bad ass. Dream like your four-year-old self.

 

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