Right after I finished college, armed with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and a lingering travel bug, I got a job teaching English in Singapore. It was a great opportunity to try out teaching and a fabulous launching pad from which to explore Southeast Asia (not to mention four national religions translates to a lot of holidays!) And hands down, it was the best place to eat.
The one thing I didn’t love, though, was the humidity. When I arrived, I naively thought it would feel cooler/less humid in the evenings, and I could run then. Hah! That lasted for about a month until this West Coast girl realized she wasn’t built to live on the equator and reluctantly joined a gym.
Squeezed in the middle of bustling, cement high rises of Singapore, LA Fitness represented everything I wasn’t seeking — blaring music, blasting air conditioning, clingy spandex, a well-used elevator (yes, at the gym!) — yet I was grateful for a cool place to exercise. And it was there that I met a yoga teacher who taught me a lesson I’m still learning.
I don’t even remember his name now, but I distinctly remember his presence. He was calm, centered, soft spoken. In this sea of tank tops and lycra, he stood out in loose, cotton pants and a long beard. He moved and spoke slowly, with intention. He created a sense of quiet, calm and peace in his class, despite the blaring music and muffled voices that emanated from outside the yoga room walls.
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
One of my last images of him is slowly peddling off on his bike after class, between the tall buildings, car horns and throngs of people, he went at his own pace. He brought his own weather with him.
Living in Silicon Valley (and with energetic, noisy little ones), where life often feels too busy and loud for me, I often think of that yoga teacher and how he brought peace and calmness wherever he went. So I’ve been thinking about the weather I bring. How can I create more calm and peace not just for myself, but for those around me?
What weather do you bring?
It has been awhile since I’ve blogged. It’s been too long. But I’ve been working and living and yes, playing.
In fact, I’ve been thinking about one of those times when I was playing. A few months ago, I accompanied my niece to her trapeze classes. It’s probably better that I didn’t think too much about it before saying yes.
So that’s how I found myself climbing up a narrow ladder, legs shaking, to a very high platform. I’ve never thought of myself as paralyzed by heights, but I certainly wasn’t feeling comfortable and was in fact rethinking my relationship to acrophobia at that moment.
But with the calm guidance of the teacher standing next to me on the platform, I grabbed the bar with my chalked-up, sweaty palms and jumped (or maybe the teacher nudged me off…I’m not sure.) Swinging through the air, I felt a rush of excitement and giddiness. This was, dare I say it, FUN!
Listening for the commands of the teacher, I learned different moves — hooking my knees on the bars and letting my hands go, hanging upside down. And then, I heard the command to let go, to drop. But for some reason, I couldn’t. It wasn’t fear of letting go. It was something else.
I think I was trying to time my drop to land squarely on the mattress perched on the net below? I’m not certain. All I know is I couldn’t let go. (You can see this moment in all its awkward glory here.)
On second thought, maybe it was fear. Fear of a loss of control. Fear of surrender. Surrendering to not being the brain, to being in control.
Obviously, I did eventually let go of that bar. And I landed safely on the net below. Talking about this experience afterwards to my sister and partner-in-crime in this adventure, she wisely offered: “Our job is to be the muscle, not the brain.”
I’ve been thinking about that profound statement a lot in the weeks since my time on the flying trapeze. Most of us are used to being the brain, in work and at home. We’re trained and rewarded for being the brain, for planning, organizing, executing, making decisions. And there are obviously plenty of times in life where we need to be the brain. But what happens when we we’re always the brain and we forget about the muscle? What do we lose (besides muscle atrophy)?
I’m still living this question, but in my little experiment thus far, being the muscle has created more space. More space for my coaching clients to explore meaning in their lives. More space for conversations to open up with my husband and my kids.
So here’s to 2016 and to more space. And to being the muscle. Now, off for a run.
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.
I haven’t posted in awhile. Our family was plagued with multiple illnesses over the last 6 weeks, and with both parents juggling careers, our household has gone through some moments of chaos, exhaustion and well…ugliness (But as my son would readily remind me, we’ve had lots of opportunities to use the “life skill of flexibility”). Finally, after various bouts of strep throat, stomach bugs and bad colds, we seem to all be healthy. And I am thankful for it and feeling particularly grateful for my kids’ general good health. Throughout this period, I’ve been reminded of the wisdom of Glennon Melton’s concept of carpe kairos (appreciating moments, rather than days) when raising young kids.
During one round of stomach bug, while I sat on the bathroom floor with my daughter, not sure which end the “illness” was going to come pouring out of next, I learned a lesson about the power of stories. She was so distraught and upset. Nothing would comfort her…not even the iPad. Yes folks, she was TOO SICK TO PLAY THE IPAD. The only thing she wanted was to sit on my lap and have me read her books. So there we were, surrounded by towels, a big metal bowl and a stack of books. I think a lot about the power of stories in a professional context, but this experience was a sweet (if not sweet-smelling) and necessary reminder of the comfort and connection that stories provide.
And in the midst of all this, my son graduated from kindergarten! He is going to be a “grader”, as he so reverently calls it. This is wonderful and exciting but I am feeling some sadness and nostalgia. No doubt it’s about my first born growing up. Perhaps it’s because I’m a little misty-eyed after watching (again) the beautiful DVD his teacher, Mrs. D, created: a sweet photo montage of his class over the school year. And I’m thinking of Mrs. D and how very, very lucky my son was to have her this year, and how lucky we are as parents to have her in our lives, too.
If you regularly read this blog, you may recall that I was quite enamored with his teacher from the first day of school and recognized she is something quite special. But throughout the year, I’ve had the chance to observe what she does, through volunteering in the classroom periodically and through all the stories and tidbits my son shares with me.
As a parent, I have so much appreciation and admiration for all Mrs. D has taught my son and his classmates, and how those teachings will continue to shape them as they grow. And as a leadership coach and someone interested in organizational culture, I’m fascinated by how she’s building an environment to nurture growth and learning.
What I’ve finally put my finger on is that Mrs. D’s genius comes from a beautiful combination of both bringing the world into her classroom and creating a world within the class. Through studying art, music, science, the natural world history and current events, she creates a vibrant classroom and community, reflected by the cheery artwork and creative student projects that line the walls. But the real magic to me is the world that Mrs. D creates with them — one where empathy comes first, where all students are really seen, where she meets them where they are and holds them up to the best versions of themselves.
Maybe this is one of those parenting moments, this deeper learning and appreciation of watching your kids grow up, this hint of nostalgia, this deeper perspective of childhood you don’t get when you’re going through it. I wish there was a word for it. It’s a mix of gratitude, reverence, and maybe some wisdom. And I’m realizing that as my kids grow, I’m growing as a parent.
So, as the years march on and my son grows up (and I continue to grow alongside him as a parent) and some of his memories of kindergarten inevitably fade along with the stack of lovely artwork he brought home, here’s my wish for him: that he continues to embrace the world that Mrs. D created in their classroom. I wish he listens with both his head and his heart, that he always holds himself and others up to their best versions and that he remembers kindness first.
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.