Beyond My Control

I am a worrier. I always have been. In fact, there is a story that my dad used to like to tell about my propensity for worry. Because the truth is, it’s been part of me since birth. Or maybe even before.  

When I was little—maybe around five or six…—we would sometimes go on Sunday drives into the woods on very narrow dirt roads. To my child-mind, the roads were too narrow for Dad’s jeep, let alone two cars passing in different directions. We would drive and drive and drive, and I would become more and more and more worried. Finally, I would pipe up from the backseat, “Where are we going to turn around, Dad?” as if it was my job to be concerned about all eventualities. But my propensity for worry prevented me from enjoying the drive, as everyone else in the car seemed to be doing. 

Last week, as I was going through my morning “pre-work” routine, I caught myself trying to figure out way too many pieces and bits of things that are attached to events and situations happening weeks in the future. It is as if somehow it is up to me to predict the future and troubleshoot every possible outcome—both good and bad—before the event even happens. And I do mean EVERY. POSSIBILE. OUTCOME. 

On the flip side, I have spent much parenting life convincing my daughter that there is very little in life that is worth the worry she tends to expend. I see her getting caught up in her thoughts and anticipation of situations in the future, and she is unable to experience the present moment to its fullest extent. Perhaps because I can relate, I work with her to stay in the moment and not worry so much. 

So last week, when I realized I was overwhelming myself, I stopped and took a breath. No, I thought. You are worrying about things that you don’t need to worry about. Most of these things are beyond your control.  

Beyond my control. True. And how much of my life have I devoted to worrying about things that are beyond my control? Too much. I am getting better, but I need to focus on taking things moment by moment. When I feel myself drifting to the future, I will work to pull myself back to the present and enjoy the journey. And I will take my daughter by the hand and lead her on this journey with me. The stress that is inextricable from worry is just not worth it.   

When we are able to step away from the worry and the unnecessary focus on the future, the view—right here, right now—is often pretty fantastic!  

{Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash}

Keep Going

As I have navigated my way through life, there is one very important lesson I have learned. No matter what life throws at you, keep going. Whatever happens, you have the strength to pull yourself through. Life is not always easy. It’s not always happy. But the tough times… they help you to see the good. They help you to grow. They help you to evolve into the best possible version of you.

Keep going. When life throws you a curve ball, and you are suddenly on a path you didn’t expect, keep going. Sometimes, the biggest blessings are found on the detours.

Keep going. When you think you can’t possibly handle any more and you are stressed and frustrated and you think you are going to collapse from the weight of all you have to deal with, keep going. Look around you. Gather some support. Find people who can help you carry your burden. But most importantly, keep going. You will get through this. And you will be stronger for the perseverance.

Keep going. When the plans you have made—for yourself, for your life, for your future—don’t work out, keep going. Often, those plans don’t work out because there is something better in store for you. Keep going, keep striving, keep searching, and you will eventually find it. Or better yet, it will find you.

Keep going. When you are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges like a solid brick wall in your path, keep going. Find a way to get over, under, around, or through the wall, but keep going.

Keep going. Use all of the support systems that you have in place. Bring in your friends. Bring in your acquaintances. Bring in the tanks, the armies, the teachers, and the pets. Bring in whatever you need to. But…

Through it all—tough times and easy times—you will discover much about yourself and others. You will learn what you want to be and what you don’t want to be. You will learn your limits and form your boundaries. You will learn to overcome weakness. You will learn to distinguish the people who are your friends from those you’d prefer to let fade into the background. You will find strength. You will find  beauty. You will find love.

And through it all, you will learn who you are.

Keep going.

Step Away

We were talking about writing, my daughter and I, about writing to an assignment when you’re not really sure of what to write. How do you not only answer the question, but write a three-page paper?

Without even thinking, I started tossing ideas at her. What is the story? Who’s involved? What is happening? Have you Googled the story and read through the summary/analysis online as a way to spark some ideas? Starting points… all things she had thought of, but approaches that weren’t helping her.

For me, talking about writing is nothing new—in fact, it is a daily conversation. This is what I do. I write. I talk about writing. I work with writers. It’s important that I include the phrase, “I write,” because if you don’t actually sit down and do the tough work of writing, it is difficult to talk to young writers about writing. And to speak authoritatively about the process of writing.

Our banter was getting us nowhere except frustrated. Sleep on it, I finally told her. The assignment wasn’t due for a couple days, so she had the advantage of time on her side. She agreed that was a good idea, and put the paper away for the night. However, she came back and texted me a bit later. “I took a shower on it, and I think I figured it out!” she told me.

That was it. She just needed to step away. In order to connect with the subject, she had to disconnect from it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Not just in writing, but in the process of daily life.

If you step away, your thoughts can become clearer. Let your brain rest and move on to other tasks. Because sometimes, when you’re not putting demands on your brain, it will continue to process on its own terms. In fact, it is often when we are not thinking about something that it works itself out. When we are not focused on a problem, more varied solutions—those that are lurking on the periphery—become evident.

We all have situations we need to step away from. If you step away, often the things you are wrestling with—the problems, the situations, the frustrations—they all become easier to figure out, and your brain will come up with a solution you hadn’t even considered!

Step away, and have confidence the answer might come to you. If not, at least you will return refreshed and ready to dig in.

{Photo credit – my amazing daughter}

Reconnecting

Sometimes, I like to sit with childhood acquaintances and reconnect. These are the people I’ve known since I was very young—in grade school or high school. These are the people who knew me before I headed out into the world and discovered that the “real world” was maybe not everything it’s cracked up to be.

These people, they can often pull me back to my roots and ground me in “home.” They can help me remember both the innocence of childhood and the struggles of growing up. And they can remind me of the near-constant growth I have experienced since being on my own.

I like to engage these people in conversation about how life has turned out—what has happened in all the years since we last spoke? I will frequently get an earful of the good, the bad, and everything in between. Sometimes, if the friend is not local, these reconnections might involve long email or text exchanges.

Either way, my favorite thing to ask is the question: Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?

I love listening to the answers to this question. It’s a bit of a surprise question at first. The person wants the obvious answer to be, “Yes, of course it did.” But ultimately, the person stumbles through to the real answer. Though the responses vary from one person to another, they are always the same.

Here’s the interesting thing. When I ask that question, no one ever says, “Yes, my life has been exactly as I planned it all those years back when I was in school.” No one says that. Ever.

The fact is, life is not what we expect it to be. It is full of surprises—both good and bad. It is full of trials and triumph, pain and passion. Life is full. Sometimes, life is a struggle, and sometimes it’s a breeze. Sometimes life is amazing, and sometimes it is broken. But the saying is true: Life is what you make it. If you choose to take what life throws at you and make the best of it, then you will have the best life you can. Focus on the positive, weave yourself a network of support, and keep pushing forward.

No, my life is not what I had planned back when I was younger. But every day, I work on growing and moving in a positive direction. And even though it’s not what I planned, every day, I am very thankful for the life I have.

{Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash}

Connections

We need to teach our children how to connect with others. I don’t mean teach them how to connect via social media—they are experts at that already. I mean we need to teach them to connect with other people face-to-face and one-on-one.

This thought struck me the other day after a couple things happened. First of all, I realized the new version of Google’s gmail is now offering me the option to click on a pre-determined email response. Essentially, it is “reading” my email and formulating a quick response that I can send to someone like, say, my boss, to thank her, let her know I will check into something, or make her think I am following up on her response or a request. In reality, the pre-determined one-click response allows me to not think. I don’t have to think about my response, and I don’t have to think about following up.

Now, I appreciate the time and effort Google has put in to formulating this algorithm, but shortcuts like this are the reason true communication skills are dwindling to non-functional levels. Seriously.

In order to have functional communication, we have to think about our responses. We have to consider whether an email deserves more than just a cursory glance. We have to think about the person who is receiving the response, and we must choose our language (and tone) based on our audience. Effective communication requires us to engage.

People are no longer engaged with communication. They are no longer engaged with others. They simply hit the reply button, send a one-to-ten word response, and they are done. That brevity does not encourage individuals to connect with other individuals. It demonstrates the power of technology to pull us apart. Yes, it does.

The second thing that gave me a glimpse into our need for better communication occurred when I was picking up a pack of colored chalk for some student tutors. I wandered into a local craft store. When I located the chalk and made my way to the check out, I was greeted by Ted. And when I say, “greeted by,” I mean Ted was working the register. He did not talk to me. He did not make eye contact. He did not speak in a voice that was loud enough or clear enough to be heard and understood. I am not sure why this corporation thought Ted was the best choice for this position. Then again, given the lack of any other visible workers in the store, I suppose their choice was limited.

Friends, we need to teach our children how to connect with others. We need to reinforce the importance of communication in all forms—face-to-face, through email, and over the phone. We need to teach them to look up from their shoes and make eye contact. We need to model and reinforce the conventions of carrying on a conversation. Being able to connect with other people is so important for living a healthy life. If our children have this skill—the ability to connect and communicate—they will have a strong foundation as they move on to “adulting.”

The Lesson of the Donut Vendor

This morning, my daughter and I were racing to get her back to college before the impending snowstorm settled in. The drive is a pretty one—over rolling hills, alongside rivers and train tracks, across farmland, and through the center of an occasional small town.

We chatted as we drove, and as we wound our way through one town, we noticed a crowd gathered near what looked like an old-fashioned carriage. As we drew closer, we could see that the crowd was actually a line, and the cart was some sort of vendor. Only upon passing the scene could we read the bright pink wording on the side of the black carriage: DONUTS!

“Donuts!” we both exclaimed.

I turned to her briefly, keeping one eye on the road. “Do you want to stop?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “Well, I don’t really want a donut…” she replied as we continued our journey. After a pause, she said, “But we should go back.”

“You want to?” I questioned. “I’ll have to find a place to turn around.”

“If you want to,” she told me. “But we do have to get back before the snow.” And there it was. The reality check to an otherwise whimsical and fun idea.

“Ugh. You’re right. I guess today’s not the day,” I said to no one in particular. And I kept driving. But I also kept thinking about the donuts and the donut vendor. What a great idea—to spend a Saturday morning selling donuts on the town green. It reminded me of the idea my dad had when I was younger to buy a popcorn wagon and sell popcorn on a busy street corner.

I thought about that donut wagon and the vendor for the rest of the day. I decided if he was still there on my return trip, I would stop and buy some donuts for my boys. After all, the line by the cart certainly hinted that his donuts must be good. But when I drove back through town over an hour later, the vendor and his wagon were gone.

This moment—the choice to stop or not stop—was an example of me being 2018 me. I was on a journey from point A to point B, and the destination was my goal.

But what if the destination is only part of the goal? What if the true journey lies in the adventures along the way?

Driving home, I decided that next time, I am going to stop when I see something interesting. From now on, I am going to work on not being so focused on the destination that I miss the experiences that might come from an occasional detour or two. Next time, I will stop when I first think of it, and I will buy donuts!

{Photo by Charles “Duck” Unitas on Unsplash}

Looking Ahead…

At the end of year, I was going to write a wrap-up post, talking about all of the things I learned in 2018. But that didn’t happen. And then when we got to 2019, I was going to write a “looking forward” post, telling you all about the exciting steps I am taking toward self-improvement, life improvement, and blog improvement. But that didn’t happen, either. Because right after Christmas, a winter cold-virus caught me… and I have not had the energy to pry myself from the rut into which I fell in the last half of 2018.

The last half of 2018 was taken over by changing schedules, different demands, and shifting priorities. As I have mentioned once or twice, my blog suffered, but the lessons of the past months were well-learned. The biggest blogging lesson of 2018 is that creativity is fleeting. Like a flowering plant, creativity must be fed, watered, and cared for daily. With the proper nutrients, attention, temperature and light, a tended plant will grow and bloom and thrive. If it is not nurtured—constantly—it will wane and fizzle and wilt and die. The same is true of creativity.

But this is a new year and we are starting on a positive note. So for 2019, I will commit myself to once again uncovering and nurturing my creativity. I know it’s in there somewhere, and with a bit of attention, it will peek from its hiding place, step out into the open, and begin to grow. With a little daily writing attention, the ideas will start to flow once more, and the floodgates will open up.

Of course, daily writing is a challenge, especially with my schedule ramping up in the next few weeks. I’m hoping the experience of last year has helped me to recognize the importance of maintaining creativity, something that comes into play in so many parts of my life. But if I am writing regularly and nurturing my creativity, the freedom and ideas will scatter and spread like a fine mist permeating all aspects of my experience. Creativity will become a way of life and a way of thinking rather than an “extra” that requires its own attention.

As I look forward, deep into 2019, I am excited! I am approaching the year with a lean in attitude. With creativity and positivity, I can lean in to the experiences that come up. I can create new opportunities through the ideas and plans I put in place. And I can make 2019 a wonderful year of growth and development that will push me to be the best I can be.

Here are some steps I’m putting in place to help me expand myself and lean in to all that  2019 has to offer.

Daily

  • Set aside a few minutes of reflection time
  • List things I’m thankful for each day
  • Engage in (and share) exercises in creativity
  • Stretch myself to think (and act) outside the box (my normal box, that is)

Weekly

  • Plan one new experience
  • Keep a list of life possibilities (as if they have already happened)
  • Write about my journey

Monthly

  • Take one risk that “2018 me” would not take

What’s on your list for 2019?

{Photo credit: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash}