Refocus

What is going well in your life? I would love to hear about it.

We have trained ourselves away from asking that question. We focus on what isn’t going well, and we endlessly pick away at those bits as if throwing ourselves into what isn’t good will somehow make it better. We believe that strengthening the weak areas and taping up the cracks that threaten our lives will somehow make us happier.

We throw resources at our lack of talent and our lack of happiness. We chase after the goals we can never reach—but that wouldn’t make us happy, anyway. These goals are not ours, but someone else’s goals imposed upon our lives.

And these are just band-aids.

What if, instead, we focus on what is going well? What if we take some time to truly examine our lives and untangle the good from the not-so-good. The amazing from the “eh….” And then, once we have figured out what is working, what makes us happy, we focus on those areas. What if we look at life from the standpoint of abundance rather than from lack? What if we concentrate on the things we do well and the things that make us happy? I believe we should take what we’re good at and the activities that bring us joy and do more of those things. These things, these activities… they will lift us up.

This is a strengths-based approach—to use our abundance to create more happiness. If we bring more positivity, the rest will work out. By focusing on what is working, we will be happier. We will be more rested. We will feel cared for. And rather than making the “tough” our main struggle, tough can be our side job. Because focusing on the things we are good at and the ones we enjoy, we can make the tough that much easier.

So what is going well in your life? I would love to know!

The Path


Photo by David Talley on Unsplash

The path we travel is seldom straight. It twists and turns, skirting the edges of danger as we hold on tight. Our path takes detours around pothole-ridden streets and over stumbling blocks in order to set us in the direction we are headed. It redirects to new routes and sometimes presents more opportunities than we can handle. And others we might not want.

Nowhere is this meandering more evident than in our young adults. They spend their early years in state-mandated school until then they are suddenly expected to choose what comes next. The choices can be overwhelming.

There is no doubt there are many 18-year-olds who know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They step from high school graduation onto a fully paved path they’ve planned out for years, and they never waver. They go on to reach their lifelong goals in careers they chose when they were small children.

The vast majority of young people, however, have no idea what they want to do when they ‘grow up’ despite teetering on the line between childhood and adulthood. And a large portion of them are afraid to admit it. We put so much pressure on kids to know what they want to do that they feel they should know even though they don’t have enough experience to know. Or worse, we have steered them in the direction that we think they should go rather than letting them decide for themselves what is best and which path(s) they will travel. The pressure to choose a direction is so intense for kids this age.

What they don’t realize is that very few grownups know what they want to do next week, let alone 10 years from now. Adults—young and old—are expected to be solidly on a path with one career in view. But this is not often the way life works anymore.

Young people are much better off when they take the time they need to figure out their own best direction. Will they pursue a degree? Work? Go to trade school? Join the military? There’s nothing wrong with trying out some of the available options before they settle on one. The only way to figure out where you truly want to be is to recognize where you don’t want to be. Rather than push kids to make premature decisions about their futures and expect them to know exactly what they want when the emerge from high school, shouldn’t we be laying out their various options? Maybe we should be encouraging our children to experiment and try new things rather than taking the “safe” road and ending up somewhere they suddenly realize they don’t belong.

The path is not straight, and it is not easy. The bumps along the way…, the uncertainty in the choices that arise…, these are all part of the process. They help us to put things in the proper perspective. And for young people, this early part of the process sets them up for many of the obstacles they will face on their journey through life.

The path we travel is not straight, and the obstacles are many. But somehow, with a bit of trial and error, we all figure it out.

Ideas

Photo by Lauren Kay on Unsplash

I had an awesome idea for a blog post last night. It slipped into my semi-conscious mind just as I was sliding off to sleep. It was such a fantastic idea, and the pieces began to come together as my head remained firmly planted on the pillow. I thought about getting up to write down this great idea so I wouldn’t forget it. No, I told myself. This one is definitely too good to forget. As soon as you wake up, you will remember it. Write it down then. I even settled on some key words to help me remember, and with that, I drifted off to sleep.

Now, there is no doubt my years of experience with half-awake idea generation should indicate that this idea—like so many before—would be gone as soon as I slipped into sleep. That thought did occur to me as I resisted the urge to jot down a note or two—a word or a line—because I was tired. I wanted to sleep. And I was comfortable….

Of course, when I woke up this morning, the dust had settled in a heavy film over the ideas that flow so freely in that space between wake and sleep. Try as I might, I could not find my key words. I could not reconnect the dots to recall the awesome idea that flitted like a butterfly through my brain, alighting only for a second before migrating far from here.

Tonight, as I settle into my bed, I will be sure to have a notebook, pen, and flashlight in easy reach—like a butterfly net at the ready, just in case another idea floats through.

Welcome Winds

Photo by TOMOKO UJI on Unsplash

Here in the northeastern United States, winter has been cold and bleak, as winter so often is. The first day of spring was glorious—sunny and warm—but a few days in, Spring turned her back. Winter temperatures and a dusting of snow greeted us one morning, and the wind has continued its bitter assault, letting us know who’s boss.

These winds, they are the winds of change. On the horizon, the golden glow of the morning brightens the dark sky as a long, low rumble of thunder can be heard in the distance. Winter always turns to spring eventually. The spring peepers begin their evening song—slowly at first as one then two then dozens of frogs join in. The earth and air warm and the colors of blooming trees dot the mountains.

These are the winds of change, and they are blowing fierce and free. The change is welcome as the creative embers, buried deep for far too long, are glowing brighter. With a bit of TLC, the sparks will catch and spread their warm energy, bringing new places, new friends, and new opportunities.

Dark winter has lingered long enough, and spring will bring a needed respite. These winds—the winds of change—they are welcome here.

Piece by Piece

Pieces of an intricate antique puzzle

I have become the keeper of the puzzles. These puzzles, they are very old, yet nearly new. They are barely used, but they’ve been saved for decades, tucked away in a box under the eaves in the attic, a treasure long ago forgotten. They were created with great care and attention to detail back at a time when all things were created this way.

These puzzles are the definition of jigsaw puzzle—cut from a sheet of thin plywood. They are in boxes that look like standard gift boxes, some red, some white, and some off-white, weathered and stained. They come with no photo of what they will look like when they are assembled. Hundreds of pieces. No photo.

That’s right… the puzzles of yesteryear were sold without a guide, so when you first remove the pieces from the box, you have no idea what goes where. Color won’t help you other than grouping like-colored pieces together. Pattern is irrelevant. Even the edge pieces—or the pieces that appear to be edges—could be assembled upside down before the orientation is slowly revealed. It is only in the process that the end-product starts to make sense. Piece by piece.

As I put these puzzles together, I have realized they are much like life. We did not arrive here on Earth with a guide. There is no manual for many of the things we experience as we travel our journey. There is no map or even a sign to point us in the right direction. We are simply left to figure it out as we go.

The pieces we discover along the way are random—sometimes they fit, and sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, the pieces make sense. We can see their colors and shape, where they fit—and how—as soon as we discover them. Their edges slide seamlessly into the bigger picture. Sometimes, the pieces are here for a time, and then we discover that their angles are too sharp, their picture is too dark, or the color disrupts the environmet we are creating. And every now and then, we acquire a piece we don’t want, that absolutely doesn’t fit, but we are forced to make it fit. We must do the work to smooth the edges and reshape the experience, so we can work it into our lives and find a place where it not only fits but somehow enhances the whole.

As we move through life picking up pieces, we need to remain open to possibilities, and we need to draw upon the vast array of resources we have accumulated. The more of life we have traveled and the more experiences we’ve endured, the closer we may be to figuring out how to proceed with the next piece—unexpected or not—that we stumble upon. If we are having difficulty with one piece or other, we can lean on those around us for support. They may have dealt with a similar piece, and they can share how they eventually got it to fit in their own puzzle.

No, there is no guide to this on-going challenge we call life. But with patience, persistence, a lot of work, and a little bit of luck, all of the pieces will eventually fall into place in a way that is far more beautiful than you could ever imagine.

Fork in the Road

The other day when I was out on my early morning walk, I happened to walk by a fork in the road. It was just there, in the middle of the road, tines up. And it happened to be directly in front of several not-quite-middle-school kids who were on the side of the road waiting for their bus. I stopped, took a couple steps backwards, and used my foot to brush-kick the fork over to the curb. The fork complained in a metal-on-pavement clangy whine.

“No one should run that over now,” I said, as much to myself as to the kids in the grass.

“Is that a fork?” one of them asked as he took a step closer and stretched his neck out to see what was resting just beyond the curb.

“Yes,” I replied. “Kind of silly, isn’t it? A fork in the road?” I would’ve kept going, pushing the puns, but I have enough experience with kids these days to know that wordplay is not really something that most families engage in anymore. In fact, conversation among family members is something that doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should thanks to all of the distractions of life.

As I walked on, I could hear the boy in the background yelling to his mother. “Hey mom! There’s a fork over here! Can you believe that?”

How sad, I thought, that he missed such a great opportunity to expound on the fork and its location. Meanwhile, as I walked, my mind was racing with possibilities. A fork in the road! How odd would it be if you had to tell someone you popped your tire on a fork in the road?

Random Ramblings on a Rainy Evening…

Lately, I have been having trouble carrying a thought beyond a few short sentences to something whole that has potential. Because I have been unable to get to potential, I have countless ideas sitting undeveloped in dark corners of my mind and in documents on my desktop. These ideas, they seemed promising when they arose, but they fizzled and died before they took root. I suppose you could say I have been dabbling in dead thoughts for many months.

There have been a couple of live thoughts… BIG thoughts that gain momentum without my attention as they rattle around in my brain. These are thoughts I have been trying to ignore—putting them off until I have time to sit with them, cultivate them, tame them. They take up lots of space in my head, and they’ve settled in as if they are teenagers on a couch, gangly limbs splayed every which way, leaving little room for anyone else. Or any thought else. Before long, they will take over as they cast aside empty plates and cups in their attempt to quell their insatiable appetite. These out-of-control thoughts… they could use some nurturing.

Nurturing takes time, and these are not simple thoughts. They are project thoughts—undertakings, really—that need to be planned and implemented with the greatest of care. Or maybe they demand attention so I will implement them sooner rather than sitting on them forever, as I am wont to do. Whatever the issue, they are taking up a massive and increasing amount of my limited headspace.

And speaking of headspace… it has been an interesting reentry to a back-to-nearly-normal school schedule. If you don’t work around a great many people, you might not truly appreciate what social distance had to offer. I am a relative introvert—a reluctant socializer—and I took great comfort in the need for social distance. But this year, not so much. This year brings a lack of restriction that is uncomfortable and overwhelming in so many ways. Students have slid right back into the need to be up close—in my office, in my space, in my face, and sitting elbow-to-elbow. There is no question those Covid germs will make it across the few-inch span to my air-space. My random ramblings started earlier this evening, as I worked on a recommendation for a student. I was thinking back to the fall of 2019 when she sat in my class. Two years ago, we had no idea what was coming. Truth: you never see upheaval until it knocks on your door and stares you in the face, stares you down, and scares you beyond measure. In two years, we have learned there is much to be gained from upheaval. There is so much strength to be found in the broken pieces as they mend and heal.

Something Good

Tell me something good that happened today.

I have been struggling to pull my thoughts together—to come up with some inspiration for writing. It has been too long. There is so much negative energy in the world these days that finding the positive and the good is often a challenge. The negative has kept my creativity from flowing freely.

But you see, as in the case of a river, the water must flow. It flows around rocks and boulders, carving its own path, sometimes re-routing around barriers in its way. If we build a dam to hold back the flow, the water will find a way. It will collect in a pond or lake, flowing outward. Or it will gather so much power that the dam will break, flooding the towns and villages below and washing away the very people who tried to restrain it.

Creativity is much like a river. It flows regardless of whether it is being restrained or inhibited. It is fluid and sometimes fickle. Lately for me, creativity has come like grains of sand, tiny snippets that capture my attention but evade my grasp. If only I could write about an image or idea that passed through my mind or that story not fully formed in my head. If only….

As I start to write, to flesh out an idea, my mind fills with the negative that inundates us from the daily news. It sneaks in and takes hold, permeating my thoughts and squelching my creative flow. Covid cases are rising. Political unrest is growing. Power hungry political leaders are taking over. Corporate greed. Impending climate disaster. Economic crises—all sensationalized by the news that streams 24/7 from our TVs, our computers, and even our phones. And that’s just the list of global disasters. There is also the national list, the local, the family, the personal.

And so I say, “Tell me something good that happened today.” Because logically, I know there is more good than bad. Good people doing good things are quiet people who don’t get attention because they don’t demand attention. And good news doesn’t translate into corporate revenue. Good things are happening—on a personal level, a family level, a local, national, and global level. Good things are happening, and we need to shift our focus. When we shift, creativity flows. We can see our way out of the situations we have gotten into. We can allow the solutions, consider alternative perspectives, analyze our positions—and those of others. When we shift our focus to the good, we recognize our role as an individual in a greater whole. When we shift our focus, we are more likely to work for the good of all.

So… tell me something good that happened today. Or yesterday. Or this week. Let’s open the floodgates and let the good wash over us.

Tell me something good that happened today.

Go Easy

As you move through your day, ticking off items on your to-do list, go easy on yourself. Do the things you need to do—go to work, pick up your children, make meals, etc.—but prioritize. Many of these items can wait a day… a week… even a year. If you don’t sweep the floor today, the dust will still be there tomorrow.

As you look in the mirror at the end of a long day, go easy on yourself. Every line, every wrinkle, every scar and bit of saggy skin, every gray hair, the eye puffiness… these tell your story. They are parts of the whole picture that is you… that is your life. There is the scar from the time you had stitches or surgery; the crooked where your broken bone healed not-quite-right.  The increasing gray hairs and wrinkles are from the love you poured into worry over a child who is struggling to find his way or an elderly parent who is navigating life alone for the first time. There is the softness of years taking over the activity and fitness of youth. This is your story reflected back from the mirror. You are your story. A story of love, of struggle, and of accomplishments big and small. Honor your struggle and your successes.

Go easy on yourself as you rewind the memories of the past. Perhaps this morning’s meeting or presentation didn’t go as well as you would’ve liked. Now, you are hyper focused on the things you said or didn’t say. You are playing the tape over and over in your mind as 20-second sound bites, each time like the strike of a whip to your soul. Or perhaps it was something you did as a kid that you regret. So many years ago that there is no doubt you are the only one who remembers. Yet it is burned in your brain as a failure. There is no use replaying the past in this way, beating yourself up over something you cannot change. Rewrite the meeting, the memory with how you should’ve handled the situation or what you will do differently next time. Play that script for a while then let it go. Focus on the best way to carry on while releasing the pain or disappointment and move forward. One step at a time. Build a better immediate future through thoughtful reflection, learn from the past, and keep going.

Go easy on yourself if you are not getting out in the world in the way you would like. If you say “no” to outings with friends when you really want to go out more, consider why. Maybe you’re more of a homebody. If you don’t jump at opportunities to push yourself, don’t fret. We all have a preference for what is comfortable. We choose to stay home and stream Netflix rather than meet up with new people or climb a mountain that might challenge our body and soul. Set a new goal—that you will do one thing each month that challenges you. Once you are comfortable with that one challenge, think about whether you want to increase the goal to twice a month. Or once a week. Pretty soon, you will have greater confidence—whether in doing new things or knowing you’re fine as you are. You will stretch your knowledge of yourself and grow in new directions.

Go easy on yourself and take your time. It does not matter what other people can do faster or better or stronger or more efficiently. What matters is what you can do. Your talents, your skill, your way of doing things—these matter. Your perspective and your opinions are part of a greater whole—they add to the big picture. Maybe someone read the book faster than you, but you came away with the one sentence or idea that will make a difference… for you, for the world, or for that one person who needs help.

Go easy on yourself. If we take our time and stay true to ourselves, we can gain from our experiences what we most need so we can offer those skills and talents to others later. Trust in the process. Know you are doing fine, and you are making a difference. Give yourself a break. Go easy and rest.

#GoEasy #Rest #Reflect

Step Away

I have taken some time to step away… step away and observe the world around me, the people, and the ways we interact. The way we are right now? I am not impressed.

I believe social media—for all its ability to keep us connected—is pushing us apart. We focus too much on what others are doing and saying. We don’t think we measure up. We think we have to have what everyone else has, do what everyone else does, and be like everyone else. Social media has taken the idea of “Keeping up with the Joneses” to a whole new level.

Social media, at its worst, makes people envious and angry, boastful and proud. Social media allows people a forum to lash out, to vent their own insecurities to some unsuspecting victim because they need to lash out. And let’s be real—nobody on social media should be unsuspecting.

But I’m curious about this “keeping up with the Joneses” thing.  Why is it we feel we need what other people have—things that are likely not even the best for us?

What if you found out that what the Joneses have has come at a price, and that price has been steep. Come to find out, Mr. Jones has a drinking problem, and Mrs. Jones has turned to other outlets to fulfill her emotional needs. They no longer have a connection, and their marriage is unraveling from the inside out. These details… they are conveniently left off of social media. Because these details are not flashy and sexy. These details don’t make the Joneses look good. Not at all.

But these details are there. Behind everyone’s social media front, there are the down and dirty details they don’t want their friends to know. An everyday “normal” they don’t want their followers to see.

So I would say this. Step away from social media for a while. Take some time to think about all the things you have. Consider your blessings. If you need to, sit down and write out a list. Having a physical, tangible list of your blessings will allow you to recognize all that you have. It will allow you to regularly review your blessings just by rereading the list. And it might just begin to shift your mindset from envious and longing to grateful and fulfilled.

This is your journey, not that of the Joneses or your friend or your neighbor. It is up to you to set goals that fit into your life. It is up to you to consider and recognize the next best move to make, the next best step to take. It is up to you to recognize all that you have and all that you are. It is up to you to be happy.

Make the move you need to make for happiness to begin to bloom. That might be something as simple as being thankful, making a list of your blessings, or talking to someone about something that has been bothering you. Keep a gratitude journal. Whatever you need to do, go out and start now. Don’t sit around and wait for happiness to come to you. Take action. I guarantee you, happiness—true happiness—will not be found on social media.