Walking Into the Unknown

We can't always see around the next corner

We can’t always see around the next corner

“I really want to go back to grad school this year.  I’m going to do it!”

“I wonder what it will be like?”

“Do I even remember how to write a research paper?”

“Will everyone be younger and smarter than me?”

“I have no idea how I’ll keep up with work and everything else in life and go to school at the same time.”

“It’s probably more than I can afford anyway. Oh, well.”

If you’ve ever had a version of this internal conversation yourself, then you’re in good company. This is an example of how we let our fear of the unknown cut our dreams off at the pass before we even got on the horse. Our imagination paints pictures about how things would or could or should be, yet it is rarely accurate. Even so, we give it the reins and let it lead us down the same rutted path.

On a recent backpacking trip in the Badlands of North Dakota, we realized we’d been walking for some time without seeing a trail marker. Granted, they were few and far between and usually hidden under brush or grass, but this felt a little too far between. We stopped and debated what to do. Go back? Bushwhack? Get out the map and compass? Go forward? As we looked around, we realized that the small canyon we’d wound our way into looked impassable ahead, and the funny thing was that it looked impassable behind us, where we’d just come from. The way wasn’t obvious or clear in any direction. Read more

What do you do?

Postman delivering mailThis question causes me to stumble and trip over my words more times than I like to admit. I have so many answers, and they’re all true: I coach, facilitate, teach, train, consult, advise, coordinate, manage, lead, design, write.

This morning, this thought popped into my head: “I will do anything I can to help people see things from new perspectives.”

Hearing someone say, “I never thought of it that way,” excites me more than just about anything on the planet. It means there is an opening, a loosening, a letting go of a fixed idea about How Things Should Be or the way we want them to turn out. It means stepping out of certainty and into curiosity and creativity.

So that’s what I get excited about in my work with people and organizations.

I think it’s really important for each of us to redefine what we “do.” Instead of listing our tasks, job titles or functions, what if we stated our guiding principles and passions?

What is your guiding principle? What is the value that you can find in your work, no matter what you do?

For example, if you work at the post office counter, your guiding principle could be, “My goal is to make each person’s day a little brighter and give them a reason to smile.”

Guiding principles transcend the tasks, such as selling stamps or whatever it is you do, and focus on the value or the nature of how we go about our work. When we commit to caring about what we value, we maintain satisfaction in our roles even if the tasks themselves aren’t what we feel called to do in life.

And, we can change the world. There’s a lot of research that shows that just being in proximity to happy people increases your own happiness.

What if everyone you encountered in your day was living according to their guiding principles, values and passions? What if you did? You’d generate happiness and contentment in yourself, and everyone around would benefit.

As the saying goes, it’s not what we do, but how we do it that matters. And we all matter, no matter what we “do.”

At Least You Have a Cat

I’ve wanted to write an essay with this title for a long time. Since my 20th high school reunion, in fact.

Photo by G. Bathrick

Photo by G. Bathrick

I wasn’t going to go, but I impulsively turned in my registration in a wave of nostalgia and curiosity.

I was fortunate to have a group of girlfriends who made high school bearable, and even fun a good deal of the time. They folded me into a warm embrace of belonging,  unknowingly keeping me standing when  my home life knocked me down. Being in the group insulated me from bullies most of the time and helped me avoid the many pitfalls of teenage life, from skipping school (okay, so Lisa and I snuck out one afternoon…) to drugs and alcohol. We got good grades, played sports, led a variety of clubs, and played in band. The extent of our hooliganism consisted of scamming our teachers for hall passes, pulling sodas out of the soda machine with a yardstick, and tricking our band teacher into letting us out early so we could be first in the lunch line. We had sleepovers, went roller skating, cruised around the square of the nearest big town hoping for something nameless but wonderful to happen. As we took photos on graduation day, arms around each other, I knew for certain that we never would be together again like that. And we never were. Read more


Have you ever had a major surgery, one that required a hospital stay and general anesthesia, one that opened up your body to hands and instruments?

I had laproscopic surgery on December 11, a partial hysterectomy to address increasingly incapacitating effects of large submucosal fibroids. Fibroids are benign growths that the majority of women develop in midlife. The location, placement and size of fibroids determine if they are undetectable and of no consequence, or if they create major problems such as pain, swelling, and extremely heavy bleeding, which mine did. After exhausting other treatment options that all stopped working, it was time for surgery. Read more

Gratitude for Gray Days?

During the post-meditation discussion with my sangha (a community that meditates and studies together) recently, we discussed thankfulness in light of the coming holiday. A person said that he’d been reading about how we could learn to be grateful for everything – not just the things that feel good, or go our way, or make us happy, but everything.

It got me thinking. Read more

No Escape

I stopped at my usual station to fill up my gas tank this weekend, getting ready for a week of out of town meetings at schools.  The pump was brand new, and I liked the crisp, clean display that was easy to read in the bright sunshine, and the new handle that felt clean instead of cruddy.  As soon as my gas started pumping, the display switched to show me the three-day weather forecast.  “That’s pretty cool,” I thought.  But then, the screen switched to “TV mode” and NFL highlights began playing at an ear-shattering volume.  Really? Read more

Life Unplugged

Happiness on the Oregon Coast

My partner Doug and I loaded up the Subaru and pointed the car west.  We had fifteen days ahead of us, and a loose plan to spend time in the redwoods, on the Oregon coast, and in the Cascade mountains.

The only firm plans we had were to spend the last two days before the long drive home resting our trail-weary muscles in hot springs and taking time for yoga, meditation, and awesome vegetarian meals while camping at Breitenbush Hot Springs retreat center.

My intention for our trip?  Be completely present.  That’s really it.   I knew that if I could be present, I wouldn’t miss out on the trip I was actually on, if that makes sense.  I could get so much more out of each day, make the days seem much longer,  and create deeper experiences and memories.  I could be fully present to Doug, and to myself.

This turned out to be the case.  Both of us practiced being mindfully present, and we found that when we were in the mountains, our time in the redwoods seemed like a long time ago, even though only a week had passed.  Each day unraveled slowly, new delights and sensations unfolding luxuriously.How often in our regular routines of home, work, home, work do we find that another week has zipped by?  The time between Monday morning and the weekend zooms, months flutter past like the calendar pages in old-time movies when they want to show time passing.  Birthdays arrive ever more quickly, the older we get.

The antidote to all this zippiness is presence. Read more

In Memory of Julie

With Julie in the gazebo at Zilber Hospice

I met Julie several years ago because of life coaching.  I was a guest presenter in a Coaches’ Group that met by phone and included people from all over the country.  When Julie heard that I was in Milwaukee, she got in touch and we started getting together in lovely settings from the Urban Ecology Center to her favorite restaurant, Casablanca.

What I remember most is walking to my car after we spent time together and feeling lighter on my feet and in my heart.  Julie lived her life with passion and vibrancy, her huge heart on her sleeve.  Even when people pissed her off, she did her best to respond with compassion and healing, and more often than not, succeeded.

The word that I most associate with Julie is generosity.  She gave freely of herself, her energy, her love, her friendship.  Even when she was dying, she made sure that everyone around her felt the full force of her love and did her best to help everyone feel okay, or as okay as we could in the circumstance.  Her generosity of spirit created a luminous glow of love around her, like a blanket that she drew around her for warmth and comfort that we were invited under, too.

She was still coaching and teaching, right until her last day, by the way she gracefully carried on.  Julie had her dark moments in this journey, of course, but she immediately accepted her diagnosis and the way things were.  Her acceptance freed her to experience and feel and love, instead of grasping and fighting with fear and anxiety.

Julie cracked jokes as she always had, filled notebooks with writing, gave long and deep hugs, and made sure each person felt treasured – all while she struggled for each breath against the cancer that was overtaking her.  She and her equally amazing and generous husband Joel created a welcoming space in her room or out in the gazebo on the hospice grounds, inviting friends and family to share time.  What a gift!  There was food, wine (only for Julie), lots of laughing, storytelling, hugs – they created community among people who were often meeting each other for the first time.

Julie, you taught us all how to live, and now you’ve taught us how to die.  You live on in our hearts, and in our lives as we do our best to live with the grace, love, humor and generosity that you showed us.  Go well, bright spirit.



Be Kind – You Just Never Know

WaitressBack in my dating days, I followed the sound advice, “See how a person treats service professionals (waiters, clerks, etc) – that’s how they’ll treat you in time.”  If someone was rude, impatient, or simply didn’t acknowledge the person providing service as someone equally deserving of courtesy, then that was information about my date’s character.

This rule applied even if the service wasn’t great.  My stance has always been, “You just never know – they could be having a really bad day.”  People have to show up for work after all kinds of challenging events occur, from a death in the family to being abused at home or being served divorce papers that morning. Read more

Wake Up Calls

I think we’ve all had moments when we felt our entire world shift in an instant.

“I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore.”

”Your pregnancy test is positive.”

“Congratulations!  You’ve been accepted.”

“I’m sorry to tell you that we found cancer.”

This last one is on my mind as I pray for a friend who is struggling with this diagnosis, waiting for the tests to reveal more information, and struggling for her very breath in the ICU. Just a few months ago, cancer was no more on her mind than winning the lottery. And now today, it is a mountain looming before her and her husband. Their world changed in the instant of her diagnosis. Read more