I live in Tennessee where a month or so ago forest fires decimated Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the surrounding mountain areas. There were stories of brave firefighters and brave citizens in the midst of both personal loss and devastating community loss.
This is what we think of when we think of bravery. Nationally televised news stories. But, bravery is much closer to home and accessible in small moments.
Moments that can shift your life. And the lives of those around you.
I see bravery daily in my best friend fighting a cancer that is only potentially managed. We're told it's not going to be cured. She faces her days, her parenting, her treatment and her future with such grace and positive attitude that I can think of no word other than brave.
I see her step bravely into the idea she may not be here for her kids as long as she wants to be. I see her step bravely into a regimen of treatments and terminology that would make your head spin. I see her step bravely into dependence on others because she can't drive while taking pain medicine. I see her step bravely into the reality of pulling away from a freelancing job that has given her purpose and identity in addition to income. I see her do these things, not without struggle, but with assurance, faith, grace and most certainly, bravery.
And I'm humbled.
Her brave is drawn from a deep well of faith and it allows her to move through the dance she's been given with grace and joy determined by her faith rather than her circumstances.
I see bravery in a circle of online women taking a class they expected to be about style and soon realized it was about how they choose to show up in the world. And that quickly became a very deep, very important conversation. I saw them tackle their body image. Their belief in themselves. Their understanding of who they are and who they want to be. I cheered as they bravely began to show who they are on the inside to the world at large. With fear, yes. But with honesty, vulnerability and truth. I saw them make choices based on their own strength rather than the stories they've been hearing about themselves from others and in their own heads. Outwardly the shifts weren't dramatic every single day. But internal shifts sometimes require far more bravery. I saw them transform from intentionally hiding from the world to shining in it.
And I'm humbled.
Their brave came from a deep sense of community where each person is seen and loved in a way we don't experience in our over-connected but under-communitied culture. The support in this community allows them to tackle new steps in their dance every day.
I see bravery in the actions of my nephew who recently defended a boy in his fifth grade class. This classroom of boys has been unmercifully picking on a child who is different. And my nephew had had enough of it. I see leadership, kindness and bravery in him.
And I'm humbled.
His brave shines from a soul who knows who he is and believes in the dignity of all people. In kindness toward others. He's eleven and he may not articulate it that way himself at his age. But the rhythm of his dance communicates it clearly.
You may not be facing a fire of the magnitude of the one the Tennessee mountain people faced this season. But daily each of us face our own fires. Maybe it's not cancer. Or self image. Or bullies. But, I guarantee there is something that requires you to put your brave on and dance the song in your life. Whatever that thing is, know that there are everyday heroes around you taking those steps daily. Yes, the fires are there. And they may be difficult and painful.
Not in spite of the fires, but because of them.
Step into your brave and let the world around you be enriched and encouraged. Bravery is like a muscle, if you use it, it gets stronger. Start small. No need to fight a Smoky Mountain forest fire.
Start small. Build the muscle. Put your brave on. I'm willing to bet you'll be surprised what you can do.
This week, the art is pretty easy to interpret without my help. A dancer balances bravely in the midst of flames. Be like her.
If this episode or art has spoken to you and you'd like a copy of this print, you can find it here.
For info on the style school I mention, head over to the Stasia's Style School website, Stasia's website or follow her on Instagram. You won't regret it. I promise. Do it now. I mean it, like, right now.
Have you ever had a choice to make and you can't make a decision? So, you turn it over to fate by flipping a coin or having someone else choose. The moment that the choice is out of your hands...when the coin is flipped or the friend chooses, you realize what you actually wanted? I had that happen this week without realizing there was even a decision to make.
I have a friend who is battling cancer. It's the kind of cancer that you manage as long and as well as possible, not the kind that you cure. I've spent a lot of time with her in the last year and she's continually coping with all the same everyday life things that you and I are dealing with. But. She's also working through things like, how I make sure my teen aged daughter understands the things I want her to know about life when I may not be here to tell her when she's ready to hear. How do I handle my job performance when I'm sick, in treatments and on pain meds. How do I cope with people who tell me with surprise that I "don't look sick" when, oh honey, my mortality is making itself known front and center with every step of every day.
That's the thing. We all live this life for an unspecified number of days and then we die. If you didn't realize that, I'm sorry to break it to you. Welcome! You're going to die someday! I hope it's not soon. Our brains are wired to have us believe that it's not going to be soon. That tomorrow will be the same as today. I remember early in my friend's diagnosis when we found out that she may have 20 years to live or she may have 2 and I remember thinking that in reality that could be just as true of me as well. But, I am sure my friend would say there's a difference in the actually knowing. An urgency. I remember a year ago being overcome for 3 days with that idea, "what if I only have two years to live. How would I respond to that? What would I do? How would I live? What choices would I make differently?" It's hard for our brains to wrap around that truth and live like there's no guarantee of tomorrow. That's not comfortable. Not one bit. And, boy, do we all crave the comfortable.
We all recognize our mortality in our heads, intellectually. But, how should it actually make a difference in our lives?
First, never ever take your people for granted and never put off making things right in relationships, growing relationships or appreciating others. Take every opportunity to tell people you care. This might seem very greeting card-ish, until you lose someone unexpectedly and wish you'd said something while you had the chance. In other words, prioritize people. More importantly, make this habitual. Center your life around the idea that people matter most. This is one of our family values and I'm constantly reminding my son in both small decisions and big ones. "People matter most. How does that help you decide?"
Second, remember that how you spend your days is how you spend your life. I have this Annie Dillard quote on my fridge. The actions you take every day will be what your life is marked by. What your life is made of and filled with. If you don't want to be living your life in any given way...don't live your days that way. And on the flip side...the things you want your life full of...fill your days with. Not just the special occasion days.
Third, every so often, be brave and consider your mortality. This is a luxury that you and I have that my friend doesn't have. You and I are not forced to do it. But it's a valuable practice. Consider if your time is short, how would you live? What would you prioritize? What would you do? Not do? Would you pursue what you're pursuing? Hold on to what you're holding on to? Invest in what you're investing in?
I was turning this over in the back of my head this week. Sort of the pre-thinking I do before I figure out what I'm going to record. And that's when the question I didn't realize was there ambushed me.
One of the things I do is run a promotional products business and while I was working I had this passing thought, that, "this is one of those days when I wish I had a sugar daddy paying my bills so I could just..."
Ok, all of you who's eyes just rolled at me. I work really hard. Probably too hard. I've been working since I was 15. I worked through college and I've worked ever since. Usually two jobs, sometimes three and I'm currently a single mom. So, in other words, cut a girl some slack, I've earned a few moments of "what if" when I get dog-eared tired like I am this week.
But, actually, I realized that this passing thought wasn't really a joke like any other time it's come up. And it wasn't that I just wanted to be supported so I could play or have a life of ease. Though, I might not put up too much of a fuss about that. It wasn't even that I wanted to stay home with my son instead of work, because essentially I do that already as I work from home.
What it was, I realized was a deep yearning to do this other work. The art, the speaking to you, the writing...this way of processing ideas and life that I've started doing every week...and be doing it with more mental and emotional space, more attention and more focus. Exploring both the art and the process. Not as something on the side of my side gig. But, as the main thing. Or, as close to the main thing as I can.
I've not considered seriously pursuing art before. Heck, I've just recently gotten used to the idea of calling myself an artist without either throwing up or laughing. And I realized suddenly that all the things I've been working so hard at for the past year were included on the obligation side of the equation in my head. I know my promo business falls there, but I didn't realize how many other of my current plans and projects were internally classified as, "stuff that was keeping me from my heart work."
I didn't even realize that it was my heart work.
Or, that there was an equation.
I understood suddenly that I was investing energy in the wrong things. And I don't want to spend my next two years - whether it's my last two years or not - investing in things that aren't part of ideal days I want to live. I decided at that point to stop all the other stuff and head into the direction of the art. This means walking away from things I'm comfortable with, have more control over and a more certain income. This is walking away from projects I'd set in motion and some investments I've made...recently...like in the last two weeks. It's scarier and far less secure. In short, it requires far more faith and more growth.
The period of about a half hour while these realizations were coming up was intense, emotional and for lack of a better word, spiritual. When it was over, I had an adrenaline hangover. You know that feeling when you've had a close call, the rush of adrenaline shows up...then when it's all over you're shaky and spent? That's how I felt. And, it was like my heart and intuition had taken huge strides forward and my head was still back at the starting gate saying, "Hello, what just happened? What do you mean you made a decision, I hadn't even asked a question!"
This wasn't a normal decision process for me. It was different. It felt very different. And that's probably a good thing, because I suspect I'm going to need to hang on to that "differentness" relatively often in the future. Just in the last two days I'm being inundated with internal, "why do you think you could? Who do you think you are?" and " You're not good enough!" voices.
So, this word of mine that I've talked about the last two weeks. Create. It's already wreaking havoc in my life. And apparently it's going to be much more of my life work in this year than I even suspected a week ago.
The art this week was difficult. Every time I tried something it didn't work. Where I ended up is a little piece about your heart's work. About peeling back the layers of life until you find it. Those layers might be lovely. This is hand made paper I picked up in Mexico. It pretty, it's meaningful, it's got weight and substance. It's very difficult to tear. Your layers might be all those things. But, look beyond them to find your heart's life.
Last week we talked about the idea and the process of choosing a word of the year. If you haven't listened to that episode, it's the lead in to this one and you can find here. But, if you already have a word for your year, let's talk about how that word can change your life.
Think that's overly dramatic? Doubt that a word can change your life? I mentioned last week that I've read stories of how the word of the year has transformed people's lives.
I also said that it hasn't worked for me.
I've always used it as a useful exercise in getting a feel for what I needed in the year to come. But, I'm being choosier this year. If I'm going to give my time and attention to something, it better give back to me.
You see, I want my life to change this year. I want it to change every year. I want to have grown into a different person by year end. Well, maybe not a different person exactly. Me, but a better version of me.
I shared last week that my word got all up in my face this year and chose me. Challenged me.
Ok. I'm up for that. But, I need to make it work for me, too. Even if you have a less sassy word, how can it be a truly useful tool for your year? Here are some ideas.
First, let's examine your word a bit more closely. You probably had some good reasons when you chose it, But let's get more specific and intentional. Take some time and figure out what you think your word should mean for you this year. This may change as the months go by, but write down a paragraph as a starting point. Yes, actually write it down. First, this will help you clarify and second, when you write things down, they're statistically more likely to happen.
For example, my word is CREATE. People know I'm an artist and may assume choosing create is related to my art. Even my son said, "Oh, you're already good at that." But, artwork is only a part of the picture. Here's my first go at a summary of what I want.
Create is a verb and I'll take consistent action this year to bring a new business, a simplified and styled home, meaningful family relationships, opportunities for travel and art into being. It is both a reminder and an imperative that I'm responsible for creating the life I lead. CREATE will mean effort, depth of thought, freedom and space for creativity, persistence, vulnerability, courage, focus and exploration. It will mean the intentional birthing of new things and all the messiness, uncertainty, and joy that brings.
This paragraph is more about intentions, meaning, ramifications and purpose than concrete goals (that comes later). What will your word mean for you?
Second, share your word with your family and friends. Or, with the whole world on social media. Ask them to hold you accountable to the concept of the word throughout the year. Nothing like telling your spouse that your word is "calm" and asking him or her to hold you to that concept. Are you willing to let your word actually guide your actions? Let others help you. Share with them what the word means to you and have some serious, in depth conversations about ways they can help you build it into your life. If you do so, you're already ahead of where most people let their word take them.
What else can you do? Since you've clarified what it means for you and invited others into your process, now, put your word in places you'll see it and be reminded of the influence you want it to have.
Next, use your word to set meaningful, concrete goals. I hinted at these before, but here are a few of mine in ultra basic, no-detail form:
Because my word is inherent in these goals and I've put in place a schedule and pattern for review and reflection, my word cannot help but inform my actions this year and in doing so, change my life.
I would love to hear how you plan to bring your word into being in your life. Email me or comment below with your ideas.
What a strange experience to share this work, bur here goes. I've done the word "create" before. It was one of the first in my word series a few years ago. But, I was never happy with it. In doing it again, I'm reminded how difficult it can be to create a piece that's not something everyone's done before and not something completely cliche. Some works (for me) are far more about the process than the final result and this is a piece like that. Normally, I probably would not have shared it, but as cover art, I can't get away with that!
Creating is less about the butterflies and rainbows than most people believe. It's very much about the getting up at 5 am to work your art into an already full life. It's about doing it anyway when you don't feel the muse. It's far more about perspiration than inspiration. Artists need to create an atmosphere that welcomes inspiration...and inspiration is most welcome when it finds us working.
So, this piece was originally about that concept. Cut a circle, glue it down.
Show up. Do the work.
Cut a circle, glue it down.
Show up, do the work.
Cut a circle, glue it down.
But, part of the magic of doing art is that often in the process, things emerge that the artist doesn't overtly intend. This piece became about the color and joy that doing the work brings, regardless of typical success metrics. There's a figure immersed in the river of his creations. Most of the circles aren't perfect circles and they're all different sizes, colors and patterns. The imperfections don't matter - they're not even apparent in the overall symphony of the piece. And of your life.
It's not a clearly organized piece, but it's brightly alive and full of joy. Can you say the same for your life today? Because at it's root, this is about the color and joy a life of doing your creative work brings.
If you're interested in thinking through how you could encourage your word to change your life, sign up for my coffee talk emails and they'll help you think about that process this week.
Or, if you'd like more direct help applying any of the podcast topics to your life or business, feel free to contact me for a 20 - 30 minute free consultation through the coaching side of my business.
Coffee Talk worksheet and iPhone lock screen image
What if a word guided your year?
This week my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with people choosing their word of the year. I've been doing this for the past six or seven years. It's part of my beach process. A week at the beach with a great friend at the end of the year. We decompress, process the previous year and prepare for the next year. And one of the things we always do is choose a word of the year. We write in the sand before we leave and take that image away from the week with us.
We aren't alone. Millions of people do this (well maybe not the beach part). But, millions of people choose themselves a word of the year. There are books written about the process and people have found it to be a transformative experience. An alternative to New Year's resolutions that really works for them when resolutions don't.
But, it doesn't work for me.
I enjoy doing it and helps me clarify my thoughts and intentions about the upcoming year. And if you're about putting an intention out there for it to manifest, that's awesome. But, I'm not. I'm unwilling to leave it like that.
I'm done with business as usual this year. I realized last week that I can't list more than three of the last six years of words. My word of the year needs to WORK for me. It needs to provide value, guidance and clarity. Not just the first week of the year, but throughout the whole year. It needs to affect my thoughts and my behavior. So, we'll talk about choosing a word this week and next week how to make it matter throughout your year.
There's a lot of information out there about how to choose a word of the year. The first way to go about it is to let the word find you. Start thinking about it, pray about it, but don't really pursue it, let the word find you. You can do some exercises about what you want your year to bring, but wait for your word to show up and trust that it will.
That's totally legit, but If that's too intuitive for you, go with the second option which is to actively choose. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you uncover your word.
Or, write a paragraph about what you want in a specific area (business, relationships, health, etc), sum up the paragraph in one sentence and then sum up your sentence in one word. Or, ask what word will make the sentence possible.
I'll tell you my word for 2017. It's CREATE.
I wasn't even going to choose a word and then my beach week friend said she'd done her word in the sand and saved me the perfect writing stick and it was waiting for me down by the beach. Keep in mind, this is the morning we're leaving. I need to make breakfast, load up the car and get on the road home. But, the perfect writing stick and the "suck it up, Buttercup" challenge from my friend could not be denied. So, I went down to the beach and wandered around, stared at the surf and tried to decide what to write. This is not usually the process, mind you. It usually involves more time and thought.
I eventually decided the word would be love. Back at the beginning of December in my "Thoughts on turning 50" episode, I'd declared that if my next decade was marked by extravagant, servant-hearted love, it would be a success. So, I thought using the word love would be a good measuring stick as I went through this year. I wrote it down and went back to the condo like I'd checked that task off my list. I made tea, sat down and told my friend she'd called me out and that I'd chosen love.
She said, "That's cool. Though, you should have chosen create." Because, I already have a mug with the word create on it that she'd given me for Christmas. I laughed and looked at the sea. And then I thought about it. I'd never considered create. I love words and create is so common. It's thrown about like confetti these days. It gets put on mugs for heaven's sake. But, create started talking to my soul and said this:
This year you want to create a life of love. A new business. Close family relationships and you want to develop your art. These things require intentionality. You can't think them into existence. You can't snap your fingers for them to appear. Creation involves an act of will. Of birthing. It's bravery. Exploration. Vulnerability. Focus. Attention. Deep thinking. Persistence. And margin - the space and time to allow your best work to emerge. Don't you dare dismiss me as not good enough. If you really want to bring these things into being this year, then I am more than enough to challenge you in that process. To remind you to act. To demand your full attention and your engagement. You are a maker. And I am your calling.
What's a girl supposed to say to that? I set the tea down and went back to the sand. I wrote CREATE on the shore and watched the sea take it away. I began my dance with CREATE there on the beach and we'll see what happens in the months to come.
I have to say that I'm feeling a bit excited and apprehensive at the same time. The word I've chosen in other years has never talked back to me. It's never argued it's worth. It's never gotten all sassy and demanded its place in my life.
What will happen this year if I hook my wagon up to a word with that kind of attitude? I guess I'll just have to find out.
The cover art this week is a little bit different. As I was thinking through all the options to illustrate this episode...like the concept of guidance or birthing ideas, I just wasn't getting anywhere. Nothing worked. Which, by the way, is incredibly frustrating when needing to produce an image on a deadline.
Instead, I was working on print orders for another piece I did recently. It's an idea I want to explore further and people had really responded well to it (hence, the print orders). I was thinking about what the next piece in the series should be and then had the concept pop into my head based on a Facebook comment (I know I was supposed to be working on print order, but I was probably getting an address from a message on Facebook). And then I realized. This is the creative process. This is where my passion is this week. This is what CREATE should be guiding me in. This is what I need to be working on and this is what developing my work will be. It's this episode in practice. So, she's a cover girl this week for you.
The funny thing is. Without realizing it. Totally unintentionally (at least on a conscious level - you gotta love the creative process). She's looking at the world through lenses of love. My not-the-word-for-2017.
Coffee Talk Worksheet and iPhone lock screen
If you're interested in thinking through choosing a word as a theme for your year, sign up for my coffee talk emails and they'll help you work through that process this week. You can do that here.
Or, if you'd like more direct help applying today's (or any) podcast topics to your life or business, feel free to contact me for a 20 - 30 minute free consultation through the coaching side of my business. You can do that here.
What if you examined your life?
What would you find? What would you learn? What would you gain? What would you have to face? How would you grow? And, why would you bother?
That one, why would you bother...that question I can help answer for you. The other questions are going to depend on you, but I can tell you about the why. Taking time to reflect is the way to turn experiences into learning and learning into an intentional life. It helps evaluate your experiences, learn from your mistakes, and repeat your successes. It allows you to gain perspective that you don't have when you're in the trenches of your day to day activity. In business it's like the difference between working on your business and working in it. In our personal lives its unusual to take the time to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there.
Six years ago, I started doing an intentional yearly review and it's changed how I live and love my life. I take a personal retreat and ask big questions, process the previous year and prepare for the new year. It's provided a rhythm of reflection in my year that I now find indispensable. Because my goals are well aligned with my values, my real priorities and probably because I'm fairly goal driven, I've managed to accomplish a lot of what I set out to do in those yearly retreats, without too much checking in on them.
But this year I began to wonder what I could do if I was more intentional about reflection periodically throughout the year as well? I'm guessing it will keep me more accountable, more organized and more intentional. So, here's what I'm going to try.
If this is going to work for me, it needs to be simple, quick, repeatable and useful. I'll do it with my son and each night take 5-10 minutes and start a one sentence journal. Either one sentence about the day, or one drawing. This was something I did for the first half of 2016 and it was great for considering and capturing the most important part of the day. This is less about reflection on my goals than an intentional highlighting of meaningful moments of life, those small ones that slip away in memory so easily.
I bought a sketchbook for each of us today that has small perforated square cards. Perfect for containing the small drawings and limiting the effort required. I post them to an instagram account and then print them in books when it reaches 60 images. I love that my son will have a visual record of our days from my own hand.
There are all kinds of things I should do weekly...plan meals, check the upcoming week's calendar, laundry, grocery shop. You get the picture. I've been mostly haphazard about the way I've done them before and that's reflected in craziness during the week whenever I'm unprepared, which is far too often. This year, I'll be more intentional about setting aside Sunday evening for those tasks. The reflection portion should only take about 20 minutes and I'll ask:
I'm going to take myself out to dinner! Doesn't self-reflection and planning sound like a good excuse to eat out? I'm going to set aside one evening at the end of each month and go out to dinner by myself. I'll follow the weekly format, but spend a bit more time. I'm trying some new tools this year and I'll be using those to see how helpful they are in this time as well.
Quarterly is for big picture thinking, progress checks and adjusting direction. Am I still heading the direction I want to? Am I doing what really matters? Have I gotten off course? Do I need to change the course? Some of this will show up in my monthly sessions, but those will be more tactical than visionary. Quarterly reflections are visionary. Ideally, I'm going to go away for an overnight or weekend. Right now, I'm planning on two of these sessions. One at spring break and one mid-July. So, not quite quarterly, but when combined with my yearly version, it will come close.
Well, this is my favorite...and the only one that I've actually done before consistently. It's become so valuable to me, so necessary to my life that I've decided to add the others to my repertoire. Each year (I've missed a few), a friend and I go to the beach between Christmas and New Years. We do vacation things, like visit favorite restaurants and take long walks by the ocean. But, we also spend a lot of time processing where we are and where we need to go. We talk. We read. We write. And we do it loosely, without much of an agenda. It's looked different each year, but has been exactly what we've needed each year. It's a time apart from daily life to find some clear mental space and the sound of the surf. It's coming away from the previous year with a chance to pause, rest, reflect, recharge and re-energize for the year ahead.
My annual trip is to the beach, but if that's not possible for you, don't let that stop you! Take a few hours away without distraction. Sleep in a friend's guest room overnight (make sure they know it's not a social call), or send your kids to sleep over at a friend's, turn off all distractions and make that your time. I promise you, the effort is worthwhile. it may feel foreign at first, it may be uncomfortable at times. It may require honesty and growth. But worthwhile? Yes. Definitely.
I'm nearing the end of that trip right now. My friend is in cancer treatments this year and so we're doing less, resting more. And mentally, I'm groggy. The ocean isn't clearing my head as quickly as it usually does. But, I do know this. This time to pause and reflect is precious. It's been key to my personal development, my divorce recovery, my business growth and the creation of an intentional life. I am so looking forward to what the addition of the other beats of that rhythm will add to my experience of 2017.
Here's how I see it working. During this yearly personal retreat, I make choices about where I want to be and what I want to do in the year or years ahead. I think about what's important to me and what I want to accomplish with my life. Each quarter I ask, "Is this still where I want to go? How am I doing getting there? And what are the keys this quarter to making those things happen?" In the monthly "dinner with myself" sessions, I'll be really tactical about what it will take to get those things done. In my weekly and daily reviews...this is where the implementation happens. The everyday actions that lead to real results.
The art this week is about the patterns that the rhythm of the surf leaves on the shore. My hope is that the rhythm of reflection I will have in my life in 2017 will leave patterns that are just as visible on me.
Taking the time each year to examine my life has made the difference in my choosing my life intentionally rather than living in reaction to my circumstances. It's my life. I'm responsible for how I want to live it. I get to write my story and I want it to be a good one.
What if you examined your life?
Or, if you'd like more direct help applying any of the podcast topics to your life or business, feel free to contact me for a 20 - 30 minute free consultation through the coaching side of my business. You can do that right here.