The Benefits of Living on a Lake

I have lived in my lakeside home for longer than any other place in my life. Seventeen years of watching the sunrise and the Canadian geese flying by in formation, headed to parts unknown. The fishermen floating by on Jon boats at 7 AM, a flotilla of ducks stopping by for an afternoon siesta and my beloved Great Blue Heron and its signature squawk as it leaps off its favorite tree branch and awkwardly manages to take to the sky. I imagine that it is the quarantine that has made me keenly aware of all the goings on out here by the lake. Day in and day out, I work from my chair with my laptop and gaze out my window to see what might float, swim, slither or fly by.

Sunrise from my lakeside home.

This is the first lake house I have lived in. It’s something I always aspired to own as my Uncle Jim had owned a house on a lake when I was a small child. And I had my summers at camp on Lake Winnipesaukee. The water has always been a draw for me. After all these years, I have a new appreciation for the lake and its ever-changing canvas as I step forward to moving on and downsizing my life.

The benefits of living on a lake:

Well-being

I have always sought out a body of water. I can remember my family’s annual pilgrimage to Camp DeWitt in New Hampshire; we made a game of being the first to catch a glimpse of Lake Winnipesaukee. I remember driving to Rehoboth Beach with high school friends in Delaware and wanting to be the first to stick my foot in the water. As written in Get Your Lake On, “Simply seeing a natural body of water can have a positive effect on your outlook. The beauty of water evokes a sense of awe that has been linked to an increase in positive feelings as well as satisfaction with life. This boost in mood can even produce stronger feelings of love and generosity.” Even in this time of COVID and having to stick close to home, I feel good. It’s the antidote to the uncertainty of “if and when” this will end. The lake is the center of well-being.

The Air

The air alone makes you feel better. As written in Lake Living Guide, “Research has shown that the air near a lake or sea is charged with negative ions. Although the ions are negative, they have a positive effect on your body. These ions work to balance the serotonin levels in your body. Serotonin is a chemical that is associated with mood and stress. This is why you feel a release of tension when at the lake. The ions also help your body absorb oxygen. Increased oxygen in your body improves alertness and also combats free radicals. Free radicals are organic molecules that are responsible for aging and tissue damage. In a nutshell, living by water can help you live longer.” This accounts for why my boyfriend Roy always takes his coffee outside on the deck next to the water. The lake is rejuvenating.

The Sights

Every day is a new canvas. The water is the canvas, the wind its brush strokes. There are days with white caps, there are days of complete and utter stillness when the sky reflects on the water like a mirror, there are tiny microbursts that dance across the lake. It is constantly changing. Schools of minnows swarming below the surface, turtles peeking out, the swifts who nest in my drain pipe every year and dart in and out, the Egrets that showed up for about a week and then moved on, the double-crested cormorants who congregate in mass in the Spring just off shore, the damn squirrel who will not leave my bird feeder alone and terrorizes my dog, the twenty story cumulus clouds that accompany a thunderstorm, and the startling glimpse of an Anhinga fishing in the middle of the lake with its long snake like neck never to be seen again. The dragonflies, wasps, butterflies, mosquitoes and buzzing hummingbirds fighting over two different feeders. The lake is an ever changing canvas that keeps me enthralled.

The Sounds

When I first moved here, I was struck by how quiet it was, especially at night. Part of the silence is due to my house being in the country but the lake occupies most of the space in the area. So, it’s mostly natural sounds at night. Yes, there is the jet ski or speed boat on a summer Saturday afternoon, but for the most part the rest is all nature. As written in Lake Living Guide, “Flowing water’s soothing sounds are often used in meditation, and we know that meditation is a renowned relaxation method. Moving water is likened to “white noise,” in which individuals may hear a different song. I know from experience how the soothing sound of water can give you an extraordinarily restful sleep.” I wake up to the honking of geese, the squawk of a heron or the coo of a dove and sound of waves crashing next to the sea wall. It is peaceful and centering. The lake lulls me into nature.

It is an idyllic place to have to isolate in. How fortunate I have been to enjoy this lake front home as the pandemic ebbs and flows. A place to be centered and relaxed while keeping the edge off the uncertainty. My wish is that this home finds its next family to enjoy its immeasurable benefits and make wondrous memories.

Enjoy Life in the Present

I posted this a year ago pre-COVID. It still resonates with me:

That sounds so easy. To be present in the moment, to not be dragging up the past or calculating the future. To be here right now. I have to say that this is much easier when you see it in someone else. A good friend and I reconnected in the last six months. It was a painful story of divorce, the “other woman” and too much alcohol. It seemed like a mirror that the universe had planned for me. It was my life on replay from two years ago. I can feel her pain, her uncertainty and her search for something concrete to land on. Her grasping for hope and certainty. It is the searching and grasping that causes all the frustration. It’s like being in the deep end of pool and not being able to find your footing. All she really has to do is grab the edge of the pool.

This is what Pema Chodron calls Shenpa. The urge. The trigger. The frantic grasping and spinning up all that is unpleasant. I think we can all go down that road. I bet it’s easier to rattle off everything that is wrong with your life rather than everything that’s right. If you really think about it, the list of all that is right is a LOT longer than what is wrong. It’s that we just focus on what is wrong and then dwell on it for minutes, hours, days and weeks. He left me. He left me. He left me. Which turns into I am unworthy. I am unworthy. I am unworthy. The secret to it all is to come back to the present. It doesn’t happen overnight. Heck, it doesn’t happen in a month. But I am here to tell you, it happens when you come back to yourself and be present right now.

Here is how to enjoy the present:

Perfection

Let go of it. Perfection, that is. It can’t be 75 clear and sunny every day of the year. Your hair won’t be perfect. Your weight. Your run. Your project. Your blog post. Your spelling. Your grammar. Your lunch. Your left knee. The moment doesn’t need to be perfect to be in it. The lighting, the temperature, the sound, the chair, the body, the thoughts, are all as they should be. Right now. Nothing needs to change to be able to be present. As my boyfriend Roy has said while he’s currently hiking the Appalachian Trail for over 2,000 miles: “Embrace the Suck.” It will rain. It will be too hot. It will be too cold. It’s all just window dressing on the moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect to enjoy the present.

Enough

This moment right now is enough. No more, no less. As Lori Deschene wrote for Uplift, “It’s true—tomorrow may not look the same as today, no matter how much you try to control it. A relationship might end. You might have to move. You’ll deal with those moments when they come. All you need right now is to appreciate and enjoy what you have.” Odds are the good far outweigh the bad even when you feel it’s all falling apart. There is more than enough right now in the present moment.

Complete

You and I are complete right now. A relationship, a car, a dog, a family member, a degree, a house — none of them define you. You are fluid. As Deschene wrote, “Define yourself in terms that can withstand change. Defining yourself by possessions, roles, and relationships breeds attachment, because loss entails losing not just what you have, but also who you are.” You are complete right not regardless of the promotion, the partner, or the trip to Aruba. When you are complete and acknowledge it, you can enjoy the present.

Friend

Be your own best friend. I think of the year after my husband left. I spent a lot of time just finding me. I had spent a lot of time and energy wrapped up in what made him happy rather than my own happiness. I needed to be my own best friend and to treat myself as my own best friend. I learned that I didn’t need to have company to be present and enjoy the moment right now. As Deschene wrote, “It will be harder to let people go when necessary if you depend on them for your sense of worth. Believe you’re worthy whether someone else tells you or not. This way, you relate to people, not just how they make you feel about yourself.” Be your own best friend to be present.

Now

In the year after he left, I kept shoulding myself. I should have left earlier, I should have tried harder, I should have known, I should have married David instead. All that “shoulding” kept me in the past, instead of the present. I have to say that getting sober makes now a lot clearer without any haze. Go for a walk. Call your mom. Send a text to your son. Sign up for a class. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Let go of the past and be here right now. Make it count.

Through

Pain, fear and love: they must all be experienced. We can’t numb it out and try and circumvent it. Well we can, but it just makes it linger and hurt a lot more. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the joy. Where do you feel it? The pit of your stomach; the tightness in your shoulders; the base of your throat. I have spent a lot of my life trying to escape feelings, to dampen it down, to be the dispassionate professional, while also being the rock-solid mother, daughter and wife. All of this avoidance just prolonged the pain. Be a human and feel the feels. Feel the present moment by going through instead of around.

My coach Tammi Wheeler recommended a book called Transitions by William Bridges when I was first separated. He talks about three stages of transition: endings, the neutral zone and the new beginning. I feel like I was in the neutral zone for practically eighteen months. I could not find my footing and I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I see my friend in this neutral zone as she navigates her new normal. The secret for me was to enjoy life right now in the present moment, neutral zone or not. What stops you from being in the present moment?

The Best Way Out is Always Through

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost.

This seems counter intuitive. Why go through if there is a faster, seemingly easier way around? Why not just avoid the gnarly, ugly problem, conflict, or ordeal? How about just escape? Perhaps just numb out? I am an expert at all of these attempts at avoidance and procrastination.  I have tried them all with little success. Like right now, I do not want to write. I’m forcing myself to “go through” as I want to get this written and…”it’s not going to write itself.” It is not that the writing is painful. It is the reliving of the grief, betrayal and suffering I’ve experienced that feels like picking at a scab. I reflect back on the last four years and it’s amazing how far I have come, but it was not easy and I can assure you that I “went through.” The hurricane, the end of a marriage, the decline and death of my beloved father, and the endless, costly fight over property with my ex. At every milestone, there always seems like there was one more hurdle.

I am not a professional at grief and betrayal, but I have learned a few things along the way. I am resilient and much more aware of what is important to me than I was a decade ago. Here are few things I have learned about getting out by going through:

Feel the feels

If I have learned anything, it is to feel the feels. I stuffed, drowned, ignored, and glossed over my feelings for most of my adult life. I was a temper tantrum adolescent. I can remember vividly stomping up the stairs in my childhood house and slamming the door when my parents either grounded or forbade me from some (at the time) life-altering excursion (say roller skating or going to an R-rated movie). I was, to say the least, a bit melodramatic. At some point, most likely in college, I found other ways to disregard my discontent. I numbed it instead of feeling it. Got dumped? Pour a glass of wine. Failed an exam? Bloody Mary’s with Julie. Parking ticket? Pitchers with the gang. To feel the feels is to acknowledge the feeling and pay attention. Accept the onset of what is going on in your body and feel it. Seems strange that I needed to learn this. As an infant, I’m sure if I was hungry, lonely or wet, I cried. I spent the next twenty years trying to ignore or avoid whatever ailed me. I let the heat rise in my neck, my stomach turn, the tension mount in my shoulders, I let it in. To go through, you must feel it.

Label it

This has been the most important learning for me. It is to not only feel the discomfort but to label it. It is the same as labeling thoughts while trying to meditate. By acknowledging and labeling the thought, it is easier to let it go. Name it and let it rise. I remember vividly being angry at my ex’s betrayal. I labeled it “betrayal”. So, this is what betrayal feels like: tight stomach, clenched shoulders, tears running down my face. It helped me be with the feeling but announcing it to myself as “betrayal” somehow let me observe myself.  So allow the pain and it will dissipate. The loss of my father and labeling it “grief” as I felt the heat on my face, the tears streaming and the shuddering of sobs. This is what “grief” feels like. It turns me into the omniscient observer as I watch the feelings rise and lift away once labeled. Going through you must label the path.

No judgement

This is the heart of it all to me. If I feel it, I will judge it and then hold on tight. The key is to not allow judgment in. People grieve. People get angry. People cry. All of us, if we let it, experience feelings. I can think, why is a 50 something grown ass woman crying for her Daddy or I can think, it’s completely natural to grieve. I have found that when I allow the feelings to rise and don’t try to hid it from the daylight, it passes more easily. It’s when I try to bury it, blink away the tears and stuff the feeling down so that I won’t be judged a cry baby that it lingers, sometimes for years or decades. August Gold wrote, “To enter the conversation with Life we only have to change one key word: We have to stop asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and start asking, ‘Why is this happening for me?’ When we can do this, we’re free.” Going through is accepting each twist in the path and seeing the gift in it.

Getting sober over three years ago was a game changer. Everything is available with clean edges. No longer muted by Chardonnay or Gin. Somehow numbing out only increased and prolonged the suffering. I feel an empty vessel that permits it in, acknowledge it and then softly, setting it free. The best way out is always through.

How to Accept Positive Feedback

I have been working with a development team as a scrum master for over two years. A few members have changed in that time but for the last six months it has been an intact team. We just did a Sprint Retrospective after a product launch that took about 6 months to deploy. It was a successful launch. I facilitate a retrospective for the team to acknowledge one another for strengths they brought to the launch. I had sent everyone on the team a deck of “At My Best” cards which had 48 cards with words on one side and a photo on the opposite side for my participants to use. I have used these cards several times in what is called “Quick-fire feedback”. I select one team member and ask everyone else to select a card that represents the strength that person brought to the team in the last six months. I then ask everyone to show their card one at a time and explain why they selected it. The outcome of this exercise is always surprising and heartwarming, but it is definitely uncomfortable for the person receiving the feedback.

Most of this team had done this exercise before either in person or in a conference room. They had never done this exercise via video but it was remarkable because the first receiver of the feedback, we’ll call them Mary, had put on a pair of sunglasses when the feedback started. This started a trend that, as each person was selected to receive feedback, they either put on sunglasses or turned off their video or, in one case, covered their eyes with playing cards propped in their glasses. I found this to be so remarkable that if we didn’t “see” the person giving the feedback, it would be easier. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to be seen themselves. This prompted me to think about how to accept positive feedback and what follows are some of my suggestions.

How to accept positive feedback:

Thank you

One of the participants, Bob, loves feedback. Good or bad. Constructive or blunt. I noticed that he would say “thanks” after each teammate gave him his positive feedback. He didn’t wear sunglasses, he didn’t hide behind the screen, didn’t cross his arms, he just simply said: “Thanks.” I find that several of my coachees in the past have had a hard time taking a compliment.  So, if I said, “I love that blouse on you,” Suzy would respond with, “This old thing? I got it on sale ten years ago.” This negates the compliment and makes me feel like I’m incorrect or have bad taste. I’m wary to give more positive feedback to Suzy going forward. As Jacqueline Whitmore wrote for Entrepreneur, “Any time you receive a compliment, reply with ‘Thank you.’ It’s a simple, but powerful phrase. The person bestowing the compliment will be most receptive to a humble response.”  It’s simple and straight forward and, in the end, calls less attention to the receiver without diminishing the positive feedback.

Credit

This entire exercise was about sharing credit for the product launch. Even as team members received the feedback, they were quick to credit other members for their help as well. If you are the manager of a team that did a great job, it’s so helpful to share the credit with the whole team and it diverts your attention from disclaiming the attention. As Whitmore wrote, “Some powerful executives reach a point where they no longer publicly recognize or give credit to those who helped them succeed. This is the quickest way to lose friends. Instead, share your positive feelings.” Sharing the credit is a great way to bolster others and acknowledge the team’s effort.

Question

If it is appropriate, ask a question. This can be a great way to start a conversation like, “Thanks. I am glad you liked the turnaround time for the project. What timeline do you have for the widget project?” As Katie McLaughlin wrote for Pick Any Two, “This one’s downright practical. When someone gives you kudos, see if you can get them to elaborate a bit; their feedback might be really useful for future endeavors.” It’s also a sign that you are truly listening to the feedback. 

Body language

It interesting that because everyone on that call last week was in their home, they could go run and get a pair a sunglasses. If they had been at work, that option would not have been available. It’s remarkable that many chose to hide behind sunglasses, or crossed their arms or turned off their camera. Trying to disappear from the feedback. And this was all positive feedback! As Whitmore espoused, “If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, your nonverbal cues may give the wrong impression. Don’t cross your arms or appear disinterested. Instead, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward and engage those around you with warm facial expressions. Enjoy your moment of praise.” I will say that my scrum team was having a great time giving the feedback and there was a lot of laughter although many members were clearly uncomfortable receiving the positive feedback. I did sense that the participants would try and be briefer with the feedback if the body language was obvious that they were uncomfortable. 

I have to say that I love this activity and I love that it works with a virtual team so long as they have the cards in hand. I ended the activity with everyone selecting a card to represent what they aspired the team to be going forward with the next product launch. Having closure with the team members receiving feedback about their unique contribution to the outcome is engaging and inspiring. Regardless of the discomfort some folks felt, the bonding and positive focus on strengths was engaging and empowering to the team as a unit and I’m glad I was there to experience it.

Endings. Letting Go of the Anchor.

I have been stuck for about 4 years now. It has likely been more like 10 years. I can blame the dissolution of my marriage on Hurricane Matthew but the downward spiral happened years before. I spent six years putting lipstick on a pig. I ignored the signs of an absent partner and spent my days “being love and light.” I sat on the same couch, I made all his favorite meals, I invited him on my business trips, I tried to shoehorn myself into his heart in all manner of ways hoping we would turn the corner. He left anyway.

The last three and a half years have been spent trying to get free of him financially. At long last, yesterday, I am free. I stood at the mailbox and cried as I held the document that released me. The deed to my home is mine. I am free to do whatever I choose, whenever I want. It goes on the market this weekend. So now is the ending. As William Bridges writes, “Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of transition begins when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep. These may include relationships, processes, team members or locations.” So now comes the ending and making these critical decisions of what must stay and what must go.

How to embrace endings and let go of the anchor:

What must go

Clutter is a distraction and weighs me down. I am a huge fan of Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her series on Netflix is inspiring as well. Marie is a joyful, delicate person. She is in tune to the spaces she enters and is incredibly upbeat. She walks people through all their flotsam and asks the simple question, “Does this spark joy?” Or as I like to think of it, “It’s a hell yes or a hell no.” Three years ago, purging my life of all things of and with my ex was easy. Most of it was “hell no.” Now that we have a property division and I am curating my belongs, I am even more brutal about what must go. Now I think it terms of “do I want to pay for this to be moved to the next place?” It was easy to hold onto an old couch or sauté pan if I didn’t have to transport it anywhere else. Now that I would have to move it? It’s a hell no. Ending is letting go of what weighs you down.

What was

I am wrapped up in all the memories in this house. I am wrapped up in all the sunrise pictures I’ve posted on Facebook. I think of all the wild animals that have flown, crawled, slithered and walked their way into my view. I wait patiently every morning for the sunrise and whether it will be more magical than the last. I note the variety of birds that have flown by my lakefront backyard over the last seventeen years. The ospreys, Great Blue Herons, hummingbirds, Egrets, little blue herons, mallards, cardinals, woodpeckers and Bald Eagles. I reminisce and hope they will take one last bow before I leave, but treasure that I was here to experience it at all. There is the closet door that marked my children’s height and weight over ten years. The photos of holidays and celebrations over seventeen years. I am grateful that I experienced it all and so happy to have shared the memories with my children, friends and family. I am so happy that this home has sparked joy and I look forward to another family being able to create their own memories. Endings are about keeping the memories and moving on.

What will be

It was my coach, Tammi Wheeler, who wisely pointed out that I was entering “The Neutral Zone”. This is the uncomfortable place of stepping off a cliff and hoping for a parachute on the way down. Living with the decision that I am leaving this magical place. To be open to the possibilities of what will come. To trust myself that it’s as it should be and I will, as always, land on my feet in an even better place. As Bridges writes, “This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress. The neutral zone is the seedbed for new beginnings.” I am preparing myself for the new patterns and processes. I trust the Stoics’ Amor Fati (love of one’s fate) and keep a curious mind as to what the next adventure will be. Endings create possibility.

As I reflected on this experience with Tammi last week, I said that this house had been an anchor for seventeen years and it was time to let it go. I am excited and apprehensive as I take hold of the tiller of the boat and head out into open waters and new beginnings.

Let Go or Be Dragged

This is a repost from last year when my father was succumbing to congestive heart failure. It feels like a decade ago and, in light of the current pandemic, it’s still applicable.

Let go or be dragged. A profound Zen proverb. My incredibly insightful friend Janine said this to me on the phone a few weeks ago. I was struggling. My father’s health continues to falter in what seems like a ceaseless spiral. My boyfriend Roy commenced his epic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail several weeks ago. A Rotary friend is suffering from ALS. A close friend’s mother passed away. When we talk about Letting Go for many, it is the letting go of the past. Or it is the letting go of regret, pain and rumination. I feel like I need to let go of control. I think back some 25 years ago when I had a leash on a 100-pound Labrador and a 45-pound Siberian Husky, and a dreaded cat showed up in our path. The dogs took off with me behind. I struggled. I tugged. I strained. But upon coming up to an enormous pond of water, I relinquished and let go. I was at the edge of being dragged, so I finally let go.

Lest you be dragged, here are my thoughts on letting go:

  • Clairvoyant.  You and I are not Carnac the Magnificent or The Amazing Kreskin. I was catastrophizing my dad’s recent move to a higher care unit. Oh my goodness, he’ll be alone. He’ll fall and be all by himself. He will think we all abandoned him. I was sure that Roy was going to fall and break something or freeze to death in his tent in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. I decided that my son would never be able to fly back to the United States safely from Nicaragua. Thus far, this is all unfounded. It was all a waste of energy and caused me needless pain. I cannot predict the future. Neither can you. Let it go or be dragged.
  • Path.  Stick to your own path and I’ll stick to mine. On the Appalachian Trail, this is called Hike Your Own Hike. Do you want to sleep under a tarp, in a shelter, in a hammock or a tent? It’s your choice. It’s your path. Don’t worry about someone else’s path. If Roy wants to hike through the rain, stop in a local town for a day, or muscle through a fifteen-mile day, it’s his hike either way. His path. My willing him forward will not change the path he is on. There was one day last week where I could see a rain cloud sitting over the mountains where Roy was hiking. I had the misguided belief that if I kept refreshing the radar, that the rain would move. It didn’t. Let go or be dragged.
  • Reframe.  I have several pictures that my children drew or painted some ten plus years ago. They were nice, but unframed. Pieces of paper with chalk and paint. Then I framed them all. They were much improved. And all it took was a new frame. I thought about this when my father was in the middle of his move to the assisted living section. I recalled how happy he was when he was hospitalized a few months earlier. He enjoyed the food, no commitments and being cared for. I put that frame around his move. I figured he’ll actually be more comfortable and the tension on my parents’ relationship will ease. Sure enough, that is what happened. Look at your struggle in a different light. Let go or be dragged.
  • Connect.  I was initially ashamed of my suffering. This changed dramatically when I connected with others. This might be a therapist, a coach, family or a friend. It’s incredibly powerful to have someone reflect back on your pain or struggle. That someone to hold a safe space to “feel the feels.” You are not alone. There is someone out there who wants to listen, pick up the phone or send a text or make an appointment. I am fortunate to have many people in my life including friends, family, and a coach. It’s amazing to connect with many people. My son, Benson doesn’t sugar coat, my daughter, Natalie holds a safe space, my friend Janine is a gentle, virtual hug and Roy provides an invaluable perspective from a caregiver’s stance. There are countless others. Connect with your network, it’s bigger than you think. Let go or be dragged.
  • Control.  It is truly amazing what little control we have in life. Who knew I couldn’t control the weather over the Appalachians or my dad’s failing health? The only person I can control is myself. My response. Heck, I can’t even control my body to a great degree. This is the Dichotomy of Control as written by the stoic Epictetus: “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” This feels like the precursor of the Serenity Prayer. It takes me back to the dogs pulling me perilously toward that pond. I could not control them. It was outside my power. Let go or be dragged.

Frequently, while being dragged, the scars that appear on the inside are not apparent, even with scrapped knees and soaked clothes. Oh, the weight of worry that we carry around. The preoccupation with predicting the outcome. When we let go, we can notice that we are alright, right now. What’s dragging you around?

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

I recently read an article by James Clear where he referenced a statement often heard in grade school. He referred to the admonishment of not cheating. Clear pointed out the deeper message, “It doesn’t make a difference what the person next to you writes down for his answer. This is your race to run. It’s your assignment to complete. It’s your answer to create. How your paper compares to someone else’s is not the point. The point is to fill the paper with your work.” It’s the same as Hike Your Own Hike or Sticking to Your Path–your work, art, trip, journey, life is your own masterpiece, project, destination and adventure.

The rebels in the classroom (ahem, like myself) would, once admonished, give a side glance to the room to see who had their head up with their eyes off their paper, or squirmed in their seats or dozed off in the back. I was also gathering information on how confident everyone looked as they took the test or quiz. Scanning the room is nothing but a comparison, which is the thief of joy. Whether or not someone is succeeding on the test, or whether they do it quickly or confidently, has nothing to do with my work. My test. My art.

Here’s how to keep your eyes on your own paper:

Clean slate

As Clear wrote, “No matter what you spend your days doing, every morning you wake up and have a blank piece of paper to work with. You get to put your name at the top and fill it with your work.” The possibilities are endless. There is something magnificent about a clean slate. It’s like starting a new recipe and dicing the onions, sautéing them in the pan, moving forward with possibility. I can keep the onions raw, translucent or caramelized brown. It’s all up to me. I am the chef. I have the paint brush and I can make any stroke with any color I have. There is such power in possibility. And we get a new clean slate each morning and I have absolutely no idea what my neighbor is doing with their slate. It’s your clean slate. Use it for your art.

Don’t judge

As Clear wrote while he reflected on his own writing: “I thought this was a good article. Why don’t people seem to enjoy it? Or, I’ll feel like I wrote something average only to see it become the most popular post of the month. Regardless of the outcome, I’ve realized one thing: we are often terrible judges of our own work.” I can relate. I wrote a post on my father’s time in Korea a few weeks back. I thought it was a great post and yet it had barely 100 views. I wrote a post on Earnest Shackleton’s leadership style back in 2014 and it’s been viewed over 6,000 times. There is no telling who will like it or who won’t. We are terrible judges of our own work. I can remember leaving tests, finals or quizzes from elementary school through grad school and I was rarely good at determining how well I did on the test. Stay away from judging yourself – odds are you really don’t know anyway.

Ship it

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” I have to say that especially during test taking, I was without fail the first to leave the exam. If it was five students or two hundred, I was almost always the first to leave. I didn’t go back and double check or perhaps it’s my penchant for the $hitty first draft. I write, I create, I leave my art and ship. Put the pencil down and move on. Perfection is constricting. As Godin says, “Ship it.”

There is one you

Martha Graham was consoling Agnes de Mille about the randomness of success: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” There is only one of you. Don’t let your art be lost. Keep going. Produce no matter what product, what art, what music. You are here for your unique ability to produce your unique product.

There is joy in being present with the process. Don’t focus on the end product. Or the end product of your neighbor or the runner next to you or the hiker in the next tent. It’s the journey, not the destination. Make your own art, whatever that may be, and be there in the process with your eyes on your own paper.

The Story I’m Making Up

We are all storytellers, especially to ourselves. We fill our heads with distorted facts and assumptions that can create a long-term impact on ourselves and our relationships with others. Brene Brown has been a pioneer in this. She talks about a situation with her husband as she swam in a lake in the hill country of Texas. She has told this story in her book, Daring Greatly and in her recent Netflix special. I was derailed recently by a decision a close relative made. I was talking to my coach friend Sandy about it and she said, “Did you see Brene on Netflix?” I said, “Yeah.” Sandy said, “What was your big takeaway?” I didn’t remember. Sandy said, “What is the story you are telling yourself?” The story I was telling myself was that this recent decision was made deliberately to alienate me from the relative. But once I held it up to the light, I realized that this simply wasn’t true. Once I spoke the story, it magically evaporated.

I hear this a lot when I coach folks. “My son doesn’t pick up his room, making me do all the work.” “My coworker isn’t timely with the report because they don’t respect my time.” “My spouse is laughing with that woman because he’s attracted to her and wants to have an affair.” The story we tell ourselves is almost always detrimental to our self-esteem. Our storytelling is demeaning and makes moving forward difficult.

Here are some ideas on how to stop the damage of storytelling:

It’s an illusion

The first thing to realize is that it’s all just one big illusion. Odds are you aren’t telepathic. Most of us aren’t. It’s amazing how often we all attribute motives to folks outside ourselves. “They aren’t returning my calls because they dislike me.” “He didn’t compliment me on my new blouse because he hates it.” “She offered to drive because she doesn’t like the way I drive.” I do this constantly. I make up judgements from other people that have NO basis in fact. At. All. It’s just like a movie when the main character dies. It’s just a movie. No one really died. The same goes for my story in my head. It’s just made up scenery to make the plot seem more sensational. The story you are telling yourself is nothing but an illusion.

Bring it out into the light

As a child, did you think there were monsters under your bed or in your closet? I did. I used to see hundreds of monsters and ghosts in the shadows of my bedroom. Once I turned the light switch on? They were all gone. Shine a light on the shadow that is making the monster. Bring it out into the light. Say the story out loud to a trusted friend or coach. If there is no one available, speak it. Say as Brene does, “The story I’m making up is…” I like that she says “making up” instead of “telling” because it’s so much more obvious that it’s not true. It’s a figment of your imagination. Speak it into the light.

Stand in their shoes

When I am emotionally triggered, I have completely left my prefrontal cortex and have lost any ability to reason. When triggered, it is really hard for me to try and understand where someone else is coming from. I lack empathy. All I see is an offensive attack and I am devoid of understanding. When I can take some time to let the emotions rest and not be triggered, I think about all the possible reasons someone might be seeming to attack me. My son’s room isn’t clean? Homework has piled up and there’s a new love interest in his life. My spouse talking to another woman? She’s his closest friend at work and supported him on a difficult issue at the Project Planning meeting. Client isn’t returning my calls? They are on vacation or are under a tight deadline at work. When I do “Third Entity” (from CRR Global), I physically have the client stand in the virtual place of the person they have a conflict with. Standing in the other person’s place can help clear up assumptions. Try standing in their shoes.

Hold up a mirror

We all bring our own baggage to any situation. Our own biases, cultural and family norms. Toilet seat up or down. Bedroom doors open or closed. “God Bless” or “Bless you” or “Gesundheit.” A lot of our thinking is on auto pilot based on the last ten, twenty, thirty years of our life. You might think someone is rude if they don’t return a phone call in one hour, one day or one week. Personally, I’d rather someone text or email, rather than leave a voicemail. We all walk around with our own parameters. So what assumptions are you bringing to the situation? Those assumptions are working into your storytelling. It’s all made up.

It’s all about holding your thoughts under a microscope and picking it apart. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding on tightly to assumptions and norms for years that probably need to be let go. It’s so easy to hold on tightly to these assumptions and cause long term damage with the ruminations that take place. Perception and storytelling are not reality. Let it go.

Harpers Ferry: An Intersection in History

My boyfriend Roy and I recently visited Harpers Ferry and, while I assume I visited the historic town as a child with its relative proximity to my hometown of Wilmington, DE, I don’t have any memory of the place. I was struck by how this small little town with a population of less than 300 people had such a vital role in our nation’s history. From its role in the Civil War, to transportation, to small arms producer, to arming the Lewis and Clark expedition, this tiny spot at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers is the intersection of an abundance of American History.

We arrived there in June of COVID-19. Most of the town was shut down and all the National Historic museums (bathrooms!) and parking were limited. There were signs throughout the town discouraging tourists. I was shocked by the number of tourists milling around. The one or two ice cream shops as well as the restaurants appeared to be booming in business. It’s an unusual place in that there are all these historic buildings and plaques sitting right next to an ice cream shop or across the street from John Brown’s Fort. The most stunning place is a church atop what looks like 300 steps that one must climb to get to its front door. A woman made the comment to me: “Well, you had to be a believer to trek up all those steps.”

Harpers Ferry and the Church with many steps

Here are some things I learned about Harpers Ferry:

Transportation

Harpers Ferry is a natural transportation intersection with both the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Robert Harper established the first ferry to cross the Potomac River in the 1733. The ferry continued to run until 1824 when a covered bridge was built. This established Harpers Ferry as a transportation hub. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) was built and operated from 1831 to 1924 to run alongside the Potomac to bring coal from the Allegheny Mountains and to make shipping easier. The C&O Canal ran into trouble with floods as well as trying to extend its length into the surrounding mountainous areas. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) (thank you Monopoly) won a bid to build and operate a railroad through this strategic point in 1839. At the time it was the first and only rail crossing the Potomac. This strategic transportation point was the predecessor to many historic events. It’s remarkable how this tiny historic town with antebellum brick homes could bear witness to pivotal events in history.

Amory

In 1794, President George Washington selected Harpers Ferry, Virginia (later West Virginia) as the location of a National Armory. Its proximity to water tributaries was advantageous to create water turbines in the manufacture of muskets, rifles and pistols. Between 1821 and 1830 the armory produced 11,855 arms. It relied on the river to run the machinery to produce the arms. The armory was renovated and expanded from 1845-1854. In 1859, there were 400 workers at the armory. This made the armory a strategic resource for the brewing conflict between the North and South, just miles below the Mason-Dixon line.

Meriwether Lewis

In 1803, Meriwether Lewis arrived in Harpers Ferry to arm his team for their transcontinental expedition. What is remarkable is that besides the 15 rifles, 15 powder horns, 30 bullet molds, 30 ball screws and 24 large knives, Lewis decided to have manufactured a collapsible metal boat frame of his design. I was struck by the pictures of an iron framed boat skeleton that Lewis imagined on his famous journey to the Pacific. The boat was to be collapsible into parts and then reassembled once they arrived at the Missouri River and covered with hides. While on the actual expedition, the guns worked well, the collapsible canoe, failed. When put into water on July 9th, it “floated like a cork” until it began to leak. Lewis’ experiment was left behind on July 10th next to the Missouri River.

John Brown

John Brown, the abolitionist, found Harpers Ferry to be positioned strategically for his needs. It was home to perhaps 100,000 weapons and was the United States arsenal. It was surrounded by slave holders in what was at the time, Virginia. Brown’s plan was to take over the armory and he assumed that the slaves in the region would come to bear arms against their masters and ignite a national uprising. John Brown’s Raid occurred from October 16-18, 1859. They failed to take the armory which was, ironically defended by Robert E. Lee and the United States Marines. By December 2, Brown was tried for treason and executed for his under-manned, failed attempt. All of this was a precursor to the Civil War. John Brown is memorialized in Harpers Ferry from plaques to historical markers to John Browns Fort.

Civil War

Again, Harpers Ferry strategic position came into play.  After Fort Sumter was bombarded on April 12th by the confederates, Lincoln called for 75,000 recruits on April 15th. On April 18th, the Virginia Militia marched on Harpers Ferry and the Federal troops torched the US Armory and Arsenal destroying over 15,000 weapons. On April 28th, Stonewall Jackson occupied his first command of the war and spent the next seven weeks removing machinery and tools and shipping it to Richmond. Between 1861 and 1865, Harpers Ferry changed hands fourteen times. Despite its strategic importance, Harpers Ferry was an indefensible military position. It was a strategic nightmare in that it sat at the base of steep rises of the Appalachian Mountains, making it easy to attack and nearly impossible to defend.

Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of two mighty rivers – the Shenandoah and Potomac, cornered between steep mountain sides and three modern day states – West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. How remarkable that something so sought after is barely inhabited now, except by tourists like me to take in its history. But that’s also part of its present-day charm.

H.A.L.T. and Keeping on the Path

I celebrated 3 years of sobriety on July 8th, 2020. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been cigarette-free for almost 20 years and, in contrast, that has been a lot easier. The social constructs for the two habits are vastly different. One habit is the elixir of social engagement while the other is shunned. I remember vividly the moment the acronym of H.A.L.T. slammed me in the face. I was in a hotel lobby in Scottsdale, Arizona traveling alone on business last fall (pre-pandemic). I was in the hotel lobby desperate for dinner. It was ten minutes to 4 PM and the lobby snack bar was closed. The only place open was the bar, which was to have a bar menu. I was Hungry (because I had just flown in from the east coast), Angry (because the only place to get food was the bar), Lonely (because the bar was packed with happy hour folks all there for a convention) and Tired (because I had been up since 2 AM Pacific time). It was the perfect storm for someone trying to stay sober. If I had a rental car I would have headed to McDonalds or Starbucks, ANYWHERE, but there. I survived the experience still sober but the acronym is important to remember, regardless of what vice you are trying to kick.

Here are my lessons from H.A.L.T and keeping on the path:

Hungry

My children have always been very attuned to my state of satiation. I get an edge to my voice, I get impatient, I get antsy. I can hear my daughter Natalie saying, “Mommy, are you hangry?” If so, all bets are off. We may be in a two-hour line at Disney World but we are going to find Mommy some food. Now that I am a plant-based eater, it can be even more difficult. This was the case in the hotel lobby. Most bar menus are meat and cheese based, you know chicken wings, nachos and sliders. I was thinking “my kingdom for a kale salad!” There was a salad on the bar menu as I reviewed it on the stand outside the bar. I stood there looking for a table tucked in a corner away from all those happy folks drinking. I took the plunge and headed to a small table hoping for the best.

Angry

I sat down waiting for a server. There was one buzzing around the many tables of drinking folks. I finally got their attention. She came by to take my drink order. I asked if they were serving food and she concurred. I ordered a club soda and asked for a menu. It took about 10 minutes for my drink. I reminded her I wanted a menu. After another ten minutes, she obliged me with the menu. I waited. I waited. Two servers flitted around the bar refilling drinks. I started to steam. Percolate. Rumble with anger. I was so hungry and, now, angry. I overheard “my” server telling her various tables that it was the end of her shift and she needed to close out their tabs. Ugh. I will never order my food. She will never be back to my table. I sat there another 10 minutes. I knew that the restaurant opened at 4:30 PM. It was now 4:30 PM. I cannot stand skipping out on a check on a server. I spent way too many years as a server and restaurant owner to want to skip out on a check but my sobriety was at stake here. I got up, left money, left the table and the drink and went to the restaurant.

Lonely

When I approached the hostess stand at the restaurant, I explained that I had waited 30 minutes to order food at the bar and that I was hungry (and seething and precariously close to wanting a double martini). They sat me immediately and brought water and bread before quickly taking my order. I was alone in the restaurant, but I had actually felt more alone in the packed bar. Perhaps it was the free-flowing booze, or the camaraderie around a substance that I so freely imbibed for many years. 

I felt like an outcast. It was obvious that most of the folks knew each other.  Everyone was gathered in small groups except for the lone wolf or two at the bar. It struck me how lonely I felt amongst all the people and how, in the past, I would have felt comforted by being surrounded by all those drinkers. I know I was telling myself that everyone was aware I was by myself and not drinking alcohol; I felt that I was on a stage naked and vulnerable. In retrospect, I realize now that my phone was low on power and I felt trapped in not being able to reach out to someone.

Tired

Jet lag is a fickle thing. I can get to my destination and feel amped up and ready to go or completely depleted. Being tired breaks down your willpower and resolve. It’s remarkable as you look around a bar in a destination city like Scottsdale and wonder what time zone someone is on. I’ve met people from Singapore and London and Cape Town all at the same conference. We are all in different stages of rest and exhaustion. I’ve come to realize that I need to plan ahead so that I can be prepared for my state of tiredness when I arrive in a new time zone. I usually think ahead when setting up flights so that I can be better prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken a Lyft to a restaurant that was open all day. When I’m tired, I tend to find the path of least resistance which, that day, was the hotel bar. A little extra effort would have had me either ordering room service or heading out to a Denny’s.

I’m proud to say that I survived the day sober. I remember thinking about the acronym H.A.L.T. that day at 4:15 PM as I waited for the elusive server to come by and take my food order. I looked around that bar as I yawned, seething, isolated and hungry and realized I was sitting in the perfect storm to break my sobriety. I’m proud of myself for surviving it and now I can recount that perfect storm when I face other challenges in the future and be more prepared.