With the official arrival of Summer, the pace of life has begun to shift. Schools have released their charges, families are departing for vacations and visits to grandparents, and everyone seems to be moving just a bit slower to guard against the heat.
Even in highly organized and routinized home like ours, the past few weeks have found us relaxing our rigid adherence to schedule and structure. Until this point, my days have reflected a carefully cultivated balance of teaching, writing, and caring for my daughter - with little variation from one season to the next. But this Summer, our rhythm has been interrupted by the babe's first foray into a "camp" experience - three hours a day of creative play with new friends in engaging settings.
I, of course, had grand plans for productivity during the window in which she has been occupied with arts, crafts, and her trusty ukelele. I intended to use these two weeks to tackle lingering projects at home, run inconvenient errands, and engage in some long-range planning. Instead, I have found myself embracing the spirit of Summer - joining a dear friend for a mid-morning run, visiting a new yoga class, and daydreaming.
And I have taken the initiative to reinforce the sense of playfulness in my time with my daughter before and after her activities. The camps have been located in areas of the city in which we rarely spend time, inviting us to step off the well-worn paths around our neighborhood. We have explored breakfast offerings at new coffee shops, strolled through beautiful neighborhoods, and treated ourselves to midday gelato.These simple shifts have turned ordinary days into adventures and transformed the mundane into something memorable.
Whether or not your life follows the academic calendar, summer offers an opportunity to embrace a change of perspective. Instead of powering through these months on autopilot, stop, take a deep breath, and look around. Can you slow down and savor Summer?
Each year on June 15 I take a moment to revisit and revise my annual goals. And every year I find myself surprised by how far I have come on some and what little (if any) progress I have made on others.
Two of this year's goals fall squarely in the latter category. This did not come as a surprise to me: both require outside assistance, and despite my best efforts, I have not been able to identify or persuade the right guides to come to my aid. As I made my way down the list, I first skipped over these goals, reasoning that I had, after all, done my part. I reached out for help months ago - and I know I would be well on my way if she had just responded to my email. I would be making significant progress if only he would return my phone calls...
As I reflected on the circumstances I grew agitated. One of my goals is a truly noble effort (more on this to come...). The unresponsiveness of the mentors from whom I requested advice was not only affecting me - it was delaying a venture that will benefit the community.
But in the next breath it occurred to me: My goals - no matter how altruistic and worthy - aren't their responsibility. Just because a plan requires collaboration doesn't remove my obligation to see it through.
As we enter the second half of the year, I am taking full, unconditional ownership of my goals and aims. I will find creative solutions and persist until I assemble the expertise and tools I need to move forward.
Are you letting yourself off the hook because of someone else's actions (or lack therof)? Stop the blame game and take ownership of your efforts, aims, and desires. You alone have the power to pursue your dreams. Do what it takes to make them come true.
After last week's post about making your priorities an anchor, a number of readers reached out to say, "I know it is important to identify priorities, but then what? How can I protect them?" It is a good, and important, question.
The answer is straightforward: to protect your priorities, you need boundaries. But that doesn't mean it is always simple...
The lovely Lori Mihalich-Levin recently tackled this issue on her blog, and I like how she broke it down. She speaks from the perspective of a busy working mama, but her advice is relevant to anyone who struggles to set effective, enforceable limits. I encourage you to read her entire piece here, but for those of you who prefer to cut right to the chase, she recommends the following:
Defining Boundaries: In her piece, Mihalich-Levin offers a beautifully non-intimidating analogy. She invites us to view boundaries as a fence around a large playground: staying within the fence allows us to freely and safely experience the things we enjoy. This approach makes boundaries about freedom rather than restriction, which is a helpful framework.
Setting Boundaries: This is the heart of the matter. After identifying what matters most to you, you need to determine what obstacles are standing in your way. Do you want to be more present with your family members? Perhaps you need to set a limit around when and how you use your phone at home. Have you set a physical goal? Maybe you need to limit television viewing to ensure you have time to hit the gym. When you have decided on your boundaries, write them down, repeat them to yourself, and tell someone else. An invisible boundary is an ineffective boundary.
Honoring Boundaries: I like the terminology of honoring boundaries so much more than enforcing boundaries. If we have established meaningful, intentional limits, our adherence shouldn't be a matter of force or deprivation. We can be comfortable saying no to opportunities that fall outside our fence because we understand what we gain in the process. Recognizing that we don't live in isolation and our decisions inevitably affect others, Mihalich-Levin also suggests allowing your limits to be permeable at times. Give your fence a gate you can open when necessary to let someone or something into or out of your playground.
As with anything, practice is critical, and patience with yourself is paramount. Some boundaries will work better than others. Some will need to evolve over time and some will become obsolete. But putting these principles in practice will enable you to more effectively pursue your priorities. Happy planning...
From the moment my daughter was born (if not before), I looked forward to sharing with her my love for food and cooking. Over the past three years it has been a joy to witness her growing enthusiasm for trying new things and exploring various cuisines - whether out on the town or in our own kitchen. At home we have encouraged her to take an active role in preparing meals: stirring batter as soon as her little fingers could grip the wooden spoon and measuring ingredients when her hands became steady enough to hold the measure. We have added steadily to her skill set over the years, and she is now a fully contributing member of our culinary team. The dexterity of three-year-old hands, however, ensures every project includes plenty of spills, drips, and smears.
While I like to think I have mellowed with age, I remain fastidious about keeping things clean and tidy - especially in the kitchen. And my little apple hasn't fallen far from the tree in this regard... If a bit of sugar spills on the counter, she wants to brush it off. If water drips on the floor, she insists on grabbing a towel to mop it up. And if a measuring spoon has been used to measure a single ingredient, she is adamant about replacing or washing it before moving to the next step. These tendencies fall somewhere between amusing and adorable, but it prolongs the duration of our kitchen adventures and leaves us with piles upon piles of dishes...
After such an experience last week, I found myself mildly annoyed to be standing with my hands in the kitchen sink yet again. As I stopped to consider the day, however, the discontent disappeared. Yes - it had taken two hours to make muffins, and we had washed every measuring cup, spoon, and bowl at least twice. But I had spent the entire morning sharing something I love to do with a daughter whose very existence is a miracle...
It is easy to get sidetracked by minor inconveniences and forget they are a small and unavoidable part of a much larger and richer experience. If we instead step back to look at the full picture, we can find beauty in even the most mundane tasks. Next time you find yourself bemoaning the mud, celebrate the rain for which you prayed.
When I first began to contemplate leaving the familiarity of a traditional office setting for something less defined, I looked forward to setting my own schedule. I loved the idea of working at the time and place of my choosing and in a way that suited the needs and rhythms of my family. I identified priorities and set limits accordingly: I wouldn't teach in the evenings to ensure I could be home with my daughter for the bedtime routine; I would only teach one class on Sunday afternoons to preserve precious family time; I would protect at least two mornings a week for my own yoga practice.
But little by little, these limits began to soften and stretch... When a client wanted to reschedule, I squeezed them into a free morning. When a new student whose availability didn't match my own came along, I added a second (then a third) Sunday class. When a colleague shared an opportunity to work with a lovely group of yogis whose teacher had recently retired, I happily took it on - during the evening. And I treated every workshop, teacher training, and specialty offering that came my way as an exception - after all, they were only monthly or quarterly events...
Before I knew it, I was teaching seven days a week EVERY week - early mornings, late evenings, and weekends. I was resentful about not spending as much time as I wanted with my daughter and husband. I was physically tired and easily irritated. My personal yoga practice disappeared.
I began to recognize that while I wanted to be responsive to the needs of my clients, I wasn't serving anyone well by doing so at the expense of the very reason I made this transition. I had lost focus on my priorities, and I needed to make some changes. I said goodbye to students with whom I enjoyed working and transitioned classes I had been teaching for years to new teachers. It was difficult, but the end result was a schedule that gives me energy and protects what is truly important.
We can't always control our schedules and commitments, but it is important to remember why we are doing what we are doing. If we aren't intentional about our decisions, it is easy to be swept away by life's rushing currents. If you feel yourself drifting, take a moment to reflect on what is most important to you. Allow your priorities to be your anchor, and enjoy the voyage.
If you are a woman who is feeling stuck, bored, or generally uninspired, Cameron Laurent wants to help - and she knows of what she speaks. Cameron not only talks the talk, she has blazed the trail herself - stepping away from a traditional job to carve out a path that enables her to spend time with her (adorable) children while supporting and empowering women in creative ways. To learn more about what inspires her - and how to learn from her experience, read on.
A new session of my yoga and fertility workshop series began this week. On Tuesday night, a group of strong, brave women gathered to share their stories, take refuge in community, and start down the road toward accepting where they are on their journey and charting a course forward. But it almost didn't happen.
In the days leading up to our first class, registration was low. It looked like we wouldn't have enough students to move forward. These things happen from time to time for a variety of reasons, and in the past, I have moved on and turned my attention to other offerings. This time, however, I found myself resisting the idea of calling it off.
When the studio manager reached out to ask whether we should cancel the workshop, I asked for a few more days. On Monday, the numbers remained low. I reluctantly agreed to concede defeat, but something didn't sit right. Moments later, I received a note from a student who had waited until the last minute to register but was anxious to join. An hour after that a student I had worked with in a previous setting reached out to ask whether there was still room. Later in the day, a third student expressed interest. And just like that (thanks to the behind-the-scenes wizardry of our studio manager), we were back up and running.
It would have been easy to let go of my plans and call off the workshop when attendance looked poor. It would have been less complicated to allow things to remain cancelled than to do the work of resuscitating the offering. But something persuaded me to persist. And as a result, another group of women are coming together to find support and healing during a difficult time, and I am blessed to be part of their journey.
Sometimes we need to set our agendas aside and respond to what we see in front of us, but when our hearts tell us to stand firm, we are wise to listen. Just because you are facing resistance doesn't mean you need to give up. Listen to your heart - and find the courage to stand strong.
A good friend recently remarked that she loves her life when she is able to experience all its component parts. This description really resonated with me. I enjoy my work. I love spending time with my husband and daughter. I derive energy from being active. I adore curling up with a good book. I look forward to connecting with dear friends. I appreciate solitude. When all these elements are present, I am filled with gratitude for this amazing gift of a life; but when something is missing, I feel unsettled...
There is no such thing as perfect balance. There are seasons of life in which one area will loom larger than the others - just ask any new parent, or an accountant during tax season. But by recognizing and naming the things you need to feed your soul and feel complete, you can be intentional about ensuring you experience them.
Even when you find yourself struggling to stay afloat during a busy week at the office, you can carve out 30 minutes to meet a friend for coffee. Especially when you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities at home, you can ask your spouse (or hire a sitter) to watch the kids while you go for a run. And when you identify your needs and determine how to meet them, you can build a rhythm that keeps them constant in your life.
If you are in the midst of a period of harmony, take a moment to observe what is working well - and why. If you are struggling, think about what is missing. Then create a routine that keeps you feeling full and fulfilled. Name your needs - and go get them!
My first international adventure took place during college, when I spent a Summer studying in Greece. This was in the days before the proliferation of smartphones and the ability to capture, edit, and transmit every observation, thought, and experience in real-time. I took photos on film, not knowing for days - or even weeks - how they would turn out, but fully aware that among the gems would be a healthy dose of poor angles, closed eyes, and bad lighting. I also journaled extensively - noting the highs, lows, and everything in between.
As I departed for my recent South African expedition, I determined to be equally diligent in capturing the experience. Thanks to modern technology, however, this time I was able to see the photos and videos immediately and choose which to keep and which to delete. And instead of recording the events of each day in a journal, I sent sporadic updates to the babe and her father - focusing on the highlights and best experiences.
My return home coincided with a burst of work travel for the babe's father, and I found myself continuing to play the role of archivist. I sent him pictures of her playground antics and videos of clever remarks. As the days went on, I found myself editing - not merely photos, but also my daughter. "That was so funny! Can you say it again so I can send a video to Papa?" "Wow - look at you up there! Hold on so I can get a picture."
When I realized what I was doing, I recalled a Ted Talk in which the presenter suggested the current generation is experiencing the present as an anticipated memory. At the time I thought his was a sad, but accurate, observation, and here I was doing the very same thing.
We are all at risk of falling into this pattern. It seems more natural to carefully cultivate our desired image than to acknowledge - let alone embrace - our flaws. Rather than allowing each moment to unfold, we seek to memorialize events as we wish they had happened: My child wasn't a terror at this age - look at his angelic smile in this picture. The party wasn't a failure - you can see how much fun we were having!
If we are being honest with ourselves (and others), we must admit our lives are a blend of brilliant and banal, equal parts beautiful and beastly. And this is how it should be. We need contrast to appreciate the full spectrum of our experiences. By editing every flaw out of our reality, we rob ourselves of the richness of life.
As we enter Summer, I am committing to living unedited. To allow experiences to unfold in all their glorious disarray. To capture pictures that reflect life as it happens - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Won't you join me? Let's be real.
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!