On a Wednesday afternoon in early June I received a message from Stephanie Roth, a D.C.-based fertility coach and blogger who thought our shared passion for helping women achieve their dreams of starting a family might provide opportunities for collaboration. We sat down shortly thereafter, and I knew she was right! I was inspired by her own story of triumph against the odds and excited by the opportunity to work together. To learn more about how Stephanie is helping others - and how the birth of her son changed everything, read on...
While in the waiting room at my doctor's office recently, I picked up a little book that proposed 101 suggestions for happy living. It was intended to be a light read, but as I flipped through the pages, many of the suggestions resonated.
I stopped, however, when I saw the simple instruction: smile.
It goes without saying that when we are happy we often smile, but can a smile itself cause us to be happy?
I recalled a boss in my early days on Capitol Hill who encouraged staff to smile while talking to constituents - especially when they were adversarial. They will be able to hear it in your voice - your tone is as important as your words... I was skeptical at the time, but I was able to defuse more than one angry caller with this strategy. And that feeling of accomplishment did often lift my mood...
I thought also of the smilers in my life - not those of the insincere, forced variety - but the people whose faces reflect genuine joy. Their presence does have a contagious affect...
More often our own lack of contentment is more a matter of being not particularly happy than being truly unhappy. What if - when we find ourselves in such a mood - we simply smiled? The simple act could be just what we need to turn the day around.
Next time you wake up in a funk, give it a try. Flash a smile to yourself in the mirror - or greet your spouse, fellow commuters, or colleagues with a grin as the day begins. See if you can't turn your mood around - and contribute some sunshine to someone else's day.
As I finished a writing session last week and sat down with a slice of homemade pumpkin pie and a glass of milk, I found myself smiling. A full freezer and an empty inbox - life is good. It occurred to me these two facts are indications of whether my life is in rhythm. My "tells" that all is well.
And it is. Thanks to the bounty of Fall produce at the farmers' markets I have been cooking and baking up a storm - fresh pasta with butternut squash and sage, cozy soups brimming with fall vegetables, pumpkin pie, apple muffins - far more than our little family of three can consume... So I have been filling our freezer with batches of goodness to enjoy on a future dreary day.
With the babe now in a morning preschool program, I also am discovering extra bandwidth and "desk time" to devote to my weekly posts, additional writing projects, and fighting the Sisyphean battle of the overflowing inbox. And as of this moment, I am winning! The only messages awaiting me (at this moment) are action items I will address when I return from sunny Florida.
It isn't the actual freezer full of jars and baked goods, nor the streamlined inbox, but the spaciousness they represent: bandwidth to complete my work and time to do things I enjoy.
We all have little ways of knowing when our lives are in rhythm. The absence of these things can be an indication that we have fallen out. When you are feeling stressed, what goes by the wayside? Connecting with loved ones? Time with a good book? Your weekly yoga class?
Take a moment to ask yourself whether anything missing from your home or your life. Identify the metrics you can use to determine whether you are getting what you need, and create a plan to incorporate them into your routine. Do what you can to fuel not just your body, but your soul.
On Saturday we will leave the Indian summer in our nation's capital to join my husband's family for a week in even sunnier Florida. It will be our second such trip in as many years - a sweet tradition of cousins playing together on the beach, preparing and enjoying meals as a family, and soaking up the sunshine.
As the day of departure nears, my daughter is positively beside herself. Swimming! Cousins! Airplanes (the hassle of modern air travel has yet to outweigh her excitement...)! Each morning begins with the same question, "How many days until we go to Florida?" and most days end with her informing us of all the fun things she plans to do with the cousins.
Her father and I are - at this point - somewhat less exuberant. It isn't that we aren't looking forward to it (we are!). Nor is it that we don't want to go (we do!). But where the babe sees only fun in the sun with some of her favorite people, my husband and I see all that needs to be done between now and then: the meetings that need to be cancelled or converted to conference calls, the clients who need to be rescheduled, the packing and preparations, putting in the mail hold, and coordinating with the cat sitter, among other things.
As adults, many of us have lost the ability to embrace the excitement inherent within anticipation. We see the practicalities and inconveniences rather than the joy they portend.
You may not be heading off for a week at the beach, but chances are there is something on the horizon you can look forward to, whether dinner with a good friend, a visit to or from a favorite family member, or the upcoming holidays. Any future event can - and perhaps should - be a source of enthusiasm. As you look ahead on your calendar, can you turn off your inner curmudgeon and let yourself be exuberant? Can you embrace the radiance that lies around the corner?
I recently connected with a dear friend and fellow mama who shared she was getting ready to celebrate her daughter's half birthday. She wasn't planning an epic event - just an afternoon spent together at the pool, enjoying time as a family, and indulging in some favorite treats.
As we parted I recalled that early in my daughter's life we celebrated her birthday weekly. Every Sunday we would eat cupcakes and talk about how much she had grown (!!) and changed (!!) in the previous seven days. Before her first year of life was over, these celebrations had become monthly events, and at some later point, we found ourselves celebrating only once per year.
Recalling those early days I found myself nostalgic. I missed that period when everything about our babe was a revelation - when we could watch for hours, captivated by her every move. Make no mistake - we still dote on our daughter - but life is moving so fast for all of us that it is hard to keep up, let alone carve out time for another weekly commitment.
In our rapidly spinning, fast-paced lives, we rarely sit still long enough to connect with those we love, let alone honor their - or our own - growth. The last thing we need is to add another calendar item to our already over-packed schedules, but we can be more mindful about noting - and celebrating - the little things and sweet nothings along the way. Gratitude for life itself and the small joys we encounter each day is enough reason enough to read an extra book at bedtime. Or hire a sitter and schedule a date night. Or indulge in a spontaneous Sunday cupcake.
What can you celebrate this week?
I offer this thought three days after my husband and I celebrated twelve (!?!) years of marriage. While long-time couples may smile in knowing agreement, the underlying sentiment has relevance beyond the married crowd...
We live in an age in which "me first" is a prevailing perspective. It seems almost unthinkable to move past our own outlook to recognize - let alone meet - the needs, desires, and preferences of another. But opportunities to do so are all around us: From choices as insignificant as where to dine tonight to life-altering philosophical pronouncements, we are constantly confronted with ideas that challenge our own.
Living in community is hard. Sharing your life - whether with a spouse, sibling, or dear friend - means exposing your vulnerabilities, acknowledging your imperfections, taking responsibility for your transgressions, and asking for (and granting) forgiveness when it is least desirable. Even the most enthusiastic extrovert will concede there are plenty of days when it seems infinitely preferable to go it alone.
But you can't be your best self in a vacuum. Our interactions with friends and family add value to life. The struggles born of commitment create the conditions we need to grow and change.
Whatever your relationship framework today, you will be presented with someone else's needs, desires, and ideas. Can you take the opportunity to recognize where they are coming from and extend grace? Can you move down the path toward becoming your best self?
The longer you have lived, the more likely you are to have your own way of doing things. Over time, we all have a tendency to fall into patterns that become our "default" mode. Perhaps you have discovered through trial and error the best and most efficient way to complete a routine task - or stumbled upon a simple and effective approach that makes some part of your daily life easier - and these have become your go-to approaches.
Whether it the way you load the dishwasher, your perfectly timed commute to work, or your preferred way of distracting yourself while waiting in line, we all have ingrained habits that are hard to shake. While there is nothing wrong with repetition (and who doesn't appreciate efficiency?!), if we are not careful, we can become so conditioned to our "norms" that we fail to see - or even look at - the world around us. Operating on autopilot is the opposite of living mindfully, and it can rob us of the opportunity to live fully.
Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone while waiting for the customer ahead of you to pay for her groceries - in pennies - consider tuning into the sights and sounds that surround you. Rather than stick to the same streets you use every day to travel home from the office, try taking a one block detour. By making even subtle changes to the way you do things, you give yourself the opportunity to connect with the living, breathing world around you. Perhaps you will spy (or make!) a friend - or find joy in a particularly beautiful garden you hadn't noticed before. At the very least, you will have shifted out of habit and into experience.
How can you reset your default mode today?
Earlier this Summer I had surgery to remove a bone spur from my foot. It was a relatively minor procedure intended to relieve the source of acute pain I have been tolerating for years. The post-operative instruction from my doctor was to apply as much pressure as I could tolerate as often as I could. I took the guidance as a challenge...
Within two weeks of the surgery, I began running three days per week. I resumed using the bicycle as my primary method of commuting. I walked EVERYWHERE with the babe. Throughout this period I ignored the raised eyebrows and questions from well-meaning family about the wisdom of my approach. "It's doctor's orders," I assured them.
The one thing I didn't add to my grit-my-teeth-and-power-through-it routine was yoga. Running may have been uncomfortable, but as a teacher of yoga, I "knew" that putting my foot through the range of motion required to execute many of the common poses in a vinyasa practice would be excruciating. I'm not quite ready, I told myself, I'll just give it a little more time to heal.
Two months after surgery, the joint was still stiff, swelling at the site of the incision was still pronounced, and my overly ambitious approach to activity backfired, resulting in an aggravated Achilles tendon. This time the doctor told me to take it easy - and NOT run. "Yoga could be helpful," he suggested...
The next day I limped back to the yoga studio. But this time, rather than give into the voice in my head trying to tell me what I "couldn't" do, I instead approached each instruction from the teacher as an opportunity to explore - carefully and mindfully - what might be possible. After that first class, I noticed an immediate improvement in my ability to walk without pain. Excited by the possibility of continued progress, I returned the next day, and the next. After one week of mindful movement, the swelling and discomfort had subsided significantly.
How often do our perceived limitations prevent us from exploring what might be possible? Instead of allowing assumptions about what you "can't" do dictate your behavior, can you instead proceed with an open mind? You just might surprise yourself - and encounter some healing along the way...
Halloween. Ghouls and goblins. Haunted houses. October has become synonymous with fear. And as I looked ahead on the editorial calendar, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about this month: the fear of releasing my one and only baby girl into the unknown world of preschool. Watching my tearful daughter walk reluctantly through the gates (and away from me) on her first day would be terrifying for both of us. She would be left to fend for herself, and I would be paralyzed by the powerlessness of not being able to provide constant reassurance or help her navigate an unfamiliar environment and new relationships.
I had brainstormed all manner of ways to help her process the transition. I was ready to lavish with love and compassion. I devised strategies to ease her anxiety and bolster confidence. But the day came and went with none of the expected fear (at least for her). And today - more than three weeks in - nothing has changed. She loves it.
I'm embarrassed to admit her enthusiasm and confidence has proven more unsettling than the drama I anticipated. I was ready to help! I had it all figured out. This was my moment to be "Supermama!" But that isn't how it unfolded. In true toddler fashion, she embraced the moment and found joy. While in true mama fashion, I overthought and over-prepared and ended up overwhelmed.
Much of our fear and anxiety stems from what we don't know. But even more of our pain and frustration comes from trying to control outcomes over which we have no power. When approaching new situations, we do everything we can to ready ourselves and create an action plan, but as often as not, our work amounts to wasted time and energy.
How many times have you diligently prepared for an expected outcome only to find yourself caught flat footed when things turned out differently? Perhaps it was the job interview for which you studied the company, its product, and its culture but became tongue tied when asked, "Why do you want to work here?" Or the challenging conversation you rehearsed over and over only to find the conflict easily resolved.
What if - instead of spending so much time and energy preparing for the worst - we focused on responding with grace to whatever comes our way? We will all eventually face the "unknown unknowns" of life, but they needn't be a source of fear. It is good to be prepared, but it is even more important to be present. Only when we are able to stand in the middle of the marketplace with all its sound and fury and be still can we summon the courage the situation requires.
Next time you find yourself growing anxious about an upcoming transition or unknown environment, can you pause in your preparations and power plays and simply be present? You just might find you have everything you need - and discover some joy along the way.
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!