The first few months of this year have been marked by loss. Between the two of us, my husband and I said goodbye to a beloved Grandfather, a Great Aunt, a friend, and a business partner. Some of the passings were expected - the end of long lives filled with love and devotion to family and dear friends. Others were untimely - a man in the prime of his life who left behind a wife and two young children, a successful business woman with much left to give.
While the lives of these men and women couldn't have been more different, the remembrances held to commemorate them shared a common thread. At each gathering, people huddled around collections of photographs capturing the moments - big and small - that comprised their lives. These snapshots provided comfort to those who grieved. They sparked joy among those who spied themselves in the scenes and celebrations depicted. They elicited laughs at the styles of years past. They offered closure for those who wanted to say goodbye.
In each instance, the images that most moved those gathered weren't the stylish, staged family portraits or the postcard-quality scenes from epic travels, but rather the spontaneous shot of children at play in the backyard, hands held while strolling down the street, a little girl smiling on her Great Grandfather's lap while riding his scooter on a sunny afternoon. Full of silly faces, messy hair, and unflattering angles - these were the pictures that caused onlookers to linger.
We all have in our minds an idea of how we want to present ourselves and what memories we want to leave behind. We take great pains to project our best selves and fill our lives - and the lives of those we love - with meaningful experiences, travels, and activities. But our most foundational memories and enduring connections are forged in the seemingly uneventful days that lie between - tucking in for a reading marathon on a rainy day, spending a lazy afternoon around a jigsaw puzzle, lingering at the family dinner table - the easy, unforced rhythms that make up our lives.
As we approach the expanse of Summer and all its potential for memory making, many of us seek to fill our calendars with great experiences and grand adventures - and why not?! But as you map out your agenda, I encourage you to give equal attention to the everyday. Allow space for the unexpected - impromptu park visits, spontaneous dance parties, a glass of wine with a girlfriend that turns into dinner - and give them your full focus. Capture these images in your mind and heart (and maybe even a camera). Create joy in the present that leads to fond memories in the future.
Beginning at an early age we were conditioned to answer questions about ourselves. From teachers to new friends to strangers in the grocery store we learned to converse by responding to simple queries: What is your name? How old are you? How are you doing?
As we grew, the questions become more complex - perhaps even requiring some introspection: What is your favorite subject? Why do you want to attend our university? What makes you the right candidate for this job? While they may at first have generated some anxiety, over time we learned to anticipate them, prepare a response, and deliver it with confidence.
At some point along our path, we also encountered questions we didn’t want to - or felt we couldn’t - answer. Questions for which there was no automatic response. Questions that may have been asked with the best of intentions. But they nonetheless triggered fear, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy: How are you still single? When are you going to get a "real" job? Are you sure you want that dessert? And rather than investing time in considering how to respond, we instead learned how to avoid the people and situations most likely to introduce the undesirable query.
Eventually - and usually when we least expect it - someone or something discovers a way through the fortresses we build to protect ourselves, and we are faced with the questions (and feelings) we fear. I found myself in such a situation recently while spending time with a dear friend in a houseful of rambunctious little ones (including my own). Standing in the middle of the chaos, she smiled and asked,"Aren't you glad you only have one to deal with?!"
It was a simple question. Posed without malice. But I went silent. Turned inward. And extricated myself from the situation as quickly as I could.
Later, in the comfort and safety of solitude, I seethed. I surrendered to the internal drama: Do you have any idea how many times I have dreamed of soothing sisterly squabbles or refereeing a wrestling match between brothers?! Do you know how much I mourn the opportunities my daughter misses for spontaneous silliness because she is stuck with me as her primary playmate?! Do you not realize I blame myself EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. for my inability to grow our family?!
After the torrent subsided I was able to gain much-needed perspective. While my pain was (and is) real and valid, it wasn't caused by my friend - or her question. But I needed to give myself permission to experience the full force of emotions in order to move past my pity party and prepare for the inevitability of the next time I am asked a similar question.
With the clarity of hindsight, I recognized that an appropriate - and honest - response could be as simple as, "Yes." Because I am grateful - even if not for the reasons the inquirer assumed. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of a smart, sweet girl. For perspective. For the tools to be present and soak up as much as I can of the incredible opportunity I have to parent.
Whatever your state in life, chances are you have been asked tough questions - and more than likely, you have realized you can't avoid them forever. Rather than will the questions away, can you allow yourself to sit with them and the emotions they evoke? I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on what lies beneath your resistance. Consider how you can respond in a way that is authentic and kind - to the questioner - and yourself...
As a child I LOVED to perform. From school plays and assemblies to dance and voice recitals to various sporting events, if there was a chance be in the spotlight, I was the first to volunteer.
Fast forward a few decades, and that couldn't be further from the truth. I still love performance, but I am far more comfortable in a supporting role - or the audience. As a Congressional speechwriter, I learned how to help others shine and share their message. My favorite part of the process was the performance of the finished product - which I enjoyed from my anonymous, out of the way perch.
So when an opportunity recently presented itself to appear ON TELEVISION to share the benefits of yoga for women experiencing infertility, my first instinct was to politely decline. As much as I love helping women who are struggling to start a family, television means lights, cameras, and an audience far larger than the small group and one-on-one settings in which I usually present such information...
As I began to dismiss the offer, a little voice within whispered, "Yes it's scary, but are you going to let a little stage fright get in the way of reaching people who need help? And would it be so bad to gain a new skill set?"
So I said yes, and the next thing I knew I was discussing timelines and talking points with a producer. While I was excited about sharing tools and resources with a new audience, I remained terrified by the prospect of appearing on screen. As the day approached, I began to second-guess my decision, but when I arrived at the studio, I took a deep breath, walked onto the set, and gave it a try.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I survived the experience. And while it wasn't perfect, it also wasn't a disaster. It may have even been somewhat...fun. More importantly, minutes after the segment aired, I began to hear from women who were eager to learn more and others who were grateful for the reminder they are not alone in their struggles. While I am not seeking to repeat the experience anytime soon, I will be that much more prepared should another opportunity present itself in the future - and I am glad to have pushed past discomfort and experienced a little growth along the way.
Opportunities to grow often appear quite frightening, but we have much to gain by summoning the courage to try. Next time opportunity knocks, can you answer the door? You might be surprised by what you discover...
Last week I sat down, put pen to paper, and reflected on the closing of another year. 2018 was full of adventures, memorable travels, professional achievements, and personal growth. I traveled to areas of the world I had never seen, brought hope and healing to new communities of women facing the heartbreak of infertility, peacefully navigated a challenging relationship conflict, welcomed my daughter into her fifth (?!?) year of life, and inched closer to a milestone birthday of my own. Yes - 2018 was a year worthy of celebration.
No - you didn't catch me in a typo (though I'm sure that has happened...) - nor did I lose track of the year (though that often does happen...). I simply closed my eyes and anticipated how I want to feel about the year we are just beginning. The exercise was both inspiring and instructive.
If you are anything like me (and I would wager many of you are), despite your best intentions for a positive outlook, your mind is susceptible to being pulled into incessant, unrelenting, unhelpful chatter. You circle back to conversations you wish had gone a different way, fret about future events over which you have little (or no) control, and attempt to micromanage the minutiae of your daily existence. These thoughts have the power to cast a dark shadow over even the best of days - and they threaten to throw us off the course of the fully realized life we want to lead.
What if you instead filled your brain with enticing snapshots of a life well lived - and allowed those desires to not only brighten your perspective but also shape what comes next?
The lovely Lisa Eaves from Heal from Within, describes an exercise called "Skillful Imagination" that can serve as a framework for your efforts. To start, choose a point of time in the future: perhaps next year, five years from now, or even 50. Envision your future self reflecting back on the year or years that have passed. What did you experience? Where did you go? With whom did you spend time? What did you discover?
When you have answered these questions consider how these experiences made you feel. What was most meaningful or rewarding? Where was your time best spent? Even if it feels a bit silly, I encourage you to jot down a list of the highlights and hold onto it. Refer back to it on regular intervals - or use it to re-energize yourself when you are feeling mired in the details of daily life.
Allow your answers to these questions to guide your actions, decisions, and priorities in this moment. What decisions do you need to make today to ensure you arrive where you want to be? Create a vision of the life you desire, then turn anticipation into reality. Your future self will thank you...
Over the holiday break I had the opportunity to connect with a few dear friends I hadn't seen in far too long. During our conversations, they each asked, "What's next?" The question made me smile. At the outset of another new year, I have been thinking a lot about what lies ahead, and I have found myself downright giddy about the possibilities...
And I know I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Research has long validated the power of anticipation to affect our outlook and overall wellbeing. A study released in 2010 argued the pleasure of anticipating an upcoming trip surpassed the enjoyment of the travel itself. Author and life coach Valorie Burton goes so far as to say anticipation is a critical first step toward living a happier - and better - life.
Intuitively the principle makes sense. When we are looking forward to something, we not only reap the benefits of a positive perspective, we also become more willing to do the work necessary to achieve a desired result. Think of your own goals and resolutions for 2018. Perhaps you have committed to implementing a new fitness routine, eating better, or beginning a meditation practice. Whatever your aims, I am willing to guess you are fueled more by the anticipated outcome than the intervening steps. Is anyone truly excited about the prospect of sore muscles, more spinach, or waking earlier in the morning?!
Of course, like most things, anticipation is not exclusively about sunshine and rainbows. We all know the discomfort that comes as we prepare for a dreaded but unavoidable obligation, learn of an unwelcome medical diagnosis, or endure a seemingly interminable wait for a deeply desired outcome.
In our ongoing pursuit of living a more full and fulfilling life, I want to explore the power of anticipation in all its forms. I am eager to see what lessons we can learn as we consider - and wait for - what's next. Won't you join me?