“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”– Maya Angelou
It was still dark out. It was December, and it was 6:45 in the morning. My Uber driver was helping me try to figure out where to deliver me as we drove in circles around the new and impressive Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.
I had been hired to give my “Epic Lessons Learned in the Field” keynote presentation to women leaders who work for the Arthur M Blank family of businesses. I snapped a few photos of the new stadium as we drove around it, and texted them to my sons, who were likely still asleep in their beds in our Wyoming home. As far as my sons were concerned, this gig was my coolest yet, and they had requested I get photos.
As we drove circles around the stadium, with a few more minutes available to kill before I’d have to choose a place to get out, I worried about what I had chosen to wear. I had on what I usually wear for these keynote presentations – jeans, a nice blouse and boots. I don’t own any pantsuits, and would feel awkward wearing one. I will wear a dress, but usually only for special occasions like weddings, etc. (One time, when our youngest son was 4, and I came downstairs in the morning with a dress on, he remarked, lovingly, “I like your costume, Mommy.”)
I wondered about the women leaders I would soon meet – “corporate” women who live in a city and work for a prestigious organization, and who probably earn considerably more money than I do. I wondered if they would expect me to be more dressed up? I felt honored to have this opportunity, and I didn’t want them to view my being “not very dressed up” as indicative of the amount of respect I had for them, their time, and their hiring me as a keynote presenter. I know, such thinking is foolishness, but when we’re feeling nervous, the stories that play in our head can be quite compelling. Our insecurities come out in full force and I’m no exception.
Luckily, amidst the worries about my outfit, I remembered a bit from Brené Brown’s most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, which I had recently read. I recalled specifically Brown’s sharing about a time she was about to give a big presentation and changed from the outfit she thought she should wear to the outfit she was meant to wear. Thank you Brené! I thought to myself. (I am so familiar with, and aligned with Brené’s work that I refer to her on a first-name basis. She is one of my friends, even if we’ve never met.)
As my driver and I agreed about where to drop me off, I requested that he return in two hours to take me to my next place of work – Turner Networks.
Turner Networks. As I said it out loud, I sensed the familiar rush of panic I had experienced off and on in recent days. The feeling was one of paranoia. The fear that I was going to be “found out,” that I was claiming to have particular abilities or qualities that I didn’t really have, was palpable. All at once, I was panicking about, and wondering how it was that I was here, about to present at the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and then at Turner Networks. These two opportunities felt like big breaks for me, and I was wondering if it were a mistake that I had been hired.
By the way, every single speaking engagement I’m hired for feels like a big break for me. I struggle with these doubts when presenting during various conferences in my home state of Wyoming, to leaders at SapientRazorfish, or Johnson & Johnson, and even when presenting to middle schoolers in my small hometown. It’s just that somehow these bigger-name opportunities felt like the ultimate opportunity for me to see if my inner critic was not correct, if I was really not a fraud.
I wasn’t a fraud. I’m not a fraud. I am, however, human, and the experience I describe above is something most of us experience from time to time, especially when we’re stretching and daring to fail. We experience it whenever we’re leveling up and daring to do something that’s bigger, or more high level, than we’ve done before.
There’s a name for this experience. It’s called the “Impostor Syndrome.”
Impostor Syndrome is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is often dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women,impostor syndrome has been found to affect both men and women, in roughly equal numbers. (Wikipedia)
Explains Palmer: “The fraud police are this imaginary, terrifying force of experts and real grownups who don’t exist, and who come knocking on your door at 3am when you least expect it, saying, Fraud Police: We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have no idea what you are doing, and you stand accused of committing the crime of completely making shit up as you go along. You do not actually deserve your job and we’re taking everything away, and we’re telling everybody.
“People working in the arts especially have to combat the inner fraud police on a daily basis. And even if you’re a very happy, healthy, confident person, the fear of the fraud police is ever lurking. And it really doesn’t matter who you are. I have friends who are teachers, and writers and psychologists and scientists and pretty much every profession under the sun, and everybody, every so-called adult I know has had this feeling about their job and themselves at some level.”
But now let’s return to my story, at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Dec. 14. It didn’t matter that I had been hired to give my presentation several times before at conferences and for organizations in Atlanta, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, London, and in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and other places. It didn’t matter that I had received favorable feedback and numerous “testimonials” validating my presentation abilities. It didn’t matter that all of the content I share is mine, or that I’ve worked very hard to create it, or that I’ve spent hours in preparation so I could present it to the best of my abilities, or that I believe strongly in the message I am hired to share. In the moments of doubt, when the “fraud police” are doing their investigating, all of this is forgotten, and my being here is chalked up to luck and my apparent skill for pulling the wool over people’s eyes.
Posing with the wonderful women leaders of the Arthur M Blank family of businesses at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium following my presentation this past December.
Regardless of my credentials and “proof” that I am not a fraud, I have been trying to avoid the fraud police for as long as I can remember.
When a group of six people fly from their comparatively big cities into Wyoming to go on unplugged treks into the Wilderness with me, I have moments of panic and self doubt, as I am reminded of the weight of responsibility that comes with leading people into the rugged and remote wilderness. In those moments of self doubt, my experience, expertise and competence are forgotten or significantly downplayed.
Leading a wilderness trek.
Sometimes before a coaching call, I doubt myself and my abilities. Sometimes, before I hit “send” on an email I’ve drafted for someone I admire and respect and want to connect with, the fraud police show up and question my value and worthiness. They demand, Who do you think you are? Why would they want to hear from, or connect with you? If I want to deepen a friendship and do something extra thoughtful, I might hesitate due to the fraud police, who show up right before and question my ability to be a good friend. As a mother, I feel like an impostor all the time. As hard as I try to be the mother I want to be to my three sons, I often doubt my abilities and qualifications.
I have endless examples of experiencing the Impostor Syndrome, but I’m thinking particularly of one from seven years ago, when I was first developing my keynote presentation.
A dear friend and “champion” of mine, Debbie, offered to host a brunch for women leaders at her home in San Francisco, during which I could “test drive” my Epic presentation. At the time, Debbie was chief of people at Mozilla, and she was –is– networked. Her offer was generous. For this Wyoming country bumpkin to get the opportunity to present her message to corporate women leaders… Well, it seemed too good to be true, and yet it was true.
I would have been nuts to say No, so I said Yes. But as the event drew closer, I started negotiating with myself, and looking for a way out. It was all too much. It was too big. What was I thinking? Fortunately, despite the second-guessing, the value I place on commitment is so high that I honored my plans and traveled to San Francisco.
On the morning of the presentation, as women starting arriving at Debbie’s, with just minutes to go before my presentation was to begin, I retreated to a guest room and became what can only be described as paralyzed in fear. I was hunched in a chair trying to get myself together, to get “in state.” But instead I was freaking out, nervous and sweating. The fraud police were relentless. What if these women don’t find what I have to say compelling? What if they’ve heard it before? What if nobody but me cares about what I am here to say? What if they gave up their Saturday morning to hear something that’s a waste of their time?
Finally, it was time to present, and so I left my hiding place and entered the living room to give my presentation. Thank God the presentation went well, and my feeling like a fraud, at least on that day, was short-lived, and I wasn’t arrested.
But this is an ongoing struggle. The fraud police visit me often, and I’m guessing they also visit you once in a while?
All of the leaders I’ve worked with and coached, and – for that matter – all of the people I know well, have themselves, at times, struggled with the Impostor Syndrome.
Thankfully, we have people like Amy Cuddy to help us. Cuddy is a social psychologist, a professor of the Harvard Business School, and author of Presence, a book I highly recommend.
Cuddy explains, “Impostorism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgments might poison our interactions. We’re scattered—worrying that we underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.
“The general feeling that we don’t belong—that we’ve fooled people into thinking we’re more competent and talented than we actually are—is not so unusual. Most of us have experienced it, at least to some degree. It’s not simple stage fright or performance anxiety; rather, it’s the deep and sometimes paralyzing belief that we have been given something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve and that at some point we’ll be exposed.”
Cuddy says we’ll likely never completely shed our fears of being fraudulent. “New situations may stoke old fears; future sensations of inadequacy might reawaken long-forgotten insecurities. But the more we are aware of our anxieties, the more we communicate about them, and the smarter we are about how they operate, the easier they’ll be to shrug off the next time they pop up. It’s a game of whack-a-mole we can win.” (By the way, after reading this post, be sure to check out Cuddy’s Ted Talk. There’s a reason it’s been viewed 47 million times.)
I’m including some statements below from a wide range of people who are far more accomplished and famous than I am – people most of us think of as incredibly talented and maybe even as fearless.
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ . . . just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” –Tina Fey, actress, comedian, writer, and producer.
“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”—the late John Steinbeck, an American author who won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature.
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’” – Meryl Streep (recipient of 21 Oscar nominations)
“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up … This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name — the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.”—Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and author of Lean In, and founder of LeanIn.Org.
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there… I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’ And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’ And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.” —Neil Gaiman, author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, and films.
Well, okay, then, people who live in Wyoming, and also famous people occasionally experience, and must contend with the Impostor Syndrome, and feeling like a fraud.
Yay for none of us being alone in our struggles with self doubt.
But what can we do about it? How can we better manage it so we don’t feel paralyzed and rattled, right before we step up to the plate?
One thing I like to do, and promote, is to view the arrival of the fraud police, the experience of Impostor Syndrome as something positive. I know, this is easier to preach than to practice, but when the fraud police show up, their very presence is an indicator that we’re pushing our limits, and daring to level up. For people like me, someone who wants to always be self actualizing and learning, it is good news, then, when the fraud police stop by.
By the way, in my humble opinion, no one is fearless. I always cringe a little when I see advertisements or articles encouraging us to be “fearless.” I think if we’re going to push our limits and dare to fail, it’s impossible to be without at least some fear. However, I do know that we can get better trained, and more experienced, at being with fear. We can almost always be more daring and courageous.
So, the strategy I’ve come up with to help me when I’m experiencing the Imposter Syndrome is this: I try first to notice the sensation – the feeling –of the Impostor Syndrome. For me, if I’m attuned, I feel a rush of heat and a shortness of breath, along with thoughts of panic and paranoia. I hear the voice of my inner critic telling me I’m in over my head, that I don’t know what I’m doing etc. I notice and feel all of this, and then, I acknowledge the IP, respectfully even, and I say to it, “Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your concern. You’re right, the stakes are high. I better focus and pay close attention.” You could say that I put them “in the backseat.” The fraud police are still trying to tell me how to drive, but I’ve put them in their right place. I’ve taken them out of the driver’s seat, and quieted their voices some. Then, I hopefully will dare to proceed to the best of my abilities.
Drawing on the work of psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, and Suzanne Imes, PhD, Young uncovered several “competence types” that people who struggle with the IP generally follow.
The competence types are, The Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, and the Expert. To learn more about how to identify the various types of Impostor Syndrome, see this Fast Company article by Melody Wilding.
In closing, I almost didn’t hit Publish on this blog post because my inner critic is telling me nobody will read it, and that what I have to say is not valuable, “and besides, you’re an impostor.”
But then I remember that I want to be someone who is brave, and in order to be brave, I must be willing to do things that make me uncomfortable. I must be vulnerable.
This makes me think of a favorite line from slam poet Andrea Gibson’s poem, Elbows: “Brave is a hand-me-down suit from Terrified As Hell.”
As you know, I hit Publish, even though I sorta felt “terrified as hell” and like throwing up as I did so.
Thank you for reading, and cheers to leveling up, to being with the experience of the Imposter Syndrome, and knowing you’re not alone.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” –Viktor Frankl
The date was July 6, 2014. We left Lander, WY, at 3:30am, under a dark sky full of stars, and hit the road that would lead us to the trailhead. We were amped up on caffeine, our anticipation for the adventure was palpable, and the truck’s stereo was turned way up. (For better or worse, I have a fantastic memory, and I can remember some of the songs that blared from the speakers on that drive in the wee hours of the morning, which included Red Solo Cup, Where is my Mind and Happy.)
I had hired my friend, Randy, to drive us. It would be a two-hour drive on gravel and dirt roads, and I didn’t want to burden myself with such a drive at the front end of what would be a challenging adventure that I was responsible for leading.
About a year earlier, Joel, a former colleague, client – and most importantly, a dear friend – asked if I’d be willing to organize and lead an epic backpacking program for he and his friend, Alan.
Over the years, Joel has done so much to help my businesses, and he was one of the first people to trust me to be his coach, making him special to me. So of course I said Yes.
We arrived to Big Sandy Opening Trailhead at 5:30am. I jumped out of the truck to start unloading our backpacks. I love to being on the trail before sunrise, so I can be out in the wilderness when the sun rises and shines its first light on the mountains. We were cutting it close, so I was hurrying and trying to get us out of the truck and onto the trail as quickly as possible.
But not so fast. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the truck, we were overwhelmed by mosquitoes. I do sometimes exaggerate, but this isn’t one of those times. We were under siege by millions of mosquitoes. They were all over us.
I know that July in Wyoming’s Wind River Range is often buggy. While I’ve had some of my best adventures in July, I knew there was a good chance that mosquitoes could be a part of our adventure.
As we all cursed the mosquitoes and tried to locate the mosquito head nets in our backpacks, I recalled a Skype call I had had with Joel and Alan six months earlier. During the call, we were trying to determine a date range that would work for all three of us. It would have to be July or September. I was sharing with Joel and Alan that in July, the weather would be great, but there would be a good chance of mosquitoes. I remember emphasizing, “The mosquitoes could be really, really bad,” to which Alan responded, with a chuckle, that he was from New Jersey where there are huge mosquitoes, adding,“I’m not afraid.” And so we decided on July.
As we swatted and cursed the mosquitoes, I wondered if Alan still felt that way. Thankfully we quickly located, and put on, our bug head nets. (This $5 item would prove to be the most valuable piece of gear for the adventure.)
As Randy drove off, I almost cried watching him leave us behind. The mosquitoes were so bad. I had never seen so many of them at once, and I thought, if this were Jerry and the boys and I, it would be a No Go. But this was a Go, regardless of the mosquitoes. Joel had come from Atlanta, and Alan from Malibu. Both are extremely busy leaders, and free time for them is rare. We had been planning this adventure for six months. There was no turning back.
Joel, me and Alan, in our epic head nets.
As we entered the forest, and started down the trail, I could hear Joel and Alan cursing the mosquitoes and slapping their various body parts in an attempt to kill, or swat the pesky insects away.
I was doing the same thing, although I kept my cursing to myself. I thought to myself, in anger: Are you kidding me? These mosquitoes are going to ruin this trip before it even starts. I had already been feeling a little nervous, what with wanting to make sure to provide an unforgettable, possibly even transformational, experience for these guys. The swarms of mosquitoes compounded my nervousness.
After a few minutes of walking, and hearing the guys’ cursing and swatting, I remembered, with great relief, the amount of whiskey they had packed. Thank God for the whiskey! I thought to myself. Back at the hotel, I had noticed the abundance of whiskey they were trying to fit into their backpacks, and wondered if it was excessive, and may have even questioned the wisdom of their bringing so much liquor along on what would be physically demanding adventure, not to mention one that would be at altitude. Now I didn’t have any doubt, and I was thankful for their wisdom.
More seriously, though, I realized that how I responded to these mosquitoes would likely influence how Joel and Alan would respond to the mosquitoes. I watched and listened as the swarms hovered in front of my face and all around me. Mosquitoes literally filled the air. (Their buzzing was so loud and constant that I could still hear them a week after our trip!). But then I noticed that the mosquitoes were not getting in. Our head nets were keeping them out. In addition to the head nets, we each wore pants, and long-sleeve shirts, and had sprayed some Off on ourselves before starting. I took stock of all this, and once again, confirmed that the mosquitoes were not getting into the head net, and they were not biting. We were protected.
It was then that I also remembered the words of the late Viktor Frankl. (What would I do without all of the books I’ve read, and the wisdom they have imparted on me?)
Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychologist, and a Nazi concentration camp survivor. He survived three years in camps. Every day in the camps, people all around Frankl died, yet he lived. After his experience, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which is one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. I’ve read the book three times, and will likely read it several more times.
While starting up the trail, with my cursing and mosquito-swatting friends close behind, I thought of some of Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I recalled how Frankl was able to choose his existence, and how that made all the difference for him, despite his terrible, life-threatening circumstances.
I decided right then, just minutes into our backpacking adventure, and under siege by mosquitoes, to choose my mindset. Specifically, I decided, “I will not let these mosquitoes hijack this adventure.”
Right there and then, everything would change for the better. And doing that – changing my mindset – made all the difference.
The mosquitoes, though in great number and incredibly annoying, did not hijack our adventure. Despite the fact that almost all of our photos show us wearing our mosquito head nets, the mosquitoes seldom come up when we recall our experience in the wilderness that July. Despite the mosquitoes, ours was an unforgettable and inspiring adventure.
Yeehaw! Jumping on Jackass Pass, a rare moment that was breezy and therefore, at least for a moment, mosquito-free.
I share this story to illustrate that we all have the power to change our mindset. And yet, to tell the story honestly, it’s important to also share that I didn’t make that decision to change my mindset only that one time, at the start of our adventure. Rather, I made that decision, and chose that mindset, probably hundreds of times over the course of the five days.
And doing so made all the difference.
As I recall this story, I must share another realization. If the adventure were a few years earlier, I seriously doubt I would have had the maturity or the ability to have noticed my thoughts, and to have consciously decided to change my mindset. And I dread even thinking about how different the experience might have been as a result.
Let me explain. I promise there’s a nugget. 🙂
I have meditated off and on for almost 30 years. Add to that, I hike about 500 miles, alone, each year. In other words, I experience a great deal of “mindfulness.”
By the time I was leading Joel and Alan on our Epic adventure, I had spent 10-20 minutes every single weekday morning for 18 months in my simple mindfulness practice.
Sitting alone with nothing but my thoughts on a regular basis has changed my life in a subtle but important way. For the record, and this will not be a surprise to people who know me well, I have an overactive mind. When I sit in mindfulness, my mind and thoughts wander away from me over and over again. So, in my mindfulness practice, I am constantly working to “fetch” and bring back my wandering attention, to return it to my breath. Let’s just say, I get a lot of practice at redirecting my attention. (I used to think this meant I was “bad” at mindfulness or meditation, when in fact, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that it just means I get a lot of practice at redirecting and focusing my attention.) In the process of all this mindfulness practice, I have learned how to be an “observer” of my thoughts.
Consider the quote I included at the very top of this story: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Before I invested time in a mindfulness practice, I didn’t have that space. But now that I’m an experienced observer of my thoughts, I have this space – this fleeting opportunity that’s mine if only I’ll take it – that is between what is happening right now and what will be my response to it, during which I get to decide how I will respond. (By the way, sometimes I still may freak out, but it will be a choice, rather than a reaction, and let me tell you, that’s a big difference.)
Having the brief “space” allows me to thoughtfully respond, rather than to mindlessly or emotionally react, and it has made a positive difference in all areas of my life.
This is all to say that my mindfulness practice deserves much of the credit for my having the ability and mental wherewithal to notice my thoughts, and to change my mindset at the start of my adventure with Joel and Alan. It was the difference between allowing the mosquitoes to hijack our adventure or not.
I know that dealing with a bunch of mosquitoes on a wilderness trip is nothing compared to more serious circumstances, such receiving a cancer diagnosis, or getting fired or laid off from your job, or having your house burn down, or suffering the loss of a loved one.
But remember, Frankl was able to survive three years of suffering, and survived when so many others around him died, and/or surrendered to their circumstances. For Frankl, his ability to choose his mindset (what he called “the last of the human freedoms”), was the single thing that couldn’t be taken from him, and over which he had control.
In fact, our mindset is one thing over which we have control.
Frankl’s example is a tremendous inspiration for me, and has been for almost 30 years. When I was just 20 years old,I lost my Division I basketball scholarship, and one of the first blessings that resulted from that “failure” was discovering, and reading about Frankl’s story. I remember thinking, if Frankl could choose his existence while trying to survive a Nazi concentration camp, then surely a girl from Wyoming who lost her basketball scholarship could choose hers, too. Frankl’s story had a profound impact on me, and it changed the course of my life for the better.
Reading Man’s Search for Meaning, and remembering how Frankl was able to choose his existence by choosing how to respond to his circumstances continues to inform my life, particularly when I find myself in difficult circumstances.
Chances are, we all have at least some challenging circumstances in our lives right now. It’s hard to be positive and feel optimistic when our circumstances aren’t more favorable. Yet the mindset we have in those circumstances has a lot of influence over how we’ll live through those circumstances. Will we surrender to the circumstances or will we try to improve our situation?
I coach people from throughout the country, from all walks of life. Often, we work on mindset, and reframing and changing the way we view things. I work with leaders on being more responsive and less reactive.
Even the most positive among us struggle with negativity. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist, brain imaging expert and author, says we have 60,000 thoughts a day. Can you imagine? That’s one thought per second. And, did you know that 45,000 of these daily thoughts we each have are negative? Amen calls these Automatic Negative Thoughts, or “ANTS.” So 75% of our thoughts are negative. Not to be negative, but this fact is a real downer!
We all have negative stories that appear, especially when we’re experiencing self doubt, or struggling through difficult circumstances.
Are you old enough to remember cassette tapes? Remember how, as long as the plastic tabs weren’t manually removed, you could record new music over the old? I try to notice the negative story when it appears, and I then I work to “record a new track” over that old, negative one. Our negative stories are limiting. They hold us back, and cause us grief. We must replace them with new stories that are more constructive. All of this takes practice, and it can be extremely difficult work.
I am thinking now of a time during myGannett Peak expedition last July when I was in a tent above tree line, surrounded by lakes and tall granite peaks. There was an epic storm going on that included lightning that lit up my tent in between raucous thunder that echoed off the nearby granite. For a few hours, I lay there, alone in my tent, at 10,500’ elevation and 15 miles from the nearest trailhead, terrified. Each time my tent was lit up by the lightning, and each time I heard the cracking and echoing thunder, I thought to myself, I’m going to be struck by lightning! and I’m going to die! And each time, trying to practice what I preach, I worked hard to replace these negative thoughts/stories with, What a spectacular storm! And, Our guides spend nights like this all the time and they are alive. I tried all night to change my mindset, and was not successful. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort!
Thankfully I survived, and among other things, I get to continue my efforts to change my mindset, and to hopefully inspire others to change theirs when it would serve them to do so. It’s important work that can change our lives. I shared only a couple of examples of how changing my mindset changed my experience. There are many more I could share, but you have your own, and I encourage you to reflect on some of them.
Think of a time you changed your mindset, and in doing so, it changed your reality.
A favorite quote of mine, by Anaïs Nin, is “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” When we change our mindset, we see things as we choose to see them.
Think of a negative situation you’re in, or a negative thought that is a part of your inner dialogue these days. What is a new, more positive thought you can replace it with? Start practicing replacing the negative thought with a positive one.
I love metaphors. So to wrap this up, I’ll return to where we started – mosquitoes and head nets.
What are the mosquitoes that are trying to interfere with you in your work, your life or a relationship? What is an action you can take – a “head net” you can wear – to keep their negativity from getting in, while also helping you shift your mind and attention to something more positive?
Thanks for stopping by, and for reading my writing. I thank you with all of my heart!
(I hope you’ll check back. Watch for upcoming posts related to mindset, including growth vs. fixed, the science of gratitude, work/job recrafting, and more.)
Yeehaw! For a minute there, I forgot I was/am 49. I could have sworn I was 10 years old again. (I highly recommend this for all grownups)
“We are breathless, but we love the days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other.”–Nina Riggs, The Bright Hour
(NOTE: Before I start writing this post, I want to offer my thoughts and love to any of you who have cancer, and/or an other life-threatening disease. For those of you who have beat cancer, I have great respect and admiration for you. While I have been, and am close to, people who have cancer, who struggle or suffer from various diseases, who are elderly, and/or who might otherwise be confronting their mortality, I don’t pretend to know what that’s like. I can only imagine. Please know I want to be sensitive and sensible here, and I hope I don’t say anything here that offends you. If I do, I am so sorry. And while I’m at it, I’m sorry for all of you who have lost loved ones. I do know something about that, and I am sorry for your loss.)
I don’t want to die. I love my family and friends and my life so much that if I live to be 95 it won’t be long enough. Still, I think about death, and my mortality, a lot – and on purpose.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Several things have caused me to keep the prospects of death nearby.
Lori was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend to many. She was my friend.
Sometime around the second week of October, in 2011, Lori stopped by my house unexpectedly. I was struggling over things related to someone’s death, and she knew this, and she cared so much she wanted to stop by. We had a great conversation, which included her sharing about an epic biking adventure she had recently embarked upon in California.
After a time, she got up to leave, and I walked her out, and we stood for a moment next to her car in my driveway. Lori squared herself in front of me, held each of my shoulders in her hands, and looked at me in the eyes with her sparkly eyes, and said, “For whatever reason, that day was the day that man was to die. I believe we each have a time that we’re meant to die.”
Just days later, on Oct. 19, Lori died suddenly, from an aneurysm. She was only 52. Lori’s passing struck me hard not only because she was a family friend, and we loved and adored her, but also because of those impassioned words she shared with me just days earlier in my driveway. Her belief that we all have our time to die more or less “assigned,” even if we don’t know it, took on a new meaning.
When I went to Lori’s funeral, and as I reflected on her life, I wondered if Lori somehow knew her life would be short. Of course I’m not suggesting that she really did know, but I wonder about it because she lived every day so fully, as if she knew her days were numbered. She was exceptional that way. Other friends or acquaintances have died too early in recent years, and their lives were lived similarly. As I left each of their funerals, I was sad about their passing, but I was also inspired by their examples, and I resolved to live more purposefully, and with a new sense of urgency for my life.
I wrote recently in TheMagic Ingredients blog post that I owe much of my current great life to a “Manifesto” I created for myself some years ago. I promised I’d share about it. This post is my effort to do that. Thank you for returning.
I may not wake up tomorrow. These are the words I’ve been reading to myself every single morning since sometime in late 2009.
I’ve shared with a handful of people who are close to me that I have felt as if my life will be short. I really believe this, even though, as far as I know, I have no terminal cancer diagnosis or serious diseases. I’m 49 years old, and by all indications, I’m quite healthy.
So why do I believe my life will be short? Could it be because I’ve practiced believing it, every day, for almost 9 years?
I know, Life is Short and Live Each Day As If It Will Be Your Last are not my ideas, and we’ve heard them over and over and over again by the late Steve Jobs, and other famous people who have made public cases for what I’m trying to do here in my little humble blog. But, at least in my experience, it’s one thing to endorse and buy into a slogan, and another to work to actually believe and embody it. Which is what I have been doing for the last 3,000 days. And while I hope, every day, that it won’t be my last, I decided in late 2009 that I wasn’t going to take any chances. And it has made all the difference.
The statement, “I may not wake up tomorrow,” is the last statement, of several, listed in a “Manifesto” I wrote originally in 2009. At the time, I had made it to the other side of a challenging reinvention of my physical and mental health, and was in the midst of my professional reinvention. I wanted to create a sort of “philosophy of life” document to guide me. I wanted to stay true to my wishes for how I wanted to be in the world, and the life I wanted to live, and to keep the momentum I had created going.
I purposefully took considerable time and reflection to create my Manifesto. After all, it would be a declaration and a “call to action” for me. I wanted to get it right.
Writing, and living my Manifesto has been one of the most constructive and empowering things I’ve ever done. Every day as I read it, the Manifesto “primes” me to live the day fully. When I do the math, it turns out I’ve read my Manifesto about 3,000 times. That’s a lot of affirming.
During the last year, I have worked to be more daring and vulnerable in my writing and in my sharing. Sharing my Manifesto here is part of that. You see, my Manifesto will tell you a lot about me. It’s so personal that I have shared this with only my husband, Jerry, and a handful of people.
Please know that I am not sharing it to show off what is my Manifesto, but rather in hopes that it might inspire you to write your own. (By the way, my mission isn’t to try to inspire people to be like me or to have a life like mine. Rather, my mission is to inspire people about their own lives. Everyone’s Manifesto will look and feel differently, and only you know how you want to live, and what you will need to write.)
Following is my Manifesto. This is my current version of it. It still includes most of the original statements from late 2009, plus numerous additions I’ve made in recent years.
SHELLI’S MANIFESTO (2018)
In everything I do, I think first of my family.
Every day I have meaningful connections with each of my sons. I make efforts to have rich relationships with them, and they know, and can feel, my love.
Every day we’ll connect in meaningful ways as a family.
I will be the best Mom I can be. I will work to grasp less.
I show Jerry my love, and our boys see our love for one another.
And don’t forget our Buddy.
I make time to spend with my parents.
I keep in touch with my sisters and brother.
I value my friends and friendships.
I am a great listener.
I know myself, but I’m always changing. I promise to keep learning about myself.
I pray – and am grateful – every day.
I am kind. To everyone.
I will be of service to others.
I love my whole life – the wondrous and ordinary parts AND the challenging and sad parts.
Obstacles teach me.
I create fun. I turn drudgery into adventure.
Every day I play at least a little, and I yell “Yeehaw!” often.
I am at choice. I’m not a victim. I get to choose at any moment what my existence will be. (Viktor Frankl did!)
I will respond, not react.
I am curious. I’ll always ask questions.
I will work to be more patient.
I love Solitude.
I want to be someone who dares to fail. I will be afraid of failing, but I will still dare to fail.
Sometimes I will fail.
I am humble.
Frequently, I will go without, and even fast. I will also enjoy a lot of bacon, ice cream, cake, donuts, coffee and wine.
Read. Every day.
I will wake early, often, and see the sun rise. I will also see some sunsets.
I want to be the person who gets up off the couch to see a rainbow, or who sets her alarm to see a meteor show.
Once in a while, I’ll sleep in.
Write. I am a writer. Act like one.
I want to be the person who takes a plunge in a frigid mountain lake in the wilderness, not the person watching from the shore, being so reasonable.
I practice. Everything.
I don’t want to be so hard on myself. I promise to be more compassionate toward myself.
Most often, good enough is good enough. Seriously!
I will do what’s right.
I inspire others to climb mountains they’re not certain they can climb (real mountains and the mountains in their life.)
Talk less, but say more.
I am as healthy and as fit as I can be so that I can entertain any adventures that come my way.
I am serious, and I’m a goofball. I take life very seriously, and I also don’t take life very seriously.
I am generous.
I champion others.
I am on time – or early.
Every moment counts. (Remember Seneca’s words, “Life is long enough if you know how to use it.”)
Don’t view anything as a waste of time, and it won’t be.
I may not wake up tomorrow.
That is it. My Manifesto may be a little more specific than necessary. For example, I wanted to name items like sunrises and books and drudgery. In doing so, my Manifesto reminds me of the kind of essence I want to embody. But, also, by being specific, the Manifesto can serve as a sort of “To Do” list, instructing me with specific things I can do to help me be who and how I want to be.
I have definitely seen more sunrises, and sunsets as a result of this Manifesto. I’ve seen more rainbows and constellation events. I’ve slept in more! I’ve played hard and been more of a “participant” in my family. I’ve viewed drudgery differently, and have worked to be more generous, something that unfortunately doesn’t come naturally for me. I’ve kept my fitness at a high level, and practiced everything more.
I am reading more books than ever before, and I have made strides in not being so self critical. I have been more loving with Jerry and the boys, and had more meaningful connections with them. I have tried to be a better friend. I’ve dared to fail often. I’ve failed, which means I’ve learned. I am writing more often, and this is a direct result of adding the writing statement to the Manifesto 12 months ago.
And, most importantly, I have done mostly a a good job of living each day as if it really could be my last.
One thing I ask myself often, and people I work with, is, Let’s say you have only one week left to live. Now look at your calendar. Would you change anything? (If Yes, make the changes.)
Some closing thoughts…
Those who know me or work with me know that I have a fascination with books and stories from people who are approaching the end of their life. I’m a voracious reader, and my favorite books are books written by the dying, or about the dying. As hard as I try to view each day as a gift and to live each as if it might be last, no one can do these things better than someone who is dying, and/or approaching the end of their life. I am deeply inspired by the wisdom and generosity offered by people who know they’re near the end of their life.
In addition, I’m a fan of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. For about six years, I’ve read many books about Stoicism, and by Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others. I’ve followed with great enthusiasm all that Tim Ferriss has shared about Stoicism. I will write more in another blog post about Stoicism, and I hope you’ll return to read it. For now, I bring up Stoicism for two reasons that are relevant to this blog post.
The first is the concept of negative visualization, which I’ve made a part of my life since first reading about it. I’m oversimplifying for purposes of not wanting to go on too long about this here, but negative visualization is essentially the practice/act of imagining you’ve lost someone you love, or your job, or your home – or better yet, all of it. It’s imagining that your worst fears come true. By imagining losing what we love and value, we’re likely to cherish more what we have, and work to not take these things for granted. A book that has been very influential for me is A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. The book has helped me to be an “observer” of my life, while reminding me to never take the people in my life – or my life, for that matter – for granted.
The second is the Stoics had a meditation practice at the end of their day. Many of us do this already. We lie in bed at night and sort of play back the movie in our mind that was the day. Most of us tend to judge the day. I prefer to use the word, evaluate. It feels more constructive, especially if you tend to be hard on yourself like I am. Every night I reflect on my day, often holding it up against the calls to action in my Manifesto, and I ask myself things like “Could I have handled that conversation with more patience?” “Darn. When Fin was asking me about Friday night, was I looking at my phone, or at him, when I was responding?” For me, this taking stock – this evaluating my day – helps to keep me honest while providing real clues as to how I can be my Best self. I share this, because this process is a natural next step after writing a Manifesto.
Thanks so much for reading. Please feel free to offer a comment below, or to share with me directly any thoughts you have, or questions I might be able to answer that may help or inspire you to create your own Manifesto – your own daily guide for living.
As a gift, I’m including a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, called The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, which is about cancer, mortality, the life lived, and the desire for more. I love it.
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac
By Mary Oliver
1. Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.
2. The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.
3. I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
4. Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
Blog Posts I’ve written that are related to many of the things included in my Manifesto:
I love poetry, and I often try to memorize poems that inspire me. Here’s an effort to recite one of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, on a recent hike in the “backyard.” Thankfully, my dog, Buddy, was there for support – and to steal the show. 🙂 Thanks for watching. (Full text of poem is included below.)
What is your favorite poem? I’ll be sharing more poetry here throughout this year, and I’d love to hear from you on your favorites.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Ever since the boys were small, often on Sunday mornings, I have been making them “Mommy’s Epic pancakes” for breakfast. What makes them Epic is what we have all come to call “The Magic Ingredients.” The Magic Ingredients are butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.
Sure, plain pancakes are delicious. But pancakes made with The Magic Ingredients are extraordinarily delicious.
For as long as I’ve been making Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, I’ve been requesting my husband, Jerry, to hide The Magic Ingredients. This is how it goes: Sunday morning comes, and about 50% of the time, depending on who is all home and what’s going on and if I’m feeling like a great Mom, I’ll offer to make Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, to which the boys respond enthusiastically.
The next thing that happens is I instruct Jerry, “Honey, I need The Magic Ingredients.” And Jerry goes somewhere in the house, to the hiding spot he selected for The Magic Ingredients after the last time I made Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, he brings them to me, and I proceed to make the pancakes. When I’ve used the last of the pancake batter, I instruct Jerry to “Please hide The Magic Ingredients again.” I’m always sure to add, “Please hide them so well that I can’t possibly find them.” And off he goes.
Well, I often have a hankering for some butterscotch or chocolate or peanut butter, and when I’m not very disciplined, I will go looking for The Magic Ingredients. Either I’m a good hunter or Jerry’s just not a very good hider, because when I go looking, about 50% of the time, I find the goods.
As the first sentence of this post indicated, I found The Magic Ingredients just this morning. The butterscotch chips are my favorite. I actually really believe that I have some sort of addiction to butterscotch. I have no turn off switch, and the flavor of butterscotch just kills me I love it so much. When I was pregnant with our son, Hayden, and had a hankering for butterscotch, I put son Wolf in his carseat, and drove out during a hailstorm to a place called Dairyland, so I could get a butterscotch malt with extra butterscotch chips. Well, that little hankering cost us significantly in hail damage to our car. Oops. Like I said, I love butterscotch, and I may have a problem. But I digress… Sorry about that. 🙂
Thinking about all of this has inspired me to think about what are The Real Magic Ingredients.
I’m talking about The Magic Ingredients when it comes to my life. When I go to bed at night and rest my head on the pillow, I usually feel one of two ways: 1- Anxious because I didn’t do my best in one or more areas that are important to me. I feel regretful; or 2-Happy and satisfied about how the day went. My cup feels full.
The first will cause me to have a mediocre night of sleep, complete with at least one major bout of insomnia. On these nights, I often am awakened at 2am by my uninvited inner critic, who feels the need to provoke a struggle within me. You know the feeling, when your head is about to explode with thoughts of how you should have done this or should have done that, and all of the ways you could have done better.
I love the way writer Elizabeth Gilbert describes our mind when we are visited by our inner critic: “My head, like most of our heads, is a neighborhood you don’t want to walk alone in at night.”
On the other hand, when I rest my head on my pillow at night and I feel great about how the day went, I experience a wonderful night’s sleep. If I do wake up during the night, my mind is likely reflecting on something great that happened, or anticipating something I’m looking forward to. It’s not the hostile environment that comes with the inner critic.
This is all to say that finally, at my age of 49, I have realized that the way to feel great about myself and my day is to make sure to have The Magic Ingredients in my life.
And I’m not talking about the butterscotch, chocolate and peanut butter chips for the pancakes.
I’m talking about these Magic Ingredients:
1. I’ve had a meaningful connection with each of my sons. I’ve connected with each of them in a meaningful conversation and exchange, and had time with all of them, and there have been some hugs. I’ve made them a meal, and/or offered to help each of them in some way.
2. I’ve had a meaningful connection with Jerry. We’ve looked into each other’s eyes some, had some quality conversations, and also connected on things that are practical and necessary. There have been some hugs and affection. (A friend of mine who recently went with her husband to a couples workshop told me about “launching and landing” — the idea that couples should make sure to connect at the start and end of their days. I like that, and it’s similar to what I’m talking about when I say meaningful connection. There’s meaning and intention in your connection with someone; you’re not just acting like roommates passing each other or bumping into each other in the house while getting things done.)
3. I’ve called and touched base with my Mom and Dad.
4. There’s been a group text that provided connection for my two sisters, my brother, and I.
5. I’ve cuddled with and had some time with our dog, Buddy.
6. I’ve had some contact with a close friend or two or three, whether it was a text exchange, or email to arrange a coffee date, or a quick call.
7. I enjoyed some time outside, regardless of the weather, and walked some.
8. I’ve done some real work for Epic Life, whether it was coaching calls, or Epic Adventure planning, selling/marketing, or working on a keynote presentation.
9. I was kind to everyone I came in contact with.
10. I helped someone.
11. I was grateful. I prayed and was thankful.
12. I did something to improve my health and take care of myself.
13. I ate healthy foods. Depending on the day, I may have even fasted.
14. I’ve read something, or many things. Articles, pages from a book, and as a result, I was inspired.
15. I wrote an article, or worked on a future blog post.
When all of the above are in place, they feel like The Magic Ingredients for my life. They are the things that make my life extraordinary.
I know – the list is long. There are 15 Magic Ingredients. But none of them is that difficult to do, and they are all things that I value.
Most importantly, they are all things I can control. In other words, I have a choice about how I will feel by the end of the day. That’s powerful, and good to know. If I’ve made sure to add The Magic Ingredients to my life, then I will have been my best and done my best. I will go to bed feeling good, and without regrets.
What are your Magic Ingredients? I challenge you to come up with your own list. It’s valuable work to do.
By the way, I wrote a “Manifesto” for me and my life in 2011 that I still adhere to. I read it every single morning. Writing my Manifesto 6 years ago, and reading it daily has helped provide clarity for me about who and what are most important to me. It is only as a result of that work, that I know what my Magic Ingredients are, and can work to intentionally insert them into my day.
Please check back soon. I’m writing a blog post about my Manifesto, and will share it soon. You might want to write your own for 2018. 🙂
I met Jerry in Omaha on Aug. 9, 1990, at a rehearsal for a wedding in Omaha. It was the wedding of Jody and Kathy, two people who are dear to us, and Jerry was a groomsman and I was a bridesmaid. Jerry was talking loudly to the other groomsmen, almost as if he wanted to get my attention. Which he did. I noticed him as I was talking with the other bridesmaids.
Well, at weddings, love is in the air. And Jody and Kathy’s wedding was no exception. Love was in the air, and it was a fantastic celebration with many family and friends of Jody and Kathy in attendance. After the wedding, there was a reception and there was dancing. Jerry and I flirted with each other and danced all night.
The next day, I flew back to Missoula, Montana, where I was finishing up my journalism degree, and Jerry returned to Dayton, OH, where he was a physical therapy tech in the Air Force.
1990 was before cell phones and email. So we wrote letters to each other, and Jerry flew out to Missoula a few months later to celebrate Thanksgiving with me. We cooked a turkey – the first time for each of us – and we had a great holiday.
We continued writing letters to each other on an almost-daily basis. We have a trunk of our love letters from that long-distance early courtship. (They are among my most cherished possessions.) Our long-distance phone calls became more frequent, and our trips to see each over long weekends became more frequent, even if we couldn’t at the time afford them.
In the process of all of this, we fell in love.
We invested a lot of energy, letter writing and phone calls to discovering more about each other. It wasn’t too long and we found ourselves talking about the future as if it was something we would some day share. We shared with each other about our goals, our fears and our values.
One night, in November of 1991, we were on our weekly phone call – Jerry in Ohio and me in Montana –and Jerry told me, something to this effect: I know we’re going to be together some day. And I know you’re probably getting asked by all of your friends, “Are you and Jerry going to get married?” Or “When are you and Jerry going to get married?” And I just want you to know that while I hope we will get married someday, I’m not going to be proposing this Christmas.”
I wasn’t disappointed, because I knew our love was real, and that the proposal would likely come at some point. It wasn’t like I was “waiting” to get married. I was starting my career in a place I loved, and our relationship felt strong and wonderful.
That said, I appreciated the conversation, and that Jerry gave me this “heads up.” Still, it felt a little awkward, so I quickly responded with, “That’s no problem at all, honey. In fact, what I really need – if you’re interested – are some new cross trainers. (I was playing a lot of racquetball at that time, and I did in fact need a new pair of shoes, what called at the time “cross trainers.” For those of you reading this who are too young to know what cross trainers are, they are a type of sports shoe suitable for a range of sporting or exercise activities.)
“Ideally, they’d be Reebok,” I added.
For some reason, that Christmas, I didn’t come home to Wyoming. I think it was because I was working my first career job as an advertising sales consultant at The Missoulian newspaper and was working through the holiday, not to mention I had no vacation time left due to the various Fridays I had taken off to visit Jerry in Dayton, Ohio. And, it should be mentioned I really needed to earn income, given the phone bills and plane ticket bills that were stacking up on the personal credit card.
Jerry and I, when it all started… (We were “kids!” I was 23 and Jerry was 27)
Jerry was going to be flying into Missoula to spend the Christmas holiday with me, and he was due to arrive in the evening of Dec. 20.
Dec. 20, 1991, was a Friday, which meant I did as I usually did and went to Happy Hour at a favorite bar with some Missoulian coworkers. This particular bar had the best long island iced teas, and was famous for its “nachos bar.” We had a great time and I was excited and blabbing on and on to my coworkers about Jerry’s pending arrival and our upcoming time together. I indulged in only one beverage since I had to drive about 7 miles to the airport to meet and pick up Jerry.
I stopped at home first, where I had a message on my answering machine (do you remember what those were?!). It was a message from Jerry calling from his layover in the Denver airport, saying his flight would be delayed by an hour but that he couldn’t wait to see me. So I putzed around, trying to pass the time, feeling excited as I anticipated Jerry’s arrival.
Impatient, I headed to the airport early. In 1991, Missoula was about 35% smaller in population than it is now. The airport was quaint and not very big. I was one of the only ones at the airport and I was early, so I wandered around looking at the various house plants, and looking outside one of the windows every now and then.
At the time, my mode of transportation was a gray, Ford Taurus. And it burned oil. Or maybe it leaked oil. I have a great memory, but for some reason I can’t remember which problem the Taurus had. I just remember I was seemingly always adding oil to it “just to make sure” it had oil.
As I wandered around the airport, with nothing to do and time on my hands, it occurred to me to go add a quart of oil to the car while I had the time – and to ensure we’d make it back to my apartment with no vehicle problems. We didn’t want to squander any of our precious time on the side of the road with car problems fresh after being reunited. 🙂
As I was outside pouring oil into my car, I noticed a bearded man with a huge video camera over his shoulder. (People who are my age or older will remember that back in the early 1990s, a high quality video camera was big enough to hold a gigantic VHS tape, and then some, and it was so big that one had to “rest” it on your shoulder to bear its heavy weight and to keep it steady.) This man with the camera on his right shoulder seemed at first to be lurking a bit. It was as if he was trying to see my face as he walked by. I thought he was going to ask if I had car problems and if I needed help, but he just said “Hello,” and continued into the airport.
After I added the oil to the car, I did the same.
There was Christmas music playing throughout the airport and slowly, more people started arriving. Jerry’s flight, which had a brief stop to make in Bozeman, was due to arrive shortly. So I just waited and fidgeted. I was so excited to see Jerry! We were in love, and, well, the saying, distance makes the heart grow fonder, is absolutely true.
Those of us waiting for passengers that were on the flight, started to line up by the doors that would be the ones they would all came through after landing and disembarking the plane. I was first in line. Of course.
I waited in anticipation for those doors to open. And then they did. Passengers started coming through. There were many passengers. More than 100. The first few stopped as they approached me, and asked me, “Are you Shelli?” And I said, surprised and confused, “Yes.” At first, I thought the worst – that they were going to tell me Jerry didn’t get on the flight and that they were asked to pass a message along to me. I didn’t know why else they would ask me if I was Shelli.
But the crowd continued and each of them stopped when they got to me, and each stuck a Christmas bow to my body or head or handed me a bow, or patted me on the shoulder, saying, “Merry Christmas” or “Congratulations.” I was confused, and I was blushing from all of the attention.
Covered in bows and growing impatient to see my boyfriend, I just figured Jerry, who is romantic, wanted me to feel special, and maybe he thought having so many people wish me a Merry Christmas would make for an unforgettable experience. Mission accomplished. Now, where’s Jerry?! I thought to myself.
And then, “Ho Ho Ho.”
One more time, I heard a deep-voiced, loud “Ho Ho Ho.”
I looked up and – finally – I see Jerry, only he’s Santa Claus. Dressed in a Santa hat and coat, he rushed toward me and we embraced. Jerry hugged me so tightly that I was lifted off the ground. After he set me back on the ground, he looked at me, and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas!”
And then, next thing I know, Jerry’s on his knee, holding my hands and asking me to “open the present” that is taped to his chest. I peel off the wrapping paper from the front of his Santa coat, and there are the words: “Shelli: Will You Marry Me?”
I melt. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was getting cross trainers.
Right after I said Yes.
I said, YES! Of course I’ll marry you! We had some brief happy tears, and a little more public display of affection, before we heard applause and whooping and hollering.
The passengers and flight attendants that Jerry had enlisted during the flight to help him with his proposal, as well as others who had gathered out of curiosity, congratulated us. And there was champagne! The flight attendants located a few bottles of champagne and poured several small servings to distribute to everyone. It was a fantastic celebration for us, and it was meaningful to share it with a bunch of wonderful strangers who had played a part in helping Jerry propose to me.
Oh, and this is all on video. Remember the bearded man with the huge video camera on his shoulder who seemed to be lurking? That was a guy also named Jerry, who Jerry had hired to capture the whole event. The moment is recorded! (Unfortunately it’s on VHS, but I’m getting it transferred to digital as I write this.)
Jerry and I celebrated 25 years of marriage this past August. We have three sons – Wolf, 17, Hayden, 15, and Fin, 10, who are our greatest blessings. This memory of when Jerry asked me to be his wife, and when I said Yes, is a significant one because, in fact, I would not have this great life, or our sons, if not for Jerry choosing me and asking me to marry him on this day 26 years ago.
I feel compelled to mention here that just because Jerry and I are still deeply in love and celebrated our 25th anniversary doesn’t mean our marriage hasn’t been at times challenging or that it’s all bliss all the time. That would be lying. We have done a lot of work, and growing, and overcoming of struggles, to get to where we’re at.
This year, to commemorate our 25th anniversary we embarked on a 25-mile day hike that included climbing a (previously) unnamed mountain that is dear to us. That 25-mile epic journey was similar to the 25-year epic journey that has been our marriage. It was 10.5 miles of hiking before we even got to the part where would start climbing our mountain. At times, the terrain was loose and felt uncertain. The adventure had many sections that were just sheer work. At a couple of points, clouds came in quickly and we grew concerned, causing us to check in with each other and make sure we were in agreement on continuing or playing it safe. At times we wondered if we were up to the task. We got tired often, demotivated at times, and every now and again, impatient with one another. There were times when I was strong and Jerry wasn’t, and the other way around. There was also a lot fun, great conversations, laughing, inspirations, amazing views, and an epic celebration, complete with champagne, on the mountain’s summit. Like I said, our 25-mile day hike and mountain climb was a perfect metaphor for our 25 years of marriage. It was the best kind of celebration. Hard-earned and fulfilling.
I’m so glad I didn’t get cross trainers. 🙂
People like Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg have referred to the choosing of a partner in life as being the most important decision one will make in his/her life. I couldn’t agree more.
A couple of my closest friends get a little irritated when I refer to Jerry as my best half. Not because they think he’s not amazing, but because they are my close friends and they don’t want me to sell myself short. That’s kind of them, and I love them dearly for it. But I’m sorry, friends. Jerry is my best half. Most, if not all of my successes in the last 25 years would not have been possible without the unconditional love and support that Jerry provides for me. I wouldn’t take the chances that I take with my business and work without his belief and love and support. It’s that simple. And we wouldn’t be living this epic life if Jerry weren’t such a fantastic “trooper” and so open to an adventurous life.
Thank you with all of my heart for reading this, and for walking with me down this memory’s lane.
I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and happy new year!
THEN. Jerry and I, 26 years ago. (This is our “engagement photo”.)
NOW. Jerry and I, with our three sons, during a spring break adventure last April.
In the last 6 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people. I’ve coached them, presented to them, helped them facilitate leadership development, or guided them on an Epic Adventure. I have learned so much, and have been so inspired by these wonderful human beings – and by all of the wonderful people I am blessed to have in my life. This short video is about the most important thing I’ve learned in this work I do. I hope you’ll watch it, and if you do, I thank you so much for your time.
If you, or someone you know, could use some loving support, encouragement and daring, I’d love a chance to be your/their champion. Email me and we can schedule a call to see if I might be what you’re looking for.
Thank you so much for stopping by. And speaking of thanks, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!
I hope you’ll read this blog post. The sharing I do in it took some daring. You’ll have to read past the next few paragraphs to see what I mean by that. (I still can’t believe I’ve written a blog post that includes head banging and Elvis!)
For a few years now, I’ve been selecting three words to guide me during each new year. These are words I think a lot about, and carefully select because I mean for them to act as reminders for me to be certain ways during the year.
The three words idea is not my idea. My friend, Chris Brogan gets the credit. Every year I would read about his three words, and I was inspired, so I started doing it for myself a few years ago.
I chose ONE because I want to get better at single-tasking. I have a very active mind, and it’s difficult for me to focus on one thing at a time. I know how important deep focus is for doing meaningful work. The year’s not over, but I must report that out of all three of my words, there is one that I’m not doing so well at. Can you guess which one?
I chose PRACTICE because I believe that to get good at anything, or to create a new habit or to learn a new skill, practice is required. And I like rituals. I was already good at practicing when I chose this word, but I chose it because there are more things I want to practice. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m doing pretty well with Practice.
The last word, HELL YEAH, is – I know – two words, but hey, these are my words and my rules. I chose Hell Yeah because for some years now, I’ve been wanting to be more impulsive, spontaneous, daring, and fun. To be sure, I have a lot of fun in my life. I play at least as hard as I work, which is pretty hard. But I’m a planner, and so much of my fun is planned. I chose “Hell Yeah” as one of my words and intentions for this year because I wanted to “let loose” more. I wanted to find myself saying “Hell Yeah” when I would normally go into my head and overthink it before holding back and saying No, or Hell No. I want to have more Hell Yeah in me and my life.
I’m excited to report that I’ve said Hell Yeah a lot. And the result is I’ve had some exhilarating experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. And while Hell Yeah has been a conscious effort mostly this year, my desire to let loose was inspired earlier.
In 2013, I read, and have since been influenced by a 2009 article, written by Derek Sivers, called No “Yes.” Either “HELL YEAH!” or “No.” I have become great at saying No, and better at not saying Yes. I like that Hell Yeah means a Yes better be something to be emphatic about.
I also was inspired to have more Hell Yeah in my life when I led my first Epic Women Wind River expedition in August of 2013. After we climbed a tall mountain on Day 2, the Epic Women, who had traveled from Rhode Island, Chicago, California, Alaska, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Laramie, WY, for the adventure, took a plunge in the ice-cold alpine lake near our camp. I watched in awe, and thought the ladies were crazy. Then the ladies turned the tables and “coached” me into taking the plunge. It was freezing – and exhilarating.
After that icy plunge, I determined that I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and be reasonable during such occasions. I decided then that I wanted to be a person who lives more, and who “goes for it” more often. I think it was in those moments after I had dared to take the icy plunge that the initial “I-want-to-say-hell-yeah-more-often” seed was planted. But it took time to grow, and to sprout.
In 2015, I slid down a waterfall with my three sons that I hadn’t slid down since I was 18 years old, some 30 years earlier. As I did it, I screamed and was scared, but also excited, and for a moment felt like a teenager again.
In early 2016, we decided to take a 30-day Europe trip in the summer that we weren’t sure we could afford, but realizing it won’t be long before our boys are off to college, we said, Hell Yeah.
I have been playing some great basketball games with Jerry and the boys in the hotel pools when we travel – something I never used to do. I’ve been going on scarier rides and bigger rollercoasters at amusement parks. And the list goes on…
All of these Hell Yeah experiences make me feel young, and more alive. Who doesn’t want that? And I believe these experiences, because of their novelty, and because they make you feel so alive, help to create unforgettable – truly lasting – memories. In the end of our life, we won’t remember everything. It’s not possible. Having more unforgettable experiences has been part of my personal mission for years now, and saying Hell Yeah helps to keep me on mission.
It wasn’t until this year, though, that I really cranked it up. I hesitated on sharing this because I was concerned that people might judge me, possibly unfairly, but after careful consideration, and some feedback from people I trust, I have decided to share. After all, I didn’t break any laws, and I had the time of my life!
So here it goes…I went to a Rave. I should say we, and I should say two. Jerry, my husband of 25 years, is a real trooper, and I am lucky. He’s adventurous, and he’s game for just about anything I suggest.
Jerry and I have three sons: Wolf, a junior in high school, Hayden, a sophomore in high school, and Fin, a fifth grader. Last April, for our spring break, we took a road trip that included camping and exploring a bunch of state and national parks, sledding down giant sand dunes, exploring the hoodoos of Goblin Valley, and – and the end, a fancy hotel, fancy dinner, and tickets to a Utah Jazz basketball game.
About halfway through the trip, in Colorado Springs, we spent the day hiking 14 miles worth of trails in the Garden of the Gods. By evening, the boys were tired, and we were all sweaty and stinky and covered in dirt, so we got a hotel for the night. As we were taking turns getting cleaned up, the boys hinted they felt like they had earned some “Privs.” (Privs means privileges, which, for our boys, mean video games/”screen time.”) We had had a very active spring break so far, so theirs was not an unreasonable request. Plus, Jerry and I saw the opportunity: We could have a date! (Can I get a Hell Yeah?!)
For the last several months, I had been listening to a lot of Electronic Dance Music on Spotify, and Jerry liked it, too. (Polish Ambassador, The Chainsmokers, DJ Snake, David Guetta, etc.) Jerry and I love to dance, but other than the occasional wedding we attend, or a Lander Live event, we don’t get many chances to dance. So while Jerry was in the shower, I quickly Google-searched EDM in Colorado Springs. To my delight, there was a well-known DJ performing at a club called Rawkus, which was described as a “sizable, rollicking nightspot with a bar & neon lighting, plus a lineup of DJs & live music.”
When Jerry got out of the shower, I proposed my idea – that we go to Rawkus, an EDM club. After looking at me long enough to confirm I was serious, he said, “Sure. That sounds like fun.”
Jerry put on a polo shirt, and I put on my only shirt that wasn’t a t-shirt – a blouse – and I used my Uber app to request a ride. We told the boys we were going to an EDM club, and the older sons – the ones who know what EDM is – laughed, rolled their eyes, but then offered, “That’s cool.” We told them, “We may be out super late, dancing” – to which they responded, “Awesome. Take your time!”
The adventure started when the Uber driver showed up. A kind and outgoing “soccer mom” showed up in a maroon mini van. She quickly moved the two baby car seats – and no kidding a soccer ball, out of the back seat to make room for us. On her dashboard was a bobblehead Jesus, and there were wallet-sized photos of two young, adorable children, a girl and a boy, clipped to the visor above the front passenger seat.
“Where would you like to go?” she asked. “The Rawkus,” I said. She responded with, “Ohhh, Rawkus, huh? Feeling raucous tonight, are we?!” Jerry and I laughed, and together exclaimed, “Yes!” And I think – I’m pretty sure – she added, “Wow, Rawkus, I didn’t see that coming…” as she smiled at us in the center rear view mirror.
As our driver pulled out of our hotel parking lot, she asked us what kind of music we’d like to listen to. I could tell Jerry was impressed. I travel a fair amount, and have used Uber a lot, but this was Jerry’s first Uber experience, and he was surprised by the customer service. I whispered to him that the Uber drivers are rated by their passengers so drivers aim to provide a great experience. Her asking us for our musical preference was part of that.
We told her any kind of music would be just fine. “You pick,” I offered.
Our driver said, “I love Hip Hop, so if it’s okay, I’ll play some of that?”
“Sure” we said. Our boys listen to a fair amount of Hip Hop. We don’t dislike it.
Next thing we knew, a very explicit Hip Hop song came on. The title itself is explicit or I’d tell you what the song was. The music was so loud that we could feel the bass thumping underneath our seats and up against our backs and heads. I think the van’s windows were rattling. I was shouting as I tried talking to Jerry. We maneuvered through Friday night traffic as the Jesus on her dashboard bobbled, and Jerry and I looked at each other and grinned. By all indications, this was going to be a memorable date.
Our driver pulled up to the Rawkus building, and opened the van’s sliding door for us. With our ears ringing, we hopped out, and she yelled after to us, “Have fun – and dance like you don’t know anyone!” Excited, we yelled back, “Okay! Thanks!”
We found our way to the front entrance of Rawkus. The club wasn’t open yet, but the sign on the door indicated it would open in 15 minutes. So we started a line, and waited.
Soon, others started to show up. They didn’t get in line with us, but sat or stood near the entrance. I noticed none of them had polo shirts on, or blouses. They were many years younger than us. It’s not that we’re old, but Jerry’s 54 and I’m 49, and well, especially on a Friday night, it’s not hard to be younger.
At first I was feeling a little self conscious. It seemed like everyone who showed up looked at us. They seemed curious. Maybe it’s because we had on collared shirts. Or maybe it was because we were older.
As we were waiting, I spied a huge “Bingo” sign on a building in the same parking lot. I laughed, and whispered to Jerry that all of these other people were probably thinking we were at the wrong place; that we obviously meant to be in line at the Bingo Hall. It was funny. It is funny, even as I recall it now.
My self consciousness was short-lived because they were all so friendly. We all had in common our excitement for the night as we waited for the doors to open.
The doors did finally open, and we entered, paid the cover charge, and we were in the club.
We were the first to stand on the dance floor, and we snapped a photo.
Jerry and I at our first Rave. Collared shirts and all! (hahaha)
I was full of anticipation for what I hoped would be a night of energetic music and a lot of hard dancing. Jerry got a beer, and I had a glass of wine as we stood on the dance floor waiting for the first of many DJs to arrive and start the beats. There were people lining up at the front of the dance floor, near the DJ. The backs of their shirts said things like “Headbanger” and “Peace” and “Harmony” and a some words and phrases I won’t include here.
A man and a woman came over to us, and introduced themselves. Their gesture was kind, but also awkward. It felt sort of like when you’re at a banquet, and people come up to introduce themselves. After some polite small talk, the man asked, “Is this your first Rave?” [Gasp.] I felt a quick panic rush over me, as I thought to myself, A Rave? Are we at a Rave? I hadn’t considered that we were attending a Rave, and my mind flashed to what I thought of as a Rave –a big festival of people high on drugs, where there might be orgies. Like I said, [Gasp.]
But quickly I returned to the present, and this didn’t look anything like that. Thank God. What seemed like a little too much later, Jerry responded to the man, “No. We’ve never been to a Rave before.” The couple welcomed us, and told us to enjoy ourselves, and then they walked off to a different area of the dance floor.
Soon, the first DJ arrived, and it went dark, except for an amazing neon light show and some strobe lights. The music started.
Before we knew it, we were dancing our guts out—headbanging and all! The music was electrifying, and during a brief break during which we consumed large bottles of water, Jerry tried to explain to me how the bass was so strong and powerful that it made him feel more energized and alive. “I can feel it reverberating through my whole body. It’s awesome!” he exclaimed. I agreed. Even though we had hiked 14 miles just a few hours earlier, I suddenly had all kinds of energy, and for reasons I can’t explain, I felt youthful.
During the course of the night, people of various races, genders and ages, came up to Jerry and me, and high-fived us or offered hugs to us. A few of them remarked, “It’s so great to see you guys here.” Another person came up to me, hugged me, and remarked, “So you really like this music?” And I said “Yes, I love it!” All I can figure is we must have really stood out. We must have looked like we had gotten off at the wrong station. LOL. We were, comparatively speaking, old, and remember, we had on collared shirts. (We made a note to ourselves that we would need to get different attire for future Raves.)
We had an absolute blast! By the time we called it a night, my FitBit reported 64,000 steps – 30,000 of them (12 miles worth) from dancing, the others from the hiking we did earlier.
Jerry and I were dripping in sweat, and it was getting late, so I requested an Uber.
Our Uber driver was Elvis. Seriously. Our driver was the perfect impersonation of Elvis. He even (duh!) played Elvis’ music. When we got into the car, the volume was low, but we could hear Jailhouse Rock.
As soon as Jerry and I were buckled into the back seat, our driver asked us if we liked Elvis. “Of course,” we assured him. How could we respond differently? As if to make sure our driver had our respect, Jerry repeated how awesome Elvis’ music is, and in response, the driver changed songs to Love Me Tender, and starting singing loudly. Love me tender / Love me sweet / Never let me go / You have made my life complete / And I love you so…
That’s when I realized that there’s a difference between singing out loud to a song and performing. Our driver was performing. And his performance was stupendous! And, I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, that might be the first time I’ve ever used that word in my life. It was so stupendous that I seriously wondered if we were in a dream. Was Elvis Presley really our personal driver, and were we really being treated to a personal concert by The King? After Love Me Tender, came My Way, which I think is originally a Sinatra song, but one that Elvis sang and sang so well that it’s my favorite Elvis song.
As I listened, I thought immediately of my Aunt Carol, and her late husband, my Uncle Bob, whose favorite song was Elvis’ My Way. Then my mind wandered to the song, and our driver’s spectacular singing.
And now, the end is near; And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway; But more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Regrets, I’ve had a few; But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course; Each careful step along the byway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way.
The driver approached our hotel, and I remarked, “Oh I love this song so much. And you’re a great singer.” To which he responded, “If you like, I can drive around a few extra blocks so you can hear it to the end.” I started to say, Yes, but then caught myself, and changed my response to, “Hell Yeah!”
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew; When I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall; And did it my way…
The song ended, and so did our ride, and our unforgettable date. We gave our personal Elvis a very generous tip and made our way back to the hotel room and our sons. Jerry and I were still buzzing from the Epic night. What an exciting experience. We wondered to each other, out loud, if we’d ever go to another Rave. Um, Hell Yeah to that. (And, in fact, two months later, during a family trip to Las Vegas to attend a Bastille concert, Jerry and I read about a Bear Grillz performance scheduled at the Hard Rock Cafe. We love Bear Grylls, the British survivor who has a show about Epic adventure and survival, which I realize has absolutely nothing to do with going to a Rave with a DJ named Bear Grillz Oops. Another digression. 🙂
I dared to share this story and experience in hopes that it might inspire you to say Hell Yeah to things that could bring you more aliveness, and create more unforgettable moments.
So far, for me at least, saying Hell Yeah more often is proving to be a great strategy for living more.
I’m including 2 video clips below from the Raves to provide proof that we really did this, and also, to provide flavor, in case your curiosity has been piqued and you’re considering going to a Rave or EDM dance club. 🙂
This one is from our second rave, but shows – very early in the video clip and it’s fleeting so watch closely – Jerry, and I, dancing hard:
This second video is from our first Rave, at Rawkus, in Colorado Springs. The DJ, Martial Law, plays a remixed version of Paris, by The Chainsmokers:
Time. None of us knows how much of it we’ll have. I don’t know about you, but I’m working hard not to squander mine.
I don’t squander time mostly due to a mantra I started using several years ago. The mantra is: Nothing is a waste of time. I have used and lived by this mantra for the last several years, and it has made all the difference in my life. I wanted to share it, but I was too lazy to write a blog post about it, so I made a short video blog:
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” (Joseph Campbell)
My “sacred space” – where I can find myself again and again – is in Solitude, my time alone. Preferably spent hiking up a trail, or walking in very large circles. I’m a lover of Solitude. I yearn for it. (I think Solitude is the medium for self realization. Time alone is one of the most important things we can give ourselves if we want to know who we are, what’s missing, what we’re needing, who and what are most important to us, and what is possible for our life.)
As you probably know by now, I’m a hiker. More generally, I’m a walker.
I have this particular place in my town that I go to almost every day. I walk circles there. Large circles. Sometimes I do this over and over again, alone in my thoughts. Listening to my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation for me. Call me weird, but walking in large circles is something I look forward to. It helps me. I sometimes (read: often) have problems focusing. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I have enough self awareness to know I tend to be a “future oriented” thinker. (In 2009, I confirmed this after reading The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Dr. John Boyd. Did you know our attitudes toward time have a profound impact on our life and world? Yet we seldom recognize it.) So anyhow, these walks help me. They help me to sort out the many thoughts that are in my head.
When I walk, I pay attention to the sounds around me, and the goings-on. I pay attention to how my body feels. I pay attention to how it feels when my feet strike the ground during each single step. (I try to be gentle with my steps because especially as a hiker, I know this helps with recovery after long, hard hikes. Plus, I would prefer be a quiet stepper rather than a loud clomper.) I pay attention to my cadence. I notice my posture, and try to stand and walk tall.
When I walk in circles at my particular place, I listen for birds, and to the the breeze or wind. I hear an occasional airplane taking off or landing. Sometimes a car drives by, but not often. I see other people, but not many. Usually it’s a city worker, or a person unloading his/her horse or horses from their trailer. I often look at the foothills of my beloved Wind River Mountains. I can see the Roaring Fork, and Mt. Arter, and up Sinks Canyon. After a recent storm, I can see where the rain was rain and where the rain was snow – evidenced by a perfect line that usually crosses along the bottom of our foothills at an elevation of about 7,800′. I can see the road that leads to one of my favorite places, our cabin.
I often find heart rocks in the trail, or in the parking lot, and I sometimes spy other shapes. I’ve written before about how I love to look for or find, unexpectedly, heart shapes while on my adventures. No kidding, I’ve even spotted manure that is shaped like a heart. (Please excuse my language, but the hashtag/caption for that image was, #lovableshit) I’ve seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets here, and I’ve video recorded our oldest son as he recites a slam poem he loves or creates.
A sunset with a heart shape that I spied while walking circles in my special place.
Most of the time, during these walking meditations, I let my mind wander and be free. I get many inspirations this way. Other times I try to focus my attention on a very particular thing – a problem, perhaps, or a conundrum, or an idea I want to develop, or a decision I’m wanting or needing to make. Sometimes I’ll use my walking in circles to try and memorize a favorite poem or quote. Sometimes I’ll try to empty my mind. That never works! I always smile when someone refers to an “idle mind” as being a non-active mind. (#envy)
Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, says it best: When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops, but when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. Indeed! When we’re still, our minds are often at their most active. I am a huge promoter of, and practicer of a mindfulness practice. I’ve had a practice every single weekday morning for years now, and it’s been a game changer. Because I have such an active and wandering mind, I get extensive practice at redirecting my attention, which is one the main things we’re going for when we practice mindfulness – the ability to consciously direct our attention. Such practice helps us learn how, especially during times of stress and overwhelm, to pause, and respond rather than react.
My mind is so active that I – it – craves focus. Last August, I climbed Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s tallest mountain. On summit day, according to my FitBit, we trekked 20,547 steps. Every single one of those steps were “high consequence” steps. It was a quiet, intense effort. Not many words were spoken during the 12-hour adventure, except for the short time on the summit, and when instruction was offered to us from our guide. Otherwise, I was completely focused on every single step. Until then, I had never engaged in such a sustained, high consequence experience. My mind is always thinking, and so active. I found the single-minded, single-tasking a welcome reprieve from my busy mind. Traveling on snow and up and down steep terrain, roped to one another, forced me to focus on only the next step, and then the next step, and then next step, for hours at a stretch. It was hard, but also unusual for me – and fantastic. The simplicity and intense, sustained focus on a single thing was blissful.
But back to my walking in circles. Always, they help me. May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.” I always return inspired, better, and with newfound clarity.
I also go to this place and walk circles during most of my coaching, or other calls. I work with people from all over the U.S, and typically I will have 1-2 calls a month with each of them. I am a better listener when I’m in an “open” posture, and walking, rather than sitting in front of my computer or indoors. I’m easily distracted, so one of the best ways for me to be a good listener is to free myself from distractions. And one of the best ways to be free from distractions is to get outdoors, in the open, under our usually-clear skies. I can be most present with someone by listening to them, and I just know by now that I’m a better listener and a more creative coach when I’m walking and outside, completely “tuned in”, listening and paying close attention.
Focusing on listening helps me be more present on my calls, which also helps me remember important and meaningful moments, and conversations. (This is so true that I can remember, vividly, some of the specific moments or conversations I’ve had with various clients, or friends, by retracing steps, and the path I was on, during a particular call I had with them.)
A moon through the chain link fence that surrounds the place where I like to walk in large circles.
I’m more creative and energized when walking. There are numerous studies that support this – that walking is energizing, and that time outdoors does our bodies, and our minds, good. That we’re more creative thinkers as a result. Plus, walking is healthy.
I don’t believe there’s a single study that says sitting is inspiring, or that sitting is energizing. If anything, only the opposite. And sitting is bad for other, more serious reasons, too. Sitting, in fact, is often referred to as the new smoking. We sit, on average, 9.3 hours a day. All this time sitting is robbing quality, and time from our life. The more we sit, the more likely we are to suffer from depression, disease and cancer. Sitting shortens our life, which, in my humble opinion, is already too short.
I started using a FitBit in December 2013. I did this because even though I train hard and regularly, and hike long distances, most of the day I was sedentary, at my laptop. As fit as I was when I got my FitBit, I was only walking about 6,000 steps a day on the days I wasn’t hiking. I wanted to change that. I needed to change that. Today, I average about 20,000 steps a day. I’ve walked almost 25 million steps (11,000 miles). Many of these steps and miles have been logged during my walking calls in this particular place where I go to walk my circles.
Speaking of walking and health, I’m a huge fan of the Blue Zones way of living, and the work of Dan Buettner. (I highly recommend the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.) “Blue Zones” is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people. It turns out the people who live the longest, most fulfilling lives don’t lift weight or run marathons. They simply are more active throughout the day. Among other things, they walk a lot. They walk to the store, or to church. (I will save all I have to say about this for another blog post, though.)
A heart shaped by dirt in a parking lot where I walk circles, after a little rain.
During the last few months, I’ve had to find a different place to have my walking calls. You see, there is a lot of heavy construction going on near my usual location. Not to be self-absorbed, but I hope the project is completed before too much longer. It’s not the quiet place I’ve come to really appreciate. There is a bunch of heavy equipment driving by all of the time, and you can hear their beeps and big engines and scooping and grading sounds in the background. As a result, it’s currently not the quiet experience I’ve grown accustomed to, and therefore it’s hard to hear the person on the other end of my call, and hard for them to hear me. So at least for now, I’ve found an alternative for my walking calls.
But I still often head up there for my walking meditations – for 30-90 minutes of sauntering to clear my mind or figure something out, or just to walk. To move my body and to free my mind. (Whenever I try to talk myself out of going for a walk or a hike, I remember a quote from one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit: “Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.” I always return from a walk as more than I was before it, and I am always surprised by something during the walk.)
Yesterday, as I did this, I worked hard to silence, or at least quiet, the background sounds of the construction. I couldn’t do it. It was during this struggle that I realized what was going on around me is exactly what’s going on in my mind right now. What’s in my head is very much “under construction.” I’ve got all kinds of projects on tap, ideas that are percolating, dreams and goals. So you see, there is a lot of heavy equipment maneuvering around, trying to create something new, or better. There is a lot of digging dirt and moving of Earth going on, and supplies being hauled and things being surveyed. My mind feels full of clutter, and often, as if a collision of heavy equipment could occur at any moment. This reminds me I better take great care, and be mindful. At times I hear a loud, constant beeping of a tractor or backhoe, and there is a constant humming of moving trucks and equipment. Around me as I walk, and also in my head…
One of the reasons I love this particular place for my walking is because at times I get to watch a small airplane taking off. Sometimes it’s a beginner pilot taking a lesson. He or she is literally learning how to fly, and I am a witness. I love that metaphor of a person learning to fly. Depending on what I’m working on or trying to create in my life, I often feel like I’m learning to fly, and that I’m a small, humble airplane working to take flight. Other times I get to see an airplane land. That’s also a big deal, watching how a small airplane comes in fast and connects with ground. How it must at some point return to Earth, to once again be grounded.
Every once in awhile, while walking in my particular spot, I’ll see a woman barrel racing. She’s riding her horse very fast and maneuvering around a barrel at top speed. I am envious. I don’t know her, and there are different women who show up to do this at various times throughout the year. But whomever the woman is, usually she’s riding at top speed on this beautiful and powerful animal that she somehow has under her control. Her hair, under her cowboy hat, is highlighted by the sun, and blowing in the breeze. Total Badassery. I love this as a metaphor, too. I often feel like I’m a fast horse, only I’m not skilled like the woman I watch. I don’t know how to steer it, let alone stay on it. I envy the barrel racer, and am inspired when I watch her do such a daring thing.
And although the heavy construction that’s going on near my particular walking place for the time being is cramping my style, it too, is a fitting metaphor. I’m right now under construction in a lot of areas, and I know that to get it right – to create something great, or to improve something I’ve already created, or am already doing – will take time and work.
What’s that saying I’m thinking about right now?
Hint: Now my mind wanders to Rome, a city that my family and I fell in love with on our 30-day Europe trip two summers ago. That’s it, after a search of my mind, I found it: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
After my circles-walking ended yesterday I emailed my Dad to ask him what the construction project was since I could only make assumptions. He told me the runway at our airport is being relocated and re-built to increase safety. The FAA was concerned about the runway being too close to the taxiway. There was a risk that a small plane taking off or landing might clip the wing of a plane that was on a taxiway.
I’m so glad I asked! As a metaphor lover, this news is brilliant, and helps me to circle back (pun intended) to my main point of this blog post. Right now, my mind is so full of projects that are under construction that it sometimes feels like a collision is inevitable. Walking in large circles helps me by providing more space for the goings on in my mind and avoids any of my idea’s wings from being clipped.
Postscript: As you can see in the photo below that my son captured of me at 10:48 on this Saturday, Oct. 14, I walk my circles even when the weather is unfavorable. To my delight, I found my place to be quiet once again. (We awoke to a major blizzard, which has shut down construction, at least temporarily.) I’ll take that as a cue and try to do the same with myself, and my overactive mind this Saturday.
Walking in circles in a blizzard today, Oct. 14, 2017.
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