Because sometimes you just need a little straight talk (instead of easy platitudes)

The straight talk on parenting:

  1. Some days, you will really, really dislike your children.
  2. Some days, your children will really, really dislike you. There may even be days when they yell that dislike in your face.
  3. Children are sucking vortexes of need. Get used to it.
  4. Almost every day, you will wonder if you are doing everything wrong and totally screwing your kids up.
  5. In between those hard days and moments of doubt, there will be moments of pure delight, and you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without these amazing people in your life.

The straight talk on starting a new business:

  1. It’s hard. Really hard.
  2. There will be lots of days when you wake up in a panic wondering how you’re going to survive financially.
  3. On your days of greatest weakness, you will compare yourself to other people and find yourself seriously lacking.
  4. Just when you think you have it figured out, one of your favourite ideas will flop, and you’ll feel like a failure all over again.
  5. If you can work through the discouragement, you’ll have moments when you’re happier than you’ve ever been, doing the things that make your heart sing.

The straight talk on marriage:

  1. There are no fairy tales. No knights in shining armor. No happy endings. You might as well give up the quest.
  2. You’ll have days when you think “what the hell have I done?” or “where did this all go wrong?” or “why does it feel like we are communicating at completely different frequencies?”
  3. There’s a pretty good chance that some day, maybe even 18 years in, the whole thing will fall apart and you’ll be left trying to pick up the pieces.
  4. You’re going to have to work really, really hard if you value what you’ve built and want to stay together. You might even need outside help and you’ll definitely need some prayer.
  5. Once you’ve done the hard work, and given up the fairy tale, you might just find yourself growing (not falling) into real, blinders-off, sometimes-it-hurts-sometimes-it’s-exquisite kind of love. And it will feel like home.

The straight talk on leadership:

  1. Just like parenting, there will be days when you really, really dislike some of the people you lead.
  2. There will be days when they really, really dislike you. They might even file a complaint or take you to court if the dislike runs deeply enough. This may not have anything to do with your actions, but you’ll still be tempted to take it personally.
  3. It may very well be one of the most stressful roles you’ll undertake.
  4. You’ll often feel lonely because lots of people assume the leader is confident enough that they don’t need any moral support or friendship.
  5. If you find the right support and the right people to lead, though, it could possibly be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do. If you’re living your calling, then it will have meaning.

The straight talk on marketing:

  1. There are people who will want to offer you a formula for success. Don’t believe them. There are no formulas.
  2. Sometimes you’ll do everything by the book, and still very few people will show up or buy your product.
  3. Some people will say “just put out good content and people will show up”. Not true. (At least not all the time.) Lots of people create amazing products that nobody buys.
  4. A lot of times, it’s just a crap shoot – if the right (ie. influential) people show up and buy your product and then share it with their friends, it may go viral.
  5. At the end of the day, the most important thing is building relationships. Be kind to people, support them, offer them your best work, and slowly but surely the right people will show up. (Or they may not, and you’ll have to start over again, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, only that the timing wasn’t right for your product, or it needs some tweaking.)

The straight talk on failure:

  1. You will fail. Get used to it. Sometimes even your biggest, boldest dreams will fail.
  2. You’ll have to work hard to not believe that failing defines you as a failure.
  3. Even the most successful people in the world have faced failure at some point in their lives. They may even be failing right now and you just don’t know it because they’re good at hiding it.
  4. Failure may be your greatest teacher if you’re open to it.
  5. Sometimes failure opens doors to you that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d never tried. Go ahead and fail.

The straight talk on life:

  1. There will be many moments when you feel completely lost and unsure of what path you should be on.
  2. People will tell you to “follow these 10 easy steps to success/self-improvement/spirituality”. Don’t believe them. There are no easy steps.
  3. Nobody’s path will look just like yours. You’ll never find the perfect book, teacher, or life coach who will give you complete clarity, because nobody else knows your life. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from other people’s wisdom. You should. Just don’t expect it to be the only answer.)
  4. Living a life of integrity, authenticity, and compassion takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s still worth it.
  5. If you are true to yourself, true to the people that you love, and true to your God, and if you pursue your passions and share your gifts, your life will have meaning.

 

At the centre

Early in the morning

this edge-walker went to the place where the rivers meet

where history is so steeped in the soil

she was sure she could hear the echos of many moccasins

gently padding from canoe to mighty fort.

She went to the centre of the bowl

where giant iron arcs reach to the sky

and point toward the constellations.

There she lay down

her face to the sky

her eyes closed against the brilliant sun.

She listened to the birds and the whispers of history.

She felt the sun as it warmed her cheeks.

She let the earth hold her in the centre of that giant circle.

For just a moment,

she let herself be the candle, the talking piece,

the container for the circle’s stories.

She came in from her place at the edge

for just a moment.

To heal, to dream, to be renewed.

To feel the energy at the centre.

To be the energy at the centre.

And then she heard the whisper.

From the years of history.

From the sacred ground that had carried generations of stories.

From the sun and the constellations.

From the Creator of them all.

From the same place her call to the edge had come.

Just this…

“Your calling is bigger than you.”

Just do one small thing

A couple of people have sent me links to some videos of very cool rube goldbergs lately. (You know the game Mousetrap? That’s a small version of a rube goldberg.)

I love rube goldbergs for the lovely “non-sensical fun” of them. Someone spent all of this time, collected all of these random objects, just for the fun of seeing all of these chain reactions. 

Perhaps it’s the writer in me looking too hard for the “deeper meaning”, but it struck me that rube goldbergs are great metaphors for life. Just one small action causes another small action which causes another small action, etc., etc.

Sometimes we get caught up in believing that we have to do something BIG to be meaningful in the world – write a bestseller, win an academy award, cure AIDS, irradicate poverty – but that may not be our calling. Yes, somebody has to do those things, but not ALL of us.

Or maybe all of us have to do some of those things collectively, just one small act at a time. Just like a rube goldberg. You roll your ball down the hill, I’ll swing my arm to activate this windmill, etc., etc.

Just do the small thing you’re called to. Or the big thing. Either way, DO IT. And you’ll enable the next person to do THEIR thing, and eventually, we’ll change the world.

 “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Here’s the link to one of the rube goldbergs, and here’s the other:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w]

What do you see when you close your eyes and daydream?

Not long ago, I wrote about how Maddie loves to build magical worlds under the dining room table. Recently I found her there, lying on her back, staring up at the bottom of the table. When I asked her what she was doing, she said “oh, I’m daydreaming. I have to do it here because Madame doesn’t let me at school.”

Now, I’m a big fan of daydreaming, so I told her to go ahead and do it at school – just hide it by pretending she’s reading! (I got away with that many times when I was in school! I still do!)

Well… what do you think I did this morning? I climbed under that table, where Maddie has her boxes, her magical stool, her stuffed toys, and now her Little Lovely painting from Connie at Dirty Footprints Studio, and I daydreamed! Because what’s a better way to spend a morning when you’re still hiding in your cocoon waiting for your energy to come back?

About five years ago, I worked my way through a book called The Path, by Laurie Beth Jones. Laurie believes in daydreaming too (though I think she calls it “visioning” – a grown-up version of the same concept). She suggests that you sit down and write a vision for the future, a fairly specific “day in the life” of the person you dream of being in five years. She says that in her experience, a lot of people who do that kind of visioning end up very close to what they write about – maybe not in five years, but somewhere along the way.

Yesterday I pulled out my five year old daydream. There are a few parts of it that have come true – like the part about my husband coming home after teaching in his first classroom and feeling good about having gotten through to at least one student. He’s finally got a full time teaching job and I don’t remember when I’ve seen him happier. It’s a pretty tough school, but he’s in his element, helping inner city kids realize the value of education.

There’s a big part of the vision though – the part that’s mostly about MY dreams as opposed to my husbands – that hasn’t been fully realized yet. If I wrote another “five year vision” it would probably contain essentially the same thing. It’s the long held dream of making my living as a full time writer/speaker/consultant.

It’s closer to coming true (now that Marcel has a full-time job), but I’m not quite ready to quit my job yet. I’m not in one of those “just putting in time to bring home a pay cheque” jobs, so it’s not one I have to run away from. A few of the blogs I read are about people who are excited about quitting “the man” and launching their own businesses. Well, I wouldn’t really be quitting “the man”. I did that six years ago when I left a secure, fairly high level job in federal government for non-profit. For me it would be more like quitting “the woman” – by which I mean the marginalized, impoverished women who are being supported by the incredible organization I work for.

I keep wrestling with it, in fact. There are times when I can hardly WAIT to walk away from a 9-5 job and sink my teeth into a life of writing, speaking, traveling, and teaching leadership and creativity workshops. But then there’s that little voice that pipes up and says “Hello!? Remember how lucky you are to have a job that gives you such a great opportunity to use your gifts in leadership, creativity, writing, etc., that fits so well with your passion for justice, and that lets you travel to some of the most interesting parts of the world in search of a good story and photograph.” And lately I’ve been excited about the new staff I’ve hired who bring lots of great energy and ideas and who are a pleasure to lead. There’s a lot of exciting potential going on that I would be sorry to leave.

The truth is, though, when I lie under the table and daydream, that old familiar dream comes back to me every time. I’ve got a book (or two) published; I’m traveling to conferences and retreats to speak to people on topics related to leadership, beauty and justice, and leading a creative life; and I’m writing, writing, writing.

The past six years at my job have been truly incredible. I’ve stretched in incredible ways, I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the world, I’ve slept in a tent on a farm in a remote part of Kenya, I’ve held hands with a young teacher with a beautiful soul on a tiny island in India, I’ve taken incredible photos all over the world, I’ve gotten to write lots of stories, I’ve learned more about leadership than I could have imagined possible, I’ve lead film crews through Ethiopia, India, and Bangladesh, and I’ve been reminded time and time again that some of my greatest lessons come from my failures.

I remember six years ago, when I first got the job, I said to a friend “this job will stretch me” and I couldn’t have been more right.

I don’t know for sure when the time will be right to leave this work I love. I’m not really in a rush. But I can’t let go of the idea that the past six years have been preparing me to step even more fully into my calling. The possibilities are endless, and I’m ready to ride the wave wherever it takes me.

What about you? I’d love to hear what would be in your daydream if you sat down and wrote about a day in the life of the person you want to be in five years.

The three little girls that I’m raising and the one little girl that I was

On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.

At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.

Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.

I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.

In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.

I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”

On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:

I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.

I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes – you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.

I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.

I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.

I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.

I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)

What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?

I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.

Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.

What about you?

What is your calling?

I’ve been thinking about calling lately. A lot of things have been happening to influence this thought process, like reading amazing books, being inspired by the thoughts of others, coming to a growing realization that it may be time for a shift in my own calling, and being gifted with a powerful idea for energizing people in their personal calling.

I’ll be doing more writing about this as I prepare posts for my new website, but for now, I thought I’d write a few random thoughts that are on my mind. (And yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors all the way through, but that’s why I’m calling them “random” as opposed to “polished”.)

Here are some of the things I’ve learned about following your calling and honouring your giftedness.

1. A calling is not a clear or straight path. Sometimes you have to take surprising detours along the way, stumble through a lot of undergrowth, and climb over major obstacles. The remarkable thing about all those obstacles and detours, though, is that once you’ve struggled past them, you can usually look back and recognize the value in them.

2. There may not be any “ultimate destination” in the path to your calling. More often than not, the real calling is to the journey, not the destination. Be faithful in the journey and you’re being faithful to your calling. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t mastered “who you were meant to be”.

3. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve found exactly the path you’re meant to be on and you believe that you’re doing just what you’ve been placed on this earth to do, the path will begin to fade or lose its interest. It may be time to shift direction again, or stumble in the dark for awhile until a new path emerges. Open yourself up to new learning, even if it seems scary.

4. On the other hand, there will be some moments when, like Moses, you will see your “burning bush” and know undeniably that you are standing on holy ground. It may be a moment when you accomplish something so remarkable that you know it comes from a higher power than just your own (like Moses parting the Red Sea). It may be a moment when you feel a tingling sensation because you know that something you have been inspired to create is truly good.

5. If you find and follow the wrong path for awhile, your body and soul will begin to tell you it doesn’t feel right. Pay attention to the signs. Are you exhausted? Losing your creative edge? Irritable with your children? Stop and listen.

6. Sometimes waiting patiently is the most important thing you can do. When you’ve discovered you may be on the wrong path (or even if you’ve been on the right path but recognize it’s time to change), it’s important to cut yourself some slack and find time for rest, quiet meditation and prayer before you seek a new direction. Chances are the “wrong path” will end up being the “right path” for that period of time because of the things it was able to teach you.

7. Good people will show up along the path to support you. Trust them and be open to them. When you feel that you lack the capacity and strength to fully accomplish your task, perhaps it means that you’re meant to invite someone else onto the path with you – someone who will bring their own giftedness to make the completed task even more beautiful.

8. Sometimes though, the people who show up won’t believe you’re meant to be on that particular path. They may have your best interests at heart and just don’t want to see you (or those around you) get hurt, or they may feel anger or jealousy toward you because you’ve found something they haven’t. Listen to them, if they have something valuable to say, but don’t let yourself be too swayed by their opinions. Remember that they’re just human – these people do not have greater access to truth than you do.

9. You may need to be willing to give up and let go for the path to become clear again. Sometimes rock bottom is the best place to start a new journey. It will be really hard to reach that place and to truly let go of all of your ambitions and dreams, but when you are willing to open your hand and heart and release whatever you’re hanging onto, a brand new beautiful gift may be placed into your open and empty hand.

10. There may be long stretches of time when life feels more like drudgery and just “getting things done” than following some kind of higher calling. That’s okay. Just be. Don’t stretch too much or try too hard. Maybe it’s just your time to live, to support other people in their calling, to hibernate, or to germinate new seeds that will see growth come Springtime.

Pin It on Pinterest