What if the outcome is not your responsibility?

Recently I was asked to reflect on the greatest learning that I took away from 2011. “Patience and trust are the biggest lessons that showed up,” I said. “They’re lessons I’ve had to relearn a few times in my life.”

It takes a lot of patience to build a creative business, especially if you prefer to follow intuitive pathways and ask a lot of deep questions instead of crafting foolproof business plans. And it takes a lot of trust to believe that the path you’re following is the right one when there are lots of bumps and curves and the destination continues to looks so blurry.

Last year’s word was “joy“, but sometimes, when I’m being honest with myself, I wonder if the word that best defines it might instead be “worry“. I tried to follow joy, but in the process I did a lot of worrying. Did I do the right thing quitting my job? Is this dream really going to pan out? Do people value my work? Are any of my efforts going to pan out? Am I ever going to make enough money?

Recently, a question has popped up in my mind repeatedly when I’ve started to take the worry path.

What if the outcome is not my responsibility?

What if I am only responsible for sharing my gift and not how people respond to that gift?

What if my only duty is to follow my muse and I don’t have to worry about whether or not people like what I produce?

What if the only thing I need to do is be faithful to my calling, show up and do the work, and then trust God to look after the rest?

What if all the striving I do to be a “success” is wasted effort and I should instead invest that effort into being as faithful as I can be to the wisdom and creativity that has been given me to share?

When I take that question seriously, it gives me a great deal of peace. When I let go of the outcome or the sales or the response of other people and focus instead on being faithful to the process and my own commitment to excellency, the knots stop forming in my stomach and I can breathe more deeply.

My mandala practice is helping me learn this lesson. I make mandalas for nobody but myself (even though I’m willing to share them). For me, they are about the process. I show up on the page, pick up the pencils or markers that I feel drawn to, and let whatever needs to emerge on the page. What shows up is almost always about something I need to learn or be reminded of or discover. It’s not about the art. The outcome is not my responsibility. 

A few months ago, I was supposed to do a community-building workshop for a leadership learning institute in my city. Only three people registered for it, so they decided to cancel it. I was able to let it go at the time because I was already overbooked and needed the breathing space. They were still interested in the content, though, so they rescheduled it for January 23rd. This time, there are already 14 people registered, ten days before the event. I had to let go of the outcome and trust that, if I was faithful to what I felt called to share, and did my best to let people know, the right people would show up who need to hear what I have to say. The outcome is not my responsibility.

So far, my Creative Discovery class only has 3 registrants, even though I’ve promoted it more broadly than the last class that had much better registration. It doesn’t matter. I feel called to do this class and I know that it will be what those three people (and I) need even if nobody else shows up. The outcome is not my responsibility.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my book and writing a proposal to try to get it into the hands of agents. When I start reading books about how to write a proposal and how to land an agent, I can get my stomach tied in knots over whether I’m doing things the right way, whether I’ll ever be successful, etc., etc. But then I have to pause, take a deep breath, and make a mandala like the one above. It doesn’t matter if I’m a “success”. I feel called to share this book with the world and I will do so even if I have to self-publish it. The outcome is not my responsibility.

Letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean that we should get lazy about the product, or that we shouldn’t work hard to let people know about what we’re doing. But once we’ve worked hard to follow the muse and been diligent in offering the gift to the world, we need to let it go and trust that the people who need to find it will.

I love the principles of Open Space, an Art of Hosting methodology for hosting meaningful conversations.
* Whoever comes are the right people
* Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
* When it starts is the right time
* When it’s over it’s over

In other words, the outcome is NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY!

And now it’s your turn… what do you need to let go of?

It’s the way of women

Beth & Diane after building a leaf labyrinth together

Back in October, I had the pleasure of spending 4 days in a circle of powerful, warm, funny, wise women. We listened to each others’ stories, built a labyrinth of leaves, cried together, laughed together, ate together, dreamed together, and plotted ways of changing the world. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt like I was wrapped in the warmest hug of feminine support.

Even though I’d never met any of the women before, we were able to create an incredibly loving and energizing environment. This circle of women continues to meet periodically to offer each other support over the phone lines. I feel very, very blessed to have them in my life.

This is not the kind of feminine relationships you hear most about in the corporate world. No, we’re more likely to hear of cat fights, gossip, and “bitches” who do anything to protect their own interest. Some of that is true, and some of it isn’t. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I believe that the part that is true is largely due to the fact that there is incongruence between corporate culture and the most instinctual way for women to relate to each other. We haven’t found a way to bring our feminine wisdom fully into the boardrooms and cubicles (and frankly, our feminine wisdom might very well abolish both boardrooms and cubicles).

One of the greatest beauties of the circle/story retreat I was at in October was the range of ages and life wisdom of the women in the room. The youngest was a medical doctor who hadn’t yet reached 30, and the oldest was into her 70s. We had all archetypes – maidens, mothers, and crones – represented in the room, and it was a beautiful thing that reminded me of the best kind of community.

It was a particular delight to me to have such beautiful older women present – women who fully embodied and embraced the “crone” archetype. Beth and Diane in the photo above are two of those women. Wow! These women are amazing! Their energy, wisdom and pure delight in the world continue to inspire me these many months later. They didn’t try to hide their ages behind layers of make-up or plastic surgery as the fashion industry has convinced many women to do. They celebrate who they were, dance in the leaves like phoenixes rising from the flames, and share their wisdom and strength in the most generous way I have ever seen.

How I wish they could live next door to me and I could sit at their kitchen table whenever I need a boost of courage!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Diane (whose face you see above). Even over Skype, Diane sparkles with energy and love. I adore her. She teaches Reiki, leads women’s circles, has a labyrinth in her back yard, builds sweat lodges, and does all kinds of amazing things in support of other women. She has become one of my most treasured mentors. I can’t tell you what it means to have a cheerleader like Diane who absolutely believes that I am on the right path and will do anything she can to help me along that path. If she believes that I will succeed, how can I not?

Qualla with her birthday cupcake

On the other side of the coin, I too have had the pleasure of becoming a mentor to a younger woman who sparkles with energy and love. Last year, when I was at ALIA, I met Qualla Parlman. We spent her nineteenth birthday kayaking off the coast of Nova Scotia, followed by a delicious barbecue on the dock. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her at ALIA (as we weren’t in the same sessions), but since then we’ve gotten to know each other better online and I absolutely adore Qualla and I would do anything to help her succeed. She is an emerging young leader who’s learning to trust her feminine wisdom and I just know she will do big things in the world. I am honoured to be a companion on her journey.

It’s the way of women, isn’t it? The true, natural, instinctual way of women – not the way we have been socialized to become (or to believe we are). We are meant to support each other through the generations and across the generations. We are meant to find wise women who will teach us the ways of the world, and then we are meant to BE those wise women and offer our wisdom generously and without apology to others who need it.

Who are your wise women, and to whom are you offering your wisdom?

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:


Give it away


As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m working on this new creative venture that will have, at its heart, a website called www.whatareyougivingaway.com. (I talked a little about the blossoming of the idea here, and showed you some of the early artwork.) Based on my years of doing lots of things including writing/creating, working as a communications professional, facilitating leadership and creativity workshops, teaching sessions on identifying your gifts and personalities, leading a national team of people involved in fundraising, education, and stewardship, (and loving all of those things) I’ve decided to take a big bold step and declare myself a bit of an “expert” on owning your giftedness and figuring out how to share it with the world. (Yikes! Hear that sharp intake of breath? That’s my self-doubt having a mini panic attack at the suggestion that I could possibly be an EXPERT at anything.)

Self-doubt or not, that’s my dream – now I just have to find the time to let it unfold. The whole thing feels like a pretty powerful force right now, so I’m not letting myself doubt that it WILL unfold.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve been suffering from a bit of burnout and weariness and overwhelmedness (I KNOW it’s not a word, madame spellcheck – but it’s all I can come up with, so deal with it.) It’s partly because this big idea is trying to get born at the WORST possible time – a time when I’ve got some pretty intense things going on in my work life (huge board proposals, staff evaluation time, my own performance evaluation time, new staff positions and subsequent hires, staff handing in their resignation… ALL AT ONCE.) But we all know that ideas, like babies, have this habit of showing up in their OWN SWEET TIME THANK YOU VERY MUCH and messing up all those lovely things like schedules, plans, and SLEEP!

When I have a creative idea, I have this tendency to get all panicky about having to follow up on it RIGHT NOW or it will slip away and I’ll live with regret for the rest of my life. After visiting the labyrinth and my son’s grave, though, I’ve decided that I have to try to be more zen about it and just let it unfold organically, trusting that the right time and space will appear when it is supposed to and babies and ideas grow whether you want them to or not. (Trust me – my first baby is now as tall as me!) (On the other hand, though, sometimes they’re not meant to grow – I’ve had one of those babies – and lots of those ideas – as well.)

As I’m waiting for the right time and space, I’m trying to find ways of feeding the idea and feeding my tired burnt out self at the same time. Playing along with the Wreck this Journal fun has been a great start (especially since I’ve made this great connection with Jamie, who’s such a wonderful generous spirit, I’m dying to meet her). Working on my creative sanctuary and doing some paintings has also helped.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that, with all this burnout and weariness, it’s been a long time since I really practiced spontaneous generosity. I’ve gotten so focused on trying to hold myself together, I didn’t have a lot to give other people (just ask my 7 year old daughter who’s gotten extra clingy in all of this – longing to have her fun attention-giving mom back). Since I’ve worked through the worst of the insanity-inducing time at work, and because I want to start a website about giving stuff away, I decided it was HIGH TIME I got my butt in gear and started being a little more generous.

Yesterday’s beach day was one of the things I’ve done to try to get back on track. Giving my daughter and her friends a day of freedom and fun and the delight of feeling just a little bit naughty for skipping school for a day at the beach was a delightful way to start. (Who said being generous couldn’t benefit ME at the same time?) And a few days ago, at lunch time, I walked to my favourite music store, bought gift certificates for my three locally based staff and gave one to each of them with a note that said “sorry I forget to show appreciation when I’m too busy and stressed out, here’s a little gesture to make up for it”. I also bought a cd for my friend Sam who was visiting from Ethiopia, because he’d heard The Waifs on my mp3 player when I was in Ethiopia and he’d liked them.

Here’s the thing – giving stuff away is SO MUCH FUN! It has lifted my spirits in a delightful, refreshing way. As I continue to work on my website and my creative sanctuary, I’m going to spend some of my time trying to think of other ways of giving away meaningful gifts that lift my spirit as much as the spirit of the receiver of the gifts.

I invite you to join me. Do something spontaneous and generous – buy a friend a book they’ve been talking about. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in the drive through. Take your staff out for lunch. Or if you have no money – give away your time, your listening ear, your encouragement – you name it! Get creative, give something away today, and come back here and share it with the rest of us.

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