Tender, but healing

I’ve been feeling a little tender these past few days. In more ways than one.

After a surprisingly quick healing process the first week after surgery, I was expecting to stay on the same trajectory, but, sadly, that didn’t happen. I guess I hit a plateau. I can’t say I feel much better today than I did a week ago. Sigh.

Part of the problem is that feeling as good as I was a week ago, there started to be a few too many reasons to leave the cocoon on the couch. Buying a van, visiting the bank to finance that van, picking up that van, doing the taxes (which was about 2 hours of weeping – those forms make me feel stupid at the best of times and this was definitely NOT the best of times), driving kids places, taking daughter to a follow-up appointment with her surgeon, going to my own follow-up appointment with the surgeon, going to a band concert, taking daughter shopping for panty hose for that concert, cooking meals … the usual expectations of being a parent. It’s hard to set them all aside, even when you’re trying to heal. I thought I was getting enough rest in between, but I’m not sure that was really the case. I’m still feeling some pain and the exhaustion isn’t going away very quickly.

Last weekend, I’d honestly thought that this would be a lovely, relaxing week, in which I’d have the energy and space and emotional presence to do some writing and painting. I thought the creative muse would visit, but she didn’t. Instead, it’s been a week of frustration – of trying to hang on to stability with my fingernails.

The emotional tenderness was the most unexpected. The concerted effort it takes not to snarl or weep when someone says the wrong thing (or almost anything at all, for that matter). The ache in my heart when my husband told me I’d been rather mean to him the last few days. The flipping and flopping of yesterday’s post.

This morning, after driving the kids to school and rescuing my husband who’d left his keys at home, I climbed into the bathtub. Before I knew it, the tears were flowing. I wept for about half an hour – for no particular reason I could put a finger on.

It’s possible that this is just the residual effect of being under a general anaesthetic for over three hours, but I have a feeling it’s combined with a few other things.

Perhaps the body simply needs to grieve the pieces it has lost.

Perhaps the soul still needs to heal from the rawness that this past year of challenge has brought.

Perhaps the chrysallis, changing from caterpillar to butterfly in the cocoon, is not simply resting but is experiencing the pain of change.

It’s hard, isn’t it? When there are people in your life expecting you to be present in their lives and kind to them and doing the laundry and giving space to their pain – to find enough quiet space to let healing and transformation happen.

In the meantime though, I can hardly express how good it felt to have so many of you say “me too!” in yesterday’s post. Thank you for being tender with me in my tenderness.

p.s. I can’t stop listening to “It’s been a long day” by Rosi Golan, thanks to a recommendation from a Twitter friend, @newagejalopy. It’s perfect.

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.

Newsflash: You don’t have to be good at everything!

Guess what? My failings are being made more and more evident these days and… I couldn’t be happier!

I recently hired staff into two brand new positions and both of them took tasks away from me so that we could grow in the areas of fundraising and communications (especially online) and so that I would have more time to twiddle my thumbs and get lost in online rabbit holes.  Oops… I mean so that I could focus on the leadership part of my job since I now have 17 people on my team (gulp).

They’ve only been here for a short time, but within a few weeks of their arrival, both have made some fairly significant improvements to the way we do things. To be honest, it didn’t take long for both to out-shine me and put my past efforts in certain areas to shame.

Now, if I were feeling vulnerable and insecure, I might have taken this personally and gotten caught up in self-deprecation about how I wasn’t really good enough at this job, blah, blah, blah. (And there have been days when I could have done just that, trust me.)

But you wanna know how it made me feel? HUGE and utter relief!

For starters, things are getting done and I don’t have to do them!

But more than that, they’re moving the markers on things that I honestly didn’t have the capacity or sufficient interest to master. I’m not great at fundraising and database management, and yet it’s part of our team’s responsibility, and so I would slog my way through some of it and mostly fail at it. I’m not all that good at website maintenance and analysis, and so mostly I would ignore it and pretend it didn’t need to be done.

Now I’ve hired two people who shine in those areas and it doesn’t make me feel badly for the ways I’ve failed, it makes me feel GREAT about all the things we’re now able to do as a team!

Here’s a revolutionary thought…

You don’t have to be good at everything!

Let that sink in for a moment. It’s true – you don’t have to master every task that you tackle or that you’re responsible for. Early in my leadership days I didn’t really get that and I would try to do a good job at every task our team needed to perform because I was sure that otherwise my staff and boss would think I was underqualified to lead the team. You’ve heard the term “micro-managing”, right? Yeah, well, I may have been guilty of that a time or two in the past.

But somewhere along the line I realized – HEY, there are some people on the team who are WAY better than me in these areas and if I just trust them to do what they’re capable of, we’ll all be further ahead in the long run.

Take administration and organization, for example. I kinda suck in those areas. But I’ve learned to hire people who really shine – the kind of people whose cheque books are ALWAYS balanced! (Go figure.) When we interviewed my current assistant for the position, she told us that when she was a kid, she used to line up her Barbie doll shoes because she needed to have order around her. As soon as I heard that, I thought “BINGO! We need to hire her!” It turns out my instincts were right – she’s good at all the areas that I lack and she makes the whole team look good!

Here’s another revolutionary thought:

Letting other people shine in the areas of their giftedness is good for everyone!

If you let your ego get in the way and you think you have to show yourself to be capable in every area and you don’t let people have their spot in the sun, well the truth is that you’ll all suffer. You’ll look bad because you’ll perform in a sub-par fashion, and they’ll look bad because they won’t have a chance to perform at all.

My new staff are raising the caliber of the whole team and they’re making all of us look good. What’s not to like? Plus I get to spend more time doing the things I actually AM good at – leadership, visioning, planning, directing… and delegating! Woot!

This isn’t just a leadership lesson, this is a life lesson. Sometimes we put expectations on ourselves that are unrealistic and by slogging through all the things we’re just not good at, we’re not allowing other people to shine and we’re wasting the energy we could focus on the areas where we’re gifted. I have no trouble, for example, letting Marcel look after car maintenance. And I’m quite happy to pass my cell phone to my daughters to let one of them adjust the settings, etc. (Even though they tease me about being a techno-ludite.) And you can bet that if Marcel’s teaching term is extended, we’ll be hiring a cleaning person as quickly as I can pick up a phone.

Now, I realize that we don’t always have the luxury of hiring people to do things, and sometimes you have no choice but to step up to the plate (like I’ve done for the last five and a half years before the board approved these new positions, or all those years of cleaning our own house while we’ve lived on a single income), but sometimes there are creative ways to let other people shine in the areas we’re not good at – like doing a “skills swap”, or looking for willing volunteers or youth interns.

My point is this…

Admitting that people outshine you in some areas doesn’t decrease your personal value.

The truth is, it might actually increase it, because you’ll have more opportunity for the areas in which you shine.

(Says the girl who is fumbling her way through figuring out what it means to be a full time leader/director, rather than a leader/fundraiser/database manager/communicator/web manager.)

The problem with categories

Sometimes I feel like a split personality.

Some days, I’m an extrovert and I get lots of energy from the people around me. Some days I’m an introvert and I can’t WAIT until I can hide away from everyone for an hour, a day, a week. And then, on particularly challenging days, I can flip-flop in a matter of hours – even minutes.

Some days I love my job – the leadership energy required to energize and direct a national team, the opportunity to talk to so many different people in so many different places, the creativity of figuring out the best way to communicate, to educate, to fundraise. And then some days I hate my job and all of the energy it takes and I want nothing better than to just hide in my little basement studio writing, painting, dreaming.

Some days I long to be a true urbanite, hanging out in a funky apartment in downtown New York or Toronto, eating at trendy restaurants, attending all the latest plays and art exhibits. And then some days (or even on the SAME day), I long to hide out in a little seaside cabin far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Sometimes I think my greatest strength and interest is in writing. Other days I want to put more energy into photography. Still other days (or hours), I think I should focus on leadership, or art, or facilitating workshops, or…. oh the list is endless.

I’ve never fit any categories very cleanly. It’s hard to put me in a box.  I’ve done oodles of personality tests, and almost every time, I end up different from the last time I did a similar test. There are some things that are fairly constant (like the fact that I suck at maintaining and organizing details), but I can flip-flop on many of the categories (especially introvert/extrovert).

I’ve done the True Colours assessment several times (and have taught it a few times too, so I know it quite intimately – it’s one of my favourites), and mostly I come out as an orange (innovator), but once I actually came out with three colours  – orange, blue (relational),and  green (scientist), exactly equal. (‘Course I’m ALWAYS low on gold – the details oriented organizer.) I’ve also done lots of leadership style tests, and they always show different or confusing results too.

It’s been a little frustrating, this difficulty in pegging who I am. I find myself envying those people who can so clearly say “I am XYZ and I know that I am motivated by ABC,” and in my moments of weakness I think “what the heck is wrong with me that I just can’t seem to figure myself out?” Trust me, it’s not for lack of trying – I’ve read lots of books, taken lots of personality type tests. I keep thinking I’ll be more successful at living a full and satisfied life if I figure it out and work to my strengths.

But here’s the thing – one of the other messages I’ve heard from more than one manager is that both my greatest strengths and my greatest flaws are two sides of the SAME COIN – my ability to see both sides of an argument, my tendency to be able to weigh both pros and cons, my ability to come up with lots of good – and often incompatible – ideas, and (too often) the resulting difficulty in making firm decisions I (and my team) can live with.

I’ve been reading some interesting stuff about the concept of “scanners” (people who have so many different interests that they have difficulty settling on just one), and you know what? I FINALLY found something that defines me a little more closely. I am a scanner.  And then I was listening to something online about the different types of Wealth Dynamics (ugh – HATE that name) profiles, and heard about the “creator” (someone who is half-way between introvert and extrovert and who is better at coming up with good ideas than implementing them), and again, I felt like there was something that made sense. I’m a HALF-WAY person! Neither one Meyers Briggs type nor the other, but a unique blend of both!

Now – I know that these are just made up names, and ultimately, the categories don’t really matter, but after all these years of wondering why I didn’t fit (like a square peg in a round hole), I’m beginning to realize that my NOT FITTING is what gives me uniqueness, beauty, and strength.

The ups and downs of being human

I’m walking in downtown Toronto and I spot an art supply store. My heart does a little pitter-pat as I remember that I’ve been there before – it was one of my “stand and gaze and dream about being an artist” moments. I left the store with nothing. This time, feeling emboldened by my recent achievement, I walk in proudly, determined to buy at least a couple of tubes of watercolour. I feel like an artist as I peruse the shelves, looking for the right shades for my next project. I’m glowing with excitement as I lay my items on the counter and reach for my wallet. I feel powerful.

Then the cell phone rings. I find out that I messed up an important date – the facilitators I’d hired for a workshop on Wednesday are actually coming on Tuesday. I’d sent them the wrong date. Now I have a hoarde of people coming from across the country for a two day meeting, and the itinerary I sent out is all screwed up. And the handful of people who are coming (from the local area) just for Wednesday might not be able to come if their schedules aren’t flexible. My mood drops. I’ve screwed up. My self-talk has taken a drastic turn and I’m not an artist anymore. I’m not a leader either. I am a failure.

Wallowing in self-doubt, I leave the store and wander down the street. I enter another store and meander through the sales racks. The store clerk spots my art supply store bag. “Are you an artist?” he asks. I pause for a moment, ready to say “no, I’m really not,” but then something inside me rises up and I straighten my shoulders a little. “Yes, I am.” “What do you do?” he asks. “Watercolour,” I say. “So far.” “I’m an artist too,” he says. “Mostly I do Chinese form of art.”

I leave the store, and though not entirely recovered from the phone call, I feel at least a little buoyed by my first opportunity to call myself an artist.

I am constantly amazed at how quickly self-talk can whirl in an about-face direction.

How do you define yourself today? Or break it down to this very moment? Artist or failure?

Seasons change

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 3

I’m reading a book called “Leaving Church”. It’s a personal memoir about Barbara Brown Taylor’s experience of giving up the priesthood.

Though I didn’t realize the serendipity at the time, I bought the book with a gift certificate I’d gotten when I ended my tenure as an elder at our church. (No – in case any GNFers are getting worried – I’m not “leaving church”, I’m just stepping away from leadership.)

For everything there is a season. It’s time for me to step away and enter other seasons. Not only am I not an elder anymore (the highly skilled Krista is picking up the mantle), I’ve also given up doing announcements and welcomes. Basically, I’m stepping out of any leadership or public persona role and slipping into an “anonymous churchgoer” role. And that’s the way I want it for now.

It feels like a time for other things. I need a season for focusing on my writing a little more. Maybe a season for taking some art courses – pottery, painting, photography – I’m not sure what yet. Mostly, I’m hoping it will be a season for creativity. And maybe a little rest.

I’m not sure what other changes the coming year will bring. When I started this job, I’d told myself I would give it at least 5 years. After that, Marcel would be finished university and I might be able to consider other options. This is my fifth year. Marcel doesn’t have a full-time job yet, but he makes a pretty decent living as a substitute teacher.

I still love my job, and honestly? I could see myself quite happily spending another 5 years here if it came to that. I’m in no rush to leave. But I’m also ready to open myself up to new possibilities. I’ve done a lot of really amazing things in the 4+ years I’ve been here, and I’m pretty confident I’ve left a positive mark on the organization, so I could walk away if it felt right to do so.

At this point, though, I’m in no rush to move into anything new. I’m going to enjoy the summer, sign up for a class or two in the fall, and maybe find a little more time and space for some writing. And in the meantime, I’m going to say “no” to almost anything anyone asks me to do for church.

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