The joy factor

Vision board for 2011

Almost every time I do a vision board, I think “ooooh… this one is my favourite so far!” That’s how I felt last night when I completed this one. I love it. It’s the biggest one I’ve done so far (I wanted to think BIG for 2011), and it’s colourful and beautiful and MINE.

There is something so gratifying about seeing your vision appear in this way. I think it works for me for a number of reasons:

  1. I’m a visual thinker. Give me images and vibrant colour and I’m a happy girl. I can get lost in an image without necessarily needing an explanation.
  2. BUT I also love words. (I’m a writer, after all.) I like to flip through magazines to see which words jump out at me and offer me some frame for my life at the time.
  3. I love to combine images and words and then watch what the combination evokes. AND I love surprises, and there are always a few of those when I put words and images together in new ways.
  4. I am comfortable with ambiguity. I don’t need to know what every image or combination of words means when I glue it on the board. Sometimes it just speaks to me and the meaning appears later.
  5. I like evolving, fluid structures. I don’t enjoy being hampered by boxy things like “strategic plans” or “business plans”. I prefer to watch the way my vision boards evolve, with changing colour themes, imagery, words, etc.

Some of the things I see so far in 2011’s vision board are:

  1. running – this is the first time I’m whispering it aloud, but I really want to run a half marathon!
  2. joy – my word for the year
  3. growth – exceeding my limits and expanding my horizons
  4. travel, adventure, journey (those things always seem to appear on my boards)
  5. leadership, sacred space, wisdom
  6. variety, options

This type of visioning speaks volumes to my Sophia heart. It’s the wisdom that flows from me when I am true to myself.

For years I tried to fit in a world where strategic planning and corporate vision statements and agendas and action items and objectives and goals felt like stiff wooden boxes that didn’t fit the soft curve of my heart. Though I became adept at adapting to that world, it never felt like my full truth.

Not that those things aren’t necessary – it’s just that they weren’t fully balanced with the wisdom of the feminine.

Now I’m looking at the world differently. I’m looking for the curves and circles, the organic ways of growing, the spaces in between the cold hard facts, the colour behind the black and white, the softness in the structure, and the joy factor.

This year, as I look ahead to my first full year of self-employment, I’m focusing on the joy factor. Instead of a business plan, I’m working on a “joy roadmap”. Instead of a vision statement, I’m creating a “joy image”. Instead of goals and objectives, I’m asking “what things will make my heart feel alive?”

Do it with me! Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. List five moments from the past year when you felt deeply joyful.

2. What was it from those moments that contributed to your joy and how can you replicate that in 2011?

3. Who were the people who surrounded you in those moments and contributed to your joy? How can you continue to surround yourself with these joy people?

4. Create a vision board, adding images and words that make you feel joyful.

5. Answer these questions:

  • I am joyful when…
  • I can bring joy to other people by…

Now go back and read your answers to the questions in #5. Are there intersections? Is it possible that the things you do that bring you joy are also the things that contribute to other people’s joy? I suspect so!

Joy is contagious. Go out there and find some. And then pass it on.

In preparation

Our house in winter
I’ve spent much of the weekend preparing for the arrival of my dear friend Randy, who, like the wise men of the Christmas tale, will soon come from the East.

The house is clean (or at least reasonably so), the bed is prepared in the family room, and a little basket of goodies is waiting for his arrival. Randy is one of the best gift-givers I know, and so I delight in gathering things to honour him. Some of my long-time readers will remember Randy as the friend in Nova Scotia who gave me a beautiful spiral necklace. Because he is about to embark on a year-long contemplative study, I created a special journal for him to gather his thoughts in. I have no doubt that he will react with just the right amount of pleasure.

Though I’ve been scurrying a bit, and stressing a little too much about the house being “just right”, it is with eager anticipation that I prepare for his arrival. Soon I will leave for the airport, and for the next two days, I know that we will have many deep conversations, lots of hearty giggles, a road trip or two, and the odd glass of wine. (Randy is one of those rare humans who is as comfortable with his feminine side as his masculine, and so it is easy to be myself in his presence.)

As I look forward to his arrival, it occurs to me that all of this preparation serves as a kind of mirror reflecting the season we’re currently in. Advent. The time of waiting, anticipation, and preparation for the coming of the Christ child.

Advent is a big season. It holds so much in its weeks of waiting. It holds the hopes of nations waiting to be rescued by a new kind of leader. Slaves waiting to be released from bondage. Women waiting to be liberated from an oppressive culture. People of all stripes and colours waiting for a new paradigm, a new kingdom.

Sometimes I underestimate just how revolutionary the coming of Christ was – how it turned the world upside down. Sometimes I forget that Advent is still happening today. We are still waiting. We are still hoping. We are still being released, liberated, and set free from old bondage.

It is Sophia – the wisdom of Christ – that releases us. We are free to be who we are meant to be. We are redeemed from the old rules, the old paradigms, the old bondage. We can live fully in our bodies, dare to be bold and powerful, embrace our femininity, and BE BEAUTIFUL.

We can dance with Sophia – embrace her and move forward into new life  – because Christ came.

Just as I anticipate the arrival of Randy, who affirms me and celebrates me just the way I am, I welcome Christ, who knows me more deeply than any other, forgives my failings, and says “my child, you are beautiful.”

That is why I celebrate Advent.

Sharing the Silly

In yesterday’s post, I shared how I need to stop being so serious all the time and bring back the silly. Well, it clearly resonated with people, because lots of you rallied around and shared your silly with me. On Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments, I got silly movie and book recommendations, links to silly Youtube clips (remember Elaine’s dance on Seinfeld?) and articles in The Onion, an invitation to meet a horse guaranteed to make me smile, an invitation to go on a road trip, and a host of other ideas.

Thanks! You all made my day! I think I was grinning until the minute my head hit the pillow.

Today I have to get some work done so that I can take some time off next week to hang out with a visiting friend (who is guaranteed to make me laugh repeatedly), so I don’t have as much time to waste on social media. But none-the-less, I wanted to keep the invitation open to SHARE YOUR SILLY! (Thanks to Barbara Winter for the idea for a new name for this month of silly.)

This morning, as I brewed tea in my new elephant teapot, I decided that the elephant needs a name. And so, for today’s Share your Silly, your task is to help me NAME MY ELEPHANT!

Leave a name in the comments of this post, and if I pick yours, I’ll send you something silly in the mail. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll find something!

By the way, if you’re new here, and you’re wondering what all this silly stuff is doing on a site that’s dedicated to something serious like leadership, well, haven’t you heard? In the new world of Sophia leadership, silly has EVERYTHING to do with being an effective leader!

Sophia laughs! (or “Why I now drink tea out of an elephant’s trunk”)

Last night, when my husband thought it was wise to send me out of the house for some “me time”, I headed to my favourite bookstore to buy more smart books. As you can tell, I love smart books. I have bookshelves full of them, and a night stand nearly caving under the weight of them.

I had a gift certificate, so I could buy them guilt free.

I wandered through my current sections-of-choice – leadership, women’s studies, spirituality, writing, and inspiration – grabbed a handful of possibilities, and found a comfy chair to get lost in.

After flipping through a few of the books, I felt something familiar creep into my gut. A heaviness. A tight ball that was being wound even tighter by the seriousness of the books I was looking through.

“Ugh.” I thought. “I don’t want to read one more serious or smart book. I don’t want any of these.”

And in that chair, with my arms full of books, I started to weep. I wept because I suddenly realized that I no longer know how to find books that will bring me joy. I only know how to find books that will make me smarter, bring me closer to self-realization, or challenge me to serve the world with greater justice.


It’s not just books. I listen to smart music too – music written by “social-justice-minded” or “plunging-the-depths-of-your-soul” folk artists.

And (I’m embarrassed to admit) when I buy jewelry, I find myself looking for some kind of spiritual meaning behind the symbols I wear, rather than just buying something for pure love.

I’ve even noticed it in my art journal. Instead of simply having fun with paint, I’m trying to inject meaning into every single page.

This is serious people. I think I have a disease. And I might very well be the last to notice it.

My dear friend Michele recently filled out a questionnaire about me (that I had requested) and she said some beautiful things that made me weep. What made me weep the most, though, was this: “While I admire your persistence and the vigour with which you approach your work, sometimes even your ‘play’ seems like work to me.”

Gulp. She’s right. I have forgotten how to play just for the fun of play.


Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this past year has been punctuated with serious things like a suicide attempt, breast reduction surgery, and the transition from employment to self-employment. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve spent the past six and a half years writing primarily about social justice issues and visiting some of the most devastatingly poor areas of the world. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve decided to build my career on the issue of wisdom and I feel like I need to be wiser than I am to do it.

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE! I have GOT to bring back my sense of play. It’s time for a shift, people. No, I’m not going to become a comedian overnight, or abandon my passion for wisdom, but I AM going to inject a little more fun into my life.

I started last night at the bookstore. I knew I couldn’t even trust myself to buy a novel (I’d probably end up with a tear-jerker set in war-torn Afghanistan), so I headed to the gift shelves, bound and determined that I would buy the silliest, most impractical, “make-me-smile” things I could find on the shelf.

And that’s why I now drink tea out of an elephant’s trunk and wear mis-matched socks on my feet. It’s time for a little FUN!

Because really, when it comes right down to it, what good is all of this wisdom if we don’t know how to laugh?

I hereby declare December the “Month of Silliness”. I am adjusting my mental image of Sophia – this month she’s got a big stupid grin on her face and she keeps bursting out in random giggles. When I put my head on her chest, I can feel the vibrations from her deep-body giggle.

PLEASE send me recommendations for books, movies, activities, WHATEVER, that are guaranteed to tickle my funny-bone and bring back my sense of ha-ha.

AND… does anyone want to knit me a tea-cozy? My elephant needs a colourful coat! 😉

Which wisdom do you trust?

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.   – Psalm 51:6

I wish I could tell you that I am always, 100% sure that this new path I’m traveling on – the path that lead me to Sophia Leadership – is the right path and I am meant to be doing this work and everything is going to be alright.

It’s just not the case. There are days when the internal critics are throwing parties in my head. Days when I think I would be better off getting a “real” job. Days when I try to convince myself that I should just focus on promoting the skills I’ve proven in the workplace (communications) and make a living off that. Days when I think this stuff is just a little too “out there” and nobody’s going to get it (or at least not anyone who’s going to pay the bills).

I’m trying to be kind to those critics, give them an opportunity to speak what they feel they must, and then gently but firmly insist that they take up residence in some place other than my brain. Here’s a few of the conversations I’ve been having lately.

Internal critic #1: “You shouldn’t be doing this. People who know you are going to think you’ve gone off the deep end, rejected your Christianity and taken a dive into some woo-woo cult of the feminine divine. You don’t want to embarrass yourself that way, do you? Why not just stick to comfortable old paradigms that don’t make you look too wacko?”

Me: “Dear critic, I know you mean well and you just want to help me save face. Thanks for caring. But the truth is that the old paradigms just never fit very well, and I can’t live authentically if I don’t question them. No, I haven’t rejected Christianity – just take a closer look in the Bible and you’ll find Sophia all over the book of Proverbs  (she’s been ignored by the church for way too long). What I HAVE rejected is the version of Christianity that just sees one narrow door to an exclusive, close-minded male God. Please pack your baggage and leave, because no  matter how hard you try, I’m not going back to that set of beliefs.”

Internal critic #2: “What you’re doing just isn’t going to make sense to people. Think about the times you’ve tried to explain it to people, and they just kind of looked at you funny and said (with a look that clearly expressed their concern that you’ve gone off your rocker), ‘That’s nice. But HOW are you going to make a living with this?’ If those people don’t get it, NOBODY’S going to get it!”

Me: “Friendly critic, I appreciate what you’re saying and I believe there may be some wisdom in it. Perhaps I need to think about better ways to explain it to people who haven’t immersed themselves in these ideas like I have recently. BUT that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up, because there are LOTS of people who are getting it – LOTS of people who are sending me such lovely notes about how this has touched a deep longing in their hearts. Even if those people end up being in the minority, they make it worth the effort. I’ll keep doing this for them.”

Internal critic #3: “Look at the success you’re having teaching the PR course. That’s the stuff you actually know – writing press releases and stories, and planning PR events, etc., etc. You really should stick to that, because you actually have enough experience in that to call yourself an ‘expert’. (What about that “communicator of the year” award last year? Huh? Have you forgotten about THAT?!) What right do you have to pretend you know anything about feminine wisdom? You probably need a degree or something like that.”

Me: “Oh critic, you’re right – I’m far from an expert. But don’t you understand that when I read, write, learn, talk, and teach about this stuff, my heart comes ALIVE in a way that it never does when I’m writing a press release? Don’t you see that this is a deep calling that won’t let me rest until I follow it further into the wilderness of my heart?”

The truth is, wisdom (God’s wisdom – “Sophia”) comes through many sources. Sometimes the critics – whether they are internal or external – are worth heeding because of how they can help us avoid pitfalls or enhance our newly-birthed ideas.

But far, FAR too many times, we give the critics too much power by allowing them to silence the wisdom that is whispered to us in quieter, less obvious ways.

It’s the wisdom that shows up in our hearts when we are quiet enough to pay attention.

The wisdom that comes when we sit on our meditation cushions and open ourselves up to Sophia/God.

The wisdom that appears when we sit and stare at an oak tree or a blade of grass.

The wisdom that emerges from our bodies when we run, do yoga, dance, walk, stretch, or just sit and pay attention.

The wisdom that we find when we look deep into the eyes of a horse.

It’s that kind of wisdom that I’m trying to listen to these days.  It (rather than the self-limiting beliefs of my internal critics) will help me shape whatever Sophia Leadership is meant to be.

I know this – Sophia has shown me so many incredible signs in the last year that this is the path that I’m meant to journey on. One of those signs came yesterday when I met someone who’s been on a remarkably similar journey in the last year and who lives only half an hour from my house. Though we hadn’t met before, we have been living nearly parallel lives (including having worked in the exact same job a few years apart!), and it is so very clear that we were meant to meet now (and not all those other times we could have met when we crossed paths) and meant to further this work together, that neither of us can ignore the signs. (More on that incredible synchronicity in posts to come.)

Each and every day, we have to choose which wisdom we’re going to trust. Trusting the more intuitive, spiritual, “God-breathed” wisdom often feels like “the road less traveled”, but it is that wisdom that will help us change the world. The beautiful thing is, this quiet wisdom actually come from a Source that is much bigger than any of our  critics.

Finding strength

I am not a goddess. And I don’t have super-powers.

I am ordinary, flawed, and often rather boring. My laundry room is in a perpetual state of disaster, I often take the easy route and feed my kids processed food, I don’t floss regularly, and I haven’t thrown a dinner party in a few years because it takes too much work. Sometimes I even pick my nose.

But you didn’t come here to read a list of my flaws, did you? Especially not the nose-picking thing.

Sometimes the language I read around blogs and self-help books targeted toward women worries me. We’re supposed to claim our superhero alter-ego, step into our power, and become goddesses. Now, if you’ve used that language, please forgive me – I’ve done the same on occasion. I understand the point of it – we want women to feel special and empowered and endowed with the Sacred. There’s nothing wrong with those things.

BUT… the problem is, if I have to have a superpower or be a goddess, then it starts to feel like I’m putting way too much pressure on myself to be invincible. I don’t want to be invincible. I want to be okay with being flawed. I want to be able to forgive myself for sending my daughter to school in dirty pants because I didn’t get the laundry done (again). I want to be ENOUGH.

The other thing is, in those moments when I’m feeling weak and flawed and at the end of my capacity to cope, I want to be able to reach for some kind of source of power that is external to me. I don’t want to BE a goddess, I want to SURRENDER to a Goddess and have Her carry me.

If being a goddess is up to me, then where do I go to be refilled when my tank is empty?

You can call religion a cop-out or a panacea – that’s up to you. But I still need it in my life. I still need there to be a God/dess, I still want to know I’m cared for by a Creator who thinks I’m special and beautiful, I want to be extended grace and forgiveness by a compassionate Being outside myself, and I want to know there is Sacred power that has absolutely nothing to do with my capacity.

It doesn’t matter to me what you call that Higher Power, but for me, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the concept of Sophia – the feminine nature of God. (A concept, by the way, that originates in the Old Testament.) When I feel weak, I call on Sophia for wisdom and grace. I picture Her as a beautiful, full-bossomed, long-haired wise and fierce grandmother type. I curl up in her arms, and her long flowing hair hangs around me like a curtain, sheltering and protecting me from harm.

This is the image I turn to most these days, but I am also still quite comfortable with God as father-figure – the kind of Father who is the embodiment of the strong and compassionate masculine nature I mentioned in my last post.

Having a God/dess in my life helps me take myself off the hook when I just can’t seem to get things right. S/he thinks I’m good enough.

Note: This is part of a blog round robin called Support Stories – Strength from Within. Click the link to find other stories of finding strength.

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