Saturday, May 30, 2015

Life Awaiting

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” 

I have read this quote so many times, but I have always thought you have to have a plan. No plan, no accomplishments.

I have been working with undergraduates for over 3 years now helping them think about the life ahead.  Who are they?  Who do they want to be?  I listen to their plans and life goals.  It’s not easy for the students, but the possibilities do seem endless and, most of all, possible.

Not only do I spend my days with college students, I do it at my alma mater, so I rarely forget how I felt when I was that age.

When I first read the quote above, I felt a sense of sadness.  “Letting go of the life we planned.”  Did that mean it didn’t work...that we failed?  As I hear these young students describe their future, I think about the plans that I made years ago.  I felt fairly confident of my direction at that time.  It helped that nobody ever questioned why I was doing what I was doing.

In the class that I help teach, we do an interesting exercise.  After weeks of helping students design their lives forward, we have them pretend they are at their 25th year college reunion.  We have them imagine what it would be like to be 47 and what their lives would look like.  What did they accomplish, what didn’t happen, and what parts of life just happened that they never saw coming?

It’s fascinating to listen them.  The exercise is meant to help them think about those things that didn’t go as planned.  What did they have to let go of?

So back to the quote above.  I don’t see it as sad anymore.  I realize that so many things I didn’t plan have actually been quite magical.  And, yes, there have been things that have torn my heart into pieces that were not magical in any way.

But, it is when I let go, as Joseph Campbell says, that life becomes quite an extraordinary ride.  It is when I stop measuring my life against the plans I had made as an undergraduate and I just become who I am and take each day as an opportunity to be open and experience whatever comes my way that I find I am most at peace. I guess that is living the life that is waiting for me. So much planning and measuring of goals has many times prevented me from allowing life to just happen and to see opportunities that when I was younger I wouldn't have even noticed.

Maybe mid-life is not so much about a crisis over what can no longer be accomplished, but an opportunity to see what surprises we couldn’t even have imagined at age 22.

It’s not easy, though, letting go of the things you planned.  It means giving up the pretense of being in control, it means not thinking that you failed, but just that you are following another path, and it means feeling much more comfortable with uncertainty.

I am in awe of those who have led their lives this way from the beginning, but I have been a very analytical type and it has taken me much longer to let go of the life I had planned.  I don’t know what is ahead, but somehow, that feels extremely peaceful and I am eager to know more about the life that is awaiting me.


"Not all who wander are lost."  J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, February 27, 2015

Empty Nester

I remember thinking years ago as I drove my sons to Little League practices or games every day of the week, “When I am an empty nester, I will move to France for a month or two and see what it’s like to live there.”

“Empty Nester” defined by the dictionary is “a parent whose children have grown and left home”.  Translation:  now you have lots of time to do all those things you have been meaning to do.

Am I the only one that finds that being an empty nester is nothing like I expected? I love my parents and as they age (and I feel blessed that they are still here so I am not complaining), I want and need to return the love and care that they gave me as a child.  That takes time and is sometimes mentally exhausting, both because of the actual job and because it reminds me that life is short.

Then, there are the kids that went off.  They went off, but they still have issues that I am sure I worry about unnecessarily.

So, what am I getting to?  It’s difficult.  It’s not what I thought it would be.  I love many people around me and, many times, I can support and love them, but I can’t always fix things for them.

I am trying to make a special effort to do nice things for myself and not run myself down. I know that isn’t good for anyone.

I guess I never really thought that much about this time of my life.  I was so busy up until now following the path that I knew, that is, raising children, getting them off to college, out of college and then on to the next step. 

I don’t think I really had much of an idea what this time would be like. So, the good news is that I am learning day by day how to make the most of each moment that is mine and to appreciate all that I have.

I just don’t think I will be moving to France anytime soon.

Maybe this time of life is meant to teach us how important life’s little blessings are and remind us to slow down and pause.  Fixing, controlling and worrying have yet to be helpful actions for me.  What does help is making sure that I find my way to the beach to  enjoy the beauty of the ocean, sip a cup of coffee slowly in the morning, or make sure that I am really present with the family and friends I love.

And, maybe, it helps feeling that I am not the only one going through it.

Hoping that you are finding time to relax and take care of yourself...


Wednesday, November 12, 2014


I have been thinking a lot about gratitude lately.

As I age, I notice the importance of health more, my own, and others I love and care about.

It's a double edged sword.  One side is thinking more about one's own mortality and having more ailments than I remember in years past, but the other side is a gift.

I allow myself time to enjoy and have fun because there are enough difficult things going on that I need to let myself recalibrate now.  I am finding the oxygen mask metaphor of "taking care of yourself first so you can take better care of others" is really true.

I find having coffee in the morning in the quiet is a special occasion not just something to rush through.  I truly understand the concept of mindfulness and being in the moment you are in and appreciating it.

I spend a lot of time around college students with my teaching and I love their energy and determination, but I am very appreciative of the perspective you gain with age.  It is so much easier to be grateful for small things and you realize that who you are as a person and the kind of person you are is based very little on your "accomplishments" measured by the outside world.

Many of the students with whom I work are extremely accomplished and have done amazing things.  When I first started working with them, I couldn't imagine what I could offer them or why they would ask to meet one on one with me.  But, slowly, I realized that I actually could offer them something they didn't have: a sense of perspective.  I was able to hear their thoughts and angst and had a better full view than they did.  Some of it was just the fact that I was on the outside and they were in the midst of a dilemma, but most of it was that over the years, I had gained an ability to see more of the whole picture.

That's what they wanted and that's what I was able to contribute to them.

So I am very grateful for that ability and try hard to apply it to my own life on as much of a daily basis as I can.

I am also grateful to you as a reader.  I find the gift of being able to write about life's trials and tribulations allows me a deeper connection with others and myself.  So, thank you for reading this blog…


Monday, October 13, 2014

Those Memories You Remember Exactly...

I have noticed lately that I dive back into those “remember when” moments when things are tough and I want to think back to the good old days.
As I move forward in my career meandering I think back to the days that the kids were still kids...everything seemed easier “back when”.

It’s easy to remember the good old days without remembering the difficulties that came with them.  That’s not fair to the present and it’s not even real.  It’s just my perception of what was.

The other day I was with my younger son watching sports on TV and the Tennessee Titan football team came on briefly.  “Oh,” I said, “I remember when you were a little boy and you had a sports crush on the Titans.  They were the first team you really loved.”

My mind began a lovely tale of moments picturing my young son in his Titan jersey and Titan banners hung proudly on the walls of his room.  It was such a warm feeling to enjoy the memories. I knew for a fact that it was the Titans and no one would be able to question those memories because they were real and factual. I can see everything perfectly to this day and in great detail.

Then, poof, my younger son said to me, “Mom, that wasn’t me.  That was my older brother (name being withheld as both sons will kill me if they know I am writing about them).

“Wait, that wasn’t you?” I asked.  “No, don’t be ridiculous,” he said.

That’s what life is like.  You swear that your memories are EXACTLY they way you remember them. How could they be any different?  You remember every detail.  But, you don’t.

We remember what we want to remember or sometimes we just forget.

I am keeping that thought close to my heart now when I think of the good old days and I want everything to go back to the way it was.  It’s difficult to try new things...some work, some don’t, but they are part of who you are now and where you are going at this moment.

It’s not to say memories are not wonderful and helpful.  I just want to remember to take them with a grain of salt, especially when I am using those old memories to help me learn lessons and move forward.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Lessons of a Lost Voice

I lost my voice last Friday.  I don’t mean I was hoarse.  I mean I picked up the phone to call someone and nothing came out.  If you know me, you would know that I am not a shrinking violet and keeping my mouth shut is a non-experience for me.

I must have had a cold and then just ran myself into the ground, but I am a firm believer that every experience is a lesson.

I kept asking myself through all this quiet time, “what I am I learning?”.  First, I learned that I am grateful for my voice.  It is really hard not to be able to talk.  And, I learned that I am stressing myself a bit too much these days and I need to take it easy.  Those were easy lessons to see.

But, the next two lessons were surprising to me.  

I did have a few conversations (one sided) in person and a few on the phone (though nothing coming out on my end).  I realized that I am a terrible listener.  When I was forced to listen (and had no choice), I did.  I didn’t interrupt though I so wanted to (as I do often).  I didn’t give advice because I couldn’t.  I just listened and I realized I don’t really listen to people.  I am usually thinking about what I am going to say, giving my two cents, but not actively listening to people’s words and emotions as best I could.

Suddenly, I was.  I could feel a difference.  As I very slowly get my voice back, I hope I will continue to actively listen to others more often.

The last lesson I learned is that I was more peaceful.  I talk a lot and sometimes I think that causes more anxiety than just sitting or even listening.  I remember a teacher I had in high school used to always say, “if you’re talking, you’re not learning”.  Sometimes, I learn when I am teaching students, but more often than not, I learn more when I listen.

My voice is hoarse today and that is a huge step forward.  But, I am hoping not to forget what it feels like to give someone my full attention.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creativity: Music to My Ears

One of my favorite professors at Stanford, Tina Seelig, is repeating her online course on Creativity, but this time she is using music to complement it and will be working with recording artists from Warner Music such as Linkin Park, Jason Mraz and more. You will learn how to develop creativity skills through music.

“Creativity:  Music to My Ears” is an online course which begins Wednesday, April 2nd.  The class is free.

There is more info in the links below as well as a short clip with Tina and Jason Mraz.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Notes Without the Music

“The notes without the music.”   I had never heard that phrase until a few weeks ago.

I have been teaching college students for the last two years and, ordinarily, I create the content of my lecture and then present it on my own.  This quarter, I am working with some extraordinary mentors and I was asked to present their material in my lecture.  It was a big moment for me as it was a bit of a test to see how I would teach with this format. I prepped every day for a week.

It was both new to me and difficult to teach someone else’s content. I prepared as best I could, memorizing the material and presenting it the way I thought my mentors wanted.

Ironically, the topic of my presentation was about emotional intelligence and listening to your gut instincts.  I have worked so hard for the last couple of years to follow those gut instincts and listen to my own voice.  I don’t know if it was because I was new in this particular class or I wanted so much to please my mentors, but I made a mistake.  I didn’t follow my gut.  I memorized the materials, hit every point that I was supposed to, and I didn’t even choke.  But, in the end, I felt like a little of my soul had died. I hadn’t taught the lesson the way "I" would teach it.  I taught it like a lawyer and not the new person I had discovered in myself over the last few years, that is, someone who had found great joy and fun interacting with college students as they make important choices going forward with their lives.

I have been teaching that failure is important and that learning from failure and improving the next go around is how you become the best “you”.

So, in my mind, my latest lecture was a failure because I was not me.  I was trying to be someone else.

In the end, my mentor was kind and supportive, but he smiled and said, “It was the notes without the music”.

That phrase caught me by surprise.  That was it.  He had said in just a few words what I have never been able to encapsulate.

It wasn’t just about this experience. It was about all those times in life when it looks like everything is right.  There is nothing from the outside to indicate what is not working...a job, a relationship, or an experience.  I never had those exact words to describe when something is just missing.

The notes are there, but there is no music.  That is what happens when you don’t follow your instincts.  It’s very hard to describe in words, but you know when the music just isn’t there.

How ironic that the topic of my lecture was exactly what I was not doing.

“The notes without the music” in just a few words reminds me when I need to be aware that even with all the checklists marked, it can still be wrong. Even though it may be difficult to describe why there is no music, what is important is recognizing that it’s not there.

Just having that awareness can be a huge step in helping us to go forward.