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stepping out of your comfort zone: growth that spreads

What brings you a breath of fresh air? Every day routine can lead to efficiency, mindlessness or boredom. Experiencing something new grows your creativity, capacity and confidence. How often do you introduce a growth experience into your life?

Recently I enrolled in a metal art class. I love handmade objects, but have old messages warning against my artistic talents. Childhood art and music classes provide opportunities to awaken interests, but if done poorly can dash a child’s confidence in trying something new. My early conclusions were that I possessed neither musical nor artistic talent. These doors were closed for me and much was lost.

And yet throughout my life I’ve loved working with my hands. So independently I did sewing, weaving, knitting and beading. They relaxed me and gave me a final product.

I also became a “patron” of artists and love hearing about their journeys, learning their processes and buying their works. I want to encourage and support them in their dreams and efforts. But I also admire how free and courageous they are to follow their passions.

But what about my dreams and passions? What did I ignore and fear? My career as a psychotherapist and coach found me operating mostly in my head and heart. I don’t use my body in my work. Where is your career focus: head, heart, body? And what changes are required to become whole?

People approaching new learning or returning to previous interests can expand their brain capabilities. Through neuroscience’s concept of neuroplasticity, we now know that the brain grows new neural pathways through stimulation. The experience of being out of your comfort zone by taking on something brand new allows you to develop many skills including creativity, perseverance and flexibility that are beneficial in your current career. Plus this change of focus promotes energy to sustain a long work life.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
Neale Donald Walsch

Amy has been a physician for 40 years. She loves her work, but it feels repetitive at times. She regrets the administrative parts of her job, but loves patient contact and solving medical challenges. Amy notices friends are taking up dance, music and painting. They report joy in their endeavors, meeting new people and expanding their interests. Amy wants to find something new for herself, but she admits some fear and uncertainty.

A frequent concert fan, Amy starts thinking about playing an instrument. In high school she played the violin, but gave it up in college. “What if I could study music and be around people who play?” Amy does some research and finds a local community college offering piano lessons. She enrolls.

Amy loves jazz and convinces her teacher to begin lessons in that genre. At first Amy is a fish out of water, but eventually the practices become pure joy as she gets lost in the music. She meets other enthusiasts, young and old, and they talk of playing together.

While Amy has a stressful job and is tired at the end of the day, after a piano lesson she feels rejuvenated. She finds herself approaching her medical practice with new eyes and excitement.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

So what do you want to take on? How long have you languished in your comfort zone? Perhaps it feels like you are constantly challenged in the work place. You’re tired of feeling stretched and never comfortable.

But taking a risk in a different environment can prove satisfying. Maybe you use your body all day, but rarely your heart. Taking on challenges in a new environment and developing unfamiliar skills constitute an act of courage. Proving to yourself that you CAN do something out of your comfort zone is a message that will carry you anywhere in the world.

Where do you want to grow?

What area would be a challenge for you?
Pick an interest
Take one class
Evaluate your growth
Continue or change again

Take that smile of satisfaction with you on your next path!


who is a person at 70: creating the ideal life

So as I approach turning 70, I’m somewhat of a mess. You see my mother had a massive stroke on her 70th birthday and was paralyzed in a wheelchair for ten plus years. Her life changed on a dime and my father’s too. For he became her caregiver.

As a result I began to appreciate my ability to walk, something I had taken for granted. And also having two arms that functioned. I started walking every day and being mindful of accessibility, which was seriously lacking back then. My mother had her mind, but not her body. I wondered which was worse to lose.

When my father died, my mother moved into a nursing home. She chose not to move into my home in Virginia, even though I constructed accommodations. As the only child I became an executive caretaker while the “home” did the heavy lifting. Her life became very limited.

But am I my mother at 70? Is it ok to carve out a different path? I no longer walk daily and my diet is far from perfect. But my stress level has improved since retiring as a psychotherapist. I have my own part-time coaching business that brings me great satisfaction. I have a loving husband who takes good care of me and we are designing a great life.

One uncertain part for me is that my husband is 86 and it’s unknown how long we will have together. He is healthier than I and takes care of himself, but you never know these things. We all have an expiration date. Uncertainty is the norm. The life I had before is gone and the one I have now will not last forever. Change is the rule. And for a control freak like me, I don’t like to acknowledge that.

But here I am, thinking about my 70th birthday. I want to make it different than my mother’s, so I’ve planned a trip in Polynesia on a boat. Could I have gone any further or exotic? Yet that is what I enjoy, new sights, new cultures, water. This is a long term dream and I’m making it come true.

I actually have had a few dreams that came true. Always wanted to see Machu Picchu and did that for my retirement present. Always wanted to help the less fortunate and that’s been most of my career. I wanted to have biological and adopted children and did that. I wanted to see Washington DC and I’ve lived here for 40+ years. I wanted to study, live and work abroad and I’ve done that. I wanted to see the world and I’m progressing on that. I wanted to use my Spanish language skills and I do that. I wanted to give back and I do that. I wanted to winter in hot spots and I’m doing that. I wanted to live by the water and I’m renting that. I wanted to continuously learn and I do that.

So what does it mean to be 70? I can still do whatever I want. There are few restrictions. My feet and knees hurt, but I can hike for miles. I can put more effort into losing weight, eating healthy and being more active. I can make room for that. My mind is active.

Being 70, healthy and financially stable means I can design my next chapters. I can work as I want. I can coach, love my family, write a book, become an artist, create some projects. There are new interests driving me to explore.

While I’m living my ideal life, some things are missing. I have regrets and sadness regarding some loved ones. They struggle more than I’d hope. My learning is to love them where they are and work at adjusting my worries and expectations. I can’t control anyone but myself.

So I will stop comparing and be grateful for what I have. That’s it, be grateful for the joy and meaning that color my life. I have family and friends, health, a purpose and can create more. Anything is possible.

God’s not done with me yet”
Jesse Jackson

I will continue to learn, grow and improve. I will be courageous and live to the last breath. I will be good to people and help them as I’m able. I will be proud of myself. I will get off my duff and be active and alive. I will stay hopeful and work to better the world.

Ask yourself:

What makes your ideal life?
What is being vs doing?
What are your life lessons?
What do you want to change, keep, let go of?

Giddy up and see you on the path!

heading west: finding your lifestyle

Ever traveled outside your familiar surroundings and were amazed by the differences? Usually I notice that when overseas, but last month I visited a unique area in New Mexico. Compared to Washington DC, I was immersed into a distinct flora, climate, energy and lifestyle.

I notice that I display a different temperament  depending on my settings. Some thrill me, while others are a turn off. Where we grow up is out of our control. But later many of us migrate for school, work opportunities or relationships. We may not prioritize our surroundings ahead of work and love. And yet I believe we discover a compelling fit in certain environments versus others.

I always thought my ideal environment included water, sun, warmth and palm trees. While in New Mexico, there were gorgeous, huge, blue skies with sun, clouds and warmth. Not big bodies of water. Instead there were mountains, sagebrush and various browns and greens. The air was dry and invigorating.

But what also struck me were the people. On vacation you have time to talk with people and in Taos especially, residents wanted to talk with us. We had the pleasure of learning people’s stories and journeys. Other than Native Americans, everyone was from somewhere else. And it appeared they deliberately chose this destination.

As we age many of us move. We move to be closer to family. We move to warmer, less expensive areas. We might still move for work. But perhaps we consider what the location has to offer more than earlier in our lives. We create criteria that is vital to us.

Just as we learn more about which careers fit us best, with experience we know what type of home we prefer. Congestion or open spaces, warm or cold, U.S. or foreign, high or low. What comes with these varied areas are unique people. People who behave differently due to their environment, priorities, values, way of life.

In New Mexico we met people who have chosen this community for the lifestyle, the people, the possibilities. They had moved from the East, South and Midwest to this very distinct country. Some were almost pioneers to a new land. Initially living without electricity and water, they started businesses and became artists. They felt inspired by the culture, nature and beauty.

If you had your choice, where would you prefer to live? What kind of community would you seek out? What’s missing where you are? What has impacted you when traveling? Where are you at your best? What feels like home?

“(Neighbor is) not he whom I find in my path, but rather he in whose path I place myself, he whom I approach and actively seek”

Gustavo Gutierrez

Margaret is working in New York City. She has the job of her dreams, although it is very stressful. She grew up in Colorado, but found more job opportunities in the East. While she lacks much free time, Margaret misses the outdoor sports that were important to her growing up. She wonders if being active in nature on the weekends might alleviate her stress. But instead she stays inside most of the time and brings work home.

When will lifestyle outweigh livelihood for Margaret? When will it for you? Some people don’t wait for retirement in order to live closer to their ideal environment. People, pace and nature call you to change your current way of life. The support and camaraderie of communities which inspire your creativity and hopefulness go a long way toward raising your wellbeing. Salary and title may become less important as you mature. Finding the fit in life involves much more than work.

Find your place:

List your favorite places on Earth
Detail what about them call you
Find the commonalities
Make a plan to include these factors now
Ask what is possible

Get on the road and let’s meet on the path!

el camino: finding your way

In June I experienced the pleasure of hiking the Camino de Santiago for two weeks. Pilgrims have followed various paths to Santiago de Compostela, Spain since the 9th Century.

A pilgrim is one who journeys to a place of special significance. This can be a physical location or a place within yourself. Many contemporary Camino pilgrims travel for religious, spiritual or adventure reasons. My Camino impetus was a mixture of motivations: celebrating my husband’s special birthday, experiencing new vistas and being active.

However what resulted were opportunities to think about my path, fulfill a dream and discover how other travelers approach life. My fellow pilgrims and guides were mid-lifers and beyond: we ranged from 40’s to 80’s.  We all possessed great life experiences, valuable relationships and accomplishments, but we were eager for more.

Being in nature provides a perfect spiritual backdrop for contemplation. And if that isn’t enough, entering each town’s sacred meeting place allowed for quiet and solitude. Creating a personalized “retreat” like this for growth and renewal is a gift everyone can use.

When and how do you take a break from the hustle of every day life? When do you think about where you are going, where you’ve been and what’s ahead? Who do you have these conversations with?

Often your talks with friends and family are around what you are doing vs who you are becoming. With strangers there is a freedom to be real. To cut through the details and get straight to what’s vital about your existence. Because you’re unlikely to see these people again, you can often have more honest exchanges. It reminds me of those conversations that occur with airplane seat mates…meeting someone and leaving changed.

Perhaps being away from home gives you permission to explore, be different, interrupt the status quo. This was a hike with a destination and a purpose. We lived completely in the present, but had room for reflection. A walking meditation works for some and for others a walk with thinking, sensing, or talking.

One special highlight of the Camino was receiving a pilgrim’s blessing on two separate occasions: one in a simple, rural church and one in the great Cathedral in Santiago. Here we were recognized, honored, supported. Walking the Camino was valuable and significant. We felt encouraged and included in a community that goes back hundreds of centuries.

“Traveler, there is no path
The path is made by walking

Traveler, the path is your tracks
And nothing more

Traveler, there is no path
The path is made by walking

By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again

Traveler, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea”

Antonio Machado

Closer to home, Mavis is uncomfortable. She thought she knew what she wanted to do with her life, but now is not sure. The things that at first interested her, no longer hold that attraction. What happened she wonders. How could that passion disappear? She feels lost, without a compass.

All of us have times in our lives when we are lost personally or professionally like Mavis. It could be after college, at midlife, at retirement, after a death or divorce. A bell rings signaling time to re-evaluate. It’s a tipping point. You have to change course and you don’t want to blow it. You want to get it right.

The truth is there is no “right”. Life isn’t a straight shot to the goal. It’s a series of meanders, where you head in the best imagined direction with the information you have. And then, when that no longer works, you pick up again on a new route.

One day in Madrid while in a curvy, medieval section of town with map in hand, I couldn’t find where I wanted to go. As usual the print was too small, the streets weren’t named and I was lost. But after the frustration, I instead focused on the beauty of the architecture, the joy of the people and the cloud formations above. Eventually the destination was found, but looking back I remember the journey as the best part.

Making your way:

Create your retreat experience
Leave it spontaneous or have intentions
Write down your findings
Start a thread of themes
Dare to glimpse ahead, stretch
Take one step

Buen Camino. Y a ti también.

being in the moment: ways to calm your mind


How often do you think about several things at once? Do you count yourself among those who spend time worrying? Is it worse at work or at home? Perhaps you hear bad news about someone you care about; your to-do list is calling; or you feel life is out of control. How many hours, days, weeks have you spent worrying? It is possible to change this habit in order to experience more joy and calm.

Last week I heard author/educator Genie Z. Laborde, Ph.D, speak about presence. We are aware of the value of meditation and the practice of being in the present moment, but often we’re too busy to stop and practice it.

We end up substituting the habit of juggling a hundred thoughts, tasks, and responsibilities for something soothing and healing. Why wouldn’t we choose to experience a state that comforts us? Why live in discomfort?

We fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t have a choice. We say, no one understands the pressures we’re under. No one is inside our heads, nor would they want to be there…we don’t even want to be there.

Last week I made an effort to breathe deeply and clear my mind for the purpose of the workshop exercise. This is what I encourage my clients to do. I believe in it and I’ve seen it work.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

Amit Ray

Dr. Laborde said being in the now, which she equates with being in the right brain, erases fear. Employing all of our senses to be solidly in the present also increases our creative capacity. We are able to discover more innovative solutions when we are focused.

People find that activities like producing art, gardening, or building something enable you to be in a meditative-like state. You are engaged in one activity. Nothing else interferes. I use knitting and beading as a way to get out of my head, which serves as a stress reducing tool. What is your tool?

Another way to practice presence is while walking. You’ve heard of walking meditations, possibly for those who can’t sit still or as another option for “sitting”. I formerly used walking as a way to work out problems. Thinking hard about everything. But these days my mind is blank as I walk. Am I wasting time? No, I feel refreshed, body and mind.

The tool of being present can be used at work and home. Working parents are often dealing with competing priorities and worries. Kate is a mother of two school aged children. While raising them is a full time job, Kate also works part time outside the home. Her volume of responsibilities is a challenge, but Kate is committed to pursuing her career. She makes an effort to be truly present at work and pushes aside her thoughts about home. Likewise when she is home, Kate strives to leave her work thoughts at work.

The concept that multi-tasking is an advantageous skill has been refuted. We tend to admire supermen and women who do so much, often simultaneously. However, numerous studies find that multi-tasking leads to ineffectiveness. The brain does better holding one thought at a time.

The practice of mindfulness or noticing the present moment without judgment can lessen worrying and promote physical and mental health. It can become a tool to deal with the stresses of life. The more you “practice” it, the easier it becomes. It’s a habit that costs nothing and can be done anywhere for any length of time. In meetings, at your desk, during lunch. No one has to know what you are doing.

Mindfulness primes you for being present in your daily life. Associating your breath with coming back to the now reminds you to give full attention. For example, giving your undivided attention in conversations reaps huge benefits with co-workers, clients, bosses, and family. People crave being heard and can sense when you aren’t fully there.

Resources to practice mindfulness are abundant. Here is one place to begin: 

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

James Baraz

Ways to begin right now:

Commit to pause and ask “Am I Here?”
Start a meditation practice
Practice giving your full attention at work and home
Rest in the calm of now
Pause, take a breath, then again

Smooth sailing and see you on the path!




birds of a feather: creating your tribe


In our over busy lives we often create a “family” among those we spend most time with. If we are on the job, our co-workers become the people we are around the bulk  of our wakening day.

Through mutual respect and enjoyment, we build a support system or Tribe. Friendships develop as we share life events, good and bad. We grow to appreciate each other’s skills/talents and collaborate together for a common good. We choose intimates who have similar interests and values. Most important are those people who allow us to feel comfortable and safe. And it doesn’t hurt if we also laugh together.

Scientists who study the brain are learning that social connections light up our pleasure centers as much as drugs, sugar, and sex. In fact research shows that having solid relationships is vital for our wellbeing. When we become isolated, we suffer and wither like a leaf on a vine.

Our deepest desires are to feel safe and belong. According to Dean Ornish, M.D. “study after study have shown that people who are lonely, depressed, and isolated are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely compared to those who have a strong sense of love and community. Intimacy is healing.”

So what happens when our social support is interrupted by a transition? When we move or change jobs, it can lead to a disruption in the relationships we have created. While we pledge to stay in touch, it takes great effort when proximity is absent.

Monica is retiring from her main career and moving with her husband to a warmer climate. Over 20 years she has built up meaningful connections and affection with several of her colleagues. They worked on projects together, had lunches, celebrated birthdays, babies, and weddings and comforted each other in times of stress. Martha is ready to leave her job, but not her co-workers. How will she start over in a new place?

Not only is Monica losing the familiar support of her tribe, she is not entering another workplace with new faces. Like many people over 50, Monica plans to start her own business. Instead of driving to work, she will be at home as a consultant. What are Monica’s options? Will she keep her current friends, make new ones or a combination?

Although Western society promotes individualism, it’s difficult to handle everything on our own. Individuals differ in how many relationships they need and can nurture. When you consider the depth of your social support, are you complete or short?

Sometimes we feel scattered and not able to keep up with all our connections including family. If the hard truth is that you need fewer not more people in your life, it helps to evaluate which relationships drain you or fill you up. It takes some courage, but the reward is great to winnow out those people who sap your energy or bring a negative cloud.

However if you are wanting in connections, there are opportunities to change that. Adding new blood, variety and intergenerationality to your tribe allows you to grow and benefit.

Where does one search for new tribe members? Sometimes looking with new eyes around the office or neighborhood allows you to notice someone who interests you. Also joining professional associations or activity clubs brings you in contact with a wide variety of potential candidates.

With today’s digital capabilities many people have virtual networks with people who become very close. For example, I’m in a virtual book club with women around the country who share my interest in self-transformation. Some I have never met face to face. Such groups may already exist or you can begin one.

The important piece of a tribe is these are people you can count on to be there in hard times or celebrations. People you can share honestly your hopes and dreams. People you can help and vice versa. They are a personal or professional “family” in addition to your own. No matter what your health condition, if you express purpose through caring about others, life has meaning.

“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone…and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”     Sandra Day O’Connor

So how to assemble your Tribe:

Take time to assess your current connections
Decide if you want more, less or different
Employ fresh eyes in your daily life, who’s there?
Investigate where people with your interests congregate
Approach someone new. Smile.

Happy connecting and see you on the path!