What’s Mine Isn’t Necessarily Yours

My best friend and I used to take annual girls getaway weekends. We went to New York, LA, DC, Chicago, New Orleans and more. We have so many great memories from those excursions. Over the years, one thing we talked about doing was a spa retreat weekend. We researched locations and put aside money and were finally able to make that dream a reality. We spent 4 days at a location in Arizona that provided us space and time to relax, reflect, set intentions, and focus on self-restoration. It was everything we needed it to be and more. We left feeling changed and convinced everyone needs to have some type of experience like that.

However, prior to our departure, like with any trip preparation, there were things to do. True to form, I had lists; what to pack, errands to run, loose ends to tie up at work. I had just come off my busy back to school travel season and was playing catch up on emails and work assignments. People had been so patient and gracious with me while I was unavailable at my desk/computer that I felt the need to make up for lost time.

The day before we left, I was on a roll. I was moving through all the last-minute things I wanted to get done so I could be clear minded while I was away. Did you notice how many times I said “I” in that last sentence? It was a great feeling for me BUT it was not so great for everyone else with whom I work. I was shoveling things off my list and dumping them on others. In fact, one of my colleagues said, “Man I cannot keep up with all your emails today.” It was like a game of hot potato. How quickly can I pass this on to another person, get it off my desk?  I realized that my need to feel free was negatively impacting others. It reminded me of the quote I’ve seen in offices over the years “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”. In my defense, it wasn’t necessarily a lack of planning on my part, it many ways it was just circumstantial. I had been on the road so much that I hadn’t had the time to get to those items. However, I maybe could have done a better job of planning and/or at least a better job at communicating what my plan entailed. (i.e., dumping on everyone else, HA?!) I’m confident had I said to these coworkers “I’m going on vacation for a couple of days and trying to take care of things before I go, here are the ways I need help.” They would have been more than happy to accommodate. If the shoe were on the other foot, I would have done the same for them.

Part of my self-care plan isn’t to make others suffer in their well-being. My desire is for ALL of us to have balance and peace. My selfish actions didn’t allow for that for those around me that day. I felt relieved but at others expense, which ultimately doesn’t make me feel good. I apologized to the few I had impacted and am determined to do better next time. “When you know better you do better”.

I know I am not the only one who’s had that experience. Maybe you are the dumper too like me? I’m confident you have been the dumpee. I know I have felt that before myself and been resentful. Can we be more mindful about how our actions impact other people? Please don’t hear me saying that the alternative is to carry all of the load yourself, I’ve talked about that in previous blogs. We do need each other to help divide and conquer. But there is a way to ensure that division feels fair and not overly burdensome. 

Let’s make a commitment to be more intentional, thoughtful, and mindful in our actions, knowing they can have a trickle down (or in my case, firehose) effect. Consider other people’s circumstances, talk through expectations, or needs. Let others share what they can and can’t do. Work together to problem solve and find solutions to whatever the issue is at hand. Your problem doesn’t have to become someone else’s.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few take aways from my time at the desert retreat.

  1. You don’t need a spa retreat weekend to feel rejuvenated & prioritize your self-care (it is nice if you can swing it but not necessary)
  2. There is power in being still. It may feel challenging to stop, but it’s worth it.
  3. Setting intentions works. Say it out loud, share it with others, write it down. Hold on to it.
  4. Putting positive energy into the world (your space) comes back to you.
  5. Nature and good nutrition are healing.

Persistence Pays Off

Happy New School Year! By the time you read this, I will have concluded my back-to-school travel season. It was great getting to see so many people in person this year. I had a blast with educators from the southern most part of the state (shout-out to Blissfield!) all the way to the northern most part (I see you GOISD and DIISD). To sweeten the experience even more, my oldest got to join me for a few days while I traversed the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A couple of my workshops bookended a weekend, so we were able to do some exploring in between work commitments while we were up there. We got to hike trails up mountains and walk paths along the Lake Superior shoreline. It was majestic to say the least.

Being in such a rural remote area made cell service unpredictable and unavailable. We were amazed at how difficult it was to navigate without our typically reliable pocket-size GPS. We learned to make friends quickly with locals who could guide us to our next destination. Another lesson we learned was to not give up so quickly. There were a few occasions that we were searching for a certain point (visitor center, marina, post denoting where a trail began) that we began to question ourselves when that particular landmark was not readily accessible. “Did the guy say 25 miles or minutes?” “Did they say turn left at the marina?” “Surely we’ve already walked 3 miles.” We would second guess ourselves, “maybe we missed it”, “I think we’ve gone too far”. And we would stop at a point of indecision. Do we keep going a bit further? Do we turnaround? We found ourselves not having the answer, looking at one another, waiting for the solution to surface. In those moments, we could only follow our gut. There was no navigation system to rely on, there was no way to call anyone to ask. It was just us, left to our own internal instincts. It forced us to go slow (or stop?!) and check in with ourselves. There were at least two times that we did 3 (5?!) point turnarounds in the middle of the street deciding we had gone too far and needed to turnaround only to realize we hadn’t gone far enough and gave up too quickly. We just needed to persist a little bit further (another half mile, another few minutes). After a few of these experiences, we recognized our pattern and determined to stay the course. (and started screenshotting our maps/directions when we did have service, so that helped reassure us). However, it also made us realize that in those moments of uncertainty, we could figure it out. We did eventually find our way. We could rely on ourselves for the answer vs being so quick to depend on a device. We reflected frequently about those who live in those communities without cellphones and were amazed, impressed (even dumbfounded?) by how they function in life without those tools. But they do!

In each of the sessions I conducted, energy was high with the educators, as they launch into a new school year. One even said from the back of the room, “this is great right now, but we will need you again in November.” It’s true! Anticipation of anything new is often met with fresh eyes and perspective, but eventually if we aren’t careful, we can lose that momentum and excitement. We felt that too, pumped to see new sights but then losing that feeling, almost giving up and missing one of the most beautiful landscapes. We can miss exhilarating experiences if we don’t keep going. Think about a student who finally got the lesson because you (and they) persisted. Or a time you reached a goal and the sense of achievement you felt. The climb may be exhausting but it is worth it!

This is not a blog written to say we don’t need modern day conveniences. They absolutely serve a purpose, and we were thrilled to get to locations with service so we could check in with the rest of our family and friends. But it is a reminder that often we have what we need already. Maybe when you feel lost or ready to give up, consider going slow (or stopping) and check in with yourself. Chances are you have the answer, or skillset, or characteristic needed to navigate through whatever circumstance you find yourself. Tune into yourself. What does your gut say? Do you keep going or do you turnaround? My hunch is that what you need is just up ahead a little ways. Perhaps it’s a break, or extra support or good news or some type of reprieve. Keep going, don’t give up, persist a little longer, your destination is waiting for you.

Harder Than It Needs To Be

Take a moment right now to remember a time you found yourself running around in circles. Perhaps you were packing for a trip and your mind was racing with all the things you need to remember to put in the suitcase. You need to remember to grab your toothbrush, or a belt or a jacket and ask your neighbor to pick up your mail and/or water your plants. Maybe you still need to type up the instructions for your pet that is staying back with a sitter. Or another scenario could be that you have a deadline for a project and its crunch time. As you are tying up the loose ends there are little things to consider. Did everyone add their comments to the document? Did the final data points get included? Were the references added? Are the slides ready? There could be a myriad of situations that can keep us overwhelmed, distracted, moving in too many different directions at one time. I know for myself; I am not thinking clearly or efficiently in those moments and end up making things harder for myself. I find myself running around in circles willy nilly vs. thinking strategically or carefully about how I’m using my energy.

Fortunately, the last couple of weeks have not been as busy. It’s quieter this summer than in years passed. It seems as if people are actually taking time off and enjoying some vacation. Thus, I’ve had more time to work SLOWLY through the week, being more intentional and thoughtful. It’s been a pleasant change of pace and one I’ve appreciated, as I know times like these are fleeting. I tried to soak it in, notice and embrace it. Although it’s been more relaxed for me, it hasn’t necessarily been like that for some of my coworkers.

There have been two separate instances with two of them that stood out to me this last month. I’ll modify them a little to keep it more anonymous.

In one situation, I got an email request from an administrator who had a specific question about a school mental health program. I forwarded her question to someone from that particular program who then subsequently bounced it around to someone else who forwarded it to someone else who eventually sent an email response. Initially, I thought, oh good it eventually got to the right person who can help but imagine my disappointment and surprise when days later that same administrator came back to me saying their question hadn’t been answered. I immediately called them, and we resolved it within 5 minutes. She was extremely grateful for the personalized attention she received, and it took very little time.

In another example, I was going to meet a colleague for an in-person meeting. In trying to decide where we would meet, they suggested we just go to the office which is over an hour away for both of us. In further exploration, neither of us needed to go to the office so I was able to take a few minutes to find a location halfway between our residences so we each only had to drive 25 minutes to a venue in between us. It saved both of us time and money and the location worked well. We plan to meet there again in the future!

In both of these cases, knowing the parties well, I thought, why did these situations get so overly complicated?   Upon reflection, I realized that both of my coworkers (friends) are so overwhelmed and stressed with their other tasks that they didn’t have the capacity to think outside the box and just reacted. It was too much to put any brain power to the request. They are just moving so quickly through their day that taking time to SLOW down felt harder than figuring out a more simple/easier solution. I KNOW I have done that so many times myself. And it was only because I had the luxury of a slower schedule that I could problem solve and help out in those ways. However, it wasn’t lost on me that even in those harried times perhaps things would be less chaotic if we force ourselves to not just react but be intentional and thoughtful about how we respond to different requests made of us. Maybe there are opportunities to simplify things. Sometimes automatic pilot can be effective but not necessarily efficient. There is always a lot to do, let’s try not to make it harder than it needs to be.

Less Is More

If you are paying attention, the universe often uses experiences around us to make a point or teach us a lesson. The last month, I’ve noticed several opportunities that reinforced the “less is more” concept. So much so that I googled the phrase to see how it was defined exactly and what specific examples were related to it. I actually found the definition to be encouraging and truthfully a little freeing. “Smaller quantity could have higher quality”. So, a smaller amount of something could be better than a larger quantity.

This was especially true recently as I was traveling with a few coworkers, and we participated in meetings over the course of three days with numerous stakeholders. One person in our meetings was particularly verbose. I have enough self-awareness to know I can be that way myself, however, I try to be cognizant of my tendency to keep myself in check. This particular person on the other hand did not have that same self-monitoring skill apparently. I even tried to give some subtle social cues that were also not detected by this person. Therefore, there were several occasions when I found myself either tuning out or losing patience. I could tell I wasn’t the only one in the room having that same experience.

Equally, I was in another interaction where someone overshared some information and it caused quite a stir. It inadvertently had a domino effect and impacted a lot of people. Thus, it took time to get things calmed down and resolved. I kept thinking that this situation and all of the emotions and energy that went into it, could have been avoided if less was shared.

Finally, I was in a conversation with an education leader who called to get clarification on a project timeline. He was concerned about the delay in the launch of the program (we both shared that concern). As we talked through it, we determined things were beyond our control and we just had to be ok to let it go. (He used those words directly quoting his daughters love for the movie Frozen). Even in this situation, we determined that less is more. The less we worry about something we can’t control the more freedom we have to focus on other things we can control. In the long run it is a relief to handle only those things within our control.

How can this perspective help you in your journey towards personal wellness? When can you do less to preserve and maintain more energy? When can you say less to keep things simple and save more time for other enriching activities? Are there things you can let go of and release the stress or worry around timelines you can’t control? Sometimes we do HAVE to do more, stand in gaps, fill in for others, take on extra but that should be the exception not the rule. Especially right now as we enjoy slower summer months.

This month is typically the one that is the quietest for educators. Most have settled into the summer break routine and are vacationing. Therefor it is the right time to perfect the practice of less is more. Have less on your to do list. Do more resting and relaxing. Stress less about things in life you can’t control. Have more confidence that things work out the way they are supposed to. Have more peace of mind and freedom to just be. Have less angst about what the future holds and know all will be well.

On that note, I would usually make this blog a little longer, maybe include another paragraph or two but I’m going to practice what I preach and stop here since I believe this is sufficient to communicate my conviction that less is more.

Sweat the Small Stuff

By the time this blog is posted, June 1st, the school year will either be over or nearly over, and summer break will be front of mind. As usual, this break has been hard-earned and is greatly welcomed. Just like in most races, the pace picks up as we near the finish line, preparing to break through the tape in celebration of our achievement.

My kids and I recently drove to Chicago to spend time with our extended family. Rain was forecasted for a portion of our drive. It was drizzling when we departed. However, as we drove west those smaller rain drops increased in size and frequency. An hour into the trip my wipers were at high speed while we slowly and carefully followed the taillights (which is all we could see) of the car ahead of us. It was made worse when a semi next to us would inadvertently deluge us with even more rainwater. Fortunately, we were able to travel out of its path fairly soon and didn’t have to white-knuckle it the whole drive. It’s amazing how quickly conditions can change, causing a storm and forcing you to change your pace and focus.

When our schedules are packed and the to do list continuously multiplies, pressure builds and it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. If we aren’t careful and intentional about how we move through those times, we can find ourselves compromised in the storm. I know when I’m feeling stress and overwhelmed, I’m tempted to take short-cuts, to rush through tasks and often neglect nurturing the things I value (my relationships, my health/well-being, doing good work, etc). I can get laser focused on checking things off the list that I miss opportunities to enjoy the “life is good” moments. I may not allow myself a much-needed self-care break to laugh with a friend, a funny video or even at myself. I adopt a “life is too serious” stance. And for those who follow me and read previous blogs, it’s no secret that in those moments, I can get prickly. That’s my word for times when I’m short on patience, running on fumes and overly tired. That state of being usually accumulates over time. It’s a result of not pre-emptively building in self-protective measures to offset exhaustion or frustration. Often it displays itself in my relationships. I’ve experienced the damage that can be caused by prickly-ness, whether I’ve been the instigator or the recipient, it’s inflicts pain in the relationship. Small acts of neglect or disregard can build up creating tension and disconnection. The storm sets in.

Just as difficulties in relationships can feel heavy, sap our energy, and weigh us down, I am a firm believer the opposite is also true; there are numerous positive effects of relationships. I am convinced they help us heal, they give us purpose, motivation, and that collectively we are better together. Burdens are lighter when they are shared. It’s freeing to divide and conquer various tasks making them feel more manageable and less challenging or difficult. Words of encouragement or acknowledgement from others can bolster our spirit and keep us going. It can mean a lot to get a pat on the back or some type of recognition for a job well done. Those small tokens of appreciation can go far. It doesn’t have to take a long time or cost any money. Sending a simple email or text to let someone know you are thinking of them can make a big difference in their day. The extra benefit is that whatever energy you extend comes back to you. (Not that that should be your motivation, but it is a perk).

As part of our commitment to self-care as we head into the final stretch of our school year, let’s make a concerted effort to nurture our relationships. Be mindful of the little things that can create distance or dissonance. Be watchful for ways to prevent rifts and protect those you care about. Be open and honest before the storm sets in. Address the things that may seem trivial, sweat the small stuff that can divide and cause hurt. Look for opportunities to build others up around you. While you’re at it sweat the small stuff that can make a positive difference. Notice the subtle tasks others do, acknowledge it, celebrate quick wins, baby steps forward. Look for the good in situations and hold on to that, draw attention to it, share it out loud. Let’s deal with the nuances as they occur but focus on the greatness that each of us possess and shower one another with love.

Step By Step

Moving from one home to another can feel like a full-time job. Having moved over 20 times in my lifetime I pride myself that I now have it down to a science. I’ve learned moving hacks through the years that make the transition easier. I also find pleasure in purging unneeded items from the current home as I prepare to relocate to the next one. I love finding new places for my belongings, repurposing décor, and making new memories. My mom and another friend of mine each bought a new home in the last few weeks. Going through the settling in process with them (mom via Facetime) prompted an analogy for self-care.

Reflect on a time when you’ve moved. If you’re anything like me, when surveying all of the boxes and bins that contain your whole life, it can feel overwhelming, unsure where to even begin.  Unpacking one item leads to another task and more “to do’s”. It’s almost like dominoes or maybe even Jenga. I can feel like I’m walking in circles uncertain of how productive I am being.

In helping my friend last week, I was tasked with setting up the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite things to do when moving into a new place. I believe in many cases; the kitchen is the heart of the home. It tends to be where most people congregate. It can be fun for me to find the flow of the room. Figuring out where to put everything that makes the most sense. Determining where to put the plates, glasses, the cookware, utensils, and organizing the pantry. First, I survey the space and decide my plan of attack. How can I do this job systematically? Where do I start? What is my first step? And then the next step? Taking things step by step helps tremendously! Taking things in small incremental steps (aka bite size pieces) makes it more manageable. And playing upbeat music helps (along with the promise of pizza afterwards). I can really get in the zone. The bonus is the sense of accomplishment when something like that is done. In my experience, if the kitchen and a bathroom are unpacked and a bed is made with clean sheets, the rest can progress in time.

Just like when looking at all of your belongings laying in chaos in one location can feel overwhelming, so does nearing the end of a school year. Things seem to pile up as we survey all that needs to be done before the summer break. Assessing how to get through the rest of the content and curriculum while navigating spring testing, along with end of year celebrations, award ceremonies, and programming can be daunting. It becomes crunch time. All of that coupled with exhaustion from the pace of the school year can take its toll. (Unless of course you’ve been following your own self-care plan and adopting some of the strategies we share here each month).

What pressure are you under currently? What feels heavy? Burdensome? How can you take it step by step? Is there a way to chunk out the tasks that lay ahead? Can you start with something small and build momentum? Can you prioritize, what really needs to be done first? Are there other things that can wait or intentionally ignored or skipped? (not your self-care!) Can you opt to not attend every event or only stay for part? Remember you have a choice and are allowed to set boundaries and time limits to preserve your energy.

Let me reinforce the notion that not doing “all the things” and choosing how to expend your energy is part of self-care. Allowing yourself to only do what you can do and not feeling guilty about what is left undone contributes to your well-being. Alleviating the pressure to do it all preserves your mental and emotional health. Giving yourself permission to pace, slow down, go step by step is the goal. I’m confident that if you take a moment to think through what feels like an unsurmountable mountain of work, you will find some place to get your footing, take a breather before you continue to the summit. And once you get to the top, with your health in check, you will have the energy to be able to celebrate all you’ve accomplished.

(and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention I had the New Kids on the Block song, Step by Step playing in my mind while writing this blog)

See Your Good

One of my nieces plays volleyball at her high school as well as through a club team. She and her club team were in a regional tournament a couple of weeks ago in a location about four hours from where I live. I didn’t have plans for the weekend, so I decided to go and watch. I’d never seen her play (truth is I’d never seen anyone play in a high school volleyball game before). It was so exciting! The way the court was set up we were able to sit right there on the sidelines within feet of the court (which was sometimes dangerous if a loose ball came hurling towards you). I felt like a celebrity sitting courtside.

I loved watching her and her teammates as they worked together, communicating “mine”, “got it” and moving through their plays. It was like watching a choreographed dance. One steps up to the net to set the ball; the other comes in from the side to spike it. There was so much energy and enthusiasm. It was evident they loved the game. I was so proud of my niece; she played well but more importantly she was a positive supporter of her teammates. She would encourage them if they made a mistake and they all celebrated after a good play. It was infectious.

One of the young ladies on the team was also a very good player. Her strong suit was powering the ball over the net once it was set up for her. I loved watching her rev up and slam it down many times for a game point. As in any situation, even when we are really good at something there are occasions when mistakes are made. That was the case with my niece and her teammates. They did not play perfectly in each match, there were miscalculations or missteps. All of that is to be expected. However, this particular teammate was so hard on herself. The rare occasion when she did miss the ball or didn’t get it over the net or inadvertently overpowered it to out of bounds, she was visibly angry and denigrating to herself. Because we were sitting courtside, I could hear her negative self-talk (cussing at herself) and see her expression and reaction (anger, stomping her feet, pounding her fists). It made me sad to witness. She didn’t deserve to feel so bad, it’s only a game. She just made a mistake. Of course, her teammates and the rest of us spectators would offer her reassurance. That seemed to help externally but I could tell she had internal dialogue underway.

I can totally relate. Maybe you can too. I know several of my inner circle friends and I have had these same conversations recently. We set expectations for how we should handle a professional or personal situation. We have it scripted intellectually, rehearsed it mentally and envisioned the outcome; however, if it doesn’t necessarily play out that way, we start the self-disrespect tapes. Or perhaps there’s a vulnerability or discord in a relationship and the insecurities mount. Maybe there was a task to perform, and you are late on the deadline, so self-loathing ensues. We can think of all the shoulda, coulda, wouldas in hindsight. It’s easy to perseverate on the “what-if’s” instead of celebrating the “what dids”. We seemed to be wired as a species to look for the shortcomings, the risks, the faults versus the wins, the advances, the successes. Even when I conduct self-care presentations and ask attendees to consider one thing they love about themselves, I’m consistently met with groans. It can be challenging to embrace and elevate our goodness. But it is there. It is evident to others!

My goal for the future is to treat myself the way I would treat someone else. Just as I would quickly support a loved one (or a young female on a volleyball court) to reframe and see the good in any situation, while still learning whatever life lesson is to be gained, I need to do that for myself. It’s ok (albeit beneficial) to acknowledge areas for growth but not dwell on them. Let’s make a pact to be gracious with ourselves, just like we would with someone else. Let’s keep practicing ways to love ourselves, see our worth for just being, and not just because we powerfully spike the winning point.

Now More Than Ever Before

Well, here we are again. As I write this, we are just days from heartbreak and reeling after yet another tragic school shooting in Michigan. It has been just over a year since our last one (November 2021). I’m at a loss for words about where we go from here and honestly, I’m not even sure any words really matter at this point, it’s more about action and healing. The number of people impacted is hard to measure and the depths of the trauma experienced will be felt for some time (forever?). I especially think about the families who lost a loved one so tragically, unexpectedly, and at such a young age. I am also aware of a particular student who attended Oxford high school during that shooting and now attends Michigan State University during this one. I can only imagine the feelings they are experiencing.

Because of my professional involvement with numerous entities that support young people across the education lifespan, I am in conversations consistently with others who work with students in K-12 and university settings. These last few days have once again been focused on how to support those affected by this tragedy. If/while things are underway legislatively and within public safety circles, there is also simultaneously work to be done on an emotional and mental health level. Not only do we need to attend to those directly impacted but also consider the professionals on the frontlines as well. It is natural to immediately think about those who experienced trauma firsthand and support them. However, too often we neglect the needs of those helping professionals or presume they are strong enough to shoulder the burden alone. This last week, the focus of the conversations has been about both, caring for the hurting and also for those helping the hurting.

There are some special people working to support those touched by the loss of lives as well as the feeling of loss of their safety and security. Meanwhile, my attention and those of a few colleagues has turned to those on the frontline of the healing process. We have circled up to pool our resources and devise a plan to help the helpers.

Historically, as a society, in my opinion, we have not done enough to consider and support the needs of those in caregiving professions. We ignore the working conditions some find themselves in day in and day out and how those circumstances can deplete their internal reserves. Assumptions are made that people can (and should?) sustain themselves, surely if they can help others, they can help themselves. This goes for educators, health, and mental health care professionals to name a few (truthfully everyone can benefit from a focus on their own wellness). If this was the case previously, now, especially these last few years it’s more pertinent than ever before.

As resilient as we are as a species, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its toll. Now more than ever before, the commitment to take care of ourselves and encourage others to do the same is essential. I am aware that no one has extra time, however I am convinced that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to focus on our own needs. My experience as I continue to practice what I preach is that it can be easily embedded in our daily activities. As I’ve shared in previous blogs, there are many strategies we can adopt to ensure we are prioritizing our own needs, while also fulfilling other commitments to family, friends, employers and/or others in need. It doesn’t have to hard, but it does have to be intentional. Pay attention to warning signs that you are running low on your energy reserves. How can you tell? What are give aways that signal a need to slow down and adjust your focus? When you notice those signals, take advantage of an opportunity to close your eyes for a few minutes, take a couple deep breaths, do some stretching, take a quick walk, watch a funny video, or text a friend as some suggestions. I’ve been touched by the outpouring of love and support happening on MSUs campus. It helps to know we are not along in our time of need. It’s inspiring how the community has rallied to bolster those impacted. That’s the silver lining is the goodness of people prevails. So, let’s continue to commit to loving ourselves and one another, it is needed now more than ever before.

Have You Lost Your Marbles?

When I am stressed or overwhelmed, I can become forgetful or miss things that I would normally pick up on or catch. It can feel like I’m losing my mind or as some would say my marbles.

Several months ago, someone shared an analogy with me where they equated their energy with marbles. In doing some brief research (meaning a google search) I found that others also use a jar of marbles as measurement but for other conditions. Brene Brown used it when talking about trust in relationships. I saw another organization uses this same metaphor in its work with clients who experience chronic pain. In each instance, the image of marbles is used to gauge the amount of something you have (trust, pain, or energy). What was shared with me went something like this “You own a jar full of marbles and carry it with you everywhere you go. However, each time you interact with someone throughout your day, you give them a marble (or maybe if it’s someone special they get more than one). By the end of the day, depending on how many people you interacted with, you will either be running low on marbles or may not have any left. It can be the same with energy. Each person you encounter can take energy from you and leave you on low or empty”.

Now to be fair, there are some people in the world, who get more energy from interactions with people (I have a close friend like this). She does not do well on her own for extended periods of time. She needs to be with others. That’s how she rejuvenates. I’m not like that. I have learned for myself, I can maintain energy around people during shorter intervals and then I need some alone, quiet time to refuel and regroup. From my vantage point that approach seems to be more common. I truly enjoy people but can only “people” for so long, especially if the interactions are superficial. I know I do better when conversations are personal, deep, rich, and thought-provoking.

Using this marble analogy has proven useful to me on several occasions as of late.

Tapping into my self-awareness while knowing my limitations has helped me manage my self-care in social and professional settings. I try to pay attention to my energy levels and parcel out what I can afford to expend. Some of this also depends on the setting. In certain situations, I have to be energized and highly engaged, so in those circumstances I think about ways to reserve my marbles or store up extra ones, knowing I will have to give more. Looking ahead helps to make those determinations. It’s not fool-proof as we can’t always control or anticipate what awaits us in the future but attempting to prepare is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is also helpful when I communicate with those around me about how many marbles I have left to give. It serves as a heads up to them and a reminder to me to pace myself and establish expectations and boundaries for that setting. For example, I went to dinner one night after work with my “antsy pants” friend, (the one I alluded to above…she knows I call her that) as we were walking back to her place after dinner, she invited me in to listen to music and hang out. It was late (to me), and I said “No, I already gave you all my marbles for the day.” She laughed, knowing who I am and what I meant, and bounced into her house, as I made my way home to bed.

Similarly, I used this strategy during a two-day in person work retreat. The days were full and extended, trying to cram in all the topics that needed to be discussed while the group was together. It was necessary but exhausting. The end of the first night I shared the marble analogy with the group, and it stuck. The rest of our time together we would check in with each other on their “stash of marbles”. “How are you? Running low on marbles?” It was helpful to have a mutually understood/common language way to gauge how we were doing. One of my colleagues really adopted this metaphor so she received a new bag of marbles on her doorstep when she returned home from the retreat. She was grateful and tickled!

I want to encourage you to consider checking in with yourself. How are you doing on expending your marbles and then what can you do to build back up your supply? Have you lost your marbles? Do you need to be with other people? Or do you need some quiet alone time? Does exercise help or binge watching a show or reading a book? Find ways to recoup and refill your stock and try to parse them out sparingly.

Hopeful New Year

I have a real love/hate relationship with Michigan. I absolutely adore Michigan from May through September. Subsequently, I absolutely abhor it December through February/March. (The other months I tolerate.) I have to really keep my crabbiness in check during the winter because I truly dislike being cold and all the implications that come with it. If I’m not on guard, I could become very whiney. No one wants that, including me?! Thus imagine my potential demeanor when for most of us across the continental United States, there was a winter storm for days right at the beginning of the holiday break. It would be realistic to think that after having lived in a mid-west state for over 30 years that I would be used to wintry conditions. And the truth is I am. I know the preparations that are required to ensure a successful hunkering down commences. And I’ve become very good at it. I learned through COVID that I’m actually very happy being forced to stay home. In fact, I don’t mind the bad weather as long as I don’t have to be out in it.  A realization I’ve recently come to as well, is that one of my issues with winter is contending with the driving conditions. I can drive on snow covered, icy roads, I just don’t like to. I believe that is a common feeling, but I know people who don’t seem to mind it. Bad roads don’t deter them from carrying on with their day-to-day activities. They are still fine to run errands or go to the gym and to be out and about. For some reason I’m missing that gene.

There have been a couple of occasions in the last several weeks that forced me to be on the roads in those wintry conditions. I was not happy. I have enough self-awareness (which is good since I train on that competency frequently) to know how I was feeling. I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics to get myself to a place of acceptance and peace. “It’s ok to go slow, you will be fine”. “All will be well”. Ultimately, what I experience in those moments is fear. I’m afraid of getting hit, hurt, and/or stuck, in that order. I don’t like to be or feel out of control. I hate when other drivers fly past me as I’m inching my way forward ever so slowly, splashing slush on top of me. I get irritated when I’m tailgated by people who want me to go faster, or impatient when stuck behind someone who’s maybe going slower than necessary (except for to them, so I try not to judge). I worry about loved ones when they are on the road in those instances too. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. It may not necessarily be on the road in the snow and ice, perhaps it shows itself in other situations for you.

I saw my fearfulness rear its ugly head in another situation. There was some transition happening in a work scenario in which I’m involved. Things felt unsettled and fluid. It was unclear how I could contribute meaningfully in the new set-up. I got negative, insecure, and reserved. That’s my defense mechanism when I don’t feel safe or protected. I become self-shielding and insular. I don’t like being like that. It doesn’t feel authentic to who I really am or aspire to be. Fortunately, I was able to candidly process my actions with a trusted colleague and do some more self-reflection to get to the heart of the matter. Fear. 

I am the kind of person that wants to make a difference. I want to impact the world for good. I want to leave things better than how I found them. I’m confident that many (all) of you reading this feel the same way. That is typically the type of person that chooses a career in a field such as we did. I can imagine that there are times when you may feel out of control. That you are forced to go slower (or faster) than you’d prefer. When it feels as someone may “crash” into you, take over your lane or throw something into your line of sight. You may be in a time of transition as well, feeling unsettled or uncertain about the future. The unknown can be scary.

What helped me through my own little personal winter storm, was to name it, to get humble, vulnerable and call it was it is, fear. It felt freeing to say, “I’ve been afraid.” Or “I am afraid.” Just like I have to do while driving in inclement weather, I have to slow down, get self-aware and come to a place of peace and acceptance. “All will be well”. The universe underlined this for me when the very next day after my fearful wrestling I saw a quote that said, “Hope is stronger than fear”. My friends as we start a new year, let’s hold onto hope as it is stronger than fear. That is my hope for you (& me). Happy New Year!