As I continue to deconstruct and decondition my automatic responses and ways of being in the world, I recognize how little emotional safety I had as a child...and how difficult it is still for me to engage with emotionally unsafe situations. I am also increasingly aware of places I tend to re-create emotionally unsafe circumstances for myself and those around me, and the many ways I want to continue growing in this area.
Of course, this all begs the question: What is emotional safety in the first place? How can we cultivate more of it?
Emotional safety is about being supported to know and to share our true feelings in any given moment and to be heard, validated, and accepted...wherever we are, without being:
a) shamed for having our feelings,
b) told how we can feel differently, or
c) given simplistic solutions to the complex situations that comprise life as a human.
When someone shares their story with you, what is your response? Do you listen without interruption? Are you aware of your own feelings as you listen? Do you know how to name and validate your feelings and support the other person in doing the same? Are you eager to share your opinion or convince someone of how they "should" or "shouldn't" feel about their experiences or what they "should" or "shouldn't" do in order to live as you would live? Does your own discomfort require that you leave the feeling space altogether and go to a "logical" response that is argumentative, case-building, self-righteous, or judgmental? Do you find yourself falling into scripted responses that don't support the person who has bravely and vulnerably shared their life with you?
These questions are ones that I have come to consider for myself when I am listening to others who for whatever reason choose to share their experiences and their feelings with me. All of us can increase our capacity for emotional intelligence, and as we do, not only do we become more whole people ourselves but we are also exponentially more available to create emotional safety for those we love.
I recently read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. There is much that could be said about this insightful and moving book, but in thinking about emotional safety, this line on the back cover that struck from a review by The New Yorker pretty well sums it up: "What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn't argument at all; it's compassion. Hush, and listen."
Where would you like to grow your compassion today? What does it feel like for you to receive the gift of emotional safety in conversations?
Welcome, President Biden and Madam Vice-President Harris!
Along with my children I cheered with awe and wonder today as Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice-President of the United States of America, and I both exhaled and wept as President Joe Biden made his first speech as President of these United States...after so much that has been painfully challenging over the past 4 years. My children saw history in the making today and we talked about it's significance. They can't appreciate it as I do, but at least they heard their mother acknowledge what a momentous occasion it was to have a South Asian/African-American WOMAN take the oath of office for the 2nd highest position in this country.
It seems that I have spent much of my adult life unpacking, rearranging, discarding, and replacing those unexamined ideas that were central to my formative years. The role of politics and my relationship with it is an area in which I feel woefully behind. As a child and young adult I do not remember hearing anyone talk about politics in any way other than to promote the evangelical agenda of using the political arena as a way to gain power for those values that were deemed vital by the religious world I was a part of. Between Jerry Falwell Sr. with his Moral Majority and James Dobson with his "Focus on the Family" organization (both highly influential in the conservative evangelical world in which I was raised) it seemed as if the purpose of political action was to maintain "traditional family values," oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, prohibit abortion, and support Christian prayer in schools.
It is difficult to articulate the many ways these ideas were reinforced from the pulpit by self-aggrandizing preachers who took upon themselves the responsibility of telling their congregants how to think, vote, and behave. Although it took me years to get enough distance to begin to reject the simplistic, binary perspective required to hold such a system together, I am still shaking my head in disbelief at how affected I am by that system. I have seldom been a part of robust, diverse, and thoughtful political conversations and consequently I have never been terribly interested in politics. There's much about political science, government, and economics that I still don't understand and I recognize that I will forever be filling in so many gaps in my knowledge of these areas.
I do know, however, that I grew up on the wrong side of history; the perspective of the world I grew up in is nearly 180 degrees removed from my current perspective on so many issues. Today I see the separation of church and state as a fundamentally vital aspect of our governance and I regularly cringe at the ways the lines are blurred and a Christian view of God is invoked to approve unquestioningly a myriad of beliefs and behaviors within the political arena; I support Equal Rights for ALL people regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religious belief, ability, age, or socio-economic status; and my beliefs about the value of human life includes comprehensive sex education that informs people of all ages how to care for and protect their sexual health and well-being while providing a broad range of choices and compassionate emotional and physical care for those who face difficult decisions of all kinds along the way.
Watching the inauguration today highlighted for me just how much I value kindness, decency, respect, truth, and compassion. After four long years of not ever wanting to see our 45th President speak because he was often angry, hateful, unkind, and pushing a self-serving agenda that felt both inhuman and reminiscent of my childhood, watching and listening to President Biden today was both a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air. His face was gentle, his words inspiring, his manner dignified, his tone solid, and his deportment fitting of the executive branch. In a word, Joe Biden was Presidential, a quality that has long been missing in the highest leader of this land.
There is not magic wand that will right all that is distressing in our nation today; there is certainly much work to do as we re-envision the world we want for ourselves and our children and as we recommit ourselves to doing the internal work required to continue becoming people of strength and character, and yet, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the helm, I am hopeful that, in today's words of Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, we can "put our differences aside...lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another...seek harm to none and harmony for all...." May we indeed be "a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free...for there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."
Several years ago during a guided meditation I was asked to take an aspect of my life that I saw as challenging and reimagine it as an asset rather than a deficiency. The first thing that came to mind then was the gap I feel regularly between the conservative religious world of my past and the far more liberal, areligious and nonreligious friends I've acquired over the past 15 years. I constantly felt squeezed between these two worlds as I saw in both spaces characteristics that I loved and appreciated and those that I found to be contrary to my own evolving values and perspective. In the midst of my onerous effort to find my own niche between these two disparate viewpoints that seemed to have an increasingly high and thick wall between them, I envisioned myself dancing on top of this wide wall. I was able to see and understand the forceful shouting taking place on both sides, and yet I saw goodness, beauty and truth in both perspectives amidst the dynamic and at times vicious yelling that both seemed capable of engaging in, especially when talking about "The Other."
Recently in an anti-racism workshop my desire to be a bridge in the midst of so much polarizing language was triggered and I found myself once again in a more middle-leaning space than the people around me. The specific comment made was about propaganda in The South during the Civil War, and while there was most certainly propaganda around the Civil War, according to this War History Online article, there was propaganda was used in both The South and The North during the Civil War for noble intentions such as patriotism, protecting the land of their birth, self-sacrifice, doing one's duty, fighting for fair trade tariffs and import/export laws, and the right to self-determination. Of course, there was propaganda that was far more sinister in its motivation - The North depicted the cruelty and abhorrent treatment of slaves while The South spread revolting propaganda that focused on miscegenation and the supposed unfitness of African American men to serve in the army.
To be clear, I am 100% in favor of Southern States taking ownership of past wrongs and making appropriate reparations to all African-American residents today; something like a carte-blanche tax break, free education for life, and/or public acknowledgment of acts of racially motivated acts of violence would go a long way toward showing good faith and attempting to right the wrongs of the past. I am equally in favor of the United States as a whole taking ownership of the repugnant treatment of Native People and the ways that our forefathers abused, mistreated, and otherwise dehumanized Native Americans and devalued their cultures, customs, and livelihood. We are all poorer today as a result of these misguided and abusive engagements, and we all have much to repair as we go forward toward creating the world in which we want to live.
Right alongside these thoughts is also the reality that I am a daughter of The South - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am willing and able to look into the history, hold the conflicting perspectives, and do my own deeply personal work at deconstructing my experience as a white, Southern female. This is not easy work; this is painful work that touches on my identity as a Southerner and yet, much of that identity is rooted in concepts and ideology that are fraught with painfully dehumanizing consequences to fellow humxns. I want to learn, grow, and do my part to facilitate the change I want to see in the world. And that change always begins with looking at myself and the resistance I sense inside myself to the necessary work of change.
Thinking through all of this has led me to consider how I can judge behaviors of the past while not attacking the humanity of the people who perpetrated the behavior. From my vantage point today was that behavior highly problematic? Absolutely! Were the people engaging in those behaviors evil people? Probably not. Is all of it far more complex than any simplistic and reductionistic lens will ever reveal? Most certainly.
This led me to consider: how do I deal with my own past failings? Though very much a work in process, it is my goal to hold myself gently when considering my past (and present) shortcomings. I regularly harm myself and those I love best...not because I'm a malicious person but because I am a product of the thoughts, values, perspectives, and experiences I've had so far in my life. No matter how much progress I make toward becoming conscious and aware of how my behavior impacts myself and others, I still do harm that I deeply regret and wish I could avoid. I choose to practice self-compassion and kindness when I recognize in new ways how my actions have harmed others. I have done things that I would neither care to repeat or even endorse today:
What is the balance between accountability and restitution at an institutional level while speaking and acting in love at the personal level?
How can I demonstrate Love today?
If you're from The North and want to understand aspects of Southern culture, let's talk. If you're from The South and can't comprehend why people who live in other parts of the country think and feel as they do about The South, let's talk. I don't have any answers per se, but I am convinced that clear communication, an intention to understand, a willingness to face one's self, and a heart turned toward Love can go a long way toward building bridges and repairing relationships of all kinds...including the one with yourself. All that's necessary is people willing to do the work. Are you willing?
I've always loved to sing! As a child the majority of my singing was done congregationally in church and my family almost never had any music playing, so nearly all of the vocal music I was exposed to as a child was church music; as a teenager there were many messages around the evils of worldly music so to survive my very narrow environment, I stuck with "Christian" music where the lyrics and even the music, beat, and instrumentation were approved by the church. It wasn't until I was in college that I began to broaden my horizons and tentatively wade into other genres, and even then, simply listening to music had less appeal to me than singing along in groups via choirs, congregational hymns, or the occasional family sing-along at Christmas.
When I was introduced to Singing Circle as a style of singing in a group simply for the joy of delighting in song together, I was immediately hooked! THIS was something that resonated with me for a variety of reasons, and after 7 years of going deeper in discovering my own voice in new ways via singing circles, I recognize that sharing music I love is a place of vulnerability for me for several reasons:
If you're intrigued by the idea of singing but feel tentative about your own voice, Singing Circle is the perfect place for you to begin playing with sounds and using your voice in brand new ways! Perhaps, like so many people I've talked with, you received some very unhelpful messages about your voice as child that stick with you loudly today anytime you begin to sing? Maybe you, like most of us, don't enjoy hearing yourself sing and therefore assume that others won't want to hear you either? It could be that you've so internalized these harmful messages that you never even notice the childlike urge to sing loudly and with joy whenever you want? Or it may be that you love to sing and long for more opportunities to be part of a community that sings together?
Whatever your internal dialogue about singing or your desires related to finding, using, and enjoying your own voice, I assure you that you are not alone, and there is a place for you to sing with others in ways that inspire your own delight, discovery, and maybe even some dilemmas to confront and work through along the way.
I'd love to support you in finding your voice and growing your confidence to sing and speak your truth in ways that feel good and bring healing to various parts of you that have too long been silenced. Your voice matters and both you and the world will benefit from you bravely stepping into new ways of knowing and sharing your truth with others!
Perhaps you've heard the old adage, "The only thing constant is change"? It's a reminder to me that change is part of life and to grow is to change.
Some changes are welcome and beautiful; other changes are painful and challenging, and all change brings with it an element of grief. New York Times bestselling author and shame, vulnerability, and courage researcher Brene' Brown aptly defines grief as "the loss of normal." By that definition, any change brings with it an element of loss and by extension, grief.
Some changes like the death of a loved one, a new marriage, or the birth of a child are huge and rather obvious both from within and outside the change. Other changes are slower to manifest, and though apparent in small ways, can only be seen fully as we look in the rearview mirror of our lives.
Today I stumbled upon a rearview mirror experience and saw in a new way how very much has changed in my life over the past 25 years.
Thanks to TripAdvisor, I tried a new coffee shop in a part of town where I spent hundreds of hours during my formative years but have seldom visited since. I attended kindergarten, elementary, junior high, and high school at an independent Baptist school in inner-city Chattanooga. In addition to the K-12 option, there was also a university and graduate school whose campus was within walking distance of my high school. My parents both worked at the university, so as a high school student, I often walked the few blocks from school to my mom's or dad's office. I regularly passed The Bookstore which has recently been converted into the very cute coffee shop that I visited today.
I was struck by how much has changed physically on the streets and with the buildings that were such a central force in my formative years. The schools that I attended and where my parents taught and worked are no longer operational. Many buildings stand vacant, abandoned and vandalized. The small building where I attended junior high and high school has (as is typical of property from childhood) become far smaller than I remember, and the rooms, where I once bustled to and from various classes with my friends, are now overgrown with shrubbery and weeds. As I witnessed these changes I was both saddened and extremely grateful.
My sadness was that a place once so vibrant in my own history is now desolate and truly alive only in my memories, which are themselves suspect to regular revision as I continue to process my life. My gratitude was that I too have moved on; emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually, and relationally - those buildings and so much of what they once embodied are part of my past and valuable in my present only as they have shaped and informed the person I am today. I no longer look, think, believe, or behave as I did when I attended high school there. My world has grown so much larger than the 15 blocks in which I grew up (my parents and I lived about 10 blocks from the school and church that we attended when I was a child so my world as a child was small both physically and ideologically), and while I am grateful for many aspects of the stable and grounding experiences of my childhood, I am equally grateful that I have been supported and even encouraged to spread my wings and fly far from the small and narrow perspective of my past.
Often it seems to me that I can change my situation or I can change my perspective on my situation. Sometimes I do a little or a lot of both without really recognizing the magnitude of the changes and their effect until I look back and take stock of where I've been and where I want to go. To refuse to change is to refuse to grow, and while I get that growth can be scary and change can be challenging, I also know today that change has led to some of my greatest seasons of growth.
As I shared coffee, a pastry, and a board game with my son today, I was profoundly aware of some rather large shifts in my life from then to now - both philosophically and physically, and as I reflect on those changes, I am grateful for the ways I have been willing to be intentional, creative, and brave about my own growth and change.
How about you? How have you changed from the person you were 25 years ago? In what ways have you been intentional about your own growth and change? How would you like to change either your situation, your perspective, or both in the next 5 years and what steps would you like to take today toward making those changes a reality? What would it look like for you to pursue the personal, professional, and relational growth that you desire?
Just this week I finished reading Michelle Obama's book, Becoming, and in it she says of her adjustment to life in what at first seemed to be the "museum-like formality of the White House": "Life was better, always, when we could measure the warmth."
It's true, isn't it? Like children and animals, most of us tend to be drawn to that which is genuine, warm, real, and approachable. Sure, we may be entertained by something more showy; we might occasionally find some bit of appeal in a more formal and other-worldly setting. There's room for professional, distanced, and boundaried engagement with others that keeps us safe and protects our hearts. At the end of the day, however, we all want (and dare I say need?) spaces in which we are warmly embraced emotionally, held close physically, and given room to simply be as we are without pretense or guardedness.
The people I gravitate toward are down-to-earth, open, warm, and compassionate. Like you, I have numerous encounters weekly with a variety of people, and one of my personal goals is to show up with warmth, engagement, and a genuine interest in and curiosity about the lives of the people I encounter, regardless of their political perspective, religious beliefs, economic status, or level of education.
I commend to you Mrs. Obama's book. It's an insightful, honest, and inspiring look into her experience both as a female, African-American from the South Side and as the First Lady of these United States. Regardless of your perspective on her husband's policies and the initiatives she herself implemented, you will find good humor, honesty, an education about politics, and plenty of warmth in its pages.
What if you could get out of your head and into your body in ways that feel good? What would it feel like to show up in increasingly genuine ways? What if your unique values and personality were the launching space for every encounter you every have? How might you work toward creating around you the space you want to inhabit - one that is kind, sincere, transparent, and warm?
Recent Scientific Evidence Points to Yes!!
The following article, by Lynn Waldorf, PhD, CPC, summarizes the research findings behind the affects of Core Energy Coaching.
New scientific evidence that iPEC’s Core Energy Coaching™ model produces results for clients, including improving their life satisfaction in several key areas.
If you’re thinking about hiring a coach, one big question probably keeps circling through your mind: Will it work?
There are plenty of success stories that provide evidence that coaching helps people make positive changes and create success in their personal and professional lives.
iPEC, a comprehensive coach training program that’s trained more than 15,000 coaches worldwide, has more than just anecdotal evidence that coaching works.
New quantitative evidence, in the form of scientific data, shows that Core Energy Coaching™ helps people make measurable changes that lead to sustainable and transformational results.
So, when you work with a coach who has been trained in iPEC’s proprietary Core Energy Coaching™ methodology, you’re working with an evidence-based model that’s been shown to produce real life, tangible outcomes.
What is Core Energy Coaching?
Core Energy Coaching is an integral part of iPEC’s methodology and begins with a simple premise: All people are continually experiencing energy, in one of two ways postulated by Bruce D. Schneider, founder of iPEC: catabolic or anabolic energy. Anabolic energy is constructive, expanding, fueling, and creative, and works FOR a person. Conversely, catabolic energy is destructive, draining, or resisting and works AGAINST a person. The type of energy we experience fluctuates throughout the day and inside of situations. However, because of our attitude and the way we interpret our life experiences, we wind up experiencing the same type of energy over and over again.
As many people get stuck in draining, catabolic energy, iPEC coaches are trained to help them raise their energy levels and become more aware of their actions and choices. As a result of this shift to anabolic energy, they’re more apt to inspire others, more open to innovation and possibility, and far better able to pursue goals and find fulfillment in their lives.
How Can We Measure the Effect of Coaching?
The true effect of working with a coach has been difficult to quantify. Now, with new research, we have numbers—actual data—that show how working with a Core Energy Coach raises a person’s energy, so that in any given situation, one can choose to respond with anabolic energy related to opportunity, curiosity, creativity, and intuition versus more reactive, catabolic energy which reveals itself in behaviors like blame, anger, and worry.
“We were looking for evidence that coaching worked,” says Lynn Waldorf, PhD, CPC, who was tasked with analyzing a data set that contained data from about 30,000 people who had taken the Energy Leadership Index™ (ELI).
The ELI is a 70-item, web-based assessment that leads people through rating themselves on their beliefs, self-perceptions, emotional reaction tendencies, and behavior patterns. The questionnaire is designed to measure the amount of anabolic and catabolic energy in a person’s core energy makeup, under both ideal and stressful circumstances. The more a person can reduce catabolic energy and increase anabolic energy, the higher their core energy will be.
Finding #1: Coaching Raises Core Energy Levels
The first question Waldorf was looking to answer with the data was if working with an iPEC-trained Core Energy Coach could raise a person’s core energy. To do this, she identified and studied people who had taken the ELI twice -- before and after working with a coach. She found that after working with a coach, people’s average resonating level of core energy increased from 3.25 to 3.52, a statistically significant increase.
“It may seem like a small increase, but it’s exponential in terms of growth,” says Liz Fisch, Senior Vice President of Program Development and Research for iPEC. “In coaching, things happen in small or large shifts, but even a small shift in any given moment can have a huge impact. If just one person shifts out of frustration and into the energy of opportunity, it can change the entire dynamic of a workplace or family.
For example, one choice to be compassionately curious with your partner instead of getting frustrated can change your entire connection. It only takes one second, one shift, but it can have a lifetime effect.”
Finding #2: Coaching Helps Individuals Respond Better in Stressful Situations
Most of us respond to stressful situations with a lot of catabolic energy (the energy of blame and frustration), which coaching can shift us out of. Waldorf wanted to measure what that shift looked like for people under stress—which is when the shift matters most.
She found that after working with an iPEC Core Energy Coach, people’s percentage of catabolic energy decreased from 68.0 to 59.0 percent while under stress, while their anabolic energy increased from 32.0 to 41.0 percent.
“These are very significant numbers, especially the decrease in catabolic energy. It indicates that coaching helped people become more in control of their thoughts and behaviors rather than have an automatic reaction inside a stressful situation,” Waldorf says.
Finding #3: Coaching Increases Overall Life Satisfaction
“If someone’s core energy is higher and they are handling their stress better, does that impact how they report life satisfaction? Our theory was overall life satisfaction would increase as well,” Waldorf says.
In fact, she was right. After coaching, people reported increased levels of life satisfaction across the board, in 14 distinct areas, from financial success and engagement at work to personal freedom and intimate relationships.
The data, taken all together, tells a consistent story: There is clear evidence that Core Energy Coaching fulfills the promises it makes, and sets people up for realizing more success in life and in work.
You can read the full research paper here.
Shifting Energy = Greater Meaning, Purpose, and Ease
The shift toward anabolic energy allows people to access creativity and intuition more quickly, rather than resorting to frustration, resentment, and other low-level responses which can feel limiting and exhausting.
“It isn’t just about positive thinking,” Fisch says. “It’s something deeper. You are becoming more aware that you have a choice. Seeing the negative is a survival mechanism for some people. Core Energy Coaching allows you to realize it more quickly and shift out of it more quickly.”
As people gently make these shifts with their Core Energy Coach, their self-confidence increases, self-esteem expands, and as a result they feel highly motivated to succeed. As they explore their deepest passions and motivators, a formula for radical and sustainable success is set in motion.
Through this transformational work, individuals can cultivate healthy, inspiring relationships, positive workplace dynamics, and pursue their greatest passions with ease.
Contact me, Naomi Self, to discuss your hopes and dreams and to explore how Core Energy Coaching can help you exceed your own expectations in every area of your life!
Moving through life is a journey and our energy acts as a magnet for who and what we attract. "Energy" here is not about whether you are getting enough sleep at night or have had your morning coffee yet, nor is it about being more or less introverted or extroverted. The type of energy I am referring to is the force field with which we surround ourselves and the power of life that we emit into the universe.
When we engage in our lives from a grumpy, sluggish, sad, negative, apathetic, angry, and demanding point of view, we tend to attract people and situations who are similarly wired. Likewise, when we are joyful, upbeat, positive, content, energetic, engaged, and grateful, we attract people who are also enthusiastic about their lives and who can find joy in even the most challenging circumstances. The reality is that we are all a mixed bag of all these characteristics and more.
I make friends easily and generally see the world as an adventure and people as interesting even before my feet hit the ground in the morning. I often find that there is a lot of happy energy around me, and I have for years recognized that I have a part in creating that vibe. Growing in my own understanding of this concept gives me words for my own life, and I better understand that when people who are negative and angry see lots of negativity and anger in the world, it is often because they too are creating that energy around them based on their beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.
Sometimes I recognize in myself a bit of resentment that this is true, because IF this is accurate then it means I must be willing to take responsibility for the places in my own life where I struggle. What is my part and how am I contributing to the difficulties I face? It's uncomfortable to realize that I have a part in my own discontent when it crops up; however, as much I would like to be absolved of responsibility, I also recognize that it is empowering to see that my contribution to my own challenges are simply the flip side of my ability to effect the change I long for.
Each of us attracts back to ourselves the energy we are putting out into the world. We are all constantly creating our reality in its varied and nuanced forms. Or as my dad so wisely told me many years ago, "We are what we have been becoming." Who are you today? And perhaps even more importantly, who are you becoming?
What kind of energy do you most enjoy being around? What type of energy do you most often embody? What about when you are experiencing stress of some kind? What would it feel like to know yourself better and understand how your energy contributes to the life you are creating for yourself?
What if there were no gap between the way others see us and the way we see ourselves? What if our degree of authenticity were tangible and we felt safe to honestly answer the polite but often horribly insincere "how are you?" greeting with an in-the-moment glimpse at our real Self? What if we knew ourselves well and stayed in tune with ourselves in ways that allowed for fusion of our thoughts, feelings, and words in those moments?
Sadly, our busy, happy, convenient Western culture often conditions us to stay at the surface of our own lives to our detriment. Few of us are supported to know our feelings, sit with our discomfort, and learn about ourselves in the process. Even as I write this, I recognize the tendency in myself to gloss over the painful places. Sometimes it's just too raw; other times I'm exhausted with the effort; often I feel scared and unsafe rather than supported and held in the midst of my messiness. The pain and heartache I've created for myself by my own limited thinking and small ideas is incredulous as I look back over my four decades on the planet, and I know there are still ways I contribute to my own pain by my unexamined perspectives in this very moment.
For me, the process of getting comfortable with my own messiness has been a journey. I don't want to embrace my contradictions, but if I can't hold space for and accept my own contradictions, I absolutely am unable to give others room to do the same. I don't want to be in process, always figuring stuff out, and learning and growing beyond the childish thinking of yesterday, knowing that tomorrow I very well may find today's thinking immature and limited. And yet, it is in accepting my imperfections, incompleteness, and uncertainty that I can in fact move out of and beyond the current ways I am stuck in my life into new horizons and vistas that are as of now unknown to me.
One of my all-time favorite children's stories is The Velveteen Rabbit. What if it's true that the only way to become real is to accept all the places we are tattered and torn and that the process of accepting ourselves in all of the messiness is what results in beauty and hope? What if this year we commit to becoming increasingly real - with ourselves and with each other? What if we practice trusting ourselves and each other in new ways? What if we set an intention to grow in our conscious awareness of how we are feeling about ourselves and our lives and instead of trying to "fix" it, we just let it be? What if the next time somebody says, "How are you?" we respond with a more honest answer? And what if the next time we start to ask "How are you?" we pause and make a conscious choice to really listen for the answer and hold space for the other in new ways?
What are your intentions for becoming a more real YOU in 2019? How do you hope to lean in to authenticity in ways that feel good for you?
This week I have been reflecting anew on Thanksgiving as a national holiday that inspires gratitude, and in the process I have been reviewing my own annual gratitude list. I find that the process of giving thanks is one that regularly has huge benefits for my perspective when I am feeling frustrated, disillusioned, and otherwise discouraged in my life. In terms of energy converters, gratitude is the fastest draining to life-giving energy convertor I know of. It’s extremely difficult to be both genuinely grateful and lost in anger, sadness, grief, and pain.
As is typical for me, my gratitude list is most often comprised of people. I have always been, as my mother often said, a “people-person,” and as such I highly value connection with other humans on the planet. Recently I realized that just as some people collect stamps, shoes, or stories, I collect people.
I first articulated this reality when one of our special people (whom we know solely as our favorite librarian) was preparing for retirement, and I asked how we were going to keep in touch with her. She said she’d have to give us her phone number, and I shared with her that I often have this dilemma when I grow to care deeply for someone in a professional setting. I recognize how much I value the person and yet I feel a sense of incongruity in the reality that I might not ever know if they moved, retired, or died, and with such ignorance I wouldn’t have an opportunity to bring some sort of closure to that relationship.
I feel sad when I outgrow relationships or circumstances arise that make it necessary for me to move on either physically or emotionally, and I carry pieces of all the people I’ve ever known well with me as I grow. I once thought that everyone valued people and relationships in the same way that I do, but I’m older and wiser now. This is an aspect of myself that I appreciate, and one that I must treat with tenderness; I can easily overextend myself relationally, and I sometimes struggle with knowing which are my inner circle, which are my middle circle, and which are my outer circle of connections.
Last week, while thinking about connection with others and the concept of family, I realized that while I have the family I was born into, I also have many other families or places of connection that have brought me joy, hope, support, meaning, and growth through the years.
I am deeply grateful for my nuclear family and the many ways they have loved, nurtured, and patiently tolerated me through the years. As a child, I never felt super connected to my own family because my siblings were 21, 17, and 13 years old when I came along, and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, but with time and perseverance, I have made peace with this reality and come to accept that my place in my family has given me as many opportunities for joy as it has for learning. This reality has contributed greatly to my lifelong desire to connect deeply and well with others, and looking back over my 43 years I have many people who have been an important part of my process of becoming.
There was the local preschool family who cared for me during my 3rd year of life when my mom went back to work as a teacher. I remember being loved and growing in my sense of independence and confidence. I then transitioned to the private Christian school and church community, where I spent the next 14 years among the school and church family that so fundamentally shaped many aspects of my foundation as a human being. It was there that I learned about kindness and doing what was right. I learned to unquestioningly obey the rules, and I found out that there were many good people in the world who cared for me and valued both my vivacious personality and the contribution my parents made to their own lives.
As a girl, I had a neighborhood family that consisted of several families we knew well and in whose homes I often visited to play, share a meal, or just hang out. I learned much from each of them, not the least of which was the important beginning cross-cultural lesson that not everybody lived the way my family did; in fact, the family across the street cut their breakfast muffins from top to bottom rather than side to side in order to insert their pats of butter!
During my young adult years, my college family was comprised of my fellow students, colleagues on campus in the Disbursement Office where I worked for two years, and several outstanding and kind professors whose thoughtful input and challenging perspectives I have been able to more fully appreciate only in retrospect as I have looked back with quite some distance at the footprints they left on my life.
When I graduated from college and began working in business for a local Fortune 500 company, I formed another family of a sort, whose appreciation of my youthful energy and optimistic perspective was varied, and I grew to know and love several of my colleagues during my time there.
I then moved to Central Europe and lived in Slovakia for a couple of years in order to teach English as a 2nd language. In that season, I developed two new and rather diverse family connections – those with my American colleagues whom I had never before met despite being from the same country and several lifelong friendships with local Slovak people, and to this day I have multiple family members whose first language is different from my own, and we continue to correspond in small ways despite the years and miles between us.
I have had five different church families over the course of my life, and as a Southerner, there are many benefits to being a part of a church community, not the least of which is the regular interaction with the same people and the sense of connection and joy that can come from such repeated association.
There has been my recovery family who offered me new perspectives on myself and my ways of being in the world along with a realization that just because my childhood experiences were closed and isolated, not everybody, even in the South, thinks and feels the same way about God, country, life, love, growth, and the purpose of relationships.
In 2014, thanks to my husband’s enthusiasm after having been on his own the year prior, my family and I attended Family Camp at The Omega Institute together for the first time, and now we have a whole group of Omega family who, though we see them for only one week out of the year, many of them have become a regular part of our lives as we stay in touch through a variety of avenues during the 51 weeks we are apart each year.
My family continues to grow as I am in the process of becoming certified as a Life Coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and my training has introduced me to a number of new people who are quickly becoming not only my colleagues but also my friends.
I have also recently begun the Chattanooga Singing Circle and am meeting and singing with heretofore strangers who are becoming new friends and family with whom I can laugh, cry, learn, and love as we play with song, rhythm, and movement in ways that heal our hearts and bring us both joy and connection in the process.
I am deeply grateful this season not only for the many connections with others that I am privileged to enjoy but also for the growing acceptance of connection as a value of mine. I feel supported, loved, and cared for in the midst of my various connections, and I am honored to walk alongside so many amazing people as together we become more than any one of us could be on our own. My life is rich beyond measure and I am profoundly thankful for the journey and the many folks who have chosen to journey with me along the way.
Who do you count as family this week? Who or what are you grateful for? What values are you living out as you pursue your own versions of meaning, hope, joy, and peace this holiday season?
This Extrovert's Attempt to Use My Words to Make Sense of My Life