Don't Worry, Be Happy.

The thing I’ve noticed about happiness is that it’s more about moments than milestones.  I think we set ourselves up for disappointment when we have these big, hairy, audacious goals that have to be met by a certain age or a specific time in our lives. 

Moments of happiness, on the other hand, are  ripe for the picking.  We just need to remember to pluck one out of each day.

I can safely say the surprise party held in my honor when I turned forty was a lesson in humility as well as humiliation. Wonderful friends and family who’d I’d known my whole life were there to help me celebrate/admit to this shocking occasion.  But because of circumstances a bit beyond my control,  I was living with my parents.  Therefore, this party also served as my induction into the Midlife Hall of Shame.

The year before I had left a man, the land, and a life I loved in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to move back to the Midwest.  As it turned out, within forty-eight hours of returning to the family farm my personal crisis and grief gave way to a global crisis and grief felt around the world as 9/11 changed life as we knew it.  Suddenly I was grateful to be with family and friends in a familiar place that felt safer and more solid than the ground I had just walked away from.

I was shell shocked for the better part of a year and then decided it was time to bloom where I was planted.  I did what I knew how to do best.  My family helped me renovate the upstairs of an old apartment building and I started teaching exercise and creativity classes.  I developed some online courses and offered my coaching services to anyone with an Internet connection.  I took my show on the road when necessary and split my time between the Southwest and Midwest and mastered the  art of living on air and credit cards.

Although air doesn’t exact a price, credit cards certainly do and the only logical way for me to pay the piper was to get a regular job.  Imagining myself to be utterly unemployable for any number of reasons including my age, no one was more surprised than me to find myself on someone’s payroll once again.  I couldn’t help but notice my co-workers’ curiosity about what I’d been up to for the past twenty years.  Since people don’t seem to get fired as easily in education, they tend to stay awhile. 

For me, the goal has always been to grow and learn and do it on my own timetable.  Like Sinatra, I’d like to look back on my life and be able to boast, “I did it my way.” 

I realize not everyone agrees with my way.  After taking the Myers Briggs Type Indicator during the leadership conference last week, I am reminded once again that lots of people look at life through an entirely different lens than I do.  I am sensitive to the fact that I can drive those people nuts with all my hakuna matata talk.  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume those folks didn’t make it past my first post.

So, I shall stick to my bold Bobby McFerrin advice for this week.   Don’t worry, be happy!  I couldn’t make this claim last week because I was convinced the house deal would tank over who should pay for the radon mitigation system.  Fortunately the six Buddhas sitting strategically throughout my current home had the desired effect of allowing compassion rather than pride to rule the day.

Now I certainly don’t mean to make light of things if you are having a demanding day or a decidedly difficult decade.  Midlife is full of unsettling and distressing changes that can send the sanest of us over the edge at least once a week.  My intention is to encourage you to find the moment, the music, the person, or place that brings you back to your best self when he or she seems to have gone missing. 

On this day when we remember the loss of so many loved ones, I vow to live my life with renewed peace, purpose, passion, and last but not least, pleasure!   May you do the same, if you are so inclined.

Get Out of Town

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Since I just made one of the biggest decisions in my life, I’ve been pondering this principle quite a bit.  The most compelling argument against committing my life’s savings to buying a house in a town I imagined living in for five minutes is the formidable list of reasons to leave.

August in the world of academia is exploding with those reasons.  Students are at the height of hysteria and faculty members are flustered as they readjust to new faces and a formidable amount of paperwork.  Requests that would have been reasonable even one month ago are simply out of the question now that classes have started.

I am most perplexed by the lack of preparation or even interest some of the students who come to see me exhibit.  For whatever reason, these students believe I know more about what they want than they do themselves.  It takes patience born of perpetual practice not tell them to return when they’ve got a clue. 
I remind myself I was once an undecided major.  I remind myself I am often clueless about things – my smartphone, for example.  I also remind myself of a request made by a much wiser teacher, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Surely it is the plight of prophets, professors, parents, and puppy owners to be frustrated.  (As I write this, Marley, a rambunctous blue heeler puppy, is biting my ankles and jumping up on the keyboard between bouts of dragging undergarments out of my suitcase unbeknownest to me and leaving them in conspicuous places for all to observe.  Something tells me she, however, knows exactly what she is doing.)

In any case, when I mentioned to a good friend who’s been in the business much longer than I have how Newton’s third law was manifesting in my life, he reminded me of two things.  1) The first week of school is not representative of the entire year.  2)  In approximately two weeks, all will return to controlled chaos, at least at school. 

In the midst of all this activity came the call to participate in a leadership program.  Once a month I will travel to other community colleges and learn about leadership with others who have been selected from their campuses to do the same.  The concept is brilliant.  The timing of this month’s session, however, was not.  What kind of leader abandons her troops during the first week of classes?

A leader who could use a time-out to think about her behavior is a perfect candidate.  I hadn’t quite convinced myself of that as I threw anything and everything in my car and made the three hour drive to the hotel late Wednesday evening.  I was sure a different week would have been a better choice for all concerned.  As is often the case, I was wrong.  A change of venue was precisely what was needed.

Over the course of a few years my world has gotten smaller and my focus has gotten narrower as my mama bear tendencies have taken root in my efforts to support our satellite center.  This makes the big picture much harder to keep in perspective.  What happens when I am catapulted out of my comfort zone is that suddenly the big picture is evident once again and I am left with the certainty that I need to get out more.

While my relatively quiet and predictable life in a town where I know almost every student is better for me on a daily basis than battling traffic, getting lost at every intersection, and dealing with people who don’t know or care who I am, often it takes experiencing one extreme to appreciate the other. 

Because I’ve always been a bit of a fringe dweller, I tend to forget there are others out there who might feel the same way, struggle with the same issues, appreciate knowing help is available, and embrace the opportunity to connect.  As Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft and many other life changing books for independent thinkers, says, “Isolation is the dream killer.”  I believe she is right.

As uncomfortable as it may be to orchestrate, every now and then I need to get out of town and find my  place in the larger community.  Then I can return bearing the gifts the adventure afforded. 

In the past few days I’ve gotten to tour a beautiful campus in Des Moines. I got to spend time with  funny, smart, and insightful people with similar jobs across Iowa. I am now a student as well as an administrator and got to celebrate what’s right with the world as well as discuss what could use some fixing.  I got to witness how I behave in new situations with people of all ages and backgrounds and integrate what I know with what I have yet to learn.   At the same time I came up against my limitations, possibilities that had been dormant for years were ignited. 

So here’s my advice for this autumn.  Whether it’s a learning opportunity or simply a chance to explore an area of interest, get out of town.  If that’s not possible, test your ability to see familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Bon voyage!