Jump In! The Water's Fine

young boy jumping into a swimming pool
Yesterday  I did something I never do.
I accompanied Bob on a business trip to Des Moines.  I am usually the one attending the meetings since I love to attend writing and coaching conferences in fabulous places across the country. Bob, not so much. So I went for moral support.
While Bob spent the day learning about the latest governmental regulations imposed on his business (which explains his reluctance), I spent the day writing and hanging out at the pool.
At 10am on a Thursday, the pool was perfect. I had the place to myself. Was I in heaven? No, Iowa.
My plan to follow up my laps with a floating meditation evaporated as soon as a mother with a newborn, a toddler, and their adoring aunties arrived.
My disappointment over forfeiting the sanctuary of sunshine, water, and wispy clouds was quickly replaced with delight as the little guy’s glee spilled over onto all of us.
Even I began hoping his mom would hurry up applying the sunscreen so he could get in the pool and we could all share the adventure with him.
Because his mom was busy setting up the scene with towels, toys, and string cheese, the auntie brigade* took over. As one auntie burped the baby, the other auntie hopped in the pool and prepared the way for the boy named Brock to fulfill his most ambitious dream of the day.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the water.
He was a vision, standing there in all his glory, complete with water wings, a swimming diaper, a confident victory stance, and a superman cap.
He looked ready.
He seemed willing.
He was perfectly able.
His auntie was ready to catch him.
I was ready to catch her.
The step was right in front of him
And….
He hesitated.
He stalled.
He refused to jump in.
What looked like an epic adventure from a distance must have seemed like an ocean of uncertainty and utter terror up close. Suddenly, he wanted no part of it.
The devoted auntie cooed encouraging words and suggested he enter the pool by a less intimidating set of steps inside. He reluctantly agreed.
Together they emerged from the mysterious passage where the indoor pool joined with the outdoor pool.  Brock was fine to be in the water for a few minutes.  Then he needed a drink.
So he got out, secured his sippy cup of milk, and from the safety of the deck, took a strategic sip every time his auntie mentioned getting back in.
I watched this all unfold as the perfect metaphor for the great adventures and creative endeavors any of us attempt.
Sure, some of us can jump right in, knowing the shock of going from one set of circumstances (like being dry, hot, safe) to an entirely different set (like being wet, cold, and having to stay afloat) will only be temporary.
Most of us can easily get ourselves fired up and ready.  But then, like Brock, freak out when faced with the enormity of our adventure. Bridled with the burden of our potential, we hesitate, procrastinate, dilly dally, drink, distract, and delay until we talk ourselves right out of the thing we’ve pledged allegiance to.
You are familiar with terror of embarking on your biggest adventures, are you not? Failure looms larger than any semblance of success.  What if you find out you  are not equal to the task or not worthy of your dreams?
But what if you find out the water is just fine?  What if you discover it’s even more magical than you imagined?  What if you discover the secret to the success of any adventure, project, or performance is that when you are present, you are absolutely okay?
If you can stay in the moment and breathe, you are more than equal to the task. If you trust that you can handle anything in the moment and not abandon yourself,  you are wonderfully worthy.
This doesn’t guarantee that the path before you will never terrify you again. It only guarantees that you are gathering the grit required to risk, to dare, to dream, to desire, and to do it over and over again.
Failure is a given at some point.  Just like paying up front and in full is usually required in the beginning. Eventually you’ll come to see the wisdom in this.
Once you’ve made a splash, jumped in, gotten wet, and lived to tell about it, you are qualified to continue on your quest. And encourage others on theirs.
So, carry on, my brave souls. And, might I suggest, you have a little fun? Because really, the water is fine. It’s even better when you join in.
 
*I read about the auntie brigade in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed.  She beautifully describes the auntie brigade as consisting of those of us who have chosen not to have  children but are deeply committed to being aunties to everyone in need.  Personally, I love being a part of the auntie brigade!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Adventure Begins

Bright Pink Sky with Adventure Quote
There was an unusually large crowd at the airport at 5am on Thursday morning. Although I knew it was my day to travel, I didn’t know I know it was also the day local veterans were traveling to Washington, D.C. as part of the famed Honor Flight.
Even though we were headed in different directions, we all had to get through security at roughly the same time. Consequently, I had several opportunities to practice my stress management skills as the media descended upon these war heroes and threatened to derail my imminent departure.
Having been the last one to board a plane in the past,  I knew what the walk of shame to my seat at the back of the plane felt like. I had no interest in experiencing it again.
Despite being a seasoned traveler, getting from here to there still unnerves me. There are many things I could do to become a better traveler. Pack less. Arrive early. Bring snacks. Have a travel buddy. Take sedatives. Stay home.
The very act of traveling means I surrender control of most things with the exception of my attitude. And I can only control that when I stay present and positive.
Thursday’s journey led me through fog in Iowa, snow in Denver, and rain in Texas. Someone had mistakenly taken my seat on the first flight. This set off the equivalent of a Chinese fire drill for the rest of us scrambling to find our assigned seats.
All of the iTunes purchases I had diligently transferred to “the cloud” were apparently stuck there, waiting to be downloaded, and were unavailable to me when I was literally in the clouds wanting to hear them.
Because I depend so heavily on my playlists to transport me to my calm and quiet place, this discovery was especially disconcerting. Fortunately, I had a few meditation apps on my phone and could listen to those as we lifted off and landed.
When things fail to go as expected I can get cranky or I can get creative.
About a week before I travel, present, or do anything outside my comfort zone, I start stressing out. About a day before lift off,  I’m downright difficult and berate myself for thinking the trip, the talk, or the big event was a good idea in the first place. The truth is by this point I’m terrified, so I’m a tyrant.
But once I get to the other side, I’m deeply grateful I had the courage to leap into the unknown. For instance, Austin was a damp and gloomy place when I arrived. Because I’ve lived in Texas, I know how quickly the weather can change. And let’s face it. It’s Austin – capitol, creative mecca, home to SXSW and all things techy. What’s not to love about Austin – even on a rainy day?
When my Uber driver arrived 5 minutes after I called like clockwork and charged me $10 for the usual $35 cab ride, I realized most adventures are worth the effort required to arrange them. When the hotel let me check in at noon instead of 3pm, I knew the tide was turning. When I managed to walk around town for a couple of hours and not get lost, my confidence returned.
Suddenly the sun came out and dried up all the rain so I headed to the pool. When someone came up to me and asked, “Penny?“, I knew I was not going to be friendless for four days. An old UNI alum who I hadn’t seen since the 80s was here to attend the same coaching workshop with Martha Beck and her wonderful wayfinders that I was.
When I think about the day I might have had if this were my normal Thursday, I doubt I would have had much to blog about. At 4:30pm when I wrote this and had been awake for well over 12 hours, the day’s biggest adventure hadn’t even begun.
At 6pm I met 30 new friends from across the country when we all attended Susan Hyatt’s Girlfriends Gone Wild dinner party.  No one could believe the story of the unexpected reunion with my college friend or the fact that we were both dressed similarly and wore almost identical leopard shoes.
I’m sure I’ll have much more to blog about in the next 72 hours. In the meantime, let my adventure spark one of your own.  I’m here to tell you, contrary to what fear tells you, adventures are the antidote to whatever ails you. Let them begin!

The Glory of a Story

Dollarphotoclub_90767564.jpgLast month I set out in search of my stories.
It seems they had left me just when I needed them most. I was about to step back into the  public speaking arena where stories make the story teller memorable, personable, approachable, and lovable. I had a lifetime of them. I had just forgotten what they felt like.
So I headed to the mountains. I headed back to a place I could reconnect with the girl wonder I once was when I left home in search of the Promised Land. Clueless and carefree, I lived creatively and connected the dots between one set of opportunities and the next.
Clearly I was living the dream. I just didn’t realize it at the time. I was  worried about how I would pay the rent without a “real job” or how I would sell my next big idea without selling out. I housesat, dogsat, catsat, and taught fitness classes in order to support my writing.
Eventually I outgrew my gypsy lifestyle and got a job that gave me structure and enough security to continue the creative life on weekends and bank  holidays. But lately the creative life has been demanding more and more of my time and attention.
So I consented to a trip.
Now we all know what happens when you give a moose a muffin, a mouse a cookie, a cat a cupcake, or a dog a donut.
Adventure ensues. Or in my case, more trips.
Suddenly my past wants to inform my future. Like walking a labyrinth, this time around I need to pay particular attention to the parts I missed the first time.
Because this time I am present. I know I am living the dream.
I get how incredibly lucky I am to have these stories to tell, these people to love, these places to visit. I get what a long, strange trip it’s been. And I’m especially excited to blog about it.
At the beginning of 2015 I did a 30-day blogging challenge with Jeff Goins that changed my course as a writer. Today I came across his 7-day blogging challenge.
While I’m not sure I will take him up on this challenge, it did prompt me to write today. Which is what our best stories do. They get us to do the next right thing to move the action of our lives forward.
So, what will you do today?  What story are you telling yourself and those around you?
I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Back to the Future


 
Time and space have always presented a particular challenge for me. In theory I know I’ve made several trips around the sun, but depending upon the day or the circumstance, I can feel anywhere from age 9  to 90.
When I’m feeling older and wiser, I want to travel back in time to tell my younger self to stay curious and to allow the answers come in their own time.  I want to reassure her that she will find what she’s looking for in the most unlikely places and what is meant for her will not elude her.
Lately, however, my younger self wants to tell my mature self a few things. Specifically, my past self who spent the majority of her time teaching fitness classes in gyms, studios, and corporate fitness facilities wants to remind my present self how to be at home in my body.
A couple of years ago, I decided that in order to do my best work, I had to be my best self. This meant getting myself in shape – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually, you name it. I was determined to get my groove back and set out to do just that.
Because I had lost my groove gradually through a series of habitual, unconscious choices over the course of a decade or two, I had to get it back through a series of intentional, deliberate actions on a daily basis.
I spent half of 2014 and all of 2015 educating myself about nutrition and how to properly nourish myself and others.  I became a certified eating psychology coach and guided a few friends through a purification process that left us all feeling fabulous.
But feelings are fleeting.  Taking it to the next level in 2016 for me is about embodying.  It’s about getting out of my head and fully inhabiting and listening to my body.
A brief glance at a photo of me in legwarmers and tights back in the day made a new approach to getting physical necessary.
I found my motivation in Erin Stutland’s  Shrink Sessions.  She has combined the words of wisdom it has taken me a lifetime to master with physical actions and movements that ground these concepts in muscle memory.
Her workouts, Soul Strolls, and meditations are incredibly empowering.  One day it occurred to me that Erin is who I wanted to be when I grew up. Or at least who I wanted to be when I was her age.
As I reflected on my early fitness career, I realized I had been very much like her.
In a surreal Back to the Future moment, I marveled at the perfection of finding this soul sister across time and space and allowing her to train me (without even knowing I exist) in the present for the future that awaits.
Listening to Erin’s mantras on my iPod as my dog and I stroll along the snow covered trail, I think about the technology and infinite intelligence that connects us and delivers perfect messages at precise moments to the people who are poised to act on them.
The kicker is we may never know the positive impact we have on each other. That’s why it’s both courageous and imperative to put our work out in the world for its own sake.
We live in incredible times and the abundance of information, education, and inspiration at our fingertips is staggering.  There are experts ready, willing, and able to guide us through any transformation we care to experience.
The amazing thing is when we look outside ourselves for help, we often get to see own brilliance mirrored back to us in others whose future or past resembles our own.  It’s easy to project greatness and success onto someone else, declaring we would never have the discipline, the talent, the chutzpah, or the support to do what they have done.  But we can’t recognize something in others we don’t also have in ourselves.
This year don’t hesitate to call on your past self, your future self, or your alter ego to help you evolve into your best self.  Then stay tuned as to who shows up to collaborate with you.
What words of wisdom might you have for your time traveling self?  Share if you dare in the comments below.
 
 
 
 
 

Six Secrets to The Art of the Start

I was talking with a friend who was describing his life as being on hold for the past three or four years. Anyone who has been on hold for three or four minutes can imagine how excruciating three or four years might feel. Everything he tried from seeking new employment to moving to a new city to looking for love seemed to get a resounding “no” or “not yet” from the universe even though his biological clock was ticking at an alarming rate.
I could relate, having spent more than a few years wandering around the desert in what seemed like a perpetual pause. It wasn’t that I didn’t have dreams. It wasn’t even that I didn’t have the time because by all accounts, especially my bank account, that’s all I had.
What I didn’t have was structure, a strategy, or accountability. I had a grand vision for my future but I had no plan for how each day could lead me anywhere but into temptation. Like a tumbleweed, my daily course was determined by whichever way the prevailing winds blew. I was definitely in what Gretchen Rubin calls drift or “the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility.
The good news is most detours eventually lead us back to the beaten path, often with insights we’d never have gleaned if not for the detour. Now that I have a lot of structure and accountability, I often lament my lack of free time for creative pursuits. I remembered the long days of limbo and wondered why in the world I didn’t write more, do more, or accomplish more.
But those days by their very nature evoked a kind of analysis paralysis. I couldn’t see the gift of “the pause” then because I was so desperately confused about my overwhelming underachievement, my lack of monetary resources, and the enormous burden of potential.   I was so focused on what wasn’t working that I couldn’t see what was and take full advantage of it.
Listening to my friend, I started thinking about what I know now that might help someone in a similar situation take the kind of action that would pull him or her forward with purpose and passion.
Here is what I came up with.
1 – When in doubt, begin. You don’t know what you don’t know. So start immediately and find out. You do not need a lot of money to begin. In fact, at this stage of the game, if you have too many resources, you’ll probably squander them. Because you don’t know what you don’t know, you won’t yet know what or how to properly invest those resources.
What you need is an idea, the courage to act on it, and someone to hold you accountable for doing what you say you’re going to do.  You must connect with other people. If you are too timid to get out and meet people, start with a virtual community.   Don’t simply stalk. Talk. Connect. Contribute. No one knows you are there until you give yourself away.
2. Begin again. Every day you will need to recommit to yourself, your project, the changes you want to make, the action you need to take. This may be easy when the project is new and fun and you are getting some positive feedback. Regretfully, this will not last. One day you will wake up and convince yourself none of it matters. It does. Begin again.
It may feel like you are taking baby steps or managing micro movements that are getting you nowhere.  It may even feel like you are losing ground. Backing up is sometimes necessary to gain the speed you need for takeoff. You simply must begin again.  And then again and again. Each time you begin, you start from a different vantage point. You gain more experience and perspective.
3. Start where you are. Do what you can with what you’ve got. You will always have a reason to postpone the start if you wait for everything to align before you dare to act.  Don’t miss the gift of today by waiting for the perfect someday. Lean times are the best learning times.  They teach you about what’s essential. Then creativity kicks in and help you figure out how to get it.
4. Get fit. The same factors that contribute to an effective fitness program contribute to the success of any program. Strength, flexibility, and endurance are essential to taking an idea from inception to execution. You have to summon your strength for the many times things don’t go as you would like, which will be daily, possibly hourly, at the start. You also have to stay as flexible as possible since your idea will and should undergo many incarnations as it evolves and adapts. And you’ll need to pace yourself and build your endurance so you can manage your time and energy over the long haul.
5.  Manage your expectations. Beginning is hard. Beginning again is harder. Starting where you are and getting fit take a real commitment. Once you’ve worked through these steps you may be more than a little anxious to see some results or at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Do not set yourself up for disappointment by assuming you know what success should look like and when it should arrive. That blinding light could be an oncoming train. Don’t get derailed by thinking it should have been your ticket out of oblivion. Resilience is a key quality to have in your toolkit. We are a society obsessed with overnight success and Cinderella stories. Yours is not a fairy tale but a love story, an adventure story, a comedy and drama where all parts of you embark on a hero’s journey. Expect the unexpected.
6. Get ready. Gather your wits about you. While it may look as if nothing is happening, you’re simply experiencing that grace period when you can fly under the radar and make mistakes without anyone really noticing. Use this grace period to figure out who you are, what you want, why you want it and what you are willing to do, sacrifice, contribute, give up, allow, and accept so when the world comes knocking at your door, you are ready to let them in.
If you have some secrets that you’d like to share about the art of the start, please add them below!