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!

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

I’m one of those people who can easily get lost.  Maybe it’s because I tend to take the road less traveled, the one off the beaten path.  Since most people choose to ignore the idea to go where my inner compass insists I do, it’s not so easy to stop and ask for directions.  That’s why I really love signs.  

Not the obvious ones like, “Stop. Go.  No Loitering.  OOL – There’s no “P” in our pool.  Let’s keep it that way.” 

I‘m talking about the signs  that hold personal significance for me.  When a hawk appears out of nowhere to guide me along a trail, I pay attention.  When I randomly open a book to a page that has the exact Bach Flower Remedy for my current state of agitation, I am grateful.  Or when I get the inkling to visit a website where I learn about the English Lakes District tour  just in the nick of time to participate, I know someone or something is looking out for me.

This trek off the beaten path started when I was in college and participated in a National Student Exchange program.   I spent one semester at McGill University in Montreal and another at Université Laval in Quebec City.  Presumably being plucked from a small farming community where everyone spoke English and arriving on the international scene where most everyone spoke French was the best way to hasten my comprehension of a foreign language. 

In my youthful innocence, I thought this was a splendid plan, ripe with romance, adventure, and really sophisticated sounding accents.  Few people concurred, except my parents, who didn’t really concur so much as concede that at the very least, a bad experience would hamper further efforts along a misguided path.

Of course, it ended up being one of the best years of my life.  I can’t speak for Dorothy, another farm girl who took a little trip to an exotic land, but I’m sure Oz rearranged her reality and emboldened her future decisions much like my Canadian adventure.

So it amazes me how I anguish over the little decisions, the kind grocery or shoe shopping is fraught with, while big decisions with enormous emotional consequences – like leaving the country, adopting a dog, or buying a house – are no brainers.

Maybe because big decisions demand inner alignment.  Something shifts when a clear plan emerges.  The certainty with which my body responds is immediate.  I get energized.  I wake up early.  I exercise without internal bribes.  I get organized.  I get interested in life.  I tolerate things I previously found intolerable.

The problem is these plans are often inconceivable to those near and dear to me.  I don’t fault them.  They love me and are looking out for my safety and happiness.  They most likely did not experience the tectonic plates shift under their feet the way I did.  They are looking through their own life lens.  And sometimes, in areas where they may hold fear, I am fearless.  (Caveat:  I only claim fearlessness in a few select areas.) 

I admit, the plan probably does look ridiculous from a rational person’s perspective.  But the kind of coup I am considering  when I intend to overhaul my internal landscape cannot be bound by reason.  If I rely on those who insist on sanity in the decision making process, I will be swayed from the terrifying truth of my own convictions. 

A few weeks ago when the ideal house I’d been mentally manifesting for months appeared on the scene and I started waking up at 5am to ponder the possibilities of home ownership, I knew something significant had shifted. 

I’d been stewing about my current house since my landlord placed it on the market a year ago, leaving me susceptible to random showings.  Despite the unsettling intrusions, I stubbornly stayed put because my next move was sure to be out of Dodge.  But when new neighbors built a home on the lot right next to me, the increasing sense of claustrophobia left me determined to correct the situation by summer’s end.

So my very bold decision this week was to buy the dream home and commit to staying not in  heaven, but Iowa, to reap the fields of opportunity I’ve been sewing here for the past four years.  Of course, for a decision of this magnitude, several signs were necessary.  Not to mention a really understanding real estate agent.

Suffice it to say, there is a certain amount of stress that is relieved when a commitment is made. Instead of imagining where I might live out my fantasy life of being a full time writer with a pool in the backyard and mountains in the distance, I can start working towards it on evenings and weekends here where a river runs through my backyard and rolling hills speckled with happy cows can be seen in the distance.

A muddy river and happy cows.  My kind of signs. 

Dorothy really was right. 

There’s no place like home.

Grow Into What You Know

I’m a recovering workshop junkie.  In my younger years, if there was a workshop on anything physical, metaphysical, spiritual, mystical, or magical and I could beg, borrow, or barter my way there, I’d go.   

The locations of these workshops only added to the allure for me – San Diego, Kaui, Big Sur, Santa Fe, Tucson, Sedona, Maui, Boulder, Portland, Bend, and Whidbey Island.  It was easier to pretend enlightenment could be achieved in geographically luscious landscapes than in my hometown. 

The truth is, if you don’t bring it with you, you won’t find it wherever you happen to land.  Admittedly, you might be more open to its presence gazing into a cascading waterfall or a wide blue ocean while sipping umbrella drinks with the cabana boy or sitting zazen with meditating monks and majestic mountains in the background. 

However, the real discipline of happiness, peace, or sanity is cultivating it in the present moment under the current circumstances.  I love one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets to Adulthood that states what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. 

This means you practice cultivating peace, compassion, or non-violence while on hold with the Department of Transportation and in the middle of a tense moment with a customer and as you support your spouse when he or she struggles with Elementary Algebra in the latest back to school effort.  Naturally this is more difficult than cultivating these emotional states while stroking your purring kitten, adoring your latest macramé sweater, or shoe shopping. This is precisely why it is called a practice, no?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about escaping to exotic locales or anywhere that allows for a change of scenery and some greenery.  This summer seems to have called forth an unprecedented need in me to escape.  Every attempt at progress or forward movement has been thwarted by something beyond my control.  This leaves me especially irritable as I move into the most stressful month of the academic year and highly susceptible to any offers of a last minute getaway.

My challenge has been to accept this with grace and appreciate the gift of not getting what I want.  The good news about my workshop junkie years is although I am far from enlightened, I retained some sage advice from unforgettable teachers that whispers to me in times such as these. 

Like six-second soundbites, wisdom needs context to be fully integrated.  While it was exciting to seek the knowledge, it was arrogant to think I could pass it on to others before I had the proper context or experience in which to frame it.  When I used to do corporate trainings I’d find myself saying certain things with authority because I had heard my teachers and gurus say them.  One day I was saying some simple phrase like, “Be here now,” and dropped to my knees.  Five years after saying this nonchalantly, I totally got it and was deeply humbled.

This tends to happen to me more at midlife.  The cockiness of youth and the certainty of knowing it all give way to the certainty of knowing very little and the curiosity of continuing to learn. 

One of my favorite ways to learn is to listen to audio programs while driving.  It’s like a having a mobile university in my car, without having to take the aforementioned Elementary Algebra.  I get to pick the programs and be moved by the passion that moves these people to share the information.  I appreciate poetry and science and history like never before.
Right now I’m listening to John O’Donohue’s  To Bless the Space Between Us.  John was an amazing Irish poet, priest, philosopher, and lover of life who died at age 52, but left so much wisdom for the rest of us to stumble upon when ready. 

Several years ago I was in a bookstore in Berkeley and picked up Anam Cara, John’s book of Celtic wisdom. I knew it was significant, so I bought it, but I wasn’t really ready for it until now.  Now I can’t get enough of his work.  Listening to his Irish brogue as he recites these blessings is a feast for my ears.

I suppose  I’ll always be a workshop junkie at heart.  I love to learn!  But the wisdom will only be like junk food until I metabolize it by practicing it and living it.  

One of my very best days on planet Earth was the day I got to see the Dalai Lama.  After seeing His Holiness in Tucson, my friend and I went to a yoga studio where Krishna Das was performing.  This was about as far from anything I’d ever experienced growing up on a farm in Illinois.  But there I was, chanting and moving about like a whirling dervish. The combination of wisdom, chanting, and whirling elevated me into some kind of altered state that lasted the plane ride home.  And just as quickly as enlightenment came, it went.  But the knowledge of this left me forever changed.

There is a Zen proverb, “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment; chop  wood, carry water.”  One the one hand, nothing changes.  The same things are still required of us.  On the other hand, everything changes. 

Chop, chop.

My Best Friend's Wedding

Twenty or thirty years ago the social scene was defined by the summer wedding schedule.  Driven by the cultural imperative to be partnered by a particular age, most of my friends were discovering marital bliss and the joys of parenthood before I even knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

This weekend I attended the wedding of a dear friend of mine. The following three things make this summer event exceptional:   1) My friend is fifty-six.  2) This is his second marriage.  3) It’s to the same woman he fell in love with and married the first time around.

Having never been married myself, I find such an idea unfathomable.  Being a hopeless romantic and a firm believer in my friend, however, I find his courage and faith in the woman he loves and the family he is reuniting to be truly inspiring.  I’m not one to cry at weddings but when I listened to the minister list a lifetime of joys and unspeakable sorrows, I couldn’t help but feel the healing had come full circle for this family and wept like a willow.  If we can be patient with the process, love will save the day.

There is something exhilarating about finding love at midlife.  Whether this love is with a partner you’ve known all your life or the one you met by chance at a conference in Orlando after accidentally walking into the men’s room, finding it again removes all memory of age and all semblance of sophistication.  (Especially in the latter case.)

To me, love at midlife illustrates the classic case of hope triumphing over experience.  By this stage of the game, if you haven’t had your heart broken a time or two, I would venture to say you haven’t really loved.  Loving anything or anyone is a heartbreak waiting to happen. But who would willingly forgo the inexplicable thrill of love just to avoid the inevitable pain? 

At midlife I’d like to think our chances of enjoying healthy and satisfying relationships are higher because we know who we are, what we want, and what we are or are not willing to negotiate.  We’re not as likely to lose ourselves in another person because we have become a highly complex person in our own right with a purpose, passion, priorities, and quite possibly a penchant for plaid.

When we fall in love in our younger years we tend to believe we are falling for another person who holds the key to all that completes us.  But as we mature, daring to fall in love offers the opportunity to fall in love with ourselves again.   When was the last time our wickedly witty or secretly sassy self got to come out and play?  And would the leopard teddy and four inch heels really be chosen over the ratty t-shirt and Elmo slippers under normal circumstances?

For a brief period of time the running list of what is wrong with us, what needs improving, and what is never going to happen in this lifetime gets thrown to the wind as we consider the possibility that by joining forces with Prince or Princess Charming, we have just received a get out of jail free card. We might actually be able to let go of the list of grievances against ourselves until the aforementioned royalty catches on. 

Of course, if our beloved really is the Prince or Princess we know them to be, they’ll never catch on – or if they do, at least they won’t report their findings at the company picnic.  They’ll remain that version of Shallow Hal that sees only the beautiful, the true, and the good.  They’ll never treat us as terribly as we treat ourselves on a typical day of self-loathing. 

These are just a few reasons why love is a many splendored thing. (Yes. Go ahead a click on the link to hear this unforgettably sappy song from the 50s.  Did our parents really listen to this and subliminally subject us to knowing the lyrics for life?)

None of us can do it alone.  We all get by with a little help from our friends.  Last weekend, I was delighted to help my friend renew his vows and my faith in this thing crazy little thing called love. (Click on this to hear one of my favorite versions of this snappy – not sappy – love song.  You wouldn’t expect to read all these words of love without a little love mix running in the background, would you?) 

Changes & Choices

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine. “ – Robert C. Gallagher

If change is a constant, why isn’t it easier?

Midlife is rife with one change after another.  Whether children are moving out, parents are moving in, neighbors are moving too close, or friends are moving too far away, this revolving door of relationship changes can bring about all kinds of emotional upheaval. 
Add to that the physical and psychological changes.  For example, when did my body become an exact replica of my mother’s?  And when did my brain start behaving like eccentric Aunt Lola’s?
Then there’s the general disorientation that accompanies a visit to box stores, grocery stores, or  malls.  Questions like, “How long was I in there?”, “Did I leave without the one thing I went in for?” and  “Where did I park my car?” can easily cause a person to age ten years. 
If I could effectively use the technology available to me, I might be able to tweet my way out of my predicament by finding a friend who could help me use the GPS on my smart phone to get the coordinates to the only twelve year old car in the lot with a “Life is Good” tire cover.  (It’s important for me to stay optimistic in bold ways.)
Just when I start to feel like it’s all too much, I consider the possibility of what would happen if nothing changed.   What if children never grew up, politicians never left office, snow never melted, ideas never evolved into action, or a bad haircut and color never grew out?
I shudder to think.
Some days, however, I’m just not that into change.  I don’t want to adapt, adjust, or allow for the infinite number of consequences that result from upgrading a phone or switching billfolds. When familiar things take an unfamiliar twist the learning curve can be brutal until I can muster up the “this will ultimately be worth it” attitude that gets me through the initial exasperation.
Some days I feel every year I’ve been on this planet and find myself dangerously close to declaring, “I’m too old for this!” 
With the exception of Garanimals, I’d really like to think I’m not too old for most things.  I might be a middle-aged dog, but I am certainly capable of learning new tricks.  Ironically, frustration and fatigue set in when I’m not learning, changing, and growing.
Of course, change merely for the sake of change is just another weapon of mass distraction.  Enter the quest for meaning.  Meaningful change, change with a purpose, intent to grow, learn, evolve…I’m into that kind of change.
Most of my life I’ve had a voracious appetite for learning. Ever since I got to consider where I might go, what I might do, or how I might spend my free time, I’ve chosen some kind of learning adventure that promised to shed light on the meaning of life.  This quest for meaning has been the driving force behind most of my decisions.
In the grand scheme of things this quest compels me to continually take risks, travel far from home, engage in life changing conversations, and invest in new relationships.  In the daily course of events it compels me to get out of my pajamas and attempt the ten-minute fat burning Kettleworx  workout before heading to the office, write at least three decent paragraphs before going to bed, listen to amazing audio programs while driving in my car, and dispense the most helpful advice I can to students who trust me to have the answers. 
Many times I have to fall back on the wisdom of Dory from Finding Nemo.  Just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming.  What do we do?  We swim, swim!” Not just because I absolutely love to swim, but because we’re all swimming in this sea of change and if we’re lucky, improving our strokes and breathing patterns as we go.  Fortunately, we can learn from  wise sea turtles and others who are further along or at different points on the journey and willing to share their experiences, or at the very least, their sense of humor.
The thing about change is that it catapults us out of the place of perceived comfort and opens us to the possibility of learning more not just about ourselves but the world in general. 
It’s fascinating to be living in times of rampant and radical change.  Like getting what you wish for, living in changing times can be a blessing or a curse.  Today, I’m choosing the blessing.
What about you? 

Let Freedom Ring

For many Americans, having a 3-day weekend is cause to celebrate.  Throw in some fireworks, food and beverages, friends and family, and a little patriotism and you have the incomparable 4th of July holiday.   In honor of Independence Day, I declared last week Independence Week and took some time off work to savor all that freedom and independence mean to me.

My freedom fantasy goes something like this.  I have the whole summer off and a beach house where I spend each day writing the next New York Times best seller.  Of course, I’d have a bicycle with a basket for loading fresh fruit and veggies sold at a local market where  I congregate with other creative types also spending their summer casually cranking out their best work.  We agree to meet each evening for captivating dinner conversations, music, and dancing as a reward for making it through a day in the company of characters we’ve only imagined.  Naturally my dogs would be with me to encourage regular stretch breaks, beach walks, and daily swims. And, since this is a fantasy, maybe someone might also show up around lunchtime to do something exquisite with the fruit and veggies.

My reality is I work four 10-hour days at a community college and have Fridays off during June and July.  If I take a strategically placed vacation I can maximize my days off and write full-time during that time period.  I live in the Midwest (nowhere near a beach) but have access to a swimming pool and a cabin, although they are not at the same location.  I can get farm fresh eggs from my friend Karen’s happy hens and fresh fruit at the farmers market and check out  the Food Network for something fabulous to do with these ingredients. 

Even though one is not so far removed from the other, either my reality or my fantasy needs tweaking.

There’s this thing that happens at midlife when we accept that this is our life.  Whether or not this is who we thought we’d be, where we imagined we’d live, what we hoped we’d be doing for a living, and who we thought we’d be doing it with, here we are now.  And though we’ve been involved in every decision that brought us this point, we may still, on occasion, ask ourselves just what happened.

The more constructive question might be, “What do I want to do about it, if anything?”

Sometimes I think I have to do something so big, so bold, so grand that I completely psych myself out and do nothing. For example, in the above fantasy, spending a whole summer at a beach house and writing a best seller are two humungous goals.  While possible, they require planning, financing, connections, talent, and ultimately luck.

Most course corrections start with one simple adjustment followed by another.  Like guiding a person to an object by telling them they are getting hotter or colder, we find out what works for us by trying out one small and slightly less scary step at a time. 

During my ten days away, I spent half the time at the cabin surrounded by trees and hawks and hummingbirds with my dogs at my feet and various people joining me in the evenings.  The other days were spent overcoming my technophobia by upgrading my phone and securing a wireless modem and laptop so I can take my writing on the road.  

Even though these felt like baby steps to me they were actually huge leaps moving me forward.  Now I am free to move about the cabin (literally) and stay connected.  No more excuses for me not to post to this blog on a regular basis.

Having the time and space to breathe deeply and pay attention to all the little ways the universe rushes in to wow anyone who’s paying attention, is what I feel freedom is all about.

Now, on with the fireworks… or fireflies.  This week I discovered they also can light up the night sky.

Leap Year

A year ago I was sitting at O’Hare airport waiting to board American Airlines flight #54 to Manchester, England. A riotous storm had just barreled through town so a timely takeoff was unlikely.  In order for the airline to claim an on-time departure, we boarded and left the gate at the designated time but sat on the runway for two hours where we were offered granola bars as a distraction before embarking on the eight hour flight.
My mistake was thinking I could be distracted or even relax enough to catch some sleep during the overnight flight.  If I had made this trip before or was sharing this adventure with a friend, I might have succeeded.  But since I was traveling alone to a foreign country to spend a week with strangers, I felt like I was leaping off a cliff.  
Now I have leapt enough times to know I will grow wings on the way to what looks like certain death.  I have even written a book about it.  (If you are interested in Read It and Leap, email me and I’ll tell you how to get a copy.)
Still, this trip was different. 
This was one of those trips that define a life.  There was my life before the hiking trip with poet David Whyte and my life after.  So in some ways, I was facing the imminent death of life as I knew it.   As I flew east into the light throughout the night, I couldn’t close my eyes for fear I might miss the instructions on how to navigate the afterlife.
For most people a European vacation might have happened much earlier in life and involved a backpack and Eurorail pass instead of a two checked bags and a carry on.  But I’m a firm believer in reinventing your life at any age and traveling light, despite the checked bags.  When the planets align and give you a sign and you happen to have a current passport, you are duty bound to heed the call of the wild.
Instead of attending my high school reunion, I boarded a plane and headed to Melmerby Manor, where twenty members of my new tribe awaited my arrival as if they had been waiting thirty years for our reunion.
Like most true adventures, I really had no idea what was in store for us for the next seven days.  I knew there would be hiking.  I just hadn’t anticipated five hours of intense hiking in breathtaking locales each day.
I knew there would be poetry. I just didn’t know how incredible it would be to hear it from the source in the land of his ancestors.
I thought there might be rain but was delighted to discover it was sunny every day and stayed light until almost 11pm. 
I figured there would be interesting food.  I just hadn’t expected the world’s best organic bakery to provide our midday meals and sack lunches for the hikes.  Or that sustenance could come as much from conversation while making the evening meals as from the meals themselves.
I knew I would make new friends.  I just had no idea how meaningful these bonds would become since opportunities to make new friends aren’t always as prevalent at midlife as they are when we are younger.
One of the great lines in David’s poem Learning to Walk speaks to the fact that at midlife we are “present enough to know true friends when we meet them” and “mature enough to keep them for a lifetime.”
Six of these new friends have agreed to help me write a book about our experience in The Lake District.  On one particular hike we lost our way, therefore dubbing ourselves The Lost Ladies of Cumbria.  Of course, we eventually found our way back to the rest of the group.  In the process we discovered so many parallels between getting lost on the hike and getting lost at midlife, we decided to collect them along with our stories for anyone who might dare to follow in our footsteps.
We all met again this April at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island near Seattle where David hosted a reunion weekend for those who had been on any of his tours over the years.  We spent five days getting reacquainted and plotting and planning what is to become The Lost Ladies of Cumbria book, blog, and guides to just about everything.  In a very short time, these women have become an essential part of my life.
When you take an educated leap, not only do you grow the wings I mentioned earlier, but you also gain a sense of self that may have become dormant in your everyday life. 
For example, who would know I love to travel when my daily commute is five minutes from door to office and an hour to visit friends and family on the weekend? 
Who would suspect I’m really quite funny when my day job is advising students on such serious matters as what to be when they grow up and overseeing the daily operations of a new satellite campus?
Who would guess that walking and writing are as essential to my well-being as eating and sleeping?
Who would know that inside you, just like me, there lies “some wild risk about to break again on the world”* given the slightest opportunity?
If you are reading this, I’m counting on you to leap when that opportunity arises. 
And then you must tell us about it.
This is how the Midlife MacGyver Movement begins!
*From Learning to Walk by David Whyte.

Start Before You're Ready

I recently read a book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work that suggests we start before we’re ready.   Start what, you ask?  Well, anything.  Writing a blog, for example.
I must admit that after a year of playing around with the idea of a blog, researching blogs, reading other people’s blogs, and doing everything but writing my own blog, I’m still not sure I can deliver an exciting, insightful, or adventurous read on a regular basis.
And yet, starting the blog was exactly what I needed to do to catapult myself out of the middle of things that don’t matter so much and land right in the midst of things that do.
Most of us are in the middle of something.  Whether it be the middle of a thought, the middle of a sentence, the middle of a meeting, the middle of the year, the middle of an exercise program, or the middle of a midlife crisis, we really don’t like to be interrupted.  Especially to attend to new projects requiring immense effort or the corralling of creative forces that could quite possibly matter even more than whatever we’re in the middle of.
Before opening my eyes in the morning I consider the possibility of something new. But then I step out of bed and am assaulted by fifteen things that ought to be done before going to the office, all equally pressing.
I convince myself there will be sufficient energy left over at the end of the day to fuel the new project.  Sadly, the results are the same as when I expect snow peas to be left over from yesterday’s chicken with mixed vegetables.  Energy and snow peas are in limited supply.  Fatigue and baby corn, however, are endless.
And yet some things insist on finding their way.  
Like the “overnight success” that follows forty years of perfecting a craft, one fine day our work will arrive fully formed on the scene after being imagined into existence in the odd moments between meetings, transporting people here and there, advising students, consoling friends, getting groceries, sorting laundry, and planning an escape.
Of course that day will arrive when we least expect it but in a moment when we are fully capable of meeting it and ushering it into the world.  The key is not to hesitate. 
There are just too many things to frighten the life out of us.  Not because we haven’t experienced these things but because at this point in our lives, we have.  We’re acutely aware of what we have to lose.
Strangely enough these are not the things that we might have been afraid of losing at an earlier age – money, sex appeal, a partner, our looks, the corner office.  We can survive hits to our ego. The things we fear losing now have to do with our soul’s significance. 
What if the dream we’ve been nurturing for all these years turns out to be a dud, a flop, failure, fiasco? What then? 
When we’re younger we can blame our mistakes on inexperience, cockiness, or immaturity.  We also believe we have time to recover. 
But what happens if we fail at forty-four or fifty-five or sixty-seven? Shouldn’t we know better? How do we recover from mistakes at midlife? 
My thought is that we simply begin again.  Steven Pressfield’s is that we start before we’re ready.  Buddha’s is that life is suffering. Yoda’s is there is no try, just do.
So whatever it might be that you’re hankering to breathe life into, perhaps today is the day to do so.  In my experience sooner is better than later, given the snow pea situation. 
Just don’t wait until you’re ready. 
We both know that for this particular passion, you’re already as ready as you’ll ever be.

Adventure, anyone?

Anyone can be bold and adventurous at 9, 19, even 29. 
 
Being bold and adventurous at 39, 49, 59, and beyond demands a different battle cry.  I don’t know about you, but at this point in my life I need more than a tweet to get me out of my seat and on the road to revolution.
 
It’s a daring plan, of course, to simply be yourself, live life on your own terms, follow your dreams, and live an unconventional life.  I know.  It’s been my life’s mission.
That’s how I learned that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The  unspoken societal opposition to our personal declaration of independence goes something like this:  Be yourself as long as it’s not too different, unconventional, creepy, quirky, weird, or utterly inexplicable to potential employers. 
So the natural reaction is to veer away from the edge where you keep a safe enough distance from your dreams that you think they are still within  reach. But unless you venture back out to the edge on a consistent basis, the safety net becomes more like a maximum security prison and you discover you’ve given the keys to any number of jailors.
Of course, you may not realize this until something or someone makes you to feel old or obsolete.  You may not have noticed before because everyone else was doing the same thing and you may have gotten really good at it.  Furthermore, you may have been compensated exceptionally well for it. 
But sooner or later the grumbling starts.  The call of the wild cannot be silenced.  This is when you find yourself cruising the self-help or travel sections of your favorite bookstore, or if it’s out of business, your iPhone, iPad, Nook, or Kindle bookstore. 
There you discover success books and blog posts written by those who are living large in a global community.  Yes, they will help you remember what it is that sparks your curiosity, lights a fire in your belly, and makes you do things others might consider ridiculous.
And while these rising stars will remind you of things you have forgotten and long to reclaim, they may not be able to help you negotiate your current reality, simply because they cannot yet imagine a life that deviates from the dream.
Who would want to imagine a world where one might need to know how to handle a hotflash while wearing a turtleneck, how to manage a midlife meltdown without alienating everyone you know, how to gracefully give up your job to the more affordable intern you trained as your assistant, what to call something besides “thingy” when you can no longer remember the word for everyday items such as spatula or doorknob, or what to do when an aging parent shows up for  lunch without pants? 
No, in order to perpetuate the dream, these things are better left unsaid.
Enter Midlife MacGyver where all you really need to revolutionize your midlife experience is duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.
If you are of a certain age, I don’t even need to explain.  But in case you never had the opportunity or desire to watch the American action-adventure television series, allow me to explain.  Angus MacGyver was a secret agent who could work his way out of any situation.  He preferred peaceful resolutions to skirmishes which meant he didn’t carry a gun.  He was smart, optimistic, easy-going and very resourceful.  He was able to solve complex problems simply by using everyday items he found wherever he happened to be. Duct tape and a Swiss Army knife were perpetually present.
To join the Midlife MacGyver Movement , you are going to need these same skills. You will also need to have your senses about you.  Specifically, a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, a sense of self, a sense of compassion, a sense of community, a sense of humility, and a sense of grace and gratitude. 
Shall we start the revolution then?
Shall we speak of unspeakable adventures?
Shall we reclaim our fierce potential with honor and a healthy dose of humor?
If so, I will meet you at the edge.