I sat on my striped towel, behind the scene, I even snapped a photo of the picture being taken. The kids all lined up for their annual summer shoot, the 15th summer in a row…mine weren’t in the line, I was there alone, and even though for the past two summers I couldn’t make this trip happily, this time I chose to come, alone, and I was ok. I was grateful. Grateful for downtime, bonds of friendship that have lasted 15 summers (actually longer), to see kids who were in infant seats together before they head off to college. I was grateful for a calm that I didn’t know existed, the ability I have to jump in the car and take a two day trip up the coast on a moments notice, and most of all my outlook…an optimistic one that in part comes naturally, but also that I have worked hard to make solid. It’s the best feeling to know that life has changed, something that most of us as humans have a pretty serious aversion to, and I’m ok.
Healing takes a lot of reflection, a lot of learning to work from what is, instead of what isn’t.
It’s not about ignoring feelings when they come up, like they did when I went to meet my two friends (who are married) for coffee on Sunday morning. When I got there they were already sitting down, but Kent quickly gave up his chair for me and went to stand in the long coffee line, asked me a couple of times for my order because he wanted my coffee to be right, and brought it back to me. The gesture brought tears to my eyes…it’s nice to be taken care of and I appreciated it to my core. But when I bring the optimist’s lens back into focus and let it pan out over the expanse that is my life, those little tugs at my heart strings are just that, because I know where I sit in the bigger picture, and I like it. The deep calm that comes from knowing I am capable of taking care of myself is so empowering and I rest easy knowing that even if I don’t get the luxury of having my coffee brought to me often, I know I’m worthy of it on any day…no guilt, no weakness, no strings attached. And most days I’m happy to choose my own mug anyway.
When we work from what is, and don’t give our energy to what isn’t, we find our way, little by little. This is our ticket out of ‘victimville’.
An optimist’s lens gives us the energy to have the discipline that it takes to keep going. It helps us see that what isn’t there today, may well be there tomorrow, or in a week, or a month, or even a year if we commit to our process. And, when we commit, we find our calling, our uniqueness that we were meant to bring to the world.
If we go along, wishing to be like or have what we think everyone else has, how would we ever discover what fills us up, what brings us joy, and what we can bring to the world to make it a better place?
So to bring it back around, it’s not that I didn’t want my kids with me last weekend, they were missed and I would choose them any day of the week. What matters is knowing that the difference I was most afraid of, not having them with me all of the time, has come to pass, and I’m alright. Knowing that, I can apply those feelings to other things that scare me on this crazy journey and be confident that as long as I fight to keep my optimist’s lens, my way forward presents itself. As my dad told me just this week, the kids will be ok if you are. There is a lot of change, angst, and unknown coming down the pipeline, it’s a hallmark of parenting teenagers no matter what your circumstance, and I’m poised and ready to handle it with my sleeves rolled up and some rose colored glasses…because one doesn’t work without the other.
Find calm in the chaos…these words go through my head multiple times per day. Text messages, emails, calls, voicemails, to do lists, goals, kids, social media, ideas, writing, so often it feels like it is all hitting at once and that everyone and everything needs an answer in 10 minutes or less. But, that expectation is a state of mind. Calm is learning to reframe, take things in on our own timing, not as the world gives them to us. We all used to have to wait a lot longer before the age of Amazon Prime same day delivery and insta everything…and we were ok. Sometimes I think that everything that is being done to speed up our process in the name of efficiency and time management is chipping away at our calm. Even ATM’s have order ahead service now!
If you have read any part of my blog before, you know that yoga has been a major game changer in my life. I like to think that sports toughened me up which, quite honestly, was necessary, but yoga taught me how to slow down and enjoy my life. As I unitask my way through my days (if you are wondering, unitask is the opposite of multitask) I encounter someone almost every day who, through some shared experience that we have, comments on my state of calm. Whether it’s finding out I have four kids, or having to wait a little extra time for an appointment, when we talk and exchange stories, they say
“But you’re so calm.”
It’s pretty ironic considering the way I started out in this life. Loud noises like the air brakes on a school bus, the compactor on the trash truck, sirens, or fireworks felt like they left an imprint on my soul. I think I wore ear plugs on the 4th of July until I was 10. I remember trying to anticipate what was coming next so that I didn’t get surprised by anything. I lived like that for a long time…anxious and waiting for the shoe to drop, and worse, trying to disguise that anxiousness under the mask of calm. The good thing now is that I can feel the difference between the mask and the real thing.
Real calm is slow, it’s present, it’s focused and sure. It’s comfortable in our own skin, even when the circumstances are uncomfortable. Calm allows us have our own place and know that it’s ok to take up as much space in this world as anyone else. Calm brings peace to our process and helps us let go of the need to control any outcomes. Calm silences the outside voices and helps us hear our own clearly. It lets us trust our gut and do the next right thing. It’s where we can drop the multitasking and settle into our routine, and trust that it all will get done in the best time with a sure and steady hand. It creates flow in the routine of regular life, and then we find success on whatever stage we seek.
Aside from our greater goals, it is stabilizing for my soul to encounter people who find calm and flow in regular life because regular life is my favorite. I find a lot of joy in the mundane, like choosing my coffee mug every morning or my favorite chamomile tea. As I stood on the beach in Santa Cruz this past weekend, there was calm in observing the joy that our hosts found in hospitality. Two grills, tons of meat, and such ease in the preparation and serving of a casual meal in a beautiful scene. Their choice to make it seem easy to haul everything down there and create this relaxed and gracious scene made a memory for me and my kids that we won’t forget. Nothing fancy, but there was legitimate work involved and there wasn’t an ounce of hardship expressed. I love people who find calm instead of complaint in the work…it radiates to everyone around and, in this case, we got to sit back, exchange stories, and take in the blue sky and surf and be taken care of by these wonderful friends. There aren’t many people in my life who give me this easy feeling, to feel the true appreciation I have for being taken care of, but this crew makes it so easy, it’s hard to imagine a way I can repay them.
The calm I feel today is real, and knowing what my nervous system feels like in this peaceful place is a blessing and a source of productive strength. When we know ourselves well, we can choose what feeds our soul. For some it’s excitement, crowds and the next big party but for me it is calm that allows me to find my flow…and I’m feeling more in the zone with every day that passes.
The sounds and feels of summer…waves, crowds, traffic, and warmer water to jump in after volleyball. The ocean serves as the cheapest and most efficient ice bath for the aches and pains that have to be tended to to live to play another day. Then there is the sight of seeing Matthew paddling out or stand up on his board, something that the long wet winter had me wondering if we would ever see again. Summer also means tutoring for him. To stay sharp, he needs lots of repetition as we work to improve those frontal lobe executive functioning skills that came more naturally to his sisters and his brother. He’s aware of it, and he’s searching for what he is good at, and that process tugs at my heart strings when he gets frustrated. So much of the time I think his mind works differently than mine or my other kids, but hearing him articulate what he is searching for makes me realize that in many ways his path is the same as mine.
I overheard him chatting with his tutor the other day, they were working on math, but he knew a little bit about her schedule and asked her questions about her travels the week before. His questions were engaging and focused on her experience, not his, he was genuinely curious.
It’s actually moments like these, not when they are going through common denominators, but when he is engaged on an emotional level that I know we have a good learning connection.
I told her, if he is relaxed enough to ask you questions like that, then he can learn. Getting him out of fight or flight is the key to the educational stuff sinking in, it also makes me realize that I am far more concerned about raising a kid who cares about other people than how fast he can finish a math worksheet. Not to say I’m letting him off the hook on that, but the bonds he creates with other kind humans and learning how to connect with the goodness that comes from them is something that what will help him find his successful process in his life.
There are three things that have been at the center of my own path the last few years that have helped me define my process. The first thing was finding calm. I have learned, through lots of self reflection and yoga, that I spent way too much time in fight or flight mode. I called it “waiting for the shoe to drop”. When I think back to the jumpy feeling that was almost always with me, that I spent so much energy masking while I projected outward calm, while my insides were anything but, I realize now that I could never accomplish what I want to in this life in that state. Too much energy was going into just trying to survive. Fight or flight isn’t an age thing, it’s a human thing, and we have to train it. As I have learned to calm my own nervous system, I have new techniques for calming his.
Yoga brought my feet to a grounded path, and my mind to a still place where I could connect with the sensation of feeling safe in my surroundings, and then begin to trust that I could handle what was coming next without having to anticipate it.
I also have wrapped my head around the concept that it’s ok, and in fact maybe even better, for my path to look different that others.. Letting go of expectation has been one of the most freeing feelings in walking my own road. It has made me self reliant in a way that builds my strength and confidence, helped free me of guilt and shame, and quieted that voice of “I screwed up” so that I could have the energy to define and create my own success. Our uniqueness is what makes the world an interesting place, and success is not something that comes in one form. Free yourself of other peoples expectations and go after your dream in the present…it will lead you to the most beautiful moments of flow. And then we build on those.
As I have let go of expectations, I am also learning to let go of other people’s judgment and what they may (or may not) think of my path. As a recovering people pleaser, this one is the hardest. It’s an exercise both in not giving credence to other people’s judgment, which is definitely there, but also in realizing that they aren’t thinking about your path as much as I may have originally thought. We all have so much on our plates, most often, people are concentrating on that, and judging the next step you make really isn’t high on their priority list. Either way, the opinions of the masses are something we have to learn to set aside when we know the goals we have for ourselves, and are trying to crush them. If I let perceived judgment scare me, or slow me down, it produces the heaviest energy in my day, limiting the progress I make on the course I have set out for myself. Success is built on putting your head down and believing in yourself, no matter what other people are or aren’t thinking about you. So if you think about it, either way it doesn’t matter!
The gift of being a parent is that what I learn about myself in this beautiful and challenging life, I get to use to teach my kids as they learn to navigate their own life paths. It turns out, Matthew’s words to me about trying to find what he is good at aren’t any different than what I am looking for in my own days. I am helping him define his process, and I get to be the one who teaches him to find calm, realize that his path is unique, even beautifully unconventional, and that what the masses think about it really doesn’t factor into the discovery.
Life is life, and the process isn’t all that different at any age.
My job isn’t to worry, it’s to use what I have learned to teach him to be brave enough to wrestle with the questions life presents and develop a consistent process to get them answered. Then he can press forward on his path. Safety, love, and hard work…I am confident I can teach him what it feels like to feel all three, so that even if the waves toss us around a bit, we can learn to emerge standing on our own two feet.
The adrenaline rushes, even when you sit in the stands. But one thing I have learned is that once they take the court, there is nothing you as a parent can do about the outcome. The athlete in you might want to spring out of the seat, the coach in you might think you have the game winning knowledge, but, as a parent, besides the loud show of support, which may or may not have the outcome you desire, our job is done. We get the long ball, the years of down time, grind time, drives to and from practice before they get their license, maybe a little conversation in the hotel rooms or in the kitchen after practice as they grow. We get to teach them, and better yet model for them, that the process is more important that the result…and that the work put in will pay off in the long run, even when the ball hits the ground too many times on your side in one match.
But that didn’t happen yesterday, the focus that I thought I saw from the outset was real. Guys, even when you were down two, and five points from being ousted in the quarters, you kept your composure, locked in, and came home with a National Championship. As a mom, of course I think this team is special. I have watched four of them play together since they were 12, being the highlight of Luke’s days when he wasn’t as happy about our move to the beach as he is today. Five of them have been together since 13’s, and seven of them since they were 14…and the rest have been welcomed with open arms, adding levels of talent, discipline, and heart from both the court and the bench. Knowing how fast a year goes, and how quickly things can change, I wanted to take the ride home last night and this morning to sit with the feeling. These boys hold a special place in my heart and will for the rest of my life. Long after volleyball, this group will remember their triumphs and struggles together as a team, this is their first fraternity.
Way to get up and show up boys…not just the last four days, but on the days you didn’t feel like it, on the days when you felt like it wasn’t fair, or the ball didn’t do what you thought it should, or when you missed out on something fun going on outside the gym. Yes, there is a balance, but gold medals don’t come easy, with the vision and grit you have shown, you guys deserve this one. It’s both a privilege and a grind to play at this spectacular level.
With all the talent on display at this amazing tournament, mindset made the difference. I hope you guys are sitting back this morning, resting happily, knowing that you took your best out there and left it all on the court…boy was it golden in every way. Take a day or two, enjoy it, and then get back at it, whether that’s in volleyball or in life, because in the end, they aren’t really all that different.
Apathy: (n) lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern
For the past few years, The Optimists Journal has been a place for me to reflect and build my writing (and who would have thought, speaking) skills, learning both vulnerability and strength by putting my voice out into the world. Through this self reflective process, I understand myself, and my lens on this world better. In using what I have learned, but moving beyond my own experience, that place where the my micro world meets the macro of society, my hope is that my content will engage and inspire people to think for themselves and engage as conscious citizens. Every week I read many articles, am always reading a fiction and a non fiction book (albeit slowly!), listening to podcasts and following the sporting events and even better the stories behind them (can we talk about Coco Gauff!). I believe that when we are engaging in the areas of our lives that we are passionate about we create a consciousness that is stimulates our own learning and is engaging to others and together we become a more energized and informed community.
Before I found this outlet, I had an unfilled desire to put my voice out there, but without the courage to execute, I developed apathy, a “stuckness” for lack of a better word, and at times I questioned whether I had the ability to fight through the feeling. Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head with the voices of “it’s already been done” and “what do you really know that’s noteworthy”. But in the consistency and determination that continues to rise up against the imposter, the clarity of my voice and vision has taken shape, day by day. When that self doubt kicks in I just remind myself that Arianna Huffington was a speaker in my first political science class of 30 college kids at Cal Poly SLO back in 1992, married to a local Congressman and raising two girls…look what she has done since.
We fight apathy by locking into what lights us up. Usually that spark shows up organically, but then it is up to us to follow that path and become conscious citizens. To do this we have to drill down, learn more, and discover the talents that our passions can bring to the world to make it better. That is my goal with The Optimists Journal, because the world doesn’t need our apathy, it needs our energy, and my energy is buoyed by an optimistic spirit and the ability to keep learning about the topics that light my fire. In learning and writing about them, I hope to fight the malaise that keeps us slightly comfortable, but with that voice in our head that tells us there is more we can do.
The key to American life is having a society of safe and informed citizens and lending my expertise and spreading that message is something that makes my conversations and days great. Having been a news junkie from a young age, being raised in a home where my dad held political office from the time I was seven until I was 27, the division caused by the intolerance of different opinions and the 24 hour news cycle have made it tough for me to maintain my usually positive outlook for the past few years. For awhile, I checked out completely, trading growth mindset podcasts for politics. But I missed being a part of the conversation, it’s in my blood. But what if I could blend the two? How do our individual mindsets help shape our society. I remember laying on the bed at the LAX Westin, pregnant with Luke when my dad lost the primary election for Governor in 2002, my young untested spirit thinking the world was coming to an end. Needless to say I’ve made some progress since then and, more than anything, recognize my dad’s ability to speak his truth and put himself out there no matter what other people thought or put up against him, but there is rarely a time I land at LAX and don’t look at the Westin and remember that feeling…you win some, you lose some. I still believe California missed out, but those who are lucky enough to be close to him certainly haven’t.
I am hard to pin down these days though, because my way forward has taught me so much about the unconventional, the mind/body connection, the mystics and Eastern traditions, and being real with the trauma that life brings us. All of these things mix with my roots in a unorthodox way and create my own unique point of view. I admire straight talkers, honest inquiry, and lack of pretense in the situations and people that cross my path. I cast a nonjudgmental eye on the happenings of the day, believing that I have a right to my opinion and experience as much as anyone else, and that the way forward is found in respectful dialogue, owning our individuality but always looking to add to the collective American experience.
This week, I begin to lay out my vision for The Optimists Journal, starting with mindset, because our mindset is the root of all possibility. In the coming weeks, I will unveil the other topics that spark my interest, and show you how these topics link to create a conscious place where great dialogue and the next deep conversation take place, something I am always in search of, whether that is here or in person. Follow along with me, let me know what you want to hear more about, you won’t be disappointed. Sign up for my weekly email, which always includes my blog, but also links to the articles, books, and podcasts that I take in every week. There is so much amazing learning out there to do to make us conscious citizens…so let’s get going on that.