One of the greatest gifts of my adult life has been the women who have met me at any time of the morning to workout.  Whether swimming, running, yoga, pilates, or beach volleyball, and starting as early as 4:30am (shoutout to the early morning Fresno crew), the gratitude I have for these friendships brings tears to my eyes most mornings I am headed out to play.  At this stage of life, the sport is secondary to the common experiences and the clarity and realness that come as we harness our endorphins to solve all of the world’s problems from parenting to politics and everything in between. 

Recently I wrote about perfectionism, and how it can rest so heavily on our shoulders. It’s hold on us keeps us from our most impactful, joyful, and connected life.  But did you know that one of the best prescriptions to combat perfectionism is our willingness to go out and play?  As we get older, it’s easy to think that play is a thing of the past that we don’t have time for in our adult lives, but living in a constant state of doing instead of giving ourselves the time to just be free, is a recipe for burnout and with the daily stresses and changes in my life, I don’t know where I would be without the nearly daily check in’s with friends that go along with movement. These adult sporting experiences from volleyball tournaments to Master’s swim meets have been my playground, a place to learn about myself, release the hold on expectation and find that blissful place of striving contentment. I relate certain runs to certain worries, like when I started to worry about Matthew’s development when things seemed off when he was approaching two,  or swim practices to the little bits of wisdom I’d pick up on the deck after I cleared my mind with 3000 yards, and the bonds of friendship that were created when locker room chats carried over to Starbucks runs when a topic couldn’t be exhausted in the time it took us to get dressed.  My early morning workout habits on most days help me to put my worries to rest at night knowing that the answers will come with whatever activity the morning brings…and I’m so thankful that I have rarely had to go it alone.

When my kids were little, I couldn’t wait for the days they could sign up and play something, and I knew they were accustomed to it because they had been helping me make my workout happen since they were in baby carriers. Whether that was putting up with being dropped into “kids club” at the gym, to Lauren sitting in my bed many early mornings watching Horton Hears A Who with Matthew while I swam. It takes a village to make it all happen and as long as kids feel safe and supported, they are always able to contribute. Bottom line, my growth, and arguably my mental strength has come from my daily workout routine since before any of my kids were born. And, since our wisdom comes from the experience of what we know, over the years my activities became the natural go to’s as my kids got to the age to be able to join up and do things.  Since I was a swimmer, my kids were thrown into swim team.  And after that, volleyball…and I loved every minute of it, seven years never passed so quickly.  I never wished as I was standing on the pool deck or the sidelines of a volleyball court that  the event would finish up so we could do something else, there was truly no place I’d rather be, no matter what mess I had to come home to after a day of watching them. I saw sports as the way to teach them the big lessons about life like they have done for me. 

So what happened when one of them wanted to quit?

As it has been for all of us, 2020 has asked for some big shifts in thinking and doing.  Besides the time that we couldn’t play volleyball on the beach or swim in the ocean, I never knew it was the last time I would watch Luke play a high school or club volleyball match, that the one and only trip I took to Texas would be the only play time I would see of Lauren’s freshman year.  But the most interesting conversation and growth exercise for me as a parent was to let go and have February 2020 be the last club volleyball tournament I would watch Kate play. After the thoughts danced in my head of her talent, the way I believe in endorphins, and the awesome coaches that she would have a chance to be shaped by if she kept playing it, it all paled in comparison to the bravery and self awareness she demonstrated in communicating how she felt with me. 

Sometimes we get so entangled in what we thought life was going to be, we lose out on the magic of what is developing right in front of our eyes.

And then as I watched her talent project through the Zoom screen production of Emma two weeks ago, I understood once again that the real work doesn’t always happen on the court…she has found her flow on the stage.  

The joy of being a parent happens when we come to understand that we are a conduit for their success and that the best things happens when we focus on getting our own wiring right and worry less about theirs.  There is more wisdom gained by the experiences we share together than the words we speak at them.  When they know what we are about, they find the confidence to discover their own path. So as I traced my path this week between what has been lost to what has been found, I collected these thoughts…

 - We help them find their uniqueness by honoring our own, we are not like anyone else, and we don’t want them to be either. There are so many ways to be successful. If we have had a hand in helping them find their voice, how can we be upset or disappointed or upset with them with they use it. That expression is what turns passion into purpose…and knowing our purpose is the key to passing on knowledge, not just saving the best moments for ourselves. 

 - Teach them to Be Adaptable.  I discovered later in life that more than anything else, adaptability is my key to confidence. When we expect things to be a certain way, and then the inevitable changes in life spring up, whether it’s something as devastating as a death or divorce, being cut from a team, not getting the part, or being rejected by a friend, having the skills to adapt to the new normal is what drives us toward growth and away from the path of denial and addiction that causes us to falter.  

 - Help them learn that they are just one thought away from a totally different experience. Do you know how to flip your script?  If we can’t recognize negative thought patterns and self sabotage for what they are, and can’t come up with the thoughts and actions to change our way of thinking, how can we teach them to do the same? Teach them that little annoying voice in your head is normal, and then show them how to kick it to the curb. 

- Honor Flexibility. The only way to teach them to be flexible is for you to be flexible yourself.  As parents, can we make small concessions, with firm boundaries that build connection with our kids? It’s why I haven’t taken away Matthew’s video games - as long as the school work is handled and he gets out to surf or move. Sometimes I even play with him, he gets a kick out of how bad I am, we laugh really hard, and it’s the social capital that his future trust in me is built on. Besides, I have come to believe that anything that is controlling and rigid usually ends ends up broken and that life is beautiful when we learn to sit in the moments and just be with them instead of always looking for their marks of forward progress. 

One last story, I was helping Matthew with a book report the other night, and he had to list our six qualities of the main character. Tall, loyal, intelligent, a good friend…he started to rattle off about Max, the main character in Freak The Mighty (highly recommend!). I froze for a minute, the whole story was that Max was the big kid that struggles in school and his friend was Freak, a tiny intelligent kid with a physical disability. I hesitated and then asked him “ Wait, Max is intelligent? Or are you thinking of Freak?”

“No. Max, is intelligent,” he said.

“He just struggles in school…like me.”

Parenting continues to give me the greatest gifts. Life is hard, and the younger I can help them discover what they like best about themselves and the world and that the thing they love most will be the easiest thing they can work hard at, I can sleep easy and move on to the next great lesson they are going to teach me. And as long as Kate isn’t telling me that I can’t play volleyball anymore, we will never have any problem;)

Up next, RUHS’s production of CLUE starring Kate Turner as Mrs. White, Dec 4-6… and I can’t wait to watch.

If you are looking for ways to create calm and connection in your home and relationship with your child or teenager reach out here…I can help:)

I’ve had a lot of conversations with young people lately, most of them NCAA student-athletes and, as I edit this to publish tomorrow, the news that three more sports have been dropped at Fresno State puts a lump in my throat because another group of student-athletes has to answer the question of what to do next after spending years honing their craft. Beyond the students that have lost the ability to play their sport at the NCAA level, the rest of the athletes, have had their lives altered in intense ways since March 2020. I will be forever grateful for the family time that bolstered our spirits and deepened our connections with each other when COVID first hit, but I am increasingly worried about the toll that social isolation has had on a young, vital, otherwise healthy population on and around college campus’s.  These kids hold the keys to the future of our country and they are struggling, socially and emotionally, as they are left to grapple with new living and learning environments and separated from family and friends that would be their usual means of support.  They overthink every contact…should I go out and get food, can I go with this person, where can I sit, who can I sit with?   In most cases isolation is the answer…they can’t offer a ride to someone who needs one or go sit in a dorm room, spill their feelings and listen as their friend does the same.   In some cases for these athletes, certain people, who may offer little to no social/emotional support have been placed in “their bubble”, while friends that they have a history of support from are off limits. There is an air of policing and fear at a time when anxieties are already at an all time high. Will close contact lead them to another round of isolation, something that became more unbearable after they have experienced it before and every round of testing or contact tracing becomes more tense.  College campus’s in particular have the potential to be hubs of young, healthy energy, filled with optimism, but we are letting the air out of that bubble, until it is deflated and flat, with students left to wonder, which action to take, which choice matters, and staring back at blank faces over Zoom screens all day. 

Why are we asking them to live like this when they aren’t at risk of dying and living in communities with populations that are young and healthy like themselves?  Why are we inflicting more mental tension and less supportive connection in a time when they are meant to be growing and learning to thrive away from their families? College is a time we learn new ways of thinking based on a closeness with people who come from different cultures and homes than our own. It’s a time when all of the hard work that we have done pays off in the form of freedom, playing time, and new connections with the world.  But the current environment is placing another layer of stress and strain on an already taxed and evolving mental and emotional state.  It feels like we are protecting power structures, not people.  The rules are so arbitrary that a student could spend weeks without the support of his best friends and then contract COVID when he walks into a restaurant to order a taco. 

When I sent my first child off to college, and remembering my own college experience, I was very aware of the risks

Suicide = second leading cause of death among college students

Depression = second most common concern for college students seeking help on campus in 2019

Anxiety = most common concern for college students seeking help on campus in 2019

Alcohol Abuse - 1 out of 3 college students engaged in binge drinking in the last month. Approximately 1825 students die every year from alcohol and alcohol related accidents, not to mention the number of assaults and sexual assaults that are alcohol related. 

Prescription drug abuse - According to an Ohio State study, 67.5% of college students got high on prescription drugs

The risks of contracting COVID and being placed in a life threatening situation because of that pale in comparison to these statistics and yet the likelihood of this statistics getting even worse increases in the current environment.

When this all started back in March, we didn’t have  a lot of information, we didn’t know who was most vulnerable, and how the virus presented in different segments of the population. We had to distance ourselves and do what we needed to do to learn, gather information, and see how this terrible virus affected all of us.  Now we know that people under age 65 have very small risks of death. It’s not a matter of one person being more valuable than another, it’s the reality that a one size fits all policy, when also considering the mental health effects of isolation is not responsible. The mental health implications of these prevention guidelines for populations that are not statistically at high risk of death are far greater than them contracting COVID.  They are young and strong, and robbing them of the healthy healing and coping mechanisms of connection with people their age - even with a mask on -  is shortsighted.  There are effects that we as a society will be paying for for a long time. 

Here are some sentiments of college kids, away at school, that have come my way.  They are full of honest struggle, real growth, and lessons that they will carry with them as young adults that have come through this difficult time. They’re not all doom and gloom, but they give us a sense for how they are struggling and a signal for where we need to focus. Each one of these young adults made it clear to me that they weren’t complaining, just sharing their honest insight about how they felt.  These quotes come from students all over the country:

While I understand and acknowledge that protections against COVID will need to continue, I am advocating that we put our fear in perspective and protect against the rise of the dangerous effects of the other risks created by the virus in the mental health arena for this promising population.  I started thinking about ways to make things better under the current circumstances:

  1. Create solid mindfulness and breath work training and routines within teams that are as mandatory as lifting weights and practice.

  2. Introduce sleep deprived student athletes to yoga nidra, the benefits of one 30 minute session are equal to four hours of deep sleep.

  3. If teams need to be split into smaller groups for training and socializing, allow teammates to offer their input to coaches to insure that each person has at least one solid trusted bond with the people in their bubble.  

  4. Coaches, encourage your captains and players to lead by showing your own vulnerability.  Tell them what you are struggling with, whether its health related fears, fears for the sport or season, or your athlete’s health. Let them know that you are in this together and not just a rule enforcer waiting for them to step out of line. The more open the communication, the safer your athletes will feel to open up and support each other. You want them to play free, not stressed about whether or not they have a virus that is not likely to be worse that the flu for them. 

  5. Coaches, reinforce the importance of recovery for them and lead by example. Most often the case with college athletes is that they have arrived where they are with a lot of hard work and effort. Unfortunately this also comes with a natural tendency to be very hard on themselves. With sleep, hydration, mindfulness…basically permission to slow down, their brains and bodies will learn to adapt to stress in a healthier way and their immune systems will get a much needed boost as well.

I’d love to hear your ideas. I am part of the caring collective, but at this point I’m more afraid for this population’s mental health, and the potential for other addictions that spike when we aren’t our strongest, than them dying of COVID. I have aging parents, know people who have lost loved ones, and still, I am deeply concerned for this generation that I have had the privilege to parent and form meaningful relationships with. The young adults I know have worked hard to get to where they are today, but don’t have the perspective of 40+ years .  Trauma is real, big T or little t, and isolation and losing out on what you have worked the hardest to achieve is traumatizing.  COVID has an incredibly high cost, but it’s not just a question of life and death, it’s about life and where we go from here, lead by compassion for all of the challenges we face. As we learn more about the virus, we need to balance all risk factors as we navigate the road ahead. No matter how good it feels to win a match or a championship, or secure a scholarship, the sports we love are a journey to self awareness that can last a lifetime. As unforeseen as these times we have experienced since March have been for all of us, the silver lining is the growth that is always waiting to be born out of life’s most complicated situations if we can learn to master the art of the simple in the midst of the complex.

Authentic connection. It’s part of a healing process and what I am most passionate about in life.  I feel it when it happens, deep in my chest, in long conversations with relationships in my life, or casual encounters at Starbucks. The magic is found when we have the presence of mind to connect to the moment that lays out in front of us. If we are on our phone or thinking about what we need to do next, half in on one conversation elsewhere or in our head, and half in on the physical encounter in front of us, we miss the magic of connecting to either moment, and what was offered to make our life richer is lost. The more of those moments we lose, the greater the chance we will wind up asking ourselves one day

“What did it all mean?”

and man, if there is one thing I want to know, it’s the answer to that question.

Eye contact, our tone of voice, and the meaning behind the simplest words have value that etch wisdom deep into our consciousness if we allow them too.  Do we mean it when we say “have a great day” to someone?  Do we really want to hear the answer when we ask “how was your day?” They seem like generic questions, but when I ask them, my intention is there, I actually am dying to hear your long answer if you want to slow down enough to tell me.  I have figured out that this is one of the greatest points of beauty in my life, and day by day I learn not to take it for granted, feel guilty about taking the time, or rush on to the next thing. To be in a place in life where I can move consciously with intention, care for myself and my kids, and be there for someone who needs an ear or a hand to hold is a gift. 

As an optimist, I believe that the there are always good things coming, and optimism is the fuel that turns these beliefs into reality. I know that my long term well being will be taken care of through the stories that I create, the connections I make, and the things I learn that come with the gift of staying present.  As I write and connect with people in this world, I feel my flow through the stories of how we learn about ourselves through the lens of our honest experiences and they are beautiful.  These conversations have power because they give us a chance to speak our minds, solidify what we believe, know that we are not alone, learn new things to increase our awareness and perspective, and bridge the gap between generations. It’s a bold move to let someone see you and your struggle, but it is the key to choosing connected freedom over isolation. Every time I have one of these conversations, I am reminded that not one of us was meant to take this road alone and that the real perfect story is laced with triumph and joy, and fear, rejection, and struggle.  It’s never the ‘thing’ that life hands us, but what we turn it into by feeling our way through it.

When I started the Optimists Journal, I knew I was on a quest to tell stories to the generations that come after me. Although learning happens when we decide we are ready, my greatest hope is to inspire self awareness so that young people learn the power of their story, and how to honor it and share it with the world.  In the last few weeks, I have been blessed with the most inspiring conversations with young minds on the path.  It has given me hope and proven my theory that when you put your intentions and words out, the universe hears you and speaks back.  Their stories have reinforced my belief that pain comes to us with a purpose, no one escapes this life without periods of deep personal struggle, but they have also reassured me that joy is a catalyst for life’s greatest moments.  Whether it’s staying up until 3am talking philosophy with your new roommates, learning the happiness that is created in making a meal and sharing it with your people, or appreciating the opportunities and moments of glory that sports give us after the hard work is put forth, these are the high points from people half my age that both take me back and tell me that life ahead is not as dismal as the nightly news or the latest debate may make it seem. These conversations are live drills, they are the proof that what I feel deep within my own experience, and read about in books is going on in other human life. What are you doing to connect with life this week?  What struggle can you make peace with?  Let’s talk.  The beauty of connection is waiting in every moment.