Where are you From

“The closer you come to knowing that you alone create the world of your experience, the more vital it becomes for you to discover just who is doing the creating.”Eric Micha’el Leventhal

Yup, I admit it proudly. It’s been somewhere between 15-30 days and I have restarted my New Year resolutions at least that many times so far. How about you? My restarts come by way of sitting down to write to you and by way of tackling a new recipe and by way of getting my ass to the gym on cold days that beg me to stay in bed cuddled up under my comfy king size blanket that wraps around me twice and just do absolutely. Nothing. but luxuriate in its warmth.

One of my favorite winter activities is to go through closets. I love going through last year’s clothes and shoes and papers and clutter and get to the end just to feel the unbelievable relief in taking a deep breath knowing I have new space to clutter up again this year. It’s cathartic, it’s rejuvenating, it’s therapy. What can I say, I like the routine of cleaning and purging the old stuff?

So, in my maniacal purging frenzy, I found myself in my daughter’s closet and came across a writing project she did when she was in the 5th grade. It was the start of the new school year and the teacher wanted the students to write about where they come from as a way of getting to know each other. In a prose kind of format my daughter talked about where she comes from in a self-defining kind of way such as her family and how and what we eat, her music, her books, her play time with her neighborhood friends. Of course, I started to cry because she is so far from 10 years old now and man, do I miss her at that age.

As a writer stuck for inspiration, how could I not take a good long look at this project and think to myself where the heck am I from? I have invented and reinvented myself so many times and each time is as authentic and real as the last time and as authentic as the next time I phase away from one persona and bring on the next one. What has changed and what has stayed true about me? What do I continuously go back to and what do I consciously stop myself from doing and remember, oh yeah, that’s something I want to get better at or that’s something I want to put way behind me. And isn’t that all part and parcel of new year’s resolutions? We want to make changes to go from old to new, to go from bad to good or at the very least better? We want to be a shiny new version of an old self. So, in keeping with the theme of the project my daughter had to do, here is the short”ish” version of who I am….(so far):

I am from childhood memories of staying out late during endless summer nights and waiting for mom to call us in for the night knowing full well that “5 more minutes” was the rebuttal.

I am from a family I helped to create and struggle to keep together during this self- discovery phase we are in as individuals now.

I am from outdoor activities that thrill me because it means getting in exercise without feeling like I’m exercising, gardening, volleyball on the beach, biking, hiking and walking trails that allow me dual time to bring my camera and get lost in nature.

I am from baking and cooking that excite my family and friends who wish I would make a career out of it, home sweet home making, celebrating for any reason, and curling up on the couch with a good romance novel and deep mug of green tea or hot apple cider on a cold day.

I am from “mom, where’s my favorite shirt”, “hun, do I have underwear for work tomorrow”, “what’s for dinner”, and no one at the table tonight except me because everyone is working.

I am from a barrage of photo memories mounted on the walls of my home that remind me of the life I had and wondering what lies ahead and my overflowing hope chest still filled with hope for a person I’ve yet to become.

“The bulk of life is discovering who you are—and then reconciling that with who you wish you were.” Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes: Quotes, Thoughts, & a Little Poetry for Every Day of the Year

So, if like me, you are struggling to keep those resolutions afloat, to keep trying to find who you want to be, to keep pushing forward and make those changes that so very much meant so very much only 46 days ago, then try to take some time to think or perhaps write about where you are from in every sense of the idea.

Are you from a collection you started when you were 5, are you from a tree you loved to climb when you were young, are you from a food you absolutely will enjoy until your last breath, are you from an entire generation of people that influenced who you are at this very moment and that is why you are pushing for some. Kind. of change. or leveling up or distance?

Get as real as you can and see what you can see from inside yourself, outside yourself, and the 360 view. If you need a nudge or a sounding board, write to me. I live for this kind of thing.

Call to Action

Here are some questions to help you get started:

  1. So, you want to change the whole but what’s going on with all the parts? What do you want to change on the outside that first needs changing on the inside?
  2. Where is fear showing up? How is fear causing you to do nothing or go backwards?
  3. If you could choose an adjective as your theme word for this year what would it be? How have you started living that word? Does the word need to be adjusted?
  4. There are reasons for everything we do. List 3 top reasons for wanting to make a change in your life and 3 top strategies for making each one happen.

Remembering Self…

“They would think she was savoring the taste (blueberries, cinnamon, cream-excellent), but she was actually savoring the whole morning, trying to catch it, pin it down, keep it safe before all those precious moments became yet another memory.”
Liane Moriarty, What Alice Forgot

I remember times throughout motherhood when I just knew I was in a moment I wished could go on forever. I tried with all my might to hold on to each millisecond that was flowing by, like leaves falling from the trees on a brisk autumn day, wanting so badly to catch time and make it stop in its tracks so that I could savor and expand the absolute joy of being a mom, of seeing these precious gifts I was given flow and grow. All the while I knew that just like any other 24 hour day this too will come to an end and we would head forward toward another memory to be made and another day in which I would want to hold on forever.

The other day I was reflecting on just what it means to celebrate Memorial Day as my son leaves home and embarks on taking the reins of his life. I’m blessed and grateful that I am not remembering him through tragedy but I am remembering him nonetheless for how fast the time has come and gone from his conception to birth to twenty years later. I can’t help but wonder, did I teach enough, did I love enough, did I connect enough, was there joy enough, laughter enough, or support enough? How does a parent measure success as a parent?

“If that’s what joy is, connection, then to fully experience it requires something terrifying as well as exalting: opening oneself up to the possibility of loss.” – Jennifer Senior, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

The real question for me is what is loss? Is loss the history of time? Is loss missed opportunities? Is loss something had but now gone? If you have ever really, truly loved another human being then you have opened yourself up to the possibility of loss.  Sometimes I feel like I have lost the chance to influence my children differently than I already have; I feel like I have lost the chance to say the things I now know how to say; I feel like I have lost the chance to enjoy their youth more than I already did; I feel like I have lost the chance to connect with them deeper than I already have connected. I am feeling the loss of time.

Or have I lost the chance at all? Even if heaven forbid my children were taken from me and never to return was the chance to see them grow up ever really part of the package of being their parent in the first place or was I only meant to take their souls just so far and then let them go? Was I meant to teach them what I now know or was I meant to teach them what I did know at the moment I was their young mother? Have I really lost the chance to influence my children or will they be willing to hear all the lessons I have learned since being their young mother? Did I lose the chance to connect with my children deeper or is that still possible as they get older? It will still always be a battle for time.

The joy of connection with my children still exists if they want it to exist. It’s up to them now. The loss I feel can stay a loss if I don’t learn how to capitalize on the new order of the relationships.

I might have lost them before I was ready but then again, is a mother ever ready to let go of her children? We would be a case study in perfectionism, all of us, if we got ourselves mired in the reality of knowing that we only have this one moment right here, right now, to get “it” right and well in order to have our children grow up whole, happy, productive, contributing, sane human beings. Alas, thankfully, there is no such thing as perfect and somehow the children manage to grow up despite our imperfections. We each can only do the best we can with what we know right this moment and let love be our guide.

 “There ain’t no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.” – Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie

He left. He took the reins of his life, like I taught him to do, and he left home. He was so comfortable and so well taken care of that he became lazy and unmotivated and passionless and complacent and entitled and he knew it and he felt it and he wanted to change it all. I didn’t teach him that, although maybe I did, by loving him and taking care of him when he was tired and feeding him when he was hungry and talking to him when he clearly needed a talking to and washed his clothes when he had nothing to wear that was clean and pointing out to him the life lessons he should pay attention to. It would seem that all of the love has empowered him to say through his act of leaving, “Mom, don’t worry, I’ve got this.”

Psychologist and Nobel laureate Dr. Daniel Kahneman has made the distinction of how we remember events that take place in our lives. He talks about the remembering self and the experiencing self. The experiencing self is the self that moves through the world and in theory should be more likely to control our daily life choices. For example, Dr. Kahneman points out that if you are going in to have a colonoscopy and the procedure lasts even 10 seconds longer than originally scheduled and ends with a bit of discomfort, it is the ending that the experiencing self will attach to not the overall painless, not so bad procedure in the immediate aftermath of the procedure. Given time and space the remembering self will kick in and the overall memory of the procedure will not be as bad as it was just following the experience.

However, it is the remembering self that plays a more influential role in our lives especially when making plans for our future. For example, even by choosing to create the reality of my son virtually saying he is ready to take on his own life I am employing my remembering self simply because this milestone and significant change is more vividly alive and emotional to my whole being than anything mundane that I would do during my daily life with frequency. There are painful moments leading up to my son leaving but my remembering self will only choose all the good points. The things we do over and over whether for good reason or habit we tend to take for granted. There is very little of the mundane that stands out as a worthwhile memory. It all just gets lumped together. Although I have said good-bye to my son a dozen times throughout his life I always knew, if all goes well, he would be coming home.  Not this time.

The emotional toll surrounding his leaving is heavy and my experiencing self will always be left with the pain of the last hug and the heartbreaking send- off BUT, I choose to employ my remembering self, long before it is a memory. My son’s happiness, which as a parent is always the highest aim for their child, is what is most important. To this end I can see that perhaps I actually did achieve parental success by somehow instilling in him a sense of wonder, and courage and curiosity and love that is strong enough to see him through life’s challenges whether those challenges are of his own doing or fate based.

My experiencing self is not very happy about the fact that he left but the story has not ended yet, it is still ongoing so right now my experiencing self is sad not to have him in my everyday but my remembering self has been working overtime thinking back to when he was born all the way through the hard times of his late teenage years. “We enshrine things in memory very differently from how we experience them in real time”, says Jennifer Senior.

So on this particular Memorial holiday I choose to employ my remembering self as this being when my son launched his life on his terms and started to become the man he wanted to be and at the same time launched his mom to take a good hard look at her own life and emulate her son by becoming the woman she always wanted to be.

To all those finding themselves in the unique and wonderful position of being in their remembering self I say remember on……

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6 Steps to Developing Success Characteristics

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” –John Wooden

I wasn’t going to do this. I promised myself that I wouldn’t go here again. I told myself that I have already explored this topic to death and there just isn’t anything more to say about it. I have cried and recovered and cried some more. I tried so hard to move on from this but here it is, again, asking me to face a new perspective on an old issue.

That’s what I do you know, as a life coach, I help people find new perspective on old issues. Sometimes I am required to hold up a mirror, sometimes I am required to speak the plain, harsh truth, sometimes I am required to take a meandering walk through thick forests where there is little light to guide the way until, together, we find the beginning of a clearing. The hard part for me is knowing all of this and applying these steps to myself, my life, and my issues; changing MY perspective. I’ve come to learn that it absolutely takes practice and time and it makes no sense at all to fight that process. Patience is absolutely a virtue here.

One of the very first assignments I ask my clients to do is to tell me about their character. What makes them tick according to them, what is it they know for sure about themselves that is a constant truth no matter what is going on in their lives. In defining character it is important to understand that character is a moral or ethical quality of a person or thing. It cannot be contained or stifled or created. We all have character as part of who we are. At any point during our lives we make choices to encourage different parts of our character or to let them sit idle. The core components of our character are those that we use every day no matter what we do or who we are with. There are usually at least 5 core character traits that we use every day but it could be as high as 10 traits. The top 5 traits are the ones that get used simultaneously and interchangeably throughout our day and interactions with life.

Why am I talking about character? Last year at this time I wrote about my oldest son going to test the waters of independence by moving far from home with some friends, to see if he could make it on his own. Life intervened and he came home after one very long month but he learned a lot and had a new perspective on his priorities and outlined a plan toward his success that would include him living back at home.

In less than one year he is moving out again, alone this time and will not be coming home in any foreseeable future. He is determined to make this work in his favor. He just has this indefinable needling inside of him that he has to answer. What is apparent this time that was not so apparent last time? His character. In the coaching world we call it character strengths. In my coaching practice I call it success characteristics. So what do I know for sure about him now that I didn’t know as well a year ago? Well I know about his courage, his determination, his zest, his authenticity, his humility, his kindness, his honesty and his optimism.

These are the success characteristics he brings with him in everything he does. Not all of them play at the top but most of them get engaged and used throughout his day. If I had to pick his top 5 I would say humility, authenticity, optimism, determination, and open-mindedness.

There are 24 critical human character strengths that each of us has inside of ourselves. Knowing what your strengths are is very uplifting and helps better define a life purpose. But know this, just because one strength is listed at number 24 doesn’t mean that strength is in a bad place it just means that it isn’t exercised enough. It can move up in ranks if you work hard at making yourself aware of using it.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

(Anything worth having is worth working hard for. That’s an oldie but a goodie.)

So he is leaving on Friday and while as his mom I feel devastated to let him go because I will miss him with every fiber of my heart and soul, what I have come to really, genuinely, wholeheartedly realize is that he is not mine and he never was mine. Let me explain…..

I was tasked with the unimaginable pleasure and miracle of being his guide. I was given a gift and I was asked to take care of this gift to the best of my ability with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might. I was not asked to own him like a trophy won or to control him like a radio active toy. I was asked to help him grow and learn and achieve his own success as he can and is able to do and to give back to the world he lives in. I did that. Was I successful? I don’t know. Part of me wants to say yes because look at him; he is embarking on this scary, adventurous, “I want to make something of myself” journey, alone. He is not hiding at home or letting fear of anything get in his way of becoming the man he envisions for himself.

In the end my son will have to be the one to answer the success question when he can. Did I feel successful? Sometimes. I’m not perfect and I can think of many times where my imperfection reared its ugly head. The success part will come along when I sense forgiveness for my imperfections. Will he choose to come home and visit? Will he make a point to keep in touch in as many ways as are available to him these days? Will he love the ladies with genuine reverence and respect? Will he choose to love any gift of children and be reminded at that time of all the ways in which he was loved as a child and young adult? These are the answers to success as a parent, in my humble opinion.

I’ll share with you my top 5 success characteristics and explain how I use them in dealing with my son leaving.

1-      Appreciation of beauty and excellence

2-      Gratitude

3-      Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness

4-      Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness

5-      Love of learning

What I know for sure about my son, what I have learned from day one is that the way in which he is choosing this path is very authentic to whom he has always been. His nickname, since he was 8 years old has been tank, given to him by his football coaches at that tender age. He plows through what needs to get done whether that be getting through his days at school or at his job, a specific task, football, you name it. He is doing that now by plowing through to the essence of his life and not wanting to wait through anymore schooling or for the “right” age to start a life. His strength of character and his courage of self is what will see him through. Patience is not yet a virtue of his but life will undoubtedlyteach him that lesson.

My appreciation of his beauty and excellence from the inside of him to the outside of him is key in letting him go with encouragement, faith, and a hopeful heart. My gratitude for the privilege of being his mom is solid and unwavering and grows every day. My open-mindedness in understanding his need and his determination and helping him to know how deep my faith runs inside of me for him.

I have done all that I can do face to face. I can fight this move or I can trust in him and encourage his faith in himself and silently, facelessly be the strength he needs when the times will get tough. It is ultimately his own perspective of his life events that will determine his strength of character and which of the 24 traits he will need more of and less of at any given time. Perspective is everything.

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny.” – Aniais Nin

I was reading an article recently about how to create a strong character arc for writers who want to create fictional characters for their stories. What I learned from that article is also something that rings very true to real human beings.  How does someone create personal character?

Find your drive: What motivates you? What drives you to do what you do or drives you to want what you want? My son wants to get on with becoming the man he envisions. That is his drive and motivation to getting up every day.

Get Active: Make a plan and execute the plan. Some days your actions might be in small ways and some days your actions might be huge, remarkable pushes toward your drive. Start taking charge of your life by practicing who you want to be.

Get out of the box: Somewhere along the road of growing up you just knew it was time to bust out of the routine of living at home and embark on the adventure of calling your own shots. Break free of the routine you find yourself in and shake things up. Test your limits as safely and wisely as possible to see just what you are made of. Travel, take a class, learn a new skill, or meet new people. Whatever is not in your normal comfort zone is where you belong now. If you have fear around trying something new then by all means try something new.

Learn all you can: Grow your mind, your brain, and your spirit; grow your character strengths. Find a new interest, a new hobby, and a new way of being happy. Find what creates sparks and learn all you can about it. You never know what doors will open up to you once you set out and explore your possibilities and explore your world.

Release the gremlin: The ego is a dangerous thing. In coaching we tend to call it the gremlin. That little voice inside that always talks smack to you by putting you down, making you doubt yourself, instilling fear where there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. The gremlin is all about making you feel small and it feel supreme. Let it go and stomp on it every time it shows itself.

Tidy up: If you are determined to find your drive and get into action with your desires then make sure that your life around you looks the same. If you tend to be sloppy in appearance and surroundings then clean up your self and your area. The outer you should reflect the inner you even while you are making the changes and strengthening the character traits you want to let define you. Inner growth reflects in outer growth.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote about 9 requisites for a contented life. Here is my interpretation of his requisites in a wish list for the best possible life you can create:

I wish you health enough to make work a pleasure

I wish you wealth enough to support your needs

I wish you strength enough to battle the difficulties and overcome them

I wish you grace enough to forgive yourself as well as others

I wish you patience enough to work hard until some good is accomplished and realized

I wish you charity enough to see some good in the people around you

I wish you love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others

I wish you faith enough to make real the things you imagine

I wish you hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future. We have no control over what will be so make the most of what is right now.

How fitting that all of the memories of sharing life with my son should come flooding into me while he takes on his life on Memorial weekend? Weird kind of happenstance or karma? You decide….

So while I am desperately hugging and kissing and saying good-bye to my son I want to leave you with this last thought: What we think is what we become. From the vast menu of character strengths to choose from choose authentically (with a side of humor.)

Call to Action

What do you think are your top 5 character strengths?

How do you use them throughout your day?

What character strengths would you like to start using that you are not using right now?

When was the last time you knew you were ready for a mind growth breakthrough?

As I will say to my son, Journey On……

 

If you would like to explore more about personal growth, building and strengthening your success characteristics, or discovering what more you have inside of you please call for a free discovery session in my Art of YOU coaching program. You can reach me by calling 203-560-3061 or send an email to: lisa@journeyoncoaching.com.