In bowling, the area of the lane where balls are thrown is called a track. On both sides of the track is the gutter. When kids bowl, parents who eagerly want their kids to have a fun experience, or who want to avoid meltdowns at all costs and have thirty minutes of peace (this is me) can ask for a bumper to be installed to keep the balls out of the gutter and on track.
In our game called “life”, most of us are like kids; we need bumpers to stay on track. For most of us (and sadly our kids too), our corrective bumpers are competition, comparison and metrics. We compete for grades, market share, medals, recognition, varsity teams, jobs, and a spot in a top school. We compare products, features, people, candidates, companies, policies, slogans, parenting styles, schools. We keep track of money, salary, revenue, results, followers, calories, pounds, email subscribers, and GPAs.
In his daily blog, Seth Godin’s recent question “What are you competing on?” made me pause. I’ve always been overachieving, ambitious, competitive, and driven. Not so much because those were qualities I consciously chose for myself, but more so because those were the bumpers that were deployed for me growing up by my mom, or teachers, or within the environment in which I grew up. I’m not judging, but simply stating what is. Competition is so much a part of me that I don’t pause to observe or examine it. It’s a bit like flossing my teeth without looking in the mirror. I can feel my way around with my eyes closed.
When a swimmer competes, her every day goal is to beat the time she set the day before. When a martial artist competes, he pushes to make every kick faster, more controlled, and more precise and impactful than the kick before. But what happens when you take a close look at yourself and realize that what you’ve been competing on sucks the life out of you?
My whole life I’ve competed for significance. Everything I’ve done has been to prove to others and to myself that who I am and what I do matters, that I am lovable, worthy, and important. That what I do has merit, power, impact, endurance, and that it can withstand the test of time. That, no matter what, at some point in the future, that one pebble I throw in the Universal pond, would create a ripple that would somehow withstand the test of time, and would keep on creating ripples. And of course the insanity of it has always been that the more I tried to be significant, the more insignificant I’ve felt. No matter how hard I worked, I would still fail at pleasing someone, whether a customer at work, or my kids or my honey, or inevitably myself.
There are life experiences, fears, or stories I’ve created about those experiences that are at the core of my quest for significance. Fear of being left behind, abandoned, forgotten, voiceless, disconnected, and the fear of the inevitable end itself. The fear of being insignificant pushed me to compete every day towards significance. And when that is at the core of it all, comparison and metrics are the worst corrective bumpers. Because to compare one’s significance is a sure way to end up in a dark rabbit hole with no end, and to measure it, is in itself a prescription to slowly dying. What is significant? Having touched the lives of my children, or other people? How many people; one, two, ten, one thousand? Living a financially rewarding life, volunteering my time, giving of myself and my resources? What quantity, or number soothes the fear of being forgotten when gone?
Shortly before I turned forty, my life hit a wall. My mother died quickly after a six month battle with cancer. I was so afraid of dying, I was afraid to go to sleep. So I didn’t. I would ask my husband to hold me in his lap while I was sleeping, and would ask him to wake me up if he thought I was falling asleep too deeply. “If you think I’m dying, please wake me up”, I’d say.
The work I did to crawl out of the dark hole of anxiety and fear is the subject of another post. It took therapy, prayer, meditation, reading, journaling, support from generous friends, an immensely loving and patient husband and son, and the birth of my daughter. I adopted a personal mantra Let Go, Find Wonder. I gave myself permission to worry less, let go of perfection, and attachment to certain type of outcomes or results. I tried on the idea that, in the long term, I am and will be insignificant but that in each moment – now – I am hugely significant, to myself and to my young children.
I’m not completely transformed. Not yet. I still catch myself comparing something I do, something I write, or draw and questioning whether it matters or if it will ever matter “enough”. But that moment of inspection is brief and powerless.
I’m still extremely competitive. But I’ve changed my game. I now compete on Faith and Self Acceptance. When I compete on Faith, every day I ask what else could I do or who would I be if I had more faith than the day before? What would open if I had more faith in people, moments, intentions, God? And how can I accept myself just a bit more than then day before?
If you also compete on significance and you are ready to find a new game, here are a few suggestions from my journey:
Seth Godin writes, “In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.”
I’ve finally chosen something that delights my soul. How about you?
Of all the varied skills I’ve taught over the years to youth of all ages, the one that I find most challenging is learning to let go. While we all have a tough time with this, it is especially difficult for kids with developing and learning differences. For example, a child who has ADHD, who hears many times in one day to stop moving, pay attention, focus, and control her body has a particularly hard time letting go of repeated reminders that she is not doing what she is supposed to. In today’s video, I’m excited to show you three ways to practice this important skill.
Create a time for family check-ins where you notice, acknowledge and air out the heavy feelings. In my house, this is our Sunday ritual. This does not have to take a long time. Twenty minutes goes a long way.
Simply ask, “what has weighed you down this week?” At first, kids may not know how to answer. You can model by answering honestly. Pick examples that are easy to understand. Don’t be shy to present difficult moments. Just be mindful of the words you choose. Stay safe and positive.
Here are some examples.
A. You have a difficult situation at work. You have too much on your plate, not enough help or support. You feel stressed out, tired, and overwhelmed.
You could say: what is weighing me down is feeling like I want to do a really good job at work. I have so much work to do, sometimes I really feel I could use some help. But right now it feels like there’s no one around who can help me. I feel alone and sometimes frustrated. I want to acknowledge that I feel frustrated with how much work I have to do.
B. You have had a difficult argument with your child at home. You were forceful with your words, loud and irritated with your voice.
You could say: what is weighing me down is the argument we had at home. This argument made me feel like we are not fully connected. Sometimes I feel like we have this big car called family, and each one of us has an important job to make it run. I sometimes feel like I’m trying to keep the car running but it can’t happen without everyone’s help. I would have liked to have more patience and be less forceful with my voice.
The kids and you can write these feelings on pieces of paper, or big rocks. If your kid loves to draw, let him. You can use chalk and write on the pavement. If you have young kids who don’t write (or talk) yet, try do this anyway. Take one minute, hold a rock and say what you are willing to let go of this week. The kids will pay attention (even if it seems they aren’t), and after a few times, they’ll look forward to seeing what you have to say. By the time they are old enough to write, they will feel excited to participate.
I believe it is extremely important to ground our learning in some kind of physical movement. Whether it is crumbling the paper and throwing it in the trash, flushing it down the toilet, washing the rocks with a sponge, or hosing down the concrete, letting go is a physical practice.
Although it may seem silly at first, the practice of letting go, is simply that: a practice. The more we do it, the more we learn to associate the physical movement with a much needed sense of lightness. We want to feel as though a weight has been lifted (or washed off, tossed in the garbage, shredded, ripped) off of our shoulders.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite way to practice letting go? What works for you and how does your practice work inside your family?
Thank you so much for being here.
With love and appreciation,
Let’s pretend that you were equipped with a gauge that reads your confidence level, and gives you a reading between 1 and 10. What does yours say right now? When you feel confident, where in your body do you feel it? And what does it feel like? Is it more like a sunny spring day hike, a delicious home cooked meal, the last mile run in a marathon that you are winning, a warm hug from people who love you, or a quiet moment of peace, self-reflection and gratitude?
Of all the things we teach, it’s confidence that seems to give people – children and adults – the toughest time. How can we feel so fully confident one day, and quickly turn to not feeling prepared, loved, respected, strong, and simply just not good enough the next day? If you are tired of on again, off again confidence, here area some ideas we use in our classes that you can try for yourself and with your child, to tap into the powerful feeling of “I rock”.
What you most likely know but may forget sometimes …
1. Trust yourself
Know what is true about you. You are grumpy when you’re hungry, hate/love competition, perform well/poorly under pressure, love your TV show at the end of a long day, nervous about taking tests. Whatever it is, no matter how silly or weird, knowing (not judging) what is true about yourself builds self-trust. I once asked a five year-old what he knew to be true about himself. He told me, “I love rocks. I really love rocks”.
2. Let go
Write a rejection you received from someone (or from yourself) on a piece of paper, crumble it and toss it in the trash. Flush your mistakes down an imaginary toilet. Practice letting go a few times a day, and practice appreciating the lightness that comes from it.
3. Do something you love
Is your life filled with must do’s, honey do’s, I should do’s? When’s the last time you took inventory of all you do, to make sure there’s at least one thing you fully love to do on the list? It really won’t matter how you do, when you do something you love.
4. Develop self-compassion
You are reasonable and kind with the people around you, but turn into a monster when you talk to yourself. Is this you? Any time you get down on yourself, critical, judgmental and just plain mean, ask yourself if this is how you would talk to a friend or to your own child. Take a deep breath, be gentle and calm. Whatever it is, you are whole, creative, and resourceful. You will figure it out.
Do you ever notice how often and fully young kids laugh? And how often they laugh at their silly, funny, made-up stories? It’s ok to start with a shy smile, but try to get to the place where you laugh fully and happily at yourself (and your made-up stories).
6. What others think about you …
… may be interesting, but it does not influence what you know to be true about yourself and is valuable input until it no longer is valuable input. What others think of you is not as important as what you think of yourself. Turn the volume down when you need to, and learn to listen to your self-loving voice. It may whisper at first, but it will get stronger.
7. Celebrate small victories
Who says you have to win a marathon to feel victorious? Putting on your running shoes, and going out for a 20 minute run or walk is a good reason to celebrate. Keep your big goals, but celebrate the small successes that get you there.
You can be anyone and anything you want to be in your dreams! What do you dream of doing, who do you dream of being, seeing, visiting, talking to, where do you dream of working or with who? My friends and I got together at the beginning of the year and made a dream list. It was fun, uplifting, creative, motivational, and energizing. Find inspiration and power in your dreams.
What you most likely forget or never knew …
Your confidence level is your choice! Remember your confidence gauge, and whatever number it showed you? Throw away that number and give yourself a 10. It’s that simple. Say “I am a 10, and the rest of this day will be a 10”.
Early in the morning, look in the mirror and say “Today, I am a 10.” You can add whatever else you want “I make good decisions, I am smart, I am resourceful, I am safe, I am loved.” You want to teach your kids to be confident? Model this to your children and show them how you do it. Make a game of it and do it together.
What do you look, sound, talk, act, move, listen, love, perform, self-defend, run, exercise, work, learn – like when you are a complete 10? Whatever that feels like, that is your gift to you, your family, community, and the world. Please share it.
2011 is the year to be “Ready”, and if that’s the case, I better hurry up! This year we decided to experiment with a new format for teaching, by using one word each month to inspire our work. We created a pinwheel with twelve intention words, one for each month, sent it out to our active members, asked them to post it, use it, and play with it. What’s become glaringly obvious is that it’s hard to be an authentic teacher and leader without making this exercise work for myself. As a result, I’ve spent the first four weeks of the month getting ready by taking a good, hard look in the mirror and decided it was time to take “walking the talk” to a whole new level.
I’ll admit I am a bit nervous about sharing some of my observations with you. And yet, just the other day, I had a conversation with one of the parents, who said she appreciated the transparency of my letters, because they offered her perspectives, and that in itself was inspiring. So here it goes …
Taking a close look in the mirror revealed what I always knew: I have a very hard time separating life from work and vice versa, and I’ve spent as long as I can remember making that wrong. If you’ve talked to Jorge, you know that I can be in the middle of a romantic date or giving our boy a bath, and I’ll bust out with a “honey, you know what I was thinking for the kids this month, or I think I found a better credit card processing company.” My boundaries around my personal time and goals can move, and do so often, at the expense of missing a workout, a meditation session, or an appointment with my soul who likes photography, writing, and painting. What’s worse is the negative, chatty troll that sits on my back and spends the next few days telling me how and what I should be doing, or should have done. What an emotional drain …
My self-reflection, however, also allowed me to rediscover what I know to be true about myself: I love to work hard and that brings me joy. I am a big picture, take-it-beyond-what-anyone’s-ever-imagined-possible kind of dreamer. My purpose in life is to bring health, joy, and peace to people, and especially kids. Most importantly though, and this is my golden nugget: I love my work so much that it is hard to separate it from my life, because I work doing something that is my personal life’s purpose. My work is my life and my life is my work. And for this I feel blessed and deeply grateful.
What does be Ready look like for me?
Did you take a close look at yourself when you set your new year’s resolutions or vision? What did you see and what does Ready look like for you, and for your family? Find an accountability partner, someone who won’t beat you up if you miss a goal or target but rather stand by, support, help, and dream with you. Better yet, make me your accountability partner; you will be fueling my life’s passion and that’s got nothing but good Karma written on it.
Last year I taught high school students about stress management, at the request of a concerned teacher who wanted to help reduce the anxiety associated with project deadlines. The teens seemed to appreciate the reprieve, but what I got from my experience was urgency. It’s one thing to read about the health crisis our youth are facing in the news, but it’s eye-opening to see it first hand. Yes, most of them knew about eating, working out, sleeping, all that. Yet, most of them lived on sugar and energy drinks, and they didn’t do any kind of movement at all. Based on what I saw at the quarterly student art exhibit, their spirit – define it any way you want – wasn’t doing so hot either. Many expressed a level of frustration, hopelessness, and anger that shocked and downright depressed me.
Take a quick glance at the SOS: Stressed out Student Project Conference agenda from 2008 and you’ll get a good clue about our teens’ current state of wellbeing from the presenters’ book titles:
A couple days ago I chatted with a young five year old, I’ll call Parker, who has wanted to sign up for classes at Hiruko after observing his sibling for some time.
“Will you be taking classes here soon?”
He shook his head slowly and told me he needs to finish all the school “must-dos” before he can start. He told me the rule is very clear, and it’s especially hard in school.
“I don’t get my free play until I finish my must-dos”.
“How old are you again?” I asked cautiously.
“I just turned five”.
His manner struck me. Parker is generally a responsible little guy who has clearly learned the importance of honoring his parents and teachers, but, in that moment, he didn’t seem to think there was hope of finishing all his must-dos. He seemed trapped. Our conversation left me wondering; what is an authentic way to inspire our children while also holding a vision for their wellbeing. We’ve all had moments when, with the most sincere and noble intentions, we’ve pushed our kids a bit too much, too soon, too hard. We want our kids to be attentive listeners, considerate thinkers, compassionate friends, creative contributors, inspired artists, accomplished athletes, and courageous leaders. We know that children who get these types of results are disciplined and focused. But many are also stressed out.
I urge you to ask yourself: where and when can our kids get that wellbeing is “cool”, and who is generating the possibility of “wellbeing” as an equally important must-do? It’s not too late for the teens, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s never too late. But I’d like to see some changes now. I want the school must-dos to include daily breathing exercises, and family must-dos to include some form of exercise four to five times a week. I want parents to feel empowered to advocate for their children’s time and wellbeing. I asked Parker how he feels when he can’t have free play. “Very sad”, he said. How would you feel?