Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth

Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth

Productivity doesn’t equal worth.  Right?  Deep down, I know this statement it absolutely true.  At the core, each living being on earth is of infinitely more value than can be measured or quantified.  Each person, or creature, or plant, or river is so much more than whatever is accomplished or produced in a lifetime.  Yet we have a hard time accepting this.  We see our land-base as a commodity more often than we see it as a partner in life.  We tend to use water and air and soil for our own gain with little thought beyond what our actions might mean for someone across the world or a child born three generations from now.  Often we mean well and even start to change our ways, but then life gets hard and it’s easier not to.  We slip back into believing that more is better and that getting ahead and making the grade is what’s important.  We start to see high productivity as the ideal and we lose faith in believing that it really isn’t when we are trying to tell the truth and the people who have the power to create change don’t believe.  Or don’t want to.

I say I am trying to be ok with mediocrity.  In another blog post recently, I wrote,

I’ve recognized that if I’m going to stay in my day job and thrive as a human being, mediocrity is my new goal for success.  It’s hard to let old tendencies of wanting to be a top performer or make good grades or always receive glowing reviews go.  But I’ve realized that, at least in my current life and work situation, being a top performer isn’t what matters to living the life that I want to live.

Continue reading “Productivity Doesn’t Equal Worth”

Weaving With Invisible Thread

Weaving With Invisible Thread

The first person I called after four weeks of training to be a corporate health coach was a gentleman named *Charlie.  The appointment was at 7pm on a Tuesday in April, and I had literally all day to prepare and worry about how it would go.  When the witching hour finally rolled around, I dialed the phone, had my paper at the ready to take notes and half hoped that he wouldn’t answer.  He did answer, and at the end of the conversation, he had a goal to play basketball once a week and eat one less serving of pasta when spaghetti was on the table for dinner.  (No easy feat when one is Italian and spaghetti rules the meal plan.)  And I knew that he had a six year old daughter going through treatment for leukemia and that he felt powerless in the face of something so important that was outside of his control.  In twenty minutes I learned what made this person who I’d probably never meet get up in the morning and what drove him to take care of himself.  I learned about some of his challenges, and I learned of his struggles to stay on track.  I asked him what his vision of a healthy life was, and he told me it was to be his best self so he could give his daughter the dad she deserved.  Most of his story I’ll never know, and he didn’t have to tell me the parts that he did.  But he chose to share, and I chose to listen, and now our stories will forever be intertwined. Continue reading “Weaving With Invisible Thread”

Good Enough

Good Enough

I woke up this morning feeling….off.  Not terrible.  But not good either.  Definitely not good enough to feel positive about the trajectory of the day.  After a weekend of great conversation, meeting new babies, cozy fires and time away from a work computer, a day when work was back on the agenda seemed like a practical joke – the mean kind.

How could it be time to spend another day sitting in front of the computer, making phone calls and asking questions?  And how could the forecast call for above average temperatures – in December?  For someone who enjoys activities that require snow and ice, above average temperatures are not cause for celebration.

I was unsettled, and it seemed like interacting with anything even slightly undesirable would cause me to slip into an all day melancholy.  As I was resigning myself to a day spent tapping a keyboard, I saw the sun through the window and noticed the sparkle of the snow against the skeleton trees of the lake’s shoreline. But the potentially rising temperature and the schedule of my afternoon overshadowed the beauty that I usually see in those things.  I felt myself sinking into a haze of wanting something different.  I felt like someone who is unsatisfied with daily life and someone who dreads the work week.

So I went outside.  Instead of letting myself simmer in that haze of wanting, I put on my ski boots and mentally prepared myself for a slow sloppy loop around the perimeter of the lake through mushy snow.  I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I know enough about health and wellness to understand that getting some fresh air and exercise can boost one’s mood – and enough about motivation to know that you don’t have to feel motivated to do something.  Sometimes you just have to do it.  I went out the backdoor, down the still frosty steps to the snow crusted lake, stepped into my skis and pushed off.

And then I noticed something.

The snow on the lake wasn’t actually mushy.  The glide from the crusty snow that was left on the ice was actually pretty good.  95% better than anticipated.  Worth more than one lap around, even.  Good enough.  I stopped at the midpoint, looked up and realized that all of the trees were blindingly white in their frosty jackets that were made possible by the cold nights and warmer days of the past week.  Stunning enough to make me pause and just look.  Good enough.

It was good enough to snap me out of my melancholy stupor and remind me of all the things that are worth celebrating during the days that I spend here on this earth, despite work computers, endless phone calls and forecasts that aren’t ideal.  There will surely be days in the future when I feel off balance or in want of something different.  But there will also surely be little things – like unexpectedly good enough skiing conditions and the beauty of hoarfrost – that punctuate even the dreariest of days with one more little detail that makes life worth celebrating.

It’s nice to remember why I’ve chosen to live where I do and why I like this time of year as the daylight wanes, even when it’s warmer than I might prefer.  It’s nice to remember that I don’t have to let waking up on the wrong side of the bed and a task list that I’m not looking forward to color my whole day black.  And it’s nice to notice the beauty that pierces the ordinary days just because of making one little choice over another.

Cultivating Gentleness

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It’s not just schools that often lack gentleness. Workplaces can rub us raw too, as can public transit, shopping malls, restaurants, and daycare. The levels of noise, advertising, and stressed-out people dealing with other stressed-out people can leave us feeling bombarded and drained.

Creating more spaces of refuge, like public parks, is one option. But another option is to integrate gentleness into all our spaces and daily interactions. It could be something as small as turning down the music in cafés. Or as radical as a mother making the commitment to care for herself with as much tenderness as she does her family.

[and at the end of the day]…

It is me saying to myself: “I’m so in awe of you, I must treat you as if I truly understood what noble means.” It is me saying to others: “I get it. We’re wounded and taking a thousand risks simply by showing up. And I see that. I honor you.”  ~Andréana E. Lefton

 

Ms. Lefton writes about gentleness and how essential it is to a healthy human life.  She acknowledges that sometimes creating the physical or circumstantial changes that will allow for a calm and gentle flow to our days just isn’t possible in the short term.  But she reminds us that we can invite that  gentle energy in by taking opportunities to look for ways to create space – space that gives gentleness room to seep into the fabric of our days and inform our choices.  And she reminds us that we can honor ourselves and our experiences by being vulnerable and accepting support – and that we can honor everyone we encounter by showing up, listening/seeing with compassion and offering encouragement over criticism. 

 

Gentleness forms the under-song of survival — the hidden face of evolution, wars, famine — and the partner of resilience. It is the loving touch that reminds us we are not alone, and there is hope. There is healing.  Gentleness exists between people. And it dwells within each of us.

 

How do you cultivate gentleness within yourself?  When encountering others?

 

Wood Stove

Wood Stove

We put in our wood stove about a year ago, now.   One late September morning, a lanky man and his assistant rambled up to the house bearing silver stove pipes and ladders and left two hours later as we gazed at our newly installed wood stove. We got it from a guy across the river that didn’t need to have it around and was willing to let it go for a reasonable price that included dropping it off in our garage. After living for all of my adult years without wood heat, having a stove in the middle of the living room feels a bit like returning to home soil after a long journey away. I grew up in a house that was heated exclusively by a wood stove, and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the company of slowly burning logs until I invited them back into my daily life.

And with it has come the task of operating the wood stove – something that Dad always did when I was growing up, and his administrations of which I look back on now wishing I’d paid closer attention. There’s a bit of an art to efficiently using a wood stove, and I admire the commitment my parents had to the labor and routine that is required to make such a lifestyle work.

Such a lifestyle requires chopping and splitting wood, curing the wood properly, storing it in a dry place, making sure there’s enough kindling to get a fire going, hauling the wood from the storage place into the house every day, clearing the ashes… and this is all before you even build a fire. Building the fire requires opening the damper, getting a good small fire burning, and then feeding it larger logs until the temperature and coal bed is hot enough to close the damper again to ensure an efficient use of the fuel. You can adjust the air flow too, for good measure.

As winter progresses and the air takes on more of a chill, I am thankful for the means to heat part of our home with the wood that grows abundantly in the forested land around our house. Heating with wood is, for us, part of building a life that is centered on simplicity – one of the facets that I believe to be important in living in a sustainable and life-giving way. As we move toward heating more with wood and solar power, we use less fossil fuel and take our support from the corporations that feed on our dependence to those things. We aren’t independent of them yet. But every time we make a choice that takes energy from supporting corporations that are based on profit and greed for a few, we put more energy into building a system that is based on truth and abundance for all.

This is not to say that living in a simple way is easy. In some ways, it isn’t even simple. At first glance, it seems simpler to flip on the furnace when the temperature dips, rather than going outside to split wood. It is easier to sit down with a cup of coffee and the morning news, instead of using those first moments of the day to start a fire in the stove. The culture we live in today is built on the promotion of buying convenience. Choosing to do something by hand, or the ‘hard’ way doesn’t make sense through the lens of the American Dream.

So why do it?

Because when we choose to live simply – when we see that we have enough, and usually more than enough – we live more fully and are part of the system that allows others to do the same. When we choose inconvenience over doing things the easy or quick way, we offer our work to the benefit of those who don’t have the luxury of such a choice. When we choose to accept enough, we return home. We remember what it feels like to love without boundaries and to be content with enough.

This post also appeared on enough.

Sabbath

Sabbath

Yesterday afternoon I didn’t do anything.  And by “anything” I mean I didn’t do anything that I would typically count as “productive.”  I wasn’t at work, and my two year old was napping.  I didn’t cook dinner, I didn’t do the laundry, I didn’t work on any projects, I didn’t practice yoga, I didn’t plan the upcoming weekend.  I didn’t do any of the things that I usually do when I have an hour or two of time on my hands.  Instead I sat at the kitchen table with a glass of wine and looked out the window.   The lake was glassy and starting to reflect the late afternoon sunset as dusk claimed ownership of the day’s light.  The wind of earlier in the day was starting to settle, and the newly fallen leaves lay still, a carpet of yellow and orange and red on the ground.  At one point a seagull called out and circled the lake, a spot of bright white against the muted, hazy tones of the landscape.  Everything was quiet.

At first I felt that familiar sense of guilt for not using my time to address the next item on the never ending task list – in the fall, it’s even longer than usual with the seasonal tasks of gathering firewood, putting up the last of the garden produce, getting the garden ready for winter, raking leaves, winterizing motors, and all the other things that need to happen for a rural household to welcome the winter elements in Minnesota.   And there are of course the tasks of daily life always waiting in the wings: Food to prepare, dishes to wash, floors to clean, errands to run.  It is all too easy to fall prey to the energy of guilt, self condemnation and plain old worry.

“What if I’m not ready for what comes next?”

“What if I fail to do what my loved ones expect/need me to do?”

“What if we never finish the list?”

Well.  These questions, much like the dreaded “list” could go on for pages.  For all the questions that I could come up with, the answer – if I’m really being truthful with myself – is, “So what?” As I was sitting there, looking over the lake and taking in the stillness of the moments as they passed, I was somehow able to see over the what ifs into the present.  I could see that my taking an hour to just sit still and be wasn’t going to lead to the demise of ……….. well, anything.  Perhaps it will take one more day to get all the apples turned into sauce.   Perhaps the leaves will pile up and mat down the grass for more days in a row than would be ideal.  Perhaps while I sip my wine,  a detail will slide by into oblivion, never to be attended to.   Perhaps the world will go on.

I wouldn’t want to have day after day of sitting at the kitchen table drinking wine.  Things will still need to get accomplished,  and I will still be happier when the dishes are clean, I’ve practiced yoga and the laundry is folded instead of in a heap on the bed.   But taking time to just sit and be with the quiet of an afternoon is necessary, too.  Most of us need to feel like things are getting done to be content – but we also need to observe time for rest so we can work another day.  After all, isn’t that what we are working for?  To be in the world in a way that invites contentment and peace for all living things?  Maybe we need to remember to observe what we are working toward in the first place.

How can you build a Sabbath into your week?

Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.  Wendell Berry

Mindfulness In A Culture That Invites Distraction

Mindfulness In A Culture That Invites Distraction

In wellness and life coaching, a fair amount of time is spent thinking and talking about “mindfulness,” or a state of active, open attention on the present, which includes observing thoughts and feelings from a distance without passing judgment. In our first world, corporate-driven culture, it’s something that is perhaps easy to talk and think about and harder to put into practice – after all, who has time to be mindful on a regular basis in the midst of to do lists, meetings, and the myriad of other items that punctuate our work days? Isn’t multitasking the only way to get everything done on time?  We need to make a profit!  Meet the bottom line!  Make that person happy!  And that one! And it all has to be efficient and productive!  Plus, if we don’t judge what’s going on during the day, how will we convey what we think is right?

Well, we might argue that when we practice being present and mindful in the moments as they pass, we do our jobs better and leave our work feeling grounded, instead of frazzled. We can have confidence that we didn’t miss something important due to trying to do everything at once, even if we didn’t get to the entire list. We can put our energy into the thing that’s right in front of us, and we can let things go when letting them go is going to serve best. We can stand witness to the events of the day that we can’t control, and we can take comfort in the fact that we did our very best to impact the world around us in a positive way.  Even if we have to let a few dollars go in the process.

I few months ago I sent a message to a client-one who’s been active and engaged in her process, and thus ready to put some energy into thinking about the questions posed to her about being more mindful. This was her response when I inquired about how her mindfulness practice was coming along:

Mindfulness has put me in better touch with my feelings. It’s making me more aware of my surroundings, especially regarding the senses (smell, touch, sound, etc.). I identify many more blessings and have taken the time to appreciate them. I enjoy journaling my observances. The journal was a great suggestion you gave me.

I am realizing that multi-tasking is not the way to go in most instances. I feel less stressed when I focus on one task at a time. When I reflect on what I completed, I feel I am accomplishing more each day. It feels great to pause and acknowledge what I’ve done instead of just moving on to the next thing for a continuous chain of to-dos’s which leaves me feeling depleted.

Mindfulness is definitely a new habit that I need more practice at in order to break through the old ways of thinking and doing things. It’s been like a new aerobics class or yoga position that is challenging to keep up with or to do at all until I gain conditioning, but it feels great to learn a new way that is so beneficial for me mentally and emotionally.

So as you go about your work days in the months to come, remember to allow yourself to stay present in what’s happening right now. Because after all, right now is the only moment that we can ever truly grasp.

The Task of Presence

The Task of Presence

Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When I read those words, my thinking, practical mind is apt to frame it in a way that puts the actual tasks on the day’s list at the center. The emails I send. The sitting I do at a desk. The way the computer dictates the work flow. When I look at it through that lens, how I’m spending my days is not how I want to spend my life. I want to be roaming a woodland glade, or diving into a pool of cool water, or watching the sunlight dapple my daughter’s cheeks as she laughs. It’s quite easy to let myself become dissatisfied with the day to day things that punctuate life.

And yet. If I look at Annie Dillard’s words through a lens that looks deeper into how I am showing up to my daily task list, the picture changes.   What energy went into that email, or that message, that got sent? Who was on the receiving end? Did I rush through the process, trying to do three other tasks at the same time, or did I put the whole of my focus on the words going out into the universe? How am I sitting in my chair? Do I slouch forward, or do I stay mindful of how the chair feels against my back? What am I allowing my computer to take hold of? Am I scrolling through acres of needless information, or am I being intentional about using technology as a tool to help me live my values?

A wise colleague of mine recently said, “It’s the results of those daily tasks” – the people we speak to, the question that pierces what matters, the way listening without judgment shines light down another path – “those are the moments that show what we do with our days.”  And consequently, our lives.

So when I can remember that presence is, above all, the most rewarding part of my daily practice- whatever the task list-I am able to find satisfaction in how I am spending my life. I may still prefer roaming woodland glades to tapping a keyboard and will do my best to make that part of my days, but I can find solace in the good that comes from recognizing that life is more than what we see – or perhaps even what we do- on the surface. It is how we are being that matters at the end of the day, regardless the tasks on the list. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Indeed.

Contact

Contact

This morning I really wanted to stay in bed.  The room was dark, the sheets were cool, my husband was still sleeping soundly.  I wanted to lay there, and then get up at my leisure, check my email and drink coffee.  So instead of letting myself lay there and think about getting up and what I really wanted to do, I just got up.   Somehow I managed to turn off my thinking and stumble through the physical motions of putting feet on the floor, gathering up clothes, getting a drink of water and finding the keys.  I got in the jeep, drove 5 miles southeast and crossed the St. Croix River into the little town of Osceola, Wisconsin.  It’s situated high on the bluffs overlooking the river valley, and the river this morning was as smooth as glass.  I didn’t stop at the river today though, I continued on and went north through the downtown area as shops set up for the day and open signs flickered on.  At County Road S, I turned left and found myself at the little parking area for one of Wisconsin’s “State Natural Areas.”

There are 373,000 acres spread out between 673 natural areas across the state, and they are used for research and education, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands.  I appreciate them because they tend to be punctuated with more wildness and unknowns and refreshing energy than the surrounding more peopled areas.   At any rate, this one on County S has proven to be a place where I can recalibrate or refocus when needed.  Apparently this morning my body needed recalibration, and that need won out over my mind telling me to just do the same old safe and easy routine.

I parked the jeep in the empty lot and tied my keys into the laces of the ugliest pair of trail running shoes I’ve ever had and started jogging into the tree cover. (why are all women’s trail running shoes pink, or purple or turquoise or some other neon color?)   The trail starts wide and takes you down to the river backwaters if you go straight.  Today I turned left to cross the wooden footbridge over a spring fed creek and started running down a single track through a stand of tall pines.  This single track takes you deep into the woods, and it’s always dark back there, no matter how bright the sun is shining.  And quiet.   It’s like someone turned the volume down and bumped up the contrast — it’s easier to notice the details, even when running.  There are always deer and squirrels and a myriad of other small creatures scurrying about on the forest floor.  One spring I almost stepped on a tiny spotted fawn, likely just days old, laying in the middle of the trail.

Today I followed the loop trail quickly and had two white tail deer for company while deep in the woods, a Pine Marten looking me in the eyes from a dead tree that had fallen across the path at the midpoint, and the sound of rushing waters moving downward toward the river valley after turning to follow the ridge of the creek bed back to the footbridge.  I was reminded why it’s important to have contact with wild things.  It brings things back into perspective and invites wonder into the ordinary, even if just for a moment.

Just 45 minutes after arriving, I was back at the parking area to head home into my work day.  And now as I sit here looking at this screen, I’m glad I listened to the urge to recalibrate, and to make contact with the unpredictable nature of the things that inhabit the unpeopled places.   Knowing that there are places with cold, tumbling water and deer grazing amidst a backdrop of the open space above the river valley and Pine Martens at home in trees that seem to reach up endlessly toward the sky………knowing these things exist in the world is enough to remind me what’s real.  It’s not what’s on the screen.

“It’s safe to stay home and watch reruns of Star Trek and fiddle with Facebook and track digital gossip, but it’s also shallow and lifeless.  Whether it’s with sharks or bears [or deer or running water] experiencing nature sets your foundations in a way an iPad never will.  It has to do with contact.  As Thoreau writes in The Maine Woods: ‘Contact!  Contact! ‘  You can’t get contact from a screen”  ~ Jack Turner

BURNOUT

BURNOUT

What causes burnout? Long hours, a job that is too challenging or not challenging enough, monotony, a long winter, a disconnect between the employer and employee values, being in a caregiver role, always being the one to ask “how are you today?” and responding appropriately to whatever response is provided……the list could get pretty long.  Whatever the root cause, burnout can have a lot of impact on day to day life.  According to psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, who coined the term in 1972, burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that has failed to produce the expected reward. Burnout is essentially a condition caused by passion and good intentions that have absorbed everything that is available to give.

 Burnout is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up.  – Helpguide.org. (Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A)

My day job is to support people as they figure out how to live in a healthy way.  I’ve been in my current position for exactly seven years, and though I truly value the relationships that I have with the people I interact with and can see the reason for most of the less glamorous job tasks that are required, last week I hit a bit of a wall.   And when I say “hit a wall” I mean in a head on collision, can’t function kind of way.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  So I spent the two days I took off work sleeping, getting a haircut that was two years overdue, walking along my favorite creek bed and doing yoga.   I feel better after four days away from the office, but it’s not gone yet.  My next step is going to be figuring out how to take some more time off.  We’ll see how that goes.  The good news is that my light is flickering on again, even if it’s dim.

Once we identify that we are experiencing signs of burnout and acknowledge what is going on, we can take strides to change what can be changed, accept what needs to be accepted, and shift our focus to remembering what really matters in life.  We can prioritize what is going to allow us live in a way that honors what we value. We can look the fear of ‘feeling burnt out forever’ in the face and see all the beauty that is still there, just under the surface.  Just past the strong front that we put up on good days.  Just behind the expectations we hold for ourselves without even recognizing their loftiness.

We can remember why we have been so devoted, and we can remember that to be devoted – to anything – we have to take care of our own needs.

For me, some of the important things to priotitize are spending time with my family, having authentic conversations with people, being outside, growing and cooking food, hearing my daughter giggle, digging in the garden and watching the sunrise.  When I can remember that those things are what matter to me (which can be REALLY hard to do when feelings of burnout have clouded everything else) I can break through the film of melancholy.  I can see past the frustration, fatigue and dread of the everyday.  And I can remember that I have a choice to let those feelings control my life, or I can look at them, accept them, and allow them to dissolve in whatever way they need to.

Burnout isn’t a nice place to be.  But it doesn’t have to be the landing place.

                                                                                                                                            

If you think you might be experiencing burnout, take a look at the following lists.

Signs of burnout can include:

􀂃-Emotions: anger, frustration, depression

􀂃- Impatience

􀂃 -Heightened fatigue

􀂃  -Melancholy

􀂃  -Ambivalence

􀂃  -Lack of interest in things you used to really find intriguing

􀂃  -Short term memory loss

􀂃  -Feelings of dread

􀂃  -Self-medication

􀂃  -Nightmares

􀂃  -Difficulty making decisions

􀂃  -Working at 120% then dropping to nothing

􀂃  -Not caring about something that usually matters a lot

Burnout prevention & self care strategies may include:

􀂃-Know yourself. Figure out what your values are.

􀂃-Create a support system.  And use it.  Ask for help.  Accept help when offered.

􀂃-Maintain a schedule that supports the lifestyle you want to live.

􀂃-Do three things per day that you truly enjoy. Even you only have time for three one minute things.

􀂃-Honor your wellness priorities: Keep running, do your yoga, eat your veggies, get your rest.

􀂃-Stay stimulated with learning. But accept that you don’t have to know everything.

􀂃-Take time off.

􀂃-Get 15 minutes of natural light (more is better) every day.  Even on rainy ones.

We all have a pilot light that doesn’t go out permanantly.  There is light to be found even on the rainy days.

Additional burnout resources are available from these sources:

Compassion Fatigue

Burnout Overview from Mayo Clinic