Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Change and Excitement/Anxiety- When is too much just too much?

Probably when you forget your youngest at his first day of kindergarten.

I mean, honestly, who does this? I will set the scene for you. He is this sweet-faced cherub embarking on his first day in the big harsh world of elementary school. When asked about how he felt about going to school, the only word he used to so articulately describe his impending experience was “nervous.” His white-blond hair, light blue eyes, and cherry peaked cheeks are only outmatched by his kind and loving demeanor.

When you dropped him off, he quietly sat down and diligently took to coloring a picture of a birthday cake that his new teacher had picked out since it was also, coincidentally, her birthday.  Your oldest was adept at throwing monstrous fits demonstrating the depth of his separation anxiety that would leave you feeling wholly inadequate as a parent.  But not your youngest. He was quiet and unassuming. Loving and accepting.

And so how do you repay this welcome reprieve from the harsh realities of parenting two spirited little boys? By losing track of time through the myriad of details that you were attempting to manage. Too many details, in fact. Just too much and something had to give.

Now, we will look back on this day and laugh. I mean, we kind of are laughing already. Today, it is a dry, sardonic laugh with hot tears mixed in but years from now it will be a hearty, nostalgic, belly laugh where we reflect on how your youngest was always safe out there in the world. How others were always there to help him even when his own parents couldn’t be counted on.

But this brings us back to our original question. When it comes to change and the inevitable anxiety or excitement that change brings- how do we know when too much is just too much?

Scientists have studied how the brain responds to what we may consider excitement versus anxiety and, as it turns out, the only real difference lies in how we feel about the energy. So, with a lot of change comes a lot of excitement or anxiety depending on how you perceive the change. Are you looking forward to it? EXCITING! Are you dreading it? ANXIETY! In this way, the change is neither inherently good nor bad. It is just change.

My 5 year-old started kindergarten the same week that my 9 year-old started theater camp. Both required different pick up times. This was also the same week that my lifelong friend was visiting from out of town. This same week, my husband was unexpectedly home from a work trip while we only had one vehicle. All while I am managing my new private practice out of a home office. EXCITING! But… too much! I didn’t feel anxious. I felt happy. Maybe a little overwhelmed when I look back at it now, but I wouldn’t have traded any of it because I was so happy about all of it. Right up until the point that the police were being called with a description of what my son was wearing which I had just provided to the principal after no one could find my 5 year-old at school. I had arrived 20 minutes past pick up time and the teacher had sworn that he was picked up by a parent. Problem was that his dad was riding his bike home from work (remember we only had one vehicle for the week) and there I was… without my baby.

I kept it cool for a long time knowing that, logically, he had to be close and that the chances of him being nabbed from school grounds were next to nil. However, as the minutes ticked by panic, tears, inadequacy, guilt, fear, and stress all found a quick home in my heart.

And finally… relief… as my child was found. He was crying and scared but he was safe. I was crying too but grateful. And maybe in the end, we have both learned some valuable lessons. For one, if you think you saw mommy but it turns out that it wasn’t mommy, then go back to your teacher or the front office. And two… which is maybe the most important… Sometimes too much is just too much. And that’s ok… but then we need to refocus on what really matters.

Hug and love on each other until the tears stop and we feel better. Forgive yourself because the alternative takes all of the precious energy you need away from building the path ahead and leaves it on fighting the past that already was.

And while your forgive yourself- over and over again- because this is not a final destination but rather a continual lifelong journey- take comfort in knowing that many of us have been there before and we will likely end up there again someday. I had so many parents reach out to me and tell me that they had had similar experiences. As it turns out, it may just be one of those parenting rites of passage. Haven’t lost your kiddo yet? Be patient. Your number may be called next.

Happy first day of kindergarten, my love. May you always be surrounded by others who care for and love you knowing that your mommy and daddy love you more than anything but that we also make mistakes sometimes.

Happy birthday, new kindergarten teacher. May you know that you are accepted and loved by our family, even though we may have gotten off to a rough start.

Here is to a happy, safe, and successful school year!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where is your limiter set?

It was my first new car as a full-fledged adult. I was a young professional officer in the United States Air Force. I had been stationed in Germany and decided to order a BMW 325i right off of the manufacturing line. What a feeling!! Such a powerful vehicle that was built to handle the road. Did I mention the autobahn? Ahh yesss… long stretches of highway with no speed limit. That car was built for speed and on one fateful day, that was just what I needed. The details of why I was away from base during a time of heightened security will have to be saved for another article on poor judgment… but suffice to say, that when I received the call that I needed to be packed and in the squadron within the hour, panic quickly set in. I was 133 miles away… it would normally take me over 90 minutes to drive home… and only a second to see my career flash before my eyes.

This is how I learned about my vehicle’s speed limiter. Turns out it kicked in at 135mph. I drove with a level of focus and intensity that I hope to never experience again. With the gas pedal fully depressed, I could feel the vehicle rocket ahead, as well as the slight deceleration each time the limiter took over. I made it home in just under an hour, quickly packed my bags, and rushed in to the squadron feeling more humbled than I ever had before. I had made it. I didn’t die on the drive back and I didn’t lose my career.

Why do I bring this up now? I mean… cool story… but how does this apply to anything?

Well, it got me thinking about limiters. According to Patrick E. George in an article titled “How Speed Limiters Work” on, there are a number of reasons why vehicles have speed limiters. Primarily focused around safety and protection, we can probably all agree on a need to control the maximum speed that vehicles can travel on the road.  Higher speed crashes lead to more extensive damage and loss of life. There are other good reasons for limiters too like environmental concerns, tire ratings, and engine life.

Did you also know that it is possible to override or even disable your vehicle’s speed limiter?  But why would we do that when we just decided that it was good and necessary to have limiters?

Well, if I have an opportunity to take my high performance vehicle to an actual racetrack that is designed to operate a vehicle at high speeds, then I may be interested in disabling my limiter so that I can experience the rush of whizzing past the checkered flags in a safe environment.

However, the next day when my 16 year old son, who just received his license, wants to go out, I may feel safer giving him that freedom knowing that he will not be able to operate the vehicle over a certain speed. Sure 25 miles per hour may be too conservative but perhaps 100mph just isn’t really necessary either.

Whatever the specific situation, there may be very valid reasons for having a strong limit in place.  The difference between stagnation and growth may lie more in the ability to know when it is safe, maybe even necessary, to remove that limit. Keep a safety net in place but then make that leap.

When you are ready to start a new career, a new relationship, or move to a new city, your ability to expand your limits will determine the success you achieve.

Do you worry that maybe you should just play it safe and accept the first job that offers you a position? Try saving some extra money to pay your rent by eating at home for a few months and build that safety net. By taking the first offer, you may have a job now but you may have missed out on taking your life to the next level.

Are you in a relationship with someone who you care for but lack the connection you truly desire? Maybe you are unsure if they are really capable of meeting you where you are, so you keep it to yourself, instead settling for the life you have.  Accepting a subpar life can lead to building up secret resentment and bitterness that holds you back from realizing your true potential. It’s not necessarily about rejecting someone else by ending your relationship. But what if you accepted yourself and didn’t settle for less than what you need to be fulfilled.

Ever dream of moving to a new city and pursuing a career that calls to your spirit? You may decide that you aren’t going to drop everything this instant to pursue your dream… but what are you really giving up by NOT making that leap?  When we follow our passions and step into our strengths, we contribute to the world around us in ways that we may never have thought possible. The impact we make is more profound, more powerful, more lasting. The thing you give up by settling is far more significant than just your happiness… it is also the gifts that only you can share with the world.

So. Here is the deal. You already have the sports car. You already have the keys. Now, it’s time to drive. Be safe but push those limits… you may just make a difference in the world around you and have some fun while doing it too.

Happy driving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Perception is Reality

It happened suddenly. Or at least it felt that way. Right before I turned 40, I started looking at myself differently.  I saw a woman who was gifted and talented looking back at me. I saw an excellent mother and wife. I saw soft curves and muscles that were beautiful. I remember thinking... Why can’t this just be my new reality? Like… ALL of the time?  What if I just loved myself and became my own biggest fan?

I started seeing my life differently too. The choices I make every day. The priorities I set. What and who I value in my life. Even how I look at my own time management. Everything just shifted. Seemingly overnight.

Now, I wouldn’t say that my life is perfectly stress free. I don’t walk around on a cloud all day thinking about how wonderful I am and how perfect my life is… But I gotta say… it’s kind of becoming more and more like that every day. And why not? I mean, really… WHY NOT?

I was in the Air Force as a younger woman and I often heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” Back then, and maybe only until recently (as in when I sat down to write this article), I did not care for that message very much. You mean, I am supposed to constantly be careful of what other people think of me because that becomes my reality? I am exhausted just thinking about it. I needed to be an exemplary officer all of the time… and especially as a woman in the aviation field, where the standards were impossible to uphold both from peers and superiors. The message was, “Be careful of how others perceive you or you may get a reputation as a ‘so-and-so’ and then that will be your reality.”

Of course, this message is not reserved solely for military women, but maybe for all of us in one or more aspects of our lives.

            Men- Be sensitive and aware of feelings. Wait, did you just cry? Hmm… Maybe he’s just a “wimp.”

            Moms- Earn money for the family but also make your children your top priority.  Wait, did you just miss a work meeting for a school assembly? Hmm… maybe she just isn’t “career-focused.”

            Minorities- Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and work hard. Wait, did you just get angry over institutionalized racism? Hmm… maybe she’s just a “troublemaker.”

As it turns out, most of us… maybe all of us… could easily get bound by this idea of perception being reality. But what if it wasn’t about other people’s perceptions at all? What if it really was about how we perceive ourselves? What if we decided, owned, and accepted that we create our own reality?

Now hold on just a minute… Am I suggesting that injustices and inequalities don’t really exist? That racism, sexism, discrimination, and prejudice are not a reality? Of course not. I have even had the benefit of experiencing some of these things firsthand. When these situations present themselves, becoming upset, hurt, or angry may be just what is needed in the moment. We must challenge injustice and work to build a stronger community and society. Our work will likely never be fully done on this front and I am strongly committed to being a part of that movement for the remainder of my days.

But what if that was not the end of the story? Did you just hear me say that I had the benefit of experiencing injustice and inequality firsthand? I see it as a benefit for sure… not one that I would wish on anyone else and not one that I would choose to visit again necessarily… but the perspective, knowledge, and empathy I gained through those experiences have informed who I am today. And while my 40th birthday may have felt like a pivotal moment in the development of my outlook on life, I am quite sure that is has been the sum of my experiences that has brought me to this place.

I tend towards a holistic approach to life. So with that in mind, let’s examine this idea of perception as reality from the vantage point of a mind-body-spirit perspective.

My mind is a joyous, optimistic, and playful place full of light and love. But it can be a dark and twisted place sometimes too. I am capable of sharing unconditional love with total strangers. I am also capable of deeply hurting those who I love and cherish the most. I am capable of inspiring others to reach for more in their lives. I am also capable of making others feel “less-than.” I can laugh, make others laugh, and be sillier than sometimes seems appropriate.  I can also cry, get angry, feel sorry for myself, and combat anxiety and fear.

So, what is reality? Who is the real me? Well, perhaps if I can accept these things without needing to change them but rather grow to perceive myself as a person who experiences a wide range of emotions and thoughts, then maybe my reality becomes more peaceful. I am not invested in being one or the other but instead can increase my compassion and empathy for others who share the same range of experiences. While I do not delight in causing pain to others, I can also accept that I am human and sometimes make mistakes. To deny that may be akin to thinking that I am superhuman, maybe even godlike, and I can acknowledge that I have not reached that realm. Yet.

If I perceive my physical body to be a work of art… a beautiful specimen that has brought forth life… has successfully carried me through some of the darkest times in my life… has continued to bounce back time and again from injury, illness, and abuse perpetrated by me… Then perhaps my reality shifts from one where I feel like my body is never quite enough. Not skinny enough…. Not toned enough… Not tall enough… Not tan enough…. My reality can then become one where I want to nourish my body with healthy and satisfying fuel because I want it to continue to perform at a high level. If I respect my body, then I want to listen to what it has to tell me. Take a rest because you are exhausted? Ok. Get us moving because you are ready to dance? Ok. Take a stretch because you are feeling tight? Ok. I am now a partner with my body. It is a relationship that I am nurturing on a daily basis and it took me nearly 40 years to fully appreciate that need.

Which brings me to my last point of examination. The spiritual realm. My word… how much is wrapped up here for us in terms of perception and reality when it comes to spirituality? Even the word “spirituality” can set hairs up on the necks for many of us. But let’s suspend any particular dogma or belief system for just a moment and look at what accessing one’s spirit may look and feel like. Chances are that we have all experienced it at one time or another. For some of us, we may have found our spirit through nature. Ever been on a walk or hike and been overwhelmed by the smell of the fresh air, the sounds of the crashing waves, or the sight of a particularly breathtaking sunset? Maybe you have lost yourself in music or dance and felt peace and joy in your heart? Perhaps you have created a meal for your family with love and care and delighted in the sense of communion with your loved ones?

Whatever it may look like for you, we all have a spirit who requires nurturing and attention. If we allow our perception of what spirituality “should” be or what we perceive others think of us to get in the way, then our spirit remains hungry. My spirit called me today to write this article. I have laundry (clean at least) surrounding me that is demanding to be folded and put away. I have a dentist appointment in 30 minutes and I am still in my pajamas. I had a hundred reasons why I couldn’t make the time to write today… same as I have been doing for months now… but for some reason, today, I decided to follow my spirit. And I am glad that I did.

So, I have listened to my body, accepted my rollercoaster mind, and fed my spirit. You know what my reality is right now? I am moved to tears of gratitude for the life that I lead. There are challenges every day… just this morning I snapped at my son and showed him a poor example of parenting. But there are also so many beautiful things to enjoy. Like the sound of the rain outside my window as the drops fall on the climbing clematis in full white bloom. And the knowledge that I can kiss my son and tell him I am sorry and that I love him when I pick him up from school today. And he will likely kiss me back and tell me that he loves me too.

I perceive my life as being blessed. And so. It is.