Firebirdlifecoach's Blog

Pursuing a Passionate Life

The Weight of the Wait February 26, 2010

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I think living in New England (and other areas of the planet that experience “traditional winter weather”) requires a certain heartiness that folks in warmer climates don’t require. However it is always interesting (particularly with the climate changes of recent years). There’s an expression that pretty much sums it up – “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait five minutes.” And it’s true – today started off sunny and mild though there had been a dusting of snow overnight and a forecast for torrential rains all day. Throughout the day, it alternately was cold with snow squalls, rainy, windy and/or quiet. Every time you looked out the window there was something else going on – I was waiting for it to rain actual cats and dogs, ‘cause it would have seemed like just the right day for it. Our promise for the weekend – more unpredictable precipitation – rain, snow flurries and even some accumulations in some areas – what could be better than that? Well, actually a little sunshine and warming temperatures would be nice.

When the winter months reach their last legs, the weather is on everyone’s mind. I would bet that at least 90% of people who interacted with another human being in New England today talked about the weather at least once. “Talking about the weather” – the cliché icebreaker is more than just idle chatter in my belief. Around these parts I think that it is a way for people to bond together against something that is greater than they are. (That, and it provides an excellent opportunity for one-up’s-man ship – “You think you have it bad, we got 10 inches of heavy, wet snow last night in my town  – my back was breaking!”) After all, no one I know can change it and everyone is affected by it. At this time of the year and for the next month and a half or so as spring teases us with the promise of warmer days and sunny skies – there is a combined sense of impatience, resolve and hopefulness. We’re almost there… just a few more weeks… a few more snow storms and we will be rewarded.

When you think about the bonding we do over the trials of untamable Mother Nature – you know you are participating in a ritual that has been handed-down from one generation to the next in many parts of the world. It is the ultimate realization of the smallness of our presence in the eternal evolution of the planet and of our interconnected experience. You may feel all alone looking down the long snow-covered driveway, shovel in hand pondering the work ahead of you, but you are not, and later you will get the opportunity to swap stories with your co-workers and family. We are a hearty and hopeful lot – bound together by some frozen water crystals and the promise of daffodils.

 

The Paths We Take February 25, 2010

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I have an active imagination. When left on its own – my brain is a whirl of activity. It is one of my greatest assets and biggest challenges. I don’t see things from one side only. Instead my mind has a facility for floating around each individual idea and considering the possibilities from all sides. It’s a very busy place in there – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Nonetheless it poses specific challenges.

When I write one of these blogs for instance, I have to work very hard to contain all the possible tangents that tempt me at every turn. I prefer to write in a “stream of consciousness” fashion, and am often surprised myself at the final results of my meanderings. There has been more than one occasion when I sit down at my laptop – thinking I am going to write about “x” only to find that I have just completed a blog about “y”. For the most part it works for me. I have grown to be flexible and open-minded with the process, thankfully, for if I was not it would surely be a very frustrating experience.

Now this technique probably wouldn’t work for me in all settings, but in this genre it doesn’t seem particularly problematic. Which leads me to the notion of flexibility and forgiveness, is it better to adjust and bend or to stay firmly on a single track? One could say that in order to meet your objectives you need to define a specific path and stay on it in order to reach your goals. Or you could take the stance that the journey itself is a goal worth exploring, it may take you longer to get there but you will learn more on the way. In coaching, one of the primary activities is helping folks to define their goals and to take the necessary steps to achieving them, but it is imperative that you work with what is best for the individual rather than adhering to one particular technique.

Because really – the two approaches are not mutually exclusive anyway. I do believe in setting goals and in defining specific and attainable steps to get you where you want to go. However, sometimes it is necessary to be flexible in your approach – life is not always linear – and giving yourself a hard time about getting your goals completed can be more counterproductive than helpful. As long as you keep the end goal in mind and your efforts continue to pull you in that direction – exactly how you get there is less important. Some people work well with structure and clear and concise limits but allowing yourself the autonomy to create a path that works for you seems like the most useful approach to reaching your goals.

 

Finding your Kingdom February 24, 2010

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So I found myself in an interesting discussion about Gratitude and Passion yesterday. A friend who had read my blog post had made the comment that I was not “The Princess of Gratitude” I was the in fact, “The Princess of Passion”. And it’s true, passion is my thing, and working with others to discover and realize their passions in also my thing. But I have to at the very least show my appreciation for gratitude. I can say that for years though I was not what you might call “an ingrate” I did not have the presence of gratitude in my life in the way that it is now. However, I have always been a passionate person. It is an element of who I am that I can trace back over time and find at many a stage. The tie-in for me is that both of these “world views” emerged (or re-emerged) at the same time in my life due to the same set of circumstances and one life-changing catalyst, namely the events of September 11th, 2001 and the realization of the precious, temporal fragility of human life. For me there is very definitely a life before, and a life after that tragic day in world history and though I have a lot I could say about this, for now I want to focus on the passion piece.

My sons can willingly attest that their mother is “a passionate, Italian woman” (something I have invoked on more than one occasion when my fervor for a particular topic is more evident than one might expect.) Nonetheless, there was a long period of my life when I was not in-touch with this aspect of myself either. Choices I had made created a circumstance in which my passions took a backseat to other demands in my life. And the result was a pretty “dulled down” experience of life. (This is not to say that I did not experience happiness and fulfillment – but rather that the connection with my essential life energy was encumbered by faulty wiring and lack of adequate voltage.)

“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you.” T. Alan Armstrong

The reality is that though for some of us “being passionate” may refer to an aspect of our personalities, for all of us it is possible to connect with the passion inside of ourselves as it is a key to living a full life. Knowing what energizes you, what ideas, activities or experiences give you that sense of excitement, and interest and fulfillment is essential. But simply knowing is not enough. To really move forward in a positive way you need to engage with your passions and truly integrate them into your existence, otherwise you are selling yourself short in a life that is already short enough. You owe it to yourself and to those around you to be the best you can be, to live the life you love and to make the most of your time here. So my question to you is – what are you the prince/princess of?

 

Gratitude, Pure and Simple February 23, 2010

If you had asked me what role Gratitude would play in my life years ago I would likely have been stumped by the question. I don’t think I would have been able to imagine the powerful impact that it has on me. And though I likely would have been able to tell you what things in my life I was grateful for, I don’t know if I would have recognized its importance in the real and daily way that I have now grown accustomed to. As it turns out gratitude is one of my Top Five – VIA Signature Strengths, though I don’t know if it would have always ranked there. It is more than a feeling – it is a state of mind, an orientation toward the world and it is essential to helping me keep my life on the track I want to be on.

Life is not perfect, not even close but all the same when I take stock of my life, I have a lot to be grateful for. I think there is a tendency when things are hard for folks to focus on all of the various challenges, obstacles and disappointments that make up their lives. Sometimes the upsides can recede into the background, and unintentionally end up going unnoticed. But if we train ourselves to look for the positive after a while it becomes a self-perpetuating process.

A simple way to do this is to keep a “Gratitude Journal”. Just find a little pad or notebook in which each day you jot down “three things you are grateful for”. They don’t have to be momentous, they can be small observances. You can do it in the morning before you start your day, at night before you retire or throughout the day as you notice things. It may not sound like a big move – but you’d be surprised what a powerful impact it can have.

Putting your mind and heart in a place of gratitude is an incredibly healing experience. It quiets the mind, refreshes the soul and inspires the spirit. Go ahead, give it a try, there’s no downside here…

Most gratefully yours…

 

Brief Pause for Station Identification February 22, 2010

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Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Today was one of those days for me – too much to do and just not enough time. There are always items that slip off of the agenda. And if you haven’t already noticed, this is a lot later than I usually post my blogs. And though I would love to be able to sit down and write a great blog about one of a number of topics that are floating through my mind – I am instead giving myself the night off. Acknowledging our limits is an important piece of the self-care notion – and tonight I have reached mine. Sweet dreams…

 

Treasured Friendship February 19, 2010

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There was a box of treasure waiting for me when I got home last night. My oldest and dearest friend had sent me a package. My sons enthusiastically looked on as I opened the unadorned box and found the surprises inside. She had been to a gem and mineral show in her city and had gathered a collection of baubles and bangles for me to enjoy. All total there were three pair of earrings, three rings, four bracelets and a sweet little Mexican pierced-tin box. It was great!

Just the evening before I had been telling my boyfriend about this friend and how much I love her. We have been close friends for about 35 years and most of that time we have not lived in the same state, or even the same region of the country. We see each other, at most once every several years as we both have responsibilities at home which make the long trip a challenge. We talk on the phone maybe once a month, though may often leave each other voicemail in between. There is a lot of distance and time between us and yet we are as close now as we have ever been. We have grown up together, shared the stories of school and boyfriends together, supported each other on the deaths of our fathers, stood in for each other as “maid of honor” at each of our weddings, and shared the challenges of raising our sons (we each have two).

Our personalities, environments and lives are quite different and yet the bond between us is solid and meaningful for both of us. We are not without our challenges – we are both strong-minded women who can occasionally “lock horns” on a topic, but this does not threaten our bond. There is an understanding, a respect and knowing between us that goes deeper than any other friendship I have ever had, quite simply we love each other and we let each other know. Aside from my family – my relationship with her is the longest lasting one of my life and I look forward to the milestones we will face together down the road.

So as I get myself ready for my day today, I have the pleasure of choosing which of the assortment of baubles and bangles I get to adorn myself with today: an outward symbol and simple reminder of the friendship that has been with me almost my whole life.  And that friendship is a reminder to me to: let the people I love know that I love them, to work hard for the things that matter in your life even when circumstance makes it seem unlikely to succeed, and to treat those around me with respect, caring and understanding. Thank-you, my dear friend…

 

Grateful Reader February 18, 2010

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I just finished a book I have been reading for the last two months. It is a short book, a small book which if I had dedicated a concerted amount of time to it – probably would have taken me a day or two to complete. But it did not – instead – I stole five minutes here, twenty there, often skipping days and even weeks in between. Nonetheless I finished it finally and am having that experience that often comes when you finish a good book – a mixture of contentment and sadness. It is that sense of saying good-bye to a dear and intimate friend, one with whom you have shared a deep sense of intimacy and connection.

The book, Have a Little Faith is the third I have read by Mitch Albom. I never have gotten around to reading the book that put his name on the map, Tuesdays with Morrie but I have read the subsequent three, including this his most recent. And I have loved them all. They are not long books, not complicated or deeply intellectual but they are always moving and profound in their simplicity. Each book has left me with a feeling of “specialness”, gratitude and appreciation for what I have and for what the world holds. Their messages are not heavily veiled secrets but accessible and gentle, wise and beautiful.

So here’s what I am left with today. A beautiful reminder of the strength of the human spirit, a renewed belief in tolerance and acceptance, an appreciation for our past (shared and individual) and a palpable sense of the power of love, faith (in its broadest interpretation) and grace. I do not know if I can contribute all of what I am feeling at this moment to that book, but I do know as I start my day today I am looking at the world around me with eyes and heart wide open. Peace…

 

Mid-Life Opportunity February 17, 2010

The phrase “Mid-Life Crisis” conjures images of middle-aged men driving red sports cars with their twenty-something year old girlfriends along for the ride. And though some might envy the image – it carries a dismissive quality to it. According to Wikipedia, “Midlife crisis is a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and used in Western societies to describe a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by some individuals in the “middle years” or Middle age of life, as a result of sensing the passing of their own youth and the imminence of their old age.”     And though for some this awareness may indeed be a crisis – I believe it is actually more of an opportunity.

In fact, I believe it is even a healthy process to shut-off the auto-pilot for a moment and to take stock of your life which for most folks is what I believe this period of our lives is really about. I believe that in today’s uncertain economic times, many of us have been forced to re-evaluate our careers and lifestyles for other reasons as well. We are aware of the ticking of the clock and its impact on our lives in ways that in younger years we could more easily dismiss. Our physical resilience may not be what it was even just a few years ago. And the evolving pressures associated with our children’s maturation and our parent’s aging combine to put pressures and considerations into our daily existence that previously just didn’t exist. “You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. You may ask yourself – Well, how did I get here?” (David Byrne, Talking Heads – “Once in a Lifetime”) Surprise! Now what?

Taking stock of your life, evaluating your present circumstances and re-positioning yourself toward your future in a way that works can be really scary but it can be invaluable too. If we bury our heads and just plod forward, well, we’ll get through it – but is that all you want from your life? A little introspection can go a long way. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that your life is exactly where you want it to be, or you may find some areas that need a little tweaking. You owe it to yourself and to those around you to be the best person that you can be, living your life to its fullest. If we are lucky we will live until a healthy old age – but you never do know, do you? So, embrace the uncertainty, forgive the shortcomings, and move forward with a clear vision of what you want from your life and how you are going to make it happen.

 

The Balancing Act February 16, 2010

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Responsibilities, we all have them, some more than others. For many of us they are the bane of our existence. We feel overwhelmed, dreaming of all the things we would like to do if it weren’t for all the things we have to do. And yet, there is a certain sense of pride that you experience when you have met your responsibilities, when you know you are taking care of things. Those who shun their responsibilities are often shunned themselves. We do not admire those who abandon their responsibilities; they are seen as “irresponsible” (of course) and selfish. And though we may admire what appears to be a “carefree” existence in others – many of us don’t feel like it is a real possibility for ourselves. The trick of course is in finding a balance.

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” (And if you can get past the scene in “The Shining” and think about it – that simple saying has a potent ring of truth to it.) Loaded down with the responsibilities of home, family and work – many of us could (and often do) go from one task to another throughout our day – leaving little time for relaxation, reflection and pleasure. Though our lives are not filled with the toil of our ancestors, they are also far more complex than they were in times past as well. Finishing one item on our agenda – simply makes space for the next to rise to the top of the list – never affording a real break. So what do you do?

There is an Italian expression, which simply translates to: “Work to live. Don’t live to work.” The culturally relevant idea takes in a certain prioritizing and valuation that many of us seem to miss. When I get to the end of my life – I would hope that my epitaph says something about how I “lived life to its fullest” not simply that I “paid all the bills and made sure there was always clean laundry”. Life itself is fleeting, our time here unknown, our future uncertain – so making time for all of the bits is the challenge. When you include enjoyment in your list of responsibilities you open up the possibility for a fuller experience and simply a balanced life.

Choose the activities that fill your day wisely. Value all the aspects of your existence from your work and family to your interests and passions and allow yourself the space to incorporate it all into your regular existence. After all, if you don’t take responsibility for your own fulfillment and happiness, who will?

 

Morning Sunshine February 15, 2010

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I am not a morning person, well not really. When I was a kid, my mother used to wake us in the morning by cheerfully singing, “It’s time to wake up!” (To the tune of: The Farmer in the Dell) as she came into our rooms, clapping her hands and opening the shades on the windows. When I finally emerged from my covers dragging myself into the shower and down stairs for breakfast I was ever so slightly more alert but definitely not ready for conversation. That didn’t stop my mom from enthusiastic chatter however – which didn’t quite work for me. (Note: though the singing has abated – my mother is still full steam ahead chatterbox when I go to visit her. At this point she is able to at least attempt to give me a few minutes to come to life before launching in – due to my years of continually reminding her that I am not ready to talk yet. But she might as well be singing.)

These days I am the first to arise in the morning after about 30 minutes of hitting the “snooze button”. No one is around to sing or talk to me as I make my tea, check my emails and start my day, and that’s just fine with me. In my half awake stupor I have found that I am incredibly efficient at simple household tasks as long as no one is trying to engage with me. Laundry done, dishwasher emptied, lunches made and so on are performed without consciousness quickly and efficiently. By the time my kids emerge from their slumber, bleary eyed and sleep-walking, I can handle the company. Fortunately, they aren’t big talkers in the morning either, and seem perfectly happy to go about their morning routines in relative quiet.

I know that provided I don’t overdo it with the snooze alarm, I can always throw an extra task or two on my plate several days a week. Paying the bills, answering emails, writing my blog, fit easily and quietly into these early morning hours. But for me, this quiet efficiency seems like more than just a simple morning routine. It is my waking meditation, of sorts. The simple focus on the mundane tasks of daily living and reflective quiet of writing are incredibly calming to me. My mind, body and soul seem to need this time to prepare for the day ahead. It is not the exercise routine or intentional meditation which I often dream of squeezing into my morning but is a healthful necessity all the same. Reframing my wish for a slow and quiet start to my day may not seem like an epiphany to you, but for me recognizing it as a simple form of self-care is helpful for me. Though I shall restrain myself from reframing everything I do under this lens I do think it is important to really think about what works for us in our own lives and to value the process we each bring to our unique situations. You never know what you may find.