Be Thankful then Move On

This week is the holiday during which we are supposed to be thankful. Really we should have gratitude every day but a reminder never hurts. Marie Kondo recommends saying thank you to items we decide we no longer want. We can do the same when we decide to move on to a different job or career. In order to move on to a more rewarding life, we have to be willing to let go of what we are currently doing.

It can be difficult to leave a company or group or stop pursuing a career. You may feel you are letting someone down or believe you owe your company and can’t leave. Having and expressing gratitude can help you to make this break and feel right about your decision.

My work as a veterinarian was very stressful at times and eventually led to burnout. I have decided to transition to a new career as a coach and nature therapy guide. However, I am very grateful for all I learned in veterinary school, in practice, and from my colleagues. It was overall a great experience. I am glad that I helped thousands of pets have a better life, relieving pain and stress for them. I appreciate all the great clients that trusted me to take care of their pets and used my help to provide a good life for their pets. I am grateful for my wonderful team that has helped me to build a beautiful clinic and provide high quality medicine and customer service. I am thankful that this career provided a good life for my family and built me a little cushion for retirement. And I am ready to move on.

Is there something holding you back from creating the life you truly want and deserve to live? Even if you have some resentment over your work or are burned out, what can you be grateful for? How can you experience and express your gratitude so you can find peace with your life so far?

It is not as easy as finally getting rid of that ugly sweater your mother gave you, Marie Kondo style. However, it can work in a similar way. If you have regrets and wish you had pursued a different job or line of work, that doesn’t need to get in your way of pursuing your dreams now. What you having been doing up until this point has probably given you many good things. How can you build on that and use what that has given you? Challenges do help us grow and realizing that you no longer want something helps you to know what you do want.

Mindfulness practices often mention having gratitude as a way to find peace within ourselves. It can also help us to move on and find work that is more enjoyable and meaningful. What are you grateful for?  How can you express that gratitude? What will that help you let go?

When to Start Thinking about your Third Chapter

I have had a couple of recent conversations with friends who are trying to figure out what they want to do after completing a long career in medicine. They are both a bit distraught at not knowing what they want to do. They had always had a path in life. They did well in school, a lot of school, then went on to successful, rewarding careers. Now they are coming to the end of these careers and don’t know what to do next. They are both healthy, active people used to being very busy in life.

First of all, it is never too late to pursue your dreams. You just need to figure out what they are and then start exploring how to make it happen. Of course, the sooner you start the exploration, the less stressful the transition can be. Whether you are counting down the final days on a job or just beginning to think about how “retirement” might look, you can start right now to begin designing your third chapter of life.

Most of us who are past the first and second chapters of life are not ready to go into the final chapter. The first and second chapters involved going to school, building a home and family, and striving to achieve at work. In the final chapter we go quietly into that good night.  The third chapter is when we get to focus on the present, on finding meaning and enjoyment in every day. That does take some intention and planning though.

When the third chapter begins and how we want it to go depends on each person. For me, hitting fifty was a huge milestone.  It made me ponder my mortality and realize that I wanted to have less stress in my life and enjoy each day more.  I started certification classes for coaching and began researching how to sell my veterinary clinic.  I am still working part-time as a veterinarian while I grow my coaching business. My life is more relaxed and less stressful and yet I still have very meaningful work that I enjoy.

As a Chinese proverb says: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now. The point is you need to get to planting. Nobody is going to tell you what you should do with your third chapter, nor should you want them to. You have successfully come this far in life, you can make your third chapter whatever you want. Now, what do you want?

What step can you take today to move forward? For many of us, that first step is daydreaming. Set aside some time. Go out in nature or grab a glass of wine and imagine your ideal life. Even if you know you will continue your current work for the next few years, start the process now so you can start preparing.  If you have already left your lifelong work, you probably have the time to throw yourself into this. You don’t have to have it already figured out or begin new changes immediately. Explore some, try new things, be intentional. You also don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to friends, family, or a coach and let them share in your journey.

Working for Now

When was the last time you really thought about the work you are doing every day?  Do you find meaning in your work?  Are you good at what you do?  Just because you are good at what you do, does that mean you have to do it?  Do you enjoy your work?  Do you smile while you are at work?  Do you wake up eager to get to work?  What are your reasons for doing the work you do? 

Have you really looked at the financial reasons for doing the work you currently do?  Is the work you are doing being compensated enough for your time and life energy?  Are your financial goals really what you want or are they based on some idea of what you should have?  Do you even have financial goals or are you just going along for the ride? Are you expecting to stop working completely when you retire?  What will you spend your money on after you retire and how much do you really need?

One common way of thinking is to work and save until you have a certain amount.  Then you can completely stop working and do whatever you want.  Have you thought about what you are going to do during those twenty or thirty years after you stop working?  If you retire around sixty years old that is how much time you could have in retirement.  Retire early and you may have even more time. 

One option is to reconsider when you will stop working.  You may be thinking, “I just have to get through ten more years at this job then I am free”.  What if instead you left your current stressful job and worked fifteen or twenty years doing work you really enjoy?  You may even find that the ten years time frame can still be enough in different work if you adjust your spending.

The point is that you have options.  If you are burnt out, bored or wished you had traveled a different path in life, you still have plenty of time to change.  It will take time and energy to figure out exactly where you are and where you want to go.  The effort will be worth it when you are doing more meaningful and enjoyable work.  In twenty years, do you want to look back and regret that you didn’t live with intention in these years?

Planning Your Future is Not Just for Kids

When you were young, there were many prompts to help you think about your future.  Older relatives and your parents’ friends asked what you wanted to be when you grew up or where you wanted to go to college.  Teachers exposed you to various subjects and ideas and supported your learning.  College counselors prodded you about what you wanted to study so you could explore which college would be your best choice.  College and graduate programs guided you on a course to a career or area of work.  You had the support of parents, teachers, classmates, and significant others.  You were expected to grow and learn and chart a course for your life and you succeeded.

When was the last time you thought like this or had someone show interest in your future?  Back in school we were striving to create where our life would be in ten or twenty years.  Well, I am fifty-three and still want to be a thriving, contributing member of society twenty years from now.  I want to be involved in meaningful, enjoyable work and living a peaceful, happy life.  A few years ago, I went through the process again of trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I started coaching classes and found the support of teachers and classmates.  I explored new areas and refined my skills until I found my niche of supporting others in their third chapter of life.  Forest therapy guiding also showed up as an additional interesting path.  The support of my family, friends, classmates and other coaches I met was instrumental in my reaching my goals.

If you are in mid-life, there is still plenty of time to explore another path of working or living.  Maybe you find yourself in a rut with your work and need to revitalize your interest with some sort of change.  Do you want to completely change your type of work or just take a new avenue with it?  Was there something you were interested in when you were young but set aside to pursue a more “realistic” career?  What do you want to be when you grow up?

Exploring a new path may not be easy but it will be worth the effort.  What support do you have to gather the courage to open yourself to new possibilities?  Are there certain family members or friends who would be excited to help and support you?  You might find that some of them are on their own new exciting journey and eager for your camaraderie.  Can you imagine if you had your current knowledge back when you were in school?  Well, you have it now so what can you do with it?  Let the exploration begin.

More Lessons from a Tree: Continual Growth

During my meditation in the park yesterday morning, I walked over to hang out with my favorite tree.  I have always noticed the small branches sprouting out of its trunk.  This time, however, it struck me as a good lesson for us humans to always keep growing.

This tree is two to three stories tall with a trunk over a foot in diameter. It also sports a large canopy of branches and leaves.  It is well established and thriving.  And yet new sprouts are springing up all over its trunk and branches.  The tree is in a constant state of new growth.

What can we learn from this tree?  If we are well established and have a strong foundation, we may be complacent that this is enough.  The branches of our life seem to be doing just fine.  With time, though, these branches can break off or not function as well.  There may be times we can’t provide the constant nourishment they need to thrive.

New sprouting branches refresh the tree and keep it thriving.  These sprouts arise on the trunk and on the branches.  In the same way, new growth can arise in us as a completely new endeavor or skill or it can branch off from something already incorporated into our life.  A few years ago, I sprouted a whole new branch by starting Taiko drumming lessons.  I had not played an instrument before this.  Now Taiko is a solid branch of my life and there are new sprouts constantly as I learn a new song.  Mastering a new song is much more difficult for me than my teenage daughter but the song eventually becomes one of the many arms of my Taiko branch.

Trying new things, enjoying new experiences, and learning new skills or knowledge is not only fun, it also keeps us in good mental and physical health as we get older.  It is vital in order to keep thriving.  Just as the tree needs the nourishment taken in by the leaves, we need the energy we gain from the various aspects of our life.  What sprouts can arise from the current branches of your life and what entirely new branches can you encourage?

Another lesson here is to go spend some time with a tree.  You can receive some great insights.

Fears and Cheers of the Third Chapter of Life

When I talk with people who are in or entering their third chapter, I ask what is the best part about growing older and what scares them.  The main theme seems to be increased independence and losing that independence.

The biggest fear tends to be decreased mental and physical health, especially a sudden downturn.  People generally fear becoming a burden to their family.  As you get older, it can be more difficult to maintain your health.  You need to be much more intentional about it than you did when you were young.  Having to work harder at physical and mental exercise can be discouraging.  It is worth it though to be able to be more engaged in your everyday life. 

It is tough to get up early and get out there for a run.  In the summer in Scottsdale, I try to get outside before six am so I am done exercising before it hits ninety degrees.  In the winter, I have to figure out where to fit my run or walk in during my day.  I don’t like exercising in forty degrees.  (Yes, I realize I am a cold wimp who could no longer survive living in Chicago.) However, I want to be able hike up a mountain or walk through a city I am visiting.  I want to be able to climb the 551 steps up to the cupola of St. Peter’s in Rome again.  The daily grind is worth staying in good enough shape to do all the things I still want to do in life.  Of course, staying mentally fit also takes regular work.  My previous blogs have addressed this.  What do you fear about growing old?  What are you doing to try to prevent what you fear?

The benefits of growing old seem to outweigh the fears for most people.  There tends to be more financial security and a sense of accomplishment in their work.  Many people have reached a point where they can cut back on their work or at least don’t have to put in that extra work of climbing the ladder.   With children gone, or at least more independent, there is more time for yourself and your significant other.  This is a good time to really think about how you want to spend your time.  Do you want to work less, do different work, volunteer for a special cause, travel or spend more time on crafts or sports?  Growing older can mean more flexibility in your life.  Are you being intentional with this opportunity?

Another realization that comes with getting older is that we have survived.  Everyone faces multiple challenges throughout life.  We realize that we made it through those and this gives us confidence to face what is still to come.  We know that we have made mistakes but we also know that life is short and we can’t live in regret.  There is also the cliché about older people that we don’t care what other people think of us anymore.  It may not be completely true but we certainly care much less.  This can be a huge relief from stress.  It can also be a freedom to try new things and spend our time doing what we really want to do rather than what we think we should be doing. 

The wisdom and confidence we have gained through the years can help us to tackle the fears that have developed.  How can you tap into your hard-earned strength to bring out your inner sage rather than your saboteurs?

More Sage Powers

By tapping into our sage we can travel through life with more focus and creativity.  We have talked about how using our sage powers of looking for gifts in any situation and having empathy for ourselves can lead us in a positive approach to improving our lives.  Other sage powers we can use are Explore, Innovate, Navigate and Activate.

Using the Explore power means having curiosity and openness when thinking about a situation or person.  If you are facing a difficult situation or considering taking an important step, your sage can pull you with positive energy rather than getting stuck in judgment and your saboteurs.  What is important to know before coming to a decision or take action?  Do you need to do more research or ask more questions?  Are you fixated on a solution or roadblock and unable to move forward because you are afraid of your expected outcome?  How can you explore the situation with openness and fascination and see more possibilities?  When I was feeling burnt out in my veterinary career I believed I was stuck because this was my chosen path.  I started exploring selling my clinic and looking at other possible work I could enjoy.  Coaching wasn’t even on my radar but I discovered the possibilities and transitioned into a much more enjoyable life.

With Innovate, you can use your sage power to move from feeling that something is too difficult to move into a path of ease and flow.  Often our saboteurs lead us to think a situation is more difficult than it truly is or lock us into our initial idea.  One way to get around conflict is to believe that even if you disagree with someone or a situation, there is ten percent of the other side that is correct.  Can you start there and build on that?  Another way to expand the path forward is to play the “yes, and” game often used in improv.  It is similar to brainstorming.  Start with one idea and then add to it and then add to that.  In this stage, don’t discount any ideas as too crazy or too difficult.  Once you have expanded your possible options you can go back and see what you can explore further.  What would be the path of ease and flow being pulled by your sage rather than pushed or blocked by your saboteurs?

The Navigate power guides you by connecting you with your deeper meaning and purpose in life.  When you know what truly matters to you, the small and big steps that will move you forward become clear.  One way to access this power is by imagining yourself near the end of your life or ten or twenty years into the future.  What would your future sage self tell you about your current problem or opportunity?  Will you reach where you ultimately want to go if you take the steps you are considering?  What is your bigger why and are you thinking and acting consistently with that? 

When you use the sage power of Activate, you are moving into action in a calm, clear-headed and laser-focused way.   You can anticipate how your inner judge and other saboteurs may try to block you.  How will you counteract these roadblocks and respond with your sage?  You can feel strong and certain as you act and are ready to face the outcome.  One way you can maintain the Activate power is to imagine you are taking the desired action and hold your body in a strong pose.  When you are taking that action, intentionally put your body into that pose.  Are you going to ask for a raise, start a conversation or publish your first blog post?  How can you hold your body to feel your sage giving you that power?  Activate can also mean taking that first step toward a goal.  Get out and take that first step in your new exercise plan, enroll in a class that will move you toward your new career, start the savings account for your dream vacation.  What can you do today in a calm, focused way that will get the ball rolling?

The Sage powers of Gift Perspective, Empathy, Explore, Innovate, Navigate, and Activate pull us to live a meaningful and enjoyable life with positive energy.  How can you start using these in your life today?  If you would like to discuss how a coach can help you in this journey, please reach out to me with any questions.

How to Strengthen Your Sage

Our mental fitness determines how we respond to situations and problems in our lives.  The more we can improve our mental fitness, the more we can improve our peace of mind, our relationships and our accomplishments.  We can be driven to reach some goals by our saboteurs and negative stress.  Our journey and the accomplishment of our goals is so much better, however, if we are driven by our positive thoughts and creative focus.  The Sage is the part of all of us that pulls us with a focus on a positive outlook and it helps us to recover from negative reactions.

The Sage Perspective is to look at any outcome or circumstance and figure out what gifts or opportunities can come from it.  Almost any negative occurrence can have some positive outcome if you travel on a positive course rather than continuing down a negative path with your thoughts and feelings.  There may be learning in the situation that leads to future growth.  You can use discernment rather than judgment so that you can understand better and gain knowledge to help you later.  You can also use the situation to understand and weaken your saboteurs.  You will then be better prepared to respond to future problems. You may also be inspired to commit to some actions that you may not have had the courage or knowledge to before this situation happened.  Or there may simply be some good consequences you can realize once you have time to really look at the situation.

We can use the pandemic as a example of a negative unexpected circumstance.  There were many easy negative pathways to follow in reaction to this.  However, what gifts or opportunities may have arisen?  The inability to travel altered our ability to visit friends and family.  So we all switched to zooming with each other.  I now see and talk to many people much more frequently than I used to.  The pandemic was devastating to many restaurants.  It also made people realize how important their local restaurants are and we supported them by ordering take out and dining out again when we could.  What gift or opportunities can you see in a current problem?  Can you think of three?

The other Sage powers are empathy, exploring, innovation, navigation and activation.  These are powers that help to drive us with positive thoughts and feelings.  Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of another person and to place yourself in their shoes.  You can then use your sage rather than your saboteurs to respond in a positive way. 

It starts with empathy for yourself and treating yourself with kindness and respect rather than criticizing yourself.  If you struggle with this, find a photo of yourself as a child and spend a few moments looking at and thinking about that child.  How would you want to comfort and be supportive of that child?  That child is still inside of you and still needs your care and understanding.  Now try to extend that to others in your life – your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, wait staff, grocery clerk, tech support.  If you can consider how they may be feeling and do your best to show them respect and support, how much better will that interaction be?  Positive attitudes usually trigger positive responses so you will benefit as well.

There are two main powers of our emotions, fear and love.  The difference is between our surviving mind and our thriving mind.  Which do you want to be driven by?  I will discuss the other Sage powers next time.

Mental Fitness is Key to our Health

We all know how important physical fitness is to our long-term health but mental fitness is just as important, if not more so.  Mental fitness is your ability to respond to challenges in life with a positive rather than negative mindset.  It is similar to physical fitness in that you have to keep building your muscles to stay in shape. You may feel that you are in shape enough mentally to face the up and down hills of life.  What happens, however, when you face a problem that is more like a mountain?  Once you build up the muscles to conquer a mountain though, all the small hills become much easier.

Shirzad Chamine, in his book Positive Intelligence, explains how we can strengthen our three core mental muscles and develop mental fitness.  He did research on Stanford students, world-class athletes, and hundreds of CEOs and their executive teams.  He combined knowledge from positive psychology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and performance science to develop his concept of positive intelligence.  The three core muscles of mental fitness are saboteur control, our sage and self-command.

There are two parts to our brain and they produce different thoughts and feelings.  The survival part of our brain includes parts of the left brain, the brain stem and the limbic system.  These are the parts of the brain that drive our negative reactions.  The sage parts of the brain include parts of the right brain, the middle prefrontal cortex and the empathy circuitry.  These parts of the brain drive our positive responses.  Either of these sides of the brain can drive our actions and feelings.  Negative thoughts and feelings can push us to accomplish things but that causes stress, fear, guilt and unhappiness.  If we can learn how to instead be pulled by positive thoughts and emotions, we will be much happier with our accomplishments and enjoy the journey.  We will be motivated by creativity, empathy, curiosity, and purpose.

Sometimes we linger in negative emotions and think that we need them to motivate us.  The spontaneous negative emotions you experience when something happens are unavoidable and alert us to what needs to change.  However, when we wallow in them and allow them to dominate our thinking and feeling, they prevent us from being able to see things clearly and to use creativity and focus to address a problem.  These negative emotions are our innate saboteurs.  They developed as defense mechanisms through our life and keep us from finding solutions to our problems. 

The greatest saboteur in each of us is our judge.  We all have some degree of judge in our minds, although how it manifests differs.  The three parts of the judge are judging ourselves, judging others and judging circumstances.  The self judge can also be thought of as our inner critic.  This keeps us ruminating over something we did or said or leads us to brood over possible future failure.  This can stop us from trying new things or even being happy when we have accomplishments.  When we judge others, we are always trying to find something wrong and it poorly affects our relationships.  Judging circumstances prevents us from enjoying the present moment and exaggerates problems.  We may think that we will be happy when a certain thing happens, but then we always find something wrong or look for the next thing that we need to be happy.  I was already aware of how I was judging others but learning more about how I judge myself, and the circumstances that I am in, really opened my eyes to what was causing me stress.  When your judge dominates your thinking, you are constantly stressed, angry, and/or afraid.   

There are nine other types of saboteurs and we all have different degrees to which each affects us.  Shirzad developed the description of these through his research.  They are Avoider, Controller, Hyper-Rational, Restless, Hyper-Achiever, Stickler, Pleaser, Hyper-Vigilant, and Victim.  You can probably recognize some of these in yourself just by reading the list.  You can also do an assessment free on his website at https://www.positiveintelligence.com/assessments/.  Your assessment results will have descriptions of each saboteur so you can see how they affect you.  If you would like to discuss your top one or two saboteurs, message me to set up a free twenty minute call.

If we know what our saboteurs are, we can be aware of how they are affecting our every day lives.  We can recognize when we are being hijacked by our saboteurs and try to redirect our thinking to more positive thoughts and emotions.  We can use our sage powers to steer our energy away from our saboteurs.  I will talk about our sage and how to access its power to motivate us in my next blog.

Choose for Yourself

I was on the last full day of an Outward Bound leadership program.   We had been given two hours of solo time in nature.  We had to stay in the spot they chose for each of us until someone came back to get us.  The first spot I was given was next to a pond.  It was pretty and next to water as promised.  I was disappointed, however, as I had been eyeing the stream behind the dining hall for the past two days, wanting to just go sit by it by myself.

I asked to be moved to the stream and they gave me a new lovely spot right next to the stream.   I dipped my feet in the stream and watched and listened to it for quite a while.  There were beautiful bushes, tall grasses, and wildflowers all around me and no human sounds to be heard.  Gorgeous and peaceful. Then the sun came out from behind the clouds and there was not a patch of shade to retreat to.

I love living in the desert but cherish any time I get in a forest.  I would have loved to have been right among the pine trees, smelling their fragrance and watching the squirrels and birds.  It was fabulous to get this isolated time in nature.  How much better could it have been, though, if I had been able to choose my own spot?

What in your life right now is good but could be so much better if you could choose exactly what you want?  Exactly what fits your needs?  I agreed to follow the rules of this program and I didn’t want the instructors to worry about me.  So I made the best out of this spot.  Think about where you are in life right now.  Was it chosen for you by others or by circumstances? Even if you are quite happy right now, would it be better if you knew that it was an intentional choice?  Do you want to be able to choose your own future and know that you are doing what you want?  A coach can help you to decide on your best choice.  Please let me know if I can do anything to help.