Life Lessons

I Was Juror #21

I was Juror #21, in pools of 20, from which 12 were selected, which is to say: I did not serve.

The court clerk, a pleasant and affable man of indeterminant age, assured us that our presence was not in vain. That simply by convening, by being ready for jury duty, we had supported the scales of justice, moving cases to closure, parties to resolution.

Still, it is a dissatisfying thing to be summoned and then only to sit. I reminded myself that sometimes one’s presence is all that is needed.


We are working on listening deeply in U.Lab. This is much harder than most of us will admit as we are all very fond of our own voices. I search for a metaphor to help me sustain my practice.

I think: nature abhors a vacuum – as does conversation.  We rush to fill the space.

But I don’t have to fill the space. I can just let it sit, between us. Then the other may move into it, and in so doing, she will find a safe place to say what she needs to say. And I can listen, deeply.

Sometimes one’s presence is all that is needed.

Life Lesson #23: Sometimes one’s presence is all that is needed.

Back Story, Making a List

A Challenge’s Harvest

The concept was simple: every day, for thirty days, find something and then do something with it. Could be anything, could do anything. The point was to be open to what came into my day — and then see how serendipity and intention might entwine.

When I set out a month ago, I didn’t realize my Serendipity Challenge would culminate with the beginning of fall, but the coincidence seems apt. Here I am, at the start of our traditional harvest season, scooping up life’s bounty, stowing away its fruits for future consumption and nourishment.

My hands and heart are full of the lessons learned.

Curiouser and curiouser – As I paid more attention to my surroundings, looking for my “find”, I noticed more things to be curious about. And the more things I was curious about, the more other things there were to learn about. Pretty soon, all sorts of things were increasingly interesting.

God may have an inordinate fondness for beetles, but I’m not far behind. More than a few of my “finds” were inspired by nature. From blossoms’ scents to crabs’ tracks to bunnies in general, I spent a lot of time noticing and learning about the physical world around me.

They say it takes six weeks to establish a habit – which might explain why this practice never quite made it to “habitual”. I had to focus on doing this each day. Clearly mindfulness doesn’t just happen on its own.

I’ve got itchy fingers. The daily invitation to make something was delightful. I built, I wove, I wrote, I collected. I believe it as a very human urge to create – and that force is strong with this one.

It’s a big beautiful world out there – with more than enough wonders and curiosities to keep us all busy for an endless series of thirty-day challenges.

ListeningAlthough I didn’t notice it until I looked back over the month, it seems no surprise that I ended with a focus on listening.

I’ll keep chewing on these toothsome nuggets well into winter, looking for the serendipity in each day, fingers happy in the doing, mind expanding, heart warmed.

Life Lesson #22: Curiosity is its own reward.

BloggingU, Life Lessons

Pick A Teacher, Not Just Any Teacher

Listen to Lea, by Virginia Harabin
Listen to Lea, by Virginia Harabin

V. is a wise woman. Just sayin’.

She wrote to me recently, “What’s working for me now that didn’t work in the past is that now I choose my friends and associates — I follow what impresses and inspires me and try to get in front of the greatest teachers.”

The topic of discussion happened to be dog training, but I think she’s onto something universal.

In fits of contrarian pique, in college I declined to take classes with marquee lecturers because they were popular, overlooking the fact that they might have been popular for really good reasons. The child of educators, I was weened on the sanctity of good teaching; you’d think I’d have extrapolated.

Gradually, finally, over time, have I come to appreciate the value of mentors, the potency of intentional and cultivated relationships, the power of my associates.

They should teach that in school.

Life Lesson #21: Get in front of the greatest teachers.

Back Story, BloggingU, Making a List

Could Vietnam Be My Organizing Principle?

I’ve got a list – not long, but a list nonetheless – of things I think I want to do but haven’t done. And I say I think I want to do them because, having not done them, I have to assume something about one or both of those verbs is off. My job is to figure out what.

Or, my job is to figure out what will jump-start and sustain the practices I think I’d like to make my own. I’m looking for an organizing principle…

Meanwhile, later this fall I’m headed to Vietnam and environs with D. We have a unique opportunity to see the country in a way most don’t, through the eyes of a family member who has lived and worked there off and on since she was part of peace initiatives during the war. I expect it will be a very special visit.

One of the many charms of Hanoi, I hear, is early morning tai chi around Hoam Kiem Lake. Thirty years ago I was mesmerized by the hundreds of people quietly going through their exercises in the hills around Hong Kong. I came home and took classes. In times of turmoil, I can still center myself by visualizing some of the moves.  But I haven’t been a practitioner in nearly 25 years and I keep meaning to get back to it…

This spring I modeled for a painter friend and took a watercolor class of my own. Along the way, I realized if I really want to paint, I really need to learn to draw. Sketching is such a portable art form, perfect for traveling…

Last week I pulled out my bike and took a spin, embarrassingly my first ride in several years. There is some chance we might do some biking in Vietnam and I didn’t want that to be the first time I’d been back on a bike for so long…

So maybe Vietnam is my organizing principle.

Maybe Vietnam provides the impetus, the structure, the deadline, the motivation to move on my desires and goals. Maybe Vietnam is my jumper cable. I am chagrined as I wrestle with the realization that I need this external stimulus, but I can’t deny it. Maybe Vietnam is a launching pad for another potential goal: being my fittest ever at fifty-five. Maybe.

Funny, what gets us moving. Fortunate that we figure it out.

Today, as part of Blogging101 and Writing101, I visited some new fellow bloggers. I am indebted to Nathan DeRuwe, Sam at Fit is a Feminist Issue, Glen Alton Messer for posts that helped bring my thinking into focus. And, in Nathan’s case, whet my appetite for what I will soon see. Thanks, all!

Back Story

Loving the Optimism of “Pay It Forward”

I don’t recall when I first heard the expression “pay it forward” but I know I liked the idea instantly. Part mitzvah, part karma, part what goes around comes around, the concept is inescapably, unyieldingly optimistic.

To believe in the value of doing favors that will eventually be more than repaid through favors to others is to believe in a continuously improving world. Like planting trees in whose shade one will never sit.  I love that.

Two years ago, in preparation for a leadership program, I first saw the film  Pay It Forward, based on the 1999 book by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It was the foundation for discussions about our responsibility as community leaders to consider the possibility of our own potential and what we might accomplish if we really put our minds to it: what if one idea could change the world?

The book/film’s idea is this: rather than repay a favor someone has done for you, you do something for three other people, something they couldn’t do for themselves. It should be something big, meaningful. Eventually — inevitably, mathematically — important change starts to happen in the world as the sheer preponderance of people’s good deeds accumulates.

The simpler version: offer something, anything, to others if they’ll offer something, anything, to a group of others. Like a karmic chain letter, only without the USPS warnings. It’s a lovely, quiet way to network. A soft-sell community-builder. Perfect for the internet age. The individual investments are small, but the cumulative yield considerable.

Either way, it’s about faith in the future and our fellow humans’ ability to deliver for one another.

Last week “pay it forward” resurfaced for me, via a blogger nearly 4,000 miles away. I was struck again by the universal appeal, salutary enormity and simple elegance of loving gestures to strangers through commitment to an unknown future. As I fantasize about where my journey will take me I ponder anew: what if one idea could change the world?

BloggingU, UnComfort Zone

“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.”

It’s Week One of U.Lab, my online course in Transforming Business, Society and Self. I am up to my digital eyeballs in video links, personal profiles and course syllabi. Amid all the overwhelm and general excitement, a single sentence stopped me short:

If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.*


I certainly spent the last half dozen years experiencing the truth of that statement.

In my former iteration, I was chief operating officer of a national non-profit devoted to support, education and advocacy. I worked in the “national” office of this very grassroots enterprise. Their collective entrepreneurial free spirits notwithstanding, along the way members asked for more structure and standardization. It was my job to make that happen. This was no small thing. I’d been with the organization a long time and I probably knew it better than most. But only by working to move the needle did I really come to understand the complexity of its underlying systems, the depth of its members’ passions, the power of its untapped potential.

Which brings me back to the potency of what I think U.Lab will have to offer and why I’m so excited to be undertaking this journey with 28,000+ people from across the globe. How cool is it that so many people in so many places are making time to think — deeply — about what future they want for themselves, their communities, the world? And how even more cool is it that Scotland is using the course to engage the entire country in participatory dialogue and future-shaping?

Kurt_Lewin_PhotoDays like this, courses like this, movements like this make me want to sing and dance and shout from the rooftops.

Forget fear, forget doubt: change is a comin’.

*Kurt Lewin, known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational and applied psychology  — and my new hero.

BloggingU, Making a List, UnComfort Zone

Finding My Way

clickI think of it as orienteering. I’m out here. I’ve got a map and a compass, but — honestly —  I’m not entirely sure where I am or which direction I am headed. Bit by bit, I get my bearings. Step by step, I make progress across unfamiliar ground. The journey is sometimes baffling, but never boring.

I’m liking the fresh air.

It’s a not a bad thing, this being a little lost. Not at all. I see new things, spend time in unfamiliar places. I am exposed — open — to new people, new environments, new rhythms. Lessons and insights come from what might once have seemed like unlikely places. I think: anyone, anywhere, anywhen. (What more need be said about a life that encourages you to make up new words and mess with temporal constraints?  Anywhen: you heard it here first!)

Yesterday, my Blogging101 assignment had me poking around the blogosphere and led me to sources of inspiration (Ordinary Adventures), motivation (Fit is a Feminist Issue), and stories of brave transformation (Mr Tookles). Each of them illuminated something about the terrain I am attempting to navigate, each put a pin in the map and gave me bearings. I am grateful to them all for staking their claim in the vastness of space, creating pathways and outposts for the rest of us.

These converging journeys excite me. They bring me back to places I wanted to be, expressing values that had — ironically — gotten lost when I thought I knew where I was. Like cairn on a mountainside and lighthouses along the shore, those values can guide me if I let them. If I look for them. So now I ask:

  1. How are you stronger?
  2. How have you empowered your mind?
  3. What are you grateful for?

The landscape comes clear, the journey enriched. Do I even need a map? Do you?

Back Story, BloggingU

I Write Because…

Thanks for joining me for my first foray into Blogging 101 and Writing 101, daily exercises kindness of BloggingU.

With a nod to Descartes, I write because I am. I can’t really imagine a life in which I’m not telling my story in some form. Writing is just one way to do that.

I might even say writing is the best way to tell a story. Writing offers time and space for ideas to crystalize and grow. Writing forces ideas out of us, squeezing and pushing them out like babies in a birth canal. Writing lets us see our thinking for what it is, even if no one else ever does. Writing is a tangible product of our intangible inner selves.

For me, the great pleasure in writing is in the distillation of unformed ideas, the sorting of mental flotsam and jetsam, when disconnected dots become jeweled threads that weave together into something sturdy and pleasing.

I write because I think I’m good at it and because I know I can get better. I like the discipline of the exercise. I feel the power of my potential and the opportunity for growth.

Here, I write because I think the story I have to tell and my ruminations and reflections along the way may be useful to more than just myself. I find myself expressing thoughts and feelings that others say they have but can’t bring into focus. I feel fortunate and a little compelled to seize that opportunity.

I write because it feels good.

Life Lessons

The Power Within: make of it what you will

pick me up

Last summer, friends generously provided me with more books and reading recommendations than I thought one woman could possibly accommodate, although I most happily did. With physical constraints and little else to do, I read voraciously. The selection was wide and wonderful. I didn’t love everything, but I loved that people whom I loved had shared books that they loved.

A year later, fragments of those books still float back to me. Memorable scenes, lovely turns of phrase, a particularly effective metaphor. One such gem that resurfaces with some frequency is from Dani Shapiro’s  Devotion: A Memoir. Having survived terrible personal loss, Shapiro finds herself sought out by others seeking meaning for what has happened to them. Her answer: you give the incident meaning. Nothing happens for a reason, you give it reason. 

This week I was reminded of this wisdom when I came upon Maria Edgewood’s line, “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” The two ideas are not interchangable, but they are intertwined. Both point us toward understanding how central a role we can / do / should play in designing and making sense of our own lives.

This power to shape and reshape how life affects us is profound – and woefully under-appreciated. Indeed, I think we are more powerful that we can ever know.

But you have to be open.

You have to be attentive and receptive and contemplative and active. Such power does not accrue to the passive. Ever.

Life Lesson #20: Life is what you make of it.

p.s. I can’t let today pass without noting that it is 9/6. In my Going LIV  universe, an auspicious date. I hope to make the most of it.

Back Story, Making a List

I Love Me My Back to School Rituals

It’s September and I’m feeling nostalgic about what this time of year used to mean. And, I’m excited about breaking new ground with several online courses that begin in the the next few days. (More on them later, I’m sure.)

All of which got me thinking about our time-honored and ever-changing rituals of the Back to School Season…

Back to School 1.0 (white female, b. 1961)

  • Fantasize about classmates and teachers and bears, oh my!
  • Assemble two or three pencils and an eraser. Buy one each of spiral and composition notebooks. Thrill at the boundless potential and promise of pristine pages as-yet-unmarred by ketchup, poor penmanship and messy erasures.
  • Laboriously select and then don favorite dress and new lace-up shoes.
  • Receive obligatory peck on cheek from mom and depart to take place in lines of children, arranged in alphabetical or height order, of which you are inevitably in front.
Circa 1994: heading off for first day of preschool. Unlike the backpacks, these lunch boxes lasted through high school.

Back to School 2.0 (white males, b. early 1990s)

  • Fantasize about classmates and teachers and bears, oh my!
  • Per itemized instructions from school, break parental bank purchasing ten #2 pencils with erasers plus one large pink eraser, one each red and blue pens, one pencil box, one box crayons (24 count, Crayola preferred), one pack construction paper, one pack wide ruled notebook paper, four composition books (minimum: one black, other colors optional), two spiral bound notebooks, one 1″ 3-ring binder, one box Kleenex, one bottle liquid soap, one box quart size Zip-Loc bags, and a partridge in a pear tree. Label all with name (first and last) in block letters.
  • Watch mom ponder how on God’s green earth one small child will manage to carry all that stuff to school by himself.
  • Get another large backpack, suitable for Arctic excursion and hopefully more durable than the last one that was supposed to be suitable for Arctic excursions.
  • Don favorite T-shirt and shorts, securing parental approval if absolutely necessary.
  • Pose for obligatory photo shoot.
  • Be walked to bus, or school, or both, and into classroom. And then observed obsessively because, you know, something might happen.

Back to School 3.0

  • Fantasize about new classmates and teachers and bears, oh my!  Then google them.
  • Establish online profile, including desk-top selfie, and sync lecture calendar.
  • Order required reading; receive via Prime.
  • Pajamas optional.

I think I’ll go put on a dress.