Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Consider More

A year ago I lived 70 miles from where I grew up, in southwest Michigan, working for my undergraduate alma mater. Now, 365 days later, my life doesn’t even resemble what it did. I'm 2,200 miles away from my hometown, nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, working with a university system of which I had no previous ties. This massive life change was in the works long before I realized, but it would not have happened if I wasn't willing to consider possibility.

My life last year was good. It was the perfect blend of unfamiliar familiarity. The cities I'd left more than a decade ago had grown and changed, as I had, so it was like being reintroduced to a former love. I was surrounded by childhood friends and making new ones. My job was professionally and personally satisfying. I felt like I was in a groove, a really good groove. I was comfortable...and that's when I started hearing a faint whisper, urging me with the words, "Consider more."

That simple yet powerful prompt led me to ask myself what was missing. I looked around my office and thought, "The only thing missing from my job is international education. I would love to do what I'm doing now for a study abroad program." Giving myself permission to consider more from a career that I was already grateful for allowed me to search for precisely what I wanted. Not a variation, no need to compromise. I didn't need a new job, I was simply considering more.

A casual search on a seemingly random day initiated a huge life change. Yes, insecurity crept in. Fear tried to dominate the conversation. But I was driven by the urge to consider more. I had to consider more than where I was. I had to consider more than insecurity and more than fear. I needed to consider possibility and within one year, what was once just possible became my everyday.

As you look back over 2015, you may feel that the year didn't deliver what you'd hoped. Maybe you didn't deliver. I challenge you to consider more. It only takes one realization to drastically change your life. In 2016, consider more. Consider more than your job. Consider more than comfort. Consider more for your family. Consider more for yourself. Consider more than insecurity. Consider more than fear. Consider possibility. Before you can change your everyday you must first believe that it's possible and if you're willing, it is absolutely possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


We have been convinced that spaciousness is supreme. We dream of owning a huge house with as many bathrooms as bedrooms, a three-car garage, on land large enough to house a compound. In addition to our mega complex for more spacious things, personal space is also valued at such a premium that airlines and rail lines charge more money for it. Space is a hot commodity that has changed what we want and the way we live, travel, and interact with one another.

When I moved to Michigan in 2012, I moved into a large apartment, by myself. While it was often convenient and comfortable, I didn't need all of that space and having it did not always serve me well. It was great when I had overnight guests. It was not great when I felt alone. It seemed to amplify the loneliness and bounce it off of every wall for me to hear over and over again. That space also enabled me to keep things I should have released, purchase things I didn't need, and shut the door on all of those things so I didn't have to look at them or deal with them.

In addition to the drawbacks associated with physical space, there's another element of space that I subscribed to that was more detrimental—emotional space. Keeping emotional space, distance, did not always serve me well either. I developed emotional distance for the same reason that most do—because the actions of a few destroyed my ability to trust. When I did discover my support system, which was solid, genuine, and fully committed to my well-being, I was too embarrassed, ashamed, and flat out terrified to truly let people in to what I deemed my overwhelming, complicated emotional vault.

Being distant from others produced outcomes that contradicted what I wanted. Space gave my mind room to wander to horrible places, replaying scenes of my history of trauma. Space allowed me to get lost in the negative messages I repeated to myself. Space made me feel alone and undeserving of the support, acceptance, and love I needed. All of the emotional work I'd done to create a sense of safety and peace was evaporating in that space. Space was not what I needed. I needed connection. I needed people right there, up close and personal, not just telling me I had their support, but demonstrating it, repeatedly. I didn't need more space, I needed less. Much less.

When we have space, we have extra room for miscellaneous things—all the stuff that has no specific place and at times, no value. We put it in a spare room and shut the door so that we can maintain attachments that need to be severed without having to see the impact of those unhealthy attachments. We give ourselves so much space that it prevents others from getting close enough to witness our emotional clutter, making it impossible for them to help us clear it out.

Does space provide you with convenience and comfort or has it become an enabler? Have you given those you trust, those who have proven their commitment to your well-being, access to fully support you? Are you being honest with them? Are you being honest with yourself?

Assess the space in your life. Make necessary adjustments. All of the support you need will be there. Don't be afraid to let people in. Don't be afraid to get close. We were designed to be connected and have relationships. It is when those connections and bonds are broken that we feel disrupted, abandoned, and unloved. Space is not always the answer. At times, space is the problem.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Prove Them Wrong

Last week I attended a college basketball game. Early in the first half, a point guard from the visiting team attempted a long-range shot. In addition to it being highly contested, he miscalculated and the ball missed the entire rim. Fans of the home team immediately yelled, "Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!" For the remainder of the game, any time he touched the ball, no matter where he was on the court and whether he was in position to shoot or not, the crowd erupted in a chorus of, "Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!"

This collective attempt to distract players is normal in sports and can be extremely effective. Without proper coaching, focus, and confidence, a well guarded shot or simple miscalculation can impact a player's performance for the duration of a game. Experienced players master tuning out distractions, regardless of how noisy, relentless, and personal they become.

You may feel as if life is a lot like those fans. The shots you've taken may have been highly contested, miscalculated, or a combination of both, and each time you try again, life reminds you of your air ball moments. As soon as you build enough courage to go back out there, someone—at times, even you—is screaming what you perceive to be your worst moments and attributes. Quitter! Dropout! Unemployable! Divorced! Damaged! Victim! Abandoned! Convict! Angry! Depressed! Broken! Failure! Worthless! Unlovable!

How do you quiet the yelling? How can you make progress when you are continuously reminded of your worst? How do you stop the yelling when you believe it more than anyone else? You quiet the yelling with action. You make progress by focusing on one play, one task, one goal at a time. You stop believing the yelling by remaining engaged with and committed to improving your life, for life. 

Your goals may have been contested. Try again. You may have taken some incredibly wild shots. Own that and learn from it. But never, ever, ever, ever give up. Unlike with a game, your refusal to show up will not stop the hate-filled, destructive mantras. When you no longer try, you concede and behave in ways that confirm the worst of what you think of yourself. Instead of confirming the taunts, prove them wrong.

As for that particular game, the player who threw that errant shot remained present and a valuable member of his team. By the end of the game he was the third leading scorer and more importantly, his team won. He didn't allow ridicule to stop him and you don't have to let life's ridicule and reminders to stop you. Get back out there and prove them wrong.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


We have all heard news that shook us. News that nothing we've ever experienced prepared us to hear. News that changed our lives. I received such a call this year and haven't been vocal about it because I'm still contemplating its impact. It's impossible to know what's appropriate, normal, or reasonable after hearing that the person who raped you was murdered.

As the news spread, posts went out on social media about his death and I felt even more isolated from my family than usual. I didn't share their collective grief. Each picture of his smiling face that our family members posted—his and mine—taunted me. It was a painful barrage reminding me that his presence railroaded mine. While I could acknowledge that what he did wasn't the sum total of who he was, that acknowledgment didn't erase his face from my nightmares nor change who he was to me.

All I could comprehend was numbness, an emotional flatline which led me to question who I had become. Who hears that a life ended and can't definitively own sadness or sorrow? What kind of person isn't immediately grieved upon hearing that someone is no longer living? Had I allowed what happened to harden me?

My questions were not productive. Attaching adjectives and judgments to what I felt was not helping me progress down this unusual path. I needed to simply feel what I felt. All I could articulate was, "I never wanted to see him again, but I never wished him harm," and at times, "I never wished him harm, but I never wanted to see him again." That was my truth and I had to accept that my truth was sufficient.

When life delivers news that takes the wind out of you, allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever you feel. Progression can only be made through a lens of honesty and if you attach judgment to your feelings you will not be truthful. Over time, discovering how you live with that news may help you articulate them, but you aren't required to come up with a list of feelings and place them in right/wrong or kind/unkind columns. Instead of forcing yourself to have certain feelings or judging the ones you do have, catch your breath and focus on life after—after the news—so that you can understand its impact and minimize its destruction.