Archive for the 'Advice' Category
How Do You Know When It Is Time to Make a Change?
“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” –Abraham Maslow
The weekend before last I participated in the Northwest Passage Ragnar Relay. This is a 192-mile relay run that snakes its way mostly on back roads from the Canadian border down to Whidbey Island, where teams are rewarded with pizza and beer for being crazy enough to stay awake and on the move for nearly two full days. I was runner number twelve on our team of twelve—the last runner, a position I’m used to and comfortable with.
On one of my legs (the second one of three), the one that started at 5:30 on Saturday morning, I ran for nine miles alone over rolling hills on streets surrounded by evergreen trees. I watched the morning gently emerge and appreciated the coolness in the air even as I was beginning to feel the heat the day promised to burn down on the runner who would take the baton from me.
Because I hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours and was addled with fatigue, my attention was hazy. There wasn’t much traffic, so I didn’t fear a run-in with a car, but I did worry about getting lost. Runners were spread out so far that there were several points on the course when I couldn’t see anyone in front of or behind me. I was grateful that Ragnar had placed signs at every turn. This meant I could do the work of running—placing one tired footfall after the next in a rhythm that echoed the beat of the music playing in my ear—without pulling up the map of the route on my phone. I could focus on the task at hand until a three-foot high blue sign with a red flashing light and an arrow appeared on a street corner.
I never lost my way.
Only later, after a couple nights of good sleep, when I was reflecting on the race during one of my morning meditations, did I realize that those big blue Ragnar signs were a terrific metaphor for something I’ve heard many of my clients talking about in therapy sessions lately. At least five different people have recently said something like this to me: “All of a sudden, when my child left for college (or when my spouse died/when I received this diagnosis/when I got divorced), I realized something had to change. I can’t keep on in this meaningless job (or this cement jungle/this lifeless relationship/this breakneck schedule).”
My clients are naming something really important: Life sends us signs when we need to make a change. Events, be they crises or normal life-cycle transitions, are very often signals meant to tell us that it is time to up-level our commitment to life, that it’s time to turn a corner and change directions. Our circumstances call us to re-evaluate our approach to our activities and to our relationships (with self, significant others, work, the body, etc.).
Though change can be anxiety provoking, it’s also an opportunity to upgrade your self-image and renew your vision for your future. It is a chance to catch a second wind for the miles ahead.
I’d love to share with you what my clients are discovering in our work together about how to follow the signs to change direction.
Join me for a FREE tele-conference called:
How to Catch Your Second Wind:
Transforming into the Next and Best Version of Yourself
I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve been guiding my clients through:
The three key tasks that you need to complete in order to catch a second wind.
The number one habit you need to incorporate in your life in order to upgrade your Self-confidence.
How to master jumping over the biggest hurdle that keeps people stuck when they hit a crisis or major life change.
When: Wednesday, August 12 at 5:30pm Pacific Time
Where: On the phone. In the comfort of your own home.
How to sign up: Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with “Second Wind Workshop” in the subject line. I’ll send you the conference number and a reminder email.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver
(Note: If you don’t want to be added to my emailing list when you sign up for the tele-workshop, let me know.)
The “I” in SHINE
Invest in your relationships wisely.
Because I grew up in a home with dysfunction and chaos (who didn’t?), I learned early in life that I had to cast a wide net for healthy relationships. My four grandparents were the loves of my life, and I had many teachers and neighbors who took me under their wings and taught me what it meant to feel loved and cherished. Over the years, I’ve intentionally cultivated friendships with people who could show up for me during both good and hard times, people who would let me cry on their shoulders as well as call me to the carpet if I was out of line.
A few years ago, I developed for my clients a four-quadrant model (which I will go over in my 7-week SHINE program) of different kinds of relationships that they were likely to recognize when they were working toward their goals. I’ve taught this model at workshops and in private sessions over the years.
All this is to say that I’m not new to thinking about how to invest wisely in relationships.
But while I was away from my home and all of my day-in/day-out relationships, I had the chance to do something I’d never done before. I started from scratch. Because I didn’t know a soul when I arrived in Concepcion, I had to build friendships from ground zero. And this gave me a chance to observe how I did it—and how others do it, too. Below is just a summary of what I observed and an outline of what we will talk about in depth in the SHINE program:
- To build a friendship with someone, you have to BE the kind of friend you would want to have. The number one thing you need to have in place in order to have good relationships with other people is solid self-esteem. You have to know you are someone you yourself can trust. Sounds simple, right? But this is easier said than done. Most of us struggle to believe we are worth the effort we want others to put out toward us.
- To cultivate and deepen a relationship, you must choose to commit to time with people before you know if they are likely to turn into life-long friends. In other words, you have to take a leap of faith and be willing to adjust your commitment level as you get to know someone and what they are bringing to the table.
- You have to find a balance between being vulnerable and over-sharing. Every level of friendship requires both letting go of defenses in order to build connection and holding back so you don’t give away too much too soon. Figuring out what this right balance is with each person you know is an art.
- You have to be willing to fall in love even though you know your heart might get broken. I knew right from the first day in Chile that if I really put my heart and soul into building friendships, I would be crushed when I had to say goodbye. But, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson said. Satisfying relationships require that we put ourselves in the way of heartbreak. This means we’ve got to be brave.Now, to be fair, I didn’t learn all of this in Chile. In addition to my own life-long quest to build healthy relationships, I’ve also been working as a therapist for fifteen years with people who often bring their loneliness into the consulting room. What I did learn in my travels is that when you know how to do relationship, you take that skill with you everywhere you go.In the 7-week SHINE program, we’ll be talking about my four-quadrant categories of relationships as well as discussing how to cultivate the four friendship stances listed above (to review: be the kind of friend you want to have, take calculated leaps of faith, find balance in your “friendship offerings,” and open your heart to others). Here are details about how to join in.
SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
In Bill’s presentation at the University of Concepcion on US history and culture, one of his audience members asked him about some economical ways to travel in the United States. He puzzled over the answer because the US is such a big, spread-out, car-dependent country. Most students who travel abroad won’t have access to a car. But when Bill got home, we started brainstorming answers to this question. Bill and I have traveled all over the world and through much of our own country after all and, aside from airfare, we’ve often managed to travel “on a shoestring.” I told him, I’d write a blog post to more fully answer the question of how to travel cheaply through the States.
I know some of you who wander over to my blog sometimes (particularly those of you who are Marathon Maniacs on a budget) may be able to add even more insight. Do comment below to add websites, ideas, and suggestions!
So… here are our thoughts.
Travel with Others
The very best way to cut costs when traveling is to go with other people. A hotel room or a rental car will cost the same in most cases no matter how many people sleep or ride in it. Traveling with friends also creates a buffer for safety. To travel cheaply, you’ll have to depend at times on strangers for tips or help getting around. There is always safety in numbers, especially in unfamiliar places!
Choose One Region to Visit
Since the United States is so very vast, most of its own citizens never see the whole thing. When Bill and I travel, we do it region by region. For example, last year we did a “Southwest” trip to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It’s true that we had a car to travel between the national parks we wanted to see, but we were able to see some of America’s most beautiful Southwest sites in about three weeks. We visited Disneyland, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and still had time to attend a few of Major League Baseball’s spring training games in Peoria.
Travel in the Off-Season
The busy travel times in the US are between June 1 and September 1. As soon as school starts for most children (the first of September), airfares drop, hotel prices go down, and common tourist sites clear out. September and October are still warm in most places around the Continental Unites States. April and May are also good times to travel if you want to get outdoors. January, February, and March are great times to travel in the far southern regions where it stays warm year-round. Be sure to check weather reports before you make travel plans.
Do you know about couch surfing? Couch surfing is when you sleep in someone’s house for a few nights and then move on to sleep in another person’s house. There is a whole community of people who offer their couches or spare rooms for other people who need a place to stay. You have to be a member of the couchsurfing.com website community to participate. Sign up and check it out. The nice thing about this site is that people can post reviews of the places they have stayed so you can see if someone’s house is clean and safe. You have to be a good guest once you arrive. Couchsurfing.com is a relationship-oriented way to find lodging. But it’s usually free!
Contact Old friends
Informal couch surfing is another way to find free lodging. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Hey, when you come to my city, look me up?” Maybe it was 10 years ago. Don’t worry. Look that person up! Tell them you will be traveling to their town, and when they offer to let you stay at their house, say yes!! The best thing about travel is spending time with local people, right?!!
Utilize Youth Hostels
Bill and I often stay at hostels. Hostels are not hotels. They have no services; you usually share a bathroom with other people; and they are not always as new and tidy as you might wish. But, they are usually (not always) pretty cheap. When you know where you will be traveling, google “hostels in Seattle” for example, and read the reviews. We’ve stayed at some terrific hostels, but we’ve also found a few I would never recommend to others. Hosteling International will have suggestions for you, but always do your research and read reviews.
About reviews: We are not extremely picky about where we sleep. I have only two important criteria: cleanliness and safety. I don’t mind if a review says, “The staff was not responsive,” because I don’t need people to take care of me. I do mind if reviews say, “There were insects in my bed,” or “A guy with a tattoo on his face knocked on my door and asked to borrow a cigarette.” Decide what you need in a hostel or hotel and look for that in the reviews.
In most cities you can find someplace that rents out camping equipment. You can still camp in mid-September or early October. There are many kinds of campsites: KOAs have showers, flushing toilets, and even wifi sometimes. State Parks or National Parks vary in terms of what kind of amenities they offer. All camping sites will cost you something—usually between about $8 and $30USD depending on how popular they are. The local visitor center can tell you where to camp.
Contact the Visitor Center
Speaking of Visitor Centers, this is the first stop Bill and I make no matter where we go around the world (we’ve been to the one here in Concepcion several times already). They are sometimes called Tourist Information Centers or Welcome Centers and they usually have a big “i” on the outside of the building. In most places around the United States, these centers are staffed by local volunteers who know the area very well.
Create a Ridebuzz.org Account
Like with couchsurfing.com, ridebuzz.org requires that you have an account to participate. Ridebuzz is a network of people who are offering or looking for rides—across town or across the country. As a rider, you agree to help pay for gas in return for a spot in someone’s car. Common wisdom in the United States is NOT to ever ride in a stranger’s car. Ridebuzz.org is working to create a safe way to share transportation. As with everything I’ve talked about here, always look at reviews and comments of other people on the site AND travel with a friend if you share a ride in someone’s car.
There are a few airlines which do not list their fares on kayak.com or priceline.com (these are both travel sites that let you compare prices for airfare or hotels). Discount airlines may have cheap fares inside the US, but you have to go directly to their own sites to find them. Below is a list of some discount airlines we have used. NOTHING on these airlines is free. You will pay extra for water to drink, to check baggage, or even to reserve a seat next to your friend. In order to save money on discount airlines, you have to travel light, bring your own food on board, and be willing to sit anywhere on the airplane.
In many places around the world, busses are more comfortable than trains. In the United States, Greyhound busses can be a good, inexpensive way to travel short distances (say 200 kilometers), but they are not always comfortable or safe for long distances. If you want long-distance ground travel, the Amtrak train will be more comfortable. And train travel can be quite fun. The problem is that Amtrak is not always cheaper than flying. If you want to travel across the country (from Los Angeles to New York, for example), trains and planes may be comparable in price, but the train will give you a better chance to see the countryside.
We hope this gets our students thinking about how they might come visit us someday. Anyone else have tips for US travel on a tight budget? Chime in!!
From my Psychology Today Blog
More than a month ago, I started to feel a dull ache in my left heel. Slowly, over the course of about a month, the ache turned into a sharp, stabbing pain that hurt every time I brought my foot to the ground. I knew it was plantar fasciitis because I’d had the condition once before, but I didn’t want to believe it was back.
Determined not to let pain slow me down, I kept running, wincing through each short run I took around town, suffering the consequences of aggravating an already aggravated foot. To ameliorate the pain, I moved my running to the track—softer and more even ground than I usually travel. But that alteration in my practice didn’t help. Each day, no matter that I stretched and iced and massaged and took ibuprofen, the pain in my foot increased. And then one evening, I got up from the sofa where I’d been watching TV, and I nearly collapsed when I put my left foot down and pain seared through my foot with an intensity I couldn’t have imagined possible.
For two days, I could hardly walk.
I made an appointment with a runner-friendly health practitioner in town hoping she would have a magic cure, but guess what she told me? You got it: “Stop running for awhile.”
“Stop running?” I cried. But how will I get any exercise? How will I clear my mental cobwebs? How will I socialize? How will I get the fresh air that keeps my depression at bay? “For how long?” I asked.
“Well, let’s start with a week and we’ll see how it goes.” I think she could see the panic in my eyes and didn’t want to tell me this healing could take months.
During several consecutive gorgeous days (rain would have made staying off my feet easier) following that conversation, as I sat on the stationary bike in the gym, lamenting my bad luck, I kept catastrophizing in my mind, imagining I might never run again. The thought kept coming to me: Who am I if I’m not a runner?
For better or for worse, being “a runner” is an essential part of my identity. My writing, my friends, my weekend activities, and my vacations are planned around running. My marriage is based, at least in part, on a mutual love of and commitment to running. The idea that I might have to organize my life around some other central identifying factor makes me feel disoriented.
As I was trying to wrap my mind around how to draw on other aspects of my personhood to anchor myself (I am, after all, more than a runner—I’m a good friend, a dog-lover, a reader, a deep thinker, etc.), a friend of mine was heading into a crisis.
One day last week, I got a call from “Ted,” telling me his divorce, a long time coming, was final. Ted, someone I love like a brother, said, “I’m so devastated I don’t know what to do with myself. We were kids when we met. If I’m not her husband, who the hell am I?” And I recognized the question immediately. Ted’s question, based on a life change quite a bit more profound than my temporary loss of running, is still the same question.
Who are we when something (or someone) central to our sense of well-being and identity is removed, summarily taken away?
I listened with empathy as Ted told me how he felt like he was literally out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight to mark his whereabouts. “I’m lost,” he said.
“I know,” I replied. And I do know. When I went through my divorce, I felt for almost a year that there was no solid ground beneath me, nothing to reach for or hold onto. My heart broke thinking of Ted treading water for months to come. “It’ll take some time—maybe a lot of time.”
For some losses, time is the only thing that heals. Though we do everything we can (go to therapy, work through self-help books, meditate, exercise), one cannot rush healing.
If and when you lose something or someone so crucial to your orientation in the world that you feel you’ve lost your very self, consider being especially kind to and gentle with your heart. This loss, whatever it may be for you right now, is major, life-changing, self-changing. And it must be treated with great respect and kindness. Your pain is a sacred pain; it deserves the patience and persistence a parent offers a child when teaching a new and foreign skill like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or tying one’s own shoes.
And although floating in deep emotional waters without your usual compass is scary as hell, there are a few things you can do to soothe yourself while you’re learning to navigate at night by the constellations in the sky.
- Regularly put your hand on your heart and remind yourself that you are still present, still real. You still matter—even though you are not who you think you should be right now.
- Let loved ones be your anchor. You only need one or two caring friends who can hold hope for you when you can’t hold it for yourself. Let them be solid when you are not.
- Take brief vacations from your pain when you allow yourself to think about who ELSE you are besides… fill in the blank (his mother, a runner, her wife, a six-figure earner—whatever your loss).
Not one of these things will take away your pain. Maybe even time won’t do that, but there will be a day when you wake up, climb out of bed, and feel like you know who you are—someone different from who you used to be perhaps, but still you.
Last year, the Boston Marathon, as we all know, ended in mayhem (for my report from last year, click here). And during this past year, literally millions of people—race planners, runners, volunteers, and fans—have been waiting and preparing to return to the course and redeem/take back/resurrect all that the Boston Marathon is meant to be: a full-on commitment to human achievement and community at its best.
For the first few days after the bombs went off last year Bill and I thought we hadn’t been much affected, but I, at least, found myself weepy for months nearly every time the Boston Marathon came to mind. As a longtime psychotherapist, I knew the symptoms of post-trauma stress, but in myself, the reasons for such a response were a little hard for me to ascertain at first. No one Bill or I knew had been harmed, after all. Why was I so often spontaneously choked up?
I’ve reflected on this question of course, and I think I know the answer. The 20 or so minutes when I stood under the letter “P” (for the last name of my fellow) in the family meet-up area waiting for Bill without knowing if he would emerge from the runners’ finishing area were a powerful 20 minutes. Without any information other than that there had been “explosions” and now there was “blood” (words I was hearing from passersby), I spent those 20 minutes wondering if I’d lost the best part of life. Where were the explosions? Had he been near enough to be hurt? Did he need me? Was he gone? What would I do if I lost him?
The very real possibility that someone you love might never come back to you can rattle your core sense of well-being—even if everything turns out fine.
Bill eventually showed up under the “P,” with dried sweat on his brow, limping in that way long-distance runners do after they cross a finish line, and I exchanged my frightening fantasies for unabashed relief and joy. And yet… an understanding of the fragility of life and the sense that my intentionally-crafted happiness hung by a thin thread took hold of my heart.
In spite of the fact that fate can step in one day and steal everything you care about, a person can’t sleep easily living on the edge of that reality. The only way to move forward after trauma is to do so with some sense of safety, some belief that there will be a tomorrow and it will be fine. But gaining this sense of safety after a scary experience is easier said than done.
The only way for me to move beyond my weepy response to the word “Boston” was to go back for a re-do.
Fortunately, there are VERY few things we cannot get a do-over for in this life. There are some not-to-be-done-over experiences, naturally. Terminal illness. Serious, injury-causing accidents (or bombs). But even love is something we get to try for over and over and over again throughout the course of our years on the planet. I would argue that most experiences offer us multiple chances to try repeatedly to get it right.
So this year, we again headed east and committed ourselves to making the running of the Boston Marathon (and the cheering for it) all that it should be.
Just like last year, I dropped Bill off near the starting line early Monday morning so he could catch the bus to the runners’ village.
Just like last year, I inched my way through heavy traffic to get to the Riverside T Station where I would catch the green line to the Woodland stop.
Just like last year, I stationed myself between miles 16 and 17 and kept my eyes open for runners I knew, sharing stories of previous races with fans near by, and screaming until I lost my voice.
Unlike last year, I had the privilege of watching an American man keep a healthy lead as he raced his way to winning first place with a finishing time of 2:08. (I met Meb Keflezighi once. See my post on this here.)
And then, just like last year, I found my guy amidst the hoard of thousands of runners and convinced other spectators nearby to help me catch his attention. Bill’s son, Jeff, was with me on the course this year. Watch as Bill sees us, kisses me, fist bumps Jeff, and moves on toward the hills in the final 10 miles of the race that would kick his ass.
Bill caught a cold this year before the race and eked out those last miles with a lot of walking. He finished in 4:08 (two hours exactly after Meb!). And Jeff and I were waiting for him under the “P.”
As I stood waiting, I felt the bubbling up of last year’s fear, but I faced it squarely—spoke to it with some equanimity and told it to settle down. And after 20 minutes, just like last year, Bill hobbled into the family meeting area a little worse for wear, but fine.