Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
As 2016 comes to a close, I have been reflecting on its purpose. It's been a mess of a year-- the kind you might want to throw a match to and start fresh. We've had wars and shootings that have rocked our collective sense of self. We've lost beloved souls, whose music and performances have soothed our hearts and inspired our tomorrows. There's been division and destruction of our relationships and our land.
For many of us (myself, included) these public hurts have been mirrored by private heartbreak. The kind that rips us open and asks more of us than we thought possible. The kind that keep us hidden. The kind that fill us with fear.
I could end there, but that's not how I roll...
See, 2016 was a disaster of a year. I've done disaster before, and what I know more deeply than I know anything else, is that disaster also brings grace and hope--if we are willing to see it.
The events of 2016 have awakened many to the injustices that have been perpetrated against people of color, religious minorities, native peoples, our land, our waters, and our children. These injustices are not new-we just pulled them out of the shadows. As painful and persistent as these truths are, we cannot change them unless we face them. 2016 did that for us.
2016 did that for me too. My personal life was filled with awakening. It wasn't pleasant, but it was absolutely necessary. It shook me, turned me upside down and inside out, until I could finally see my life in its truest form. Now I'm doing life differently, and couldn't be more grateful for the shake ups.
Back in my trauma recovery days, when I was feeling particularly raw and messy, a wise friend reminded me of what it's like to renovate a house. There's this stage where everything has been gutted, the inner workings of the house exposed. It looks like a complete disaster and panic and fear can set in. We can't read the blueprints, the master plan, and we want our house back the way it use to be-even if there wasn't room for everyone and we didn't really like it. If we trust our contractors and designers, the ones with the vision and skills for execution, we love the after and can't believe how we could have lived in the before.
That's my hope for 2016. It was our demo year. We smashed holes in all the walls, exposed some mold and pests that had been multiplying in the recesses of society, and now it's time to get to work on the new vision. Trusting that the ones with the master plan know things are right on schedule.
There is no real transformation without the discomfort of exposing the raw, messy underbelly of our reality. It's why I love rock bottom... at least, my own rock bottoms.
One of my awakenings this year, was that I had been trying to play Superwoman and hold up the world to protect others from the pain of their own transformation and the impact of their decisions. The truth is, I wasn't protecting them as much as I was protecting myself from the discomfort of the renovation. So, now I'm a superwoman in recovery and am inviting other women with me for the journey.
For me, 2016 was a year of renovation and recalibration: looking even deeper within to grow and explore my truth. I'm stronger for it. I'm grateful for it. And, rather than hold on to the hard that got me there, I'm choosing to embrace the strength and fierce determination is has awakened within me. My vision is clear and I'm ready to trust the master plan.
That is my wish for you as we close out this year. That you find gifts to embrace, lessons to lean-on, and connections to fortify. 2016, wasn't pretty, but we're getting somewhere. Count me in on the re-construction for 2017. Cheers!
I have always been guided by this quote, often attributed to Martin Luther: "Here I stand, I can do no other." It guided me into youth work and affirmed the space that exists between the traditional fields of social work and education--offering a little of both and just as much of neither. It also affirmed what I felt when I told myself at seventeen, "someday I'm going to open a youth center." I knew the chances were long and the road would be tough, but in my bones I knew it was true.
Along the way, I've had many experiences, some that have brought me to my knees and some that have sent me flying. When my stand came true, when my dream became a reality, I was faced with the feeling that I wasn't done yet- this wasn't it. My purpose, once rooted in an adolescent heart had grown up too, and my dreams were expanding beyond the space I had created for youth. I wanted to share my story in ways that could better equip others working with youth to engage their own hearts and transform their own hurts.
Pain and oppression are cyclical, feeding more pain and oppression. I want to fill the space between with hope and healing, so we can shift and shape a new reality.
Over the past year, I've been finding my feet again. It began by offering trainings to people-serving organizations and schools on trauma-informed practice, resilience, and self-care. Now, as we say goodbye to what has been a brutal 2016 (personally for me and very publicly for many) I am excited to announce that the piece of my puzzle that eluded me for a while, has finally revealed itself!
Beginning in 2017, in addition to help heARTS grow and continuing to offer trainings, I (an *a-hem* recovering Superwoman) will be launching the Superwoman Recovery Program! It will begin with an online class called Superwoman Reboot and will grow to include opportunties for private coaching and Circle convenings with local women.
What I know is this: we are the ones we've been waiting for, and the world needs a steady and strong dose of what our Super Selves can offer.
Want to know out more? Head to the landing page for details and to sign-up for updates!
Just like my pull toward youth work, it may not make sense to everyone but my truth is real: Here I stand and I can do no other.
With peace and (super) solidarity!
Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a 4-day training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Since then, I've challenged myself to use the skills offered by Dr. Marsha Linehan in both my work and my life.
This past weekend, while attending the Center for Courage and Renewal's Academy for Leaders, I had the opportunity to integrate my understanding of her work with the work of Parker Palmer.
Dialectical thinking creates space for opposites to be true. It's shifting our minds from either/or to both/and. Parker Palmer uses the language of paradox to describe this same phenomenon as a "tragic gap" between what is and what could be.
Here's the simple word that can make all the difference in how we create space for paradox in our lives:
Open has been my word for 2015.
What do I mean by word? Basically, I chose a word that focuses my intention for the year. The simplest, and most complex of resolutions. So this year, I will open.
Open my heart.
Open my mind.
Open my arms.
Open my house.
Open my everything.
Believe it or not, I struggle with open sometimes- particularly when it comes to my heart. I'm tenderhearted by nature and have also been wounded- in big ways and small.
Our wounds often close us off, because closed off provides protection. (Think turtle.)
There are times when I can almost observe myself from afar - the big hearted me telling the scared hearted me to open up. Reminding me that the more I open, the more I will experience- the more I will live. (A turtle can survive tucked inside it's shell, but that's all its really doing- surviving.)
I knew 2015 would be a big year- and I wanted to open to it, open to life.
One of my biggest openings happened this past month. For much of the last year, I was struggling with my role at heARTS. Long before I had actually started my nonprofit, I assumed that when I did start it (never if, just when) I would be the Executive Director. I knew I had the leadership skills and was well-rounded enough to take on the various tasks. Over the past two years, I have proven that I can do the role of ED, but it has also felt restricting - closing. heARTS always seemed like my mission in life- but what I'm learning and opening to is that heARTS is just part of my mission.
The role of ED is a nice box that fits neatly into this world of ours- but as this year began, it became clear that I didn't fit neatly into it. I wasn't sure what that would mean - but a little voice inside steered me in the direction of co-chairing the board.
Initially, I didn't listen.
Sometimes when you don't listen, the universe takes care of things for you, and a series of events made it clear that I did indeed need to shift from a someday paid position to an always volunteer role as a board member. As soon as I made this decision I felt so OPEN! I saw a future at heARTS that included all of the things that brought me immense joy and opened me up to the bigger, more expansive mission ahead of me (more on that in a minute.)
A couple weeks after that big decision and shift - I felt another opening. This time in the form of a bucket of tears. Something happened- I'm still not even sure what- but I started crying on a Friday night and the tears didn't stop flowing until well into my Saturday.
The sobs came from the deepest part of me and crippled me with grief. There were moments when I wasn't sure if I would ever stop crying. That's the thing about opening, it's scary and filled with uncertainty and why most people don't do it. Instead they stay closed- protected.
So open, I continue.
For the past month, I have been training teenagers from throughout Minneapolis in work readiness skills to prepare them for a summer internship with the STEP-UP program. Each Saturday in March, I spent 7 hours with a new group of 16-21 year olds, talking resumes, interviews and the importance of communication.
One of the things discussed each week is the role that character and attitude play in our success. Part of that discussion includes an exercise about famous failures - Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Seuss - all folks who experienced failure. All folks whose lives and work have made such an indelible imprint on our culture, our country, our everyday lives, that there's no mistaking their name or how the world is different because of them.
I'm always amazed by the discussion this exercise evokes. Some are quick to point out that it wasn't Elvis Presley who failed when he was told he wasn't good enough for the Grand Ole Opry, it was actually the guy who didn't see his talent in the first place. That all 23 publishers who first rejected Dr. Seuss probably went to the grave kicking themselves for not signing a deal with him. The lesson from this exercise is keep going, keep persisting, keep practicing, keep making ends meet, because eventually the right person, the right time, the right opportunity will come along and all that rejection, all that unrealized potential will be seen and valued.
The art of failing is to hold on to the belief that each failure will lead to success. Actually, that each failure is a success.
If Abraham Lincoln had won one of the first eight elected offices he ran for, he probably wouldn't have been the 16th President of the Unites States. He wouldn't have been the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing African Americans from slavery. At the end of the day if he hadn't succeeded at losing those earlier elections, there may not have even been a Civil War, let alone an Emancipation Proclamation.
We are all meant for greatness. We are all meant to contribute our gifts in our own unique ways, at our own pace and timing. The art of failing is to know that your gifts are your source of greatness, to trust that your greatness will come, and to persist until you find it or it finds you.
I've often wondered what I would say if I were asked to tell someone about a time when I failed. In the midst of all the talk about failing, I couldn't really think of a time that I've failed. I've been disappointed many times, I've had countless proposals rejected, lost out on promotions, made other people mad or upset, but honestly none of those things felt like failure. They were all learning experiences. They all taught me invaluable lessons about myself, about the world, about life. Without those moments, I'd be a different person, a lesser person. And at the end of the day, they were just moments, just drops in the bucket of a lifetime.
Yesterday marked the third birthday of The heART Center. April 1, 2013 was the day I signed the lease and took possession of the keys to courageous heARTS' first space. By most accounts, the past two years have been highly successful. As a brand new nonprofit with no donor base or community awareness we've managed to keep the bills paid and offer year-round programming with a steady base of volunteers and supply donations. Success! By their accounts, we've already made an impact in the lives of many youth too. Success!
There is so much greatness, so much opportunity and potential just waiting to unfold, but some days I struggle with lack. I wonder about the seeds that I've planted over the last two years and whether they will flourish. I've spent most of my waking hours tending those seeds. So much time in fact that I forgot to nourish myself - forgot to care for my own needs.
I've been making changes, because at the end of the day the only failure I could ever actually experience is the failure to love myself. And loving myself is risky.
Loving myself forces me to create boundaries- to say no while knowing that other people might be disappointed or upset. It requires me to give more thought to how my decisions will effect me rather than my autopilot mode of caring for the needs of others, protecting and nurturing their hearts at the expense of my own. Loving myself challenges me to know my own value, and stand up for my own self-worth.
The art of failing, is the art of flying. It's just a matter of perspective.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I started swimming lessons. In order to pass the first level, I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool and use the skills I had learned to stay afloat. I was so scared that I wouldn't remember how to swim that I refused to jump. It didn't matter that I had been doggie paddling in the shallow end for most of the summer, that there were instructors there to keep me safe, or that I would fail the class and have to start over. The fear of not being able to touch the ground held me back.
It still holds me back.
It's no longer the lack of confidence about my skills that keeps me grounded. I know that I have the skills to fly. I've studied, practiced, and paid attention. Still do.
These days, I find myself struggling to fly because of the little voice in my head that says:
"Don't be too confident."
"Don't be selfish."
"Don't shine too bright."
We all have that little voice and it can do a number on our sense of self-worth and add weight to our flight.
But guess what?
There's a BIG voice in my heart (in all our hearts), that lightens the load. I know that when I listen to that voice good things happen-- no, no-- great things happen!
In the lead up to the launch of heARTS, I was filled with guidance from that BIG voice. I was following my heart and it felt so right. With each new step in the process, new opportunities arose that felt like Divine encouragement to keep me going.
As my dream became a reality, I had a harder time hearing my BIG voice. The day to day realities of running an organization pulled my head from the clouds and the little voice started to get louder again. As the volume of that little voice increased, my satisfaction with my DREAM JOB decreased.
Exhaustion, confusion about my personal/professional identities, fear about money, and grief over the loss of time for friends, family and even the dishes, caused me to question my heart. Suddenly, thoughts of getting a "real job" ( WHAT?! ) crossed my mind and I had to start doing some serious soul searching and self caring.
Aug. 1 has become a kind of re-birth day for me-- my life day. Last week, I took a reflective journey to the memorial and the river. Throughout the day, the Universe gifted me with reminders that even birds have to learn how to fly. Baby feathers floated into my path throughout the day and when I returned home in the afternoon I received the biggest gift of all-- flying lessons!
A family of hawks, who have been nesting in our neighbor's tree, used our backyard for flying lessons. Three hawks lined our 4' chain link fence and another was on the ground, all appeared to be fully grown. At first we thought the one on the ground was injured, it was flailing about and struggling to fly. We wondered if the other three were watching over it- protecting it. Then we noticed that the hawk on the ground was trying to grasp chunks of woods-- remnants of a tree trunk. Turned out he was learning how to fly with the additional weight of the wood-- mock prey I suppose. Eventually another hawk took to the task and the first flew up to the fence-- assuring us that what we were witnessing was indeed flying lessons. (You can watch the action yourself in the video below.)
The Universe's message to me that day was loud and clear-- permission to fly.
Just like the hawks, I'm still learning how to fly. They helped me understand that I don't have to rid myself of the weight (the grief, the self-doubt, the guilt) in order to fly. I need to learn how to fly with those feelings-- despite those feelings. I am learning to turn the volume back up on my BIG voice and trust my wings.
About the blog:
This space holds thoughts and ideas generated from my personal journey of healing and recovery from trauma, co-dependency, and white supremacy culture. Opinions are entirely my own.