Feeling Like What You Do Has Purpose

What is your reason for getting up in the morning? Does it matter?

This is maybe the most important topic to write on concerning life coaching. Do you know that people living in what might seem to be the worst conditions imaginable, sometimes live the happiest lives? I was watching a documentary on happiness research and there were women in India who had the job of sorting garbage in a landfill. They were happy to work together and help their country be more beautified. They felt like they had a purpose and that helped them be happy.

I personally feel happy serving children. It has not been an easy journey being a special education teacher for 17 years, art teacher for one, and now a toddler teacher. Teaching takes a lot of energy and sometimes the kids, parents, and administrators kind of beat you up. I can honestly say that even with those components I have felt like my work has had purpose and that made me happy. On most mornings in my work career, I have woke up before my alarm, ready to serve kids with a little bit of excitement about what I can introduce to them and how I can make their life a little more joyful as they learn. I have found purpose in continually trying to get better and learn new things to improve my teaching practice. Teaching art last year was not in my license area and it was a struggle to figure out how to teach over 600 students, in pre-school through 5th grade, art at their level without the background of teaching that. I brought a love for art and kids and gave it my best. This year, I am teaching toddlers, and again, I am learning new things. I feel excited to see what they will learn every day at this stage of development. I deal with a lot more poop and snot than most people are comfortable with, but they are my reason for getting up in the morning and that is what makes life worth living.

How do you feel that what you are doing has purpose?

I think it is a matter of perspective, that is, the way you look at things. For me, work is an opportunity to be of service and make money to take care of myself and loved ones. Work is also an opportunity to help those I work with have some fun at work and invest in their personal development.

What about those people who do not have jobs?

Your existence in the world can have purpose, even significance, without you working. There are people that experience unemployment for periods of time or for a lifetime due to disabilities or other reasons. They may contribute by being caregivers, homemakers, raising children, or just being. Just being, has a purpose. As a Special Education Teacher, I have had a student that came into class on a gurney every day. He had a progressive disease and could not speak. He sometimes made some noises and facial expressions. He often slept through my class. He had purpose, however. My other students looked forward to seeing him every day. They greeted him and loved him. We cried together when he did not come one Monday. He had passed on over the weekend. The fact that he was missed, highlighted the fact that he lived a purposeful life.

As you are becoming a more evolved you, I hope to assist you in becoming more happy and resilient. I hope that you will have a long life and you will feel both competent and challenged at the work you do or the way that you are able to participate in this life at all stages. Take some time to think about what your purpose is? If there is something you would like to do to contribute more? There are so many opportunities to use your gifts in a way that has purpose. Perhaps changing your perspective and making meaningful connections to the work you already do will be enough to create a little more joy in your journey.

Take Care,

Tracy May

Coaching Services can be scheduled by e-mailing: promisingconnections@gmail.com or calling or texting 651-331-1421

Current Menu of Coaching Services:

Creative Discovery Sessions $125

Accountability Calls $25

Up to 8 person Art Connections Parties $60 per person.

Connecting to Loved Ones in a Meaningful Way

One of the key components to being resilient, happy, and living a long life is having meaningful connections with loved ones.

I lost my dad about three years ago around Labor Day. I lost my Aunt Lillian the following weekend. My Aunt Jan would pass the following May. Last November I lost one of my dearest art mentors and friends, Jan Wright.

This season of my life seems to be one of loss but also one of reflection and gratitude. These are people that contributed to my life in meaningful moments. First my dad, was a very present affectionate dad. We were buddies. He taught me how to ride a horse, how to watch storms from the garage, and how to enjoy flowers. He loved bright red gladiolas the best. This week I brought a bunch of gladiolas to my students and hopefully they will grow up with happy memories about these flowers, too. He went into the army and wanted to be a tough guy. But the man I loved, loved children, poetry, music, and to shop the seed catalog in winter to prepare to plant flowers in spring. He was a gentle man with a big heart. The sum of the meaningful moments with my dad are impossible to count. He made most moments with him count to be precious. How many people can say that about their dad? I was really fortunate.

My Aunt Lillian, Aunt Lil, was a woman who was widowed twice. She had a little brick home in Evansville, Indiana, with a brick paved sidewalk that led to a cute brick garage that matched. There was a shower in that garage that I used. I remember her garden, her chicken and dumplings, her fried chicken, her ham and scalloped potatoes, and a screened patio full of puzzles and games like Chinese Checkers. She had a cookie tin of crayons. I remember being welcomed, well-fed, and I admired her neat little house and the simple beauty of her life.

My Aunt Jan, was credited for being the oldest sibling and boldly asked to go to college. My grandma said they couldn’t afford it, but my grand dad moved heaven and earth to make it happen for her and for her two younger sisters. I remember our talks about her son who was having many troubles, her grand kids, and all of the times I felt stuck that she would not let me quit. She was honored as a teacher by the state of Illinois. During the summers she would bring the grand kids to Fountain Park, my Aunt Barb would do the same, and I would come with my Mackenzie, and we made the most beautiful memories in that place with these wonderful children. My mom, my Uncle Kenny, and their sister Aunt Barb and Aunt Jan would gather on the hotel porch for to celebrate Jan’s birthday with Angel Food cake, the traditional cake to celebrate birthdays. When I graduated with my Masters Degree in 2005, I assumed Jan and Barb had done that already. I was surprised when they told me I was the first to do that. I look at those kids that vacationed with us over the summers and know we are going to see greater things from them than we can imagine. I am glad that I got to be part of their stories with these matriarchs.

Finally, my friend Jan Wright, came to me through the Fountain Park Art Colony. She initially coached me in my water color work, but over the 20 plus years we painted together her influences on my art and life choices are too many to count. She knew the art of being in the moment. She put her heart into her flower arrangements for funerals and weddings, her work in the Cover Lafayette project to provide blankets for needy families, and in those quiet moments in the art colony where we would paint side by side and whisper the stories of our year, our joys and sorrows. We would ponder our questions and tell how our stories were in our art.

As a coach, I try to help people be awake in their life. As a society were are busy and frazzled and seem to praise people that live over scheduled frantic existences. Who are your most important people right now? Have you given them some time lately? Make some connections today with people that matter. Those moments are the making of a meaningful and joyful life.

Take Care,

Tracy May

If you want help in connecting with loved ones better, I am doing Creative Discovery Sessions for $125. Schedule an appointment with me. We will make the plan, and I can help you work the plan. Life is short, and I hope you will make it count.

Proactive Self-Care

Benjamin Franklin is credited for saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” He was such an interesting driven historical figure. He wanted to make his life count. He actually took data on how well he practiced 13 virtues. These were temperance (eating properly, not over-indulging in alcohol), silence (speaking when it is beneficial, avoiding idle chatter), order (everything having it’s place), resolution (following through with responsibilities without fail), frugality (waste nothing), industry (don’t waste time), sincerity (speak innocently and justly), justice (do what is right towards others), moderation (avoid extremes), cleanliness (keep your body and home clean), tranquility (don’t be disturbed by everything), chastity (be honorable), and humility (imitate Jesus and Socrates). Benjamin Franklin was not perfect at any of these but it was a target. What are your targets in life?

Most of the people I interact with are caregivers. They are parents, teachers, health care workers, advocates, caregivers of aging parents, etc. I am currently a toddler teacher, life coach, and artist. I love working with toddlers. They are so precious. My days are packed with meaningful acts of service to help these little ones learn and grow. When I get home I am physically and mentally exhausted. I try to call my mom every day right after work to make sure she is okay and had a good day. I walk my dog and play toys with her for a bit. After that I take some time to rest. I take off the work clothes, put on yoga pants and a t-shirt and usually take a little nap. Giving myself a break used to be more of a struggle but I have learned I am more productive and do more for others when I take care of myself. Are you committed to taking better care of yourself?

Here are some of my ideas for being proactive about self-care:

  1. Grocery shop for foods that will make your body healthy. Allow yourself time to sit and enjoy your meals.
  2. Schedule sleep as a priority.
  3. Schedule time to spend with people that light you up. Learn to be completely present with people you care about most.
  4. Schedule time to exercise, be in nature, and engage in hobbies that make life worth living.
  5. Allow time off when you are sick in mind, body, or soul. Use that time wisely by seeing a doctor, therapist, or spiritual leader. Better yet, proactively care for your mind, body, and soul by practicing the habits of self-care that keep you healthy.
  6. Pay attention to what your inner voice is saying. Are you saying things to yourself that are helpful and empowering or are you constantly being self-critical and condemning? Be your own best friend. Catch the negative self-talk and start saying things to yourself that you would say to someone you care about.
  7. Manage your money in a way that reflects your values. Use it wisely. Retail therapy feels terrible if your bills are not getting paid. Make decisions with money that will feel good later. Budget reasonable treats.
  8. Create boundaries around your time and your energy so as to not allow people or projects that are a drain on your resources to suck you dry. You can’t do everything for everyone or for every cause you would like to. You are human. Make a list. Make some choices. You can do more good for a few causes that you are truly focused on than you can by reacting to needs blowing up all around you. If you are aware and empathetic, you will discover there is a human need minefield all around. Choose one good thing to do at a time and give it your all. You can serve others while still maintaining a little internal calm and self-love for yourself.
  9. Schedule time to work on your personal goals for health, for your career, for your relationships. Value what you value.
  10. In the same way that you would want your kids or aging parents have time for meals, fun activities, and rest, allow that for yourself.

As a coach, I empower people to create the plan and then work the plan that helps them follow their bliss. While you are taking care of others, don’t forget that you also matter. Loving yourself is not selfish. In proactively planning self- care, you are just increasing the value you will add to those you serve.

I am now doing initial Creative Discovery Sessions for $125. In this session I will ask you questions to determine your values, goals, and dreams and then create a plan for living a life that reflects those core values. Sometimes we need to have structured time to organize our thoughts and make a plan. That is what I can do for you as a coach.

Take Care,

Tracy May, M. ed., Certified Life Coach

Finding and Keeping Jobs that Light You Up

There are so many people that hate there jobs and are unwilling to put much effort in trying to make a change. As I have discussed in previous blogs, when people have toxic stress on a regular basis, they are more likely to have chronic illnesses and a shorter life. A documentary on this research is call “Stress the Silent Killer”. It goes through a longitudinal study of baboons. It is the research that somewhat informs our understanding of the effects of stress on our well-being.

You can access this video on youtube at this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs

The other important thing to know is that not all stress is bad. Being challenged yet feeling a sense of mastery is what we call flow. I have been happy while doing stressful jobs that feel like flow to me but to other personalities it might feel toxic. There is a great Ted Talk on the benefits of good stress. Here is that great Ted Talk for you to watch as well by Kelly Mcgonigal. https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend

Does your job light you up? On a scale of 1-10 how happy are you at your job? Is it a job where you have to keep learning but you can still stay on top of most of it? Do you feel that it fits in your personal passion statement that includes your dreams, goals, values, and passions. Do you think your are the person who brings light and encouragement to your workplace or might you be like the character on Saturday Night Live “Debbie Downer”.

You should watch this too. I am all about educating my readers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfE93xON8jk

Your job might be in one of three categories. It never lit you up. It once lit you up, but something has changed. It lights you up.

You have three variables you can try to change in order to be lit up at work. You can work on changing yourself. Is it really a bad job for you, or do you have the wrong attitude? Are you looking at things with a negative perspective? You can rewire your brain by changing negative thinking patterns. Sometimes no matter where we work, if we don’t work on changing ourselves we will find ourselves unhappy at work and in life in general.

You may also be able to change the way you work. You could organize more proactively so you have more flow. You could seek out opportunities to develop more skills, bringing more value to your employer and maybe more ease and productivity to your work. You could make suggestions respectfully to try to create good changes in an organization. If you are a boss, you could hire people that are good fits for given positions and develop people who are not thriving in their work. Find out why. Sometimes people need to be let go. That is hard for many bosses, but it is sometimes the answer. You can work on developing better relationships with those co-workers that you do not currently click with. There is a great resource called The Strength Finder. It is a book that has a code for an on-line assessment to discover five strength areas. We all have gifts to offer but we all show up differently. It is a resource I often share with clients that are in job transition. That leads into the last area you can change.

You might need to change your job. The Strength Finder might be a good start for you. If you need help figuring out how to organize your job search, I would be happy to assist you with this as a coach and consultant.

I hope that this blog was informative and you have some food for thought about being lit up about your work. Our work consumes most of our awake life and I feel we should have some joy and satisfaction from that kind of investment. What are your thoughts?

Take Care,

Tracy May

Simplicity Creates Freedom

I grew up enjoying the simple things and then as a type one driven adult, I was caught in the rat race of earning degrees, making money, trying to get more things for my family, trying to make sure I was contributing more, trying to create a prettier home, and burning myself out. I recently started working with toddlers. They are little, but so wise. They are so simple. They just want to be comfortable, play, get some hugs, have some yummy food, make a few awesome messes, laugh real hard, and repeat. I don’t want to be in task mode so much that I don’t pause and see each child in front of me and appreciate who they are and have meaningful interactions. I could try to make sure every toy was off the floor as soon as it was abandoned, but I hope I can balance that with being present for these little ones. Life is about enjoying little moments.

Learning to embrace simplicity is difficult for many people in our culture. How many of you get up while it is still dark, take care of pets,get kids ready, go to work, meet unreasonable expectations at work all day, pick up kids, run errands, take kids to practices,check on aging parents, make dinner, clean the house, make sure the little ones have a bath, a story, snuggle time, and then maybe have 30 minutes to yourself before you pass out from exhaustion? Being exhausted sometimes may be part of having small children or being a caregiver of aging parents or having a high stress job. If you are doing meaningful stuff you will be tired. Having work to do increases our longevity (our ability to live longer), but toxic stress literally kills us. You want to have “flow” which is what I would define as a level of stress where you are feeling challenged but able to stay on top of it. Toxic stress causes the chronic illnesses and disease.

This means that if it is our goal to live a long life, we should try to remove the stuff that is unnecessary and unfulfilling. In other words, be busy with stuff that matters to you and give yourself a break sometimes.

As a coach, I help people sort out the the first step of knowing what matters to clients. What are your highest regarded values? What are your dreams? What are your goals? Who are your most important people? Those are just some of the things I help people get clear on so they can commit to make changes that will lead to a better life.

The time of your life should be mindfully budgeted. You only get to spend it once.

I know that culture tends to encourage people to buy more stuff, do more stuff, and experience more stuff. There is nothing wrong with this if the things you are adding into your life are making your life better, more fulfilling and are in-line with your values. I am a minimalist but not everyone would live their best life as a minimalist. Your definition of simplicity will be unique to you. Simplicity is something that can help increase your chances of a longer life and chances of a healthier life free of chronic illnesses caused by toxic stress.

Below is a “Simplicity Check-List” I created to help you take a quick inventory of where you could let go and apply some more simplicity.

  1. Are there social events that are on your calendar that will not add value to your life or the life of your loved ones?
  2. Do you own things that require more work than the enjoyment they give you?
  3. Could you save time by writing a list and shopping on-line or shopping less-frequently?
  4. Could you prepare meals in a way that are healthy, less expensive, and less time consuming to make?
  5. Could you do a work out that is convenient, requiring little or no travel time?
  6. Are there things on your to do list that can wait until later?
  7. Do your extra-curricular/ volunteer efforts reflect the best use of your gifts, talents, passions, and personal mission?
  8. Does your time on social media, phone, e-mail, texting, etc. reflect your values in communication priorities?
  9. Do your hobbies truly require more equipment, fees, or supplies or will the additional purchases yield stress from the expenditure and stress from extra clutter?
  10. Is there anything that would give you more joy to give away than to keep?

This is just a starter check-list. For me simplicity has been a key factor in creating a life that feels more free. Let me know if you let some things go and how your life is impacted by increased simplicity. I love to hear people’s stories. Without a doubt if you start removing some of the extra stuff that takes your time and energy, you will have more time for the people and things that truly light you up.

Take Care,

Tracy May

Freedom

“Clipped wings I was a broken thing, had a voice, had a voice, but I could not sing, you would wind me down, I struggled on the ground, oh.

So lost, the line had been crossed, had a voice, had a voice, but I could not talk. You held me down, I struggle to fly now.” These are the lyrics from Sia’s song “Bird Set Free”. Those words describe a point in my journey I never want to revisit. Who was keeping me down? The answer is me. There is no one who has been harder on me, than me. Too often, I tell myself I do not deserve better and I don’t allow myself to move towards what is best for me.

When I was going through coaching school, and I was being coached by other coaches in training, I was asked what I wanted. It took me trying on several other words to name what I wanted. I did not arrive there immediately. After being asked several times, the word that surfaced was “freedom”. I wanted to be free. I wanted to write, and say, and paint what I wished, freely. In those days, I spent a lot of time being what others wanted me to be. As I start my business again, I am doing it with a greater level of freedom. In order to help others that are stuck, I have to continue to set myself free to be the creative force that I feel I was meant to be.

Here are some habits I have been developing:

1. Simplicity. Over the last 10 years I have downsized, getting rid of about 80% of the stuff that took up my space and ate away at my time. This gave me more freedom.

2.Worked in jobs that light me up. I have always worked with kids. They are a known source of inspiration in my life. This has also allowed me to use my creativity at work. We spend most of our lives at work. Work should be living.

3.Engaged in proactive self-care. I summarized some of what I learned from the research on the topics of happiness, resilience, longevity, and flow in my book Promising Connections and Creative Discoveries. Play and creativity are often overlooked when we think of wellness, but that is a mistake. It is also important to have the right connections to succeed. Here are promising connections that are validated by research that can not only make you feel better, but also help you be better. How are you doing in these areas?

Connected with your loved ones in a meaningful way

Felt like what your are doing has purpose

Learned from an experience

Stayed hopeful when faced with an obstacle

Practiced mindful care of your body

Wrote in a journal

Accepted and anticipated change

Worked towards a goal

Practiced flexibility

Expressed gratitude

Moved naturally

Made time to do something fun that had no particular purpose

Did a random act of kindness

Noticed the extraordinary beauty in nature or in your surroundings

Appreciated something uniquely beautiful about yourself

Created something new

Became immersed in an activity

Lived fully in your moments and enjoyed the immediate experiences

Expressed and accepted love

Followed your bliss

Moving forward, I am going to write on each one of these and how you start to create habits. These all hold great power to make your life happier, healthier, and fuller. As a coach, I can help you make a plan and hold you accountable to work the plan that will make your life better not just on a dream board but through intentional mindful actions. I am an action oriented coach. I want people to live their best lives and I love partnering with people to help them realize their goals. Warning: I don’t work with people that want to whine, but are ready to win. You don’t need a coach for whining. Call a friend for that.

We all want to be healthier, more at peace, and more productive.

Are you stuck? What do you want? What do you really want? Are you like me? Do you want freedom? What does freedom mean to you? Are you willing to experience some discomfort, some moments of imperfection, failure even, in order to reach for greater freedom? Freedom comes at a cost.

“I don’t care if I sing off key, I find myself in my melodies. I sing for you, I sing for me. I shout out like a bird set free.” Bird Set Free lyrics by Sia.

As we approach the Fourth of July and meditate on freedom, I hope you will consider taking steps towards your own personal freedom.

If you want to schedule an initial session with me for $50 there is still time to do that until August. After that I will return to my normal rate of $125 per session. Contact me at promisingconnections@gmail.com to set up an appointment.

Take Care,

Tracy May

Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Yesterday, I did something way out of my comfort zone. I was made aware that there was a need for a DJ and announcer for the Rally for Your Rights making a stand for reproductive rights at our State House. I was in bed, just waking up, and checking my phone, when I saw it. I had planned on going. My daughter went to a similar event in Minnesota. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of it holding a sign in the crowd, blending in. I was suddenly motivated about just doing an act of service for my daughter. So in a moment, I messaged the organizer that I would do it, if no one else would. Apparently, no one else would.

It was about a week out. I managed to find a couple of friends to go with me. It was also a fairly new experience for them. I tried to get a better sound system than the small one the organizer purchased but was unsuccessful. I made a song list, collaborating with some music loving activist friends. I made a sign that copied my daughter’s sign that she had in Minnesota. It said “Mind Your Own Uterus”.

We left early yesterday morning and showed up on time, parked, and helped set up. I got some final information from people that would be speaking. I would be introducing a Representative, a couple of women who had abortions. One had been raped and one had an unwanted pregnancy when she was a young woman. One woman would have lost her child were it not for the life saving medical care of Planned Parenthood. There was an OBGYN who shared how being a doctor is not all happiness. There are times when the doctor has to share bad news. These conversations are emotional and difficult. One man pulled up a chair, held up a cross and just watched me as I prepared. As a I opened up, a larger mob of anti-abortionist with giant gross signs with fetuses arrived. They were quiet but their signs were ….well it was a message.

I thanked everyone for coming and also the folks back there that disagreed before hearing anyone. I could feel myself physically shaking. Addressing the dissenters, I told them I had once been an evangelical Christian and that I had once shared their view. I explained how I felt that empathy was a Christian value and I hoped they would at least listen why we believed women should be able to get reproductive care freely and safely.

I announced Tiffany as our first speaker. She had a story of being date raped. It was heart wrenching. This is when we were blasted by a loud evangelical man. He was bloviating his heretical hate vomit drowning out Tiffany as she spoke since he was prepared with a louder speaker system. He did that throughout the event. I felt helpless to protect these women. They were so brave to share their stories in the midst of hate and shame speech. I was doing all I could with others at the rally. We were standing in solidarity and peacefully resisting. “Control is not Love!” This was the most poignant chant of the day, in my opinion.

I introduced each speaker, I played music, I danced. I danced in my discomfort with others who were also there, outside of there comfort zone. Some had a close personal experience and others just did not want our daughters, and students, and future women of the world to lose ground in the rights, the dignity, the safety, and respect for their own bodies that was won by women before us. I am sure the women who fought for these rights before felt like I did. Uncomfortable.

I do not hate you if you disagree with my position on this issue. We are not all going to agree. I hope that if you are on the other side, you learned something that might inform your level of empathy. Writing this blog today is another step in being real, vulnerable, and authentic. Sharing about myself is something I do to help others and it is not comfortable in the least. Some people are mean when you are authentic.

My job as a life coach is to help people take brave steps. Taking brave steps requires getting uncomfortable for what you believe in. Growth is uncomfortable. It is easier to do things you are already competent at and where you know exactly what to expect. The unknown is stressful. Possible failure is stressful. What are you willing to get uncomfortable for? Your health? Better relationships? Your career? Do you need to speak your truth about something? Do you need to learn a new skill? Do you need to try something new and adventurous? Do you need to ask for help? Do you need to try make new friends? I was uncomfortable yesterday, but I came home feeling I lived my life with intention. I expressed love to humanity. I was living my core values. I believe that the stuff we will find worth talking about in this life will happen outside of our comfort zone.

Through the end of August only, I will be doing private $125 Discovery Sessions for men, women, or couples that I have previously charged $250 when I was coaching in Minnesota. Would you like to schedule some time with me to privately discuss your stories and create a plan for you to take some brave steps into a more empowered life? I would love to be your coach. You can e-mail me at promisingconnections@gmail.com. I will return your message in order to schedule an appointment.

Take care and do something brave today!

Caregivers

You are the only child and you have just learned your dad is dying and you need to come home. You get a few sacred moments to talk to him on the phone. You love his voice. He tells you he had some delicious chocolate pudding. That was him, always trying to be positive and happy even as he was dying. In one of the conversations you facilitate a conversation with your step daughter. He tells her,”love your mother”. He also tells you to take care of your mom. You hear your marching orders and make a promise. You live in Saint Paul and your hometown is in Indiana. You are not prepared. You didn’t even have money for a plane ticket. Your cousins rally to get you there in your dazed and confused state. You, your, mom and your aunt visit with a few friends. You watch your dad’s blood pressure drop. You, your mom, and your aunt gather to hear your dad’s last breath. You hold each other. You hold your mom and physically shake in sobs that cannot be expressed here in words. You are here.

This is where my journey began as I transitioned into my new life. A role that I chose. A role that I would not change. It was a role I should have been more prepared for more than most, and I suppose my prior knowledge was helpful. Just a couple years before this I created and presented a workshop to support caregivers. I was a life coach and consultant. I originally supported young adults with disabilities but my attention turned to their caregivers, who also needed the help that the research behind my work could give. My research was concentrated on happiness, resilience, longevity, and flow. The parents of my clients were losing sleep, stressed out, not taking care of their physical bodies, and not addressing their own health issues because they were focused on caregiving. They were angels to their adult children. I remember one couple telling me they had decided as a result of the workshop to take a vacation for themselves for the first time in over a decade. I had no idea how hard it is to say yes to self-care as a caregiver until now. I really had no idea. I thought I did.

So how did the expert handle it? Well, I sort of sucked at it, but I have made some major shifts in the last 6 months. I took a job in my small town as a special education teacher. It was a high stress, somewhat thankless, and toxic job. I did that for two years. I worked all day every day. I even got a certificate for perfect attendance. Because the nature of my work required confidentiality and many potential friends in my town were more curious about any gossip they could get out of me than friendship, I chose to go to the bar, hang out with some farmers, windmill guys, truck drivers, landfill workers, and retail managers that were interested in simple things. Drinking, talking about nothing of great importance, and calling it a night. I loved these guys and gals. They were my community. Unfortunately, my one or two whiskey drinks a night turned into 3-5 a night. On the weekends, there was more time to kill, and I did not want to be fully conscious in my new life. I lost a lot all at once. The void was filled with drinking. It is embarrassing to say this, but I feel it is important to be vulnerable and say what is true. I made some unhealthy choices.

The home I left was pretty amazing. I lived in a very nice artist loft in downtown Saint Paul. It was a spacious, high ceiling, apartment with new appliances, modern design, and concrete floors so I could paint freely. We had a rooftop patio to gather. As an artist, to lived among artists, in the West Seventh neighborhood, Little Bohemia, I was in somewhat of a personal paradise. I had all of my friends that I made in the Twin Cities since I had moved myself there 28 years prior, I was surrounded by art, progressives, working class people, immigrants, politicians, the lakes and most of all the woods. Oh how I miss the Minnesota woods. In Minnesota I took African dance, salsa, was part of a country line dancing team, and could take dance format classes at the Y just about whenever I wanted. There were art museums, history museums, and science museums. There was amazing architecture. Minneapolis had the modern architecture. Saint Paul had the old. Minnesota offered me so much of what helped me feel my best. All of these things were so missed, but above all, and what kills me the most now, is my stepdaughter is there. We started having a better relationship when dad died, and now I am not there. I miss all of her stuff and feel somewhat trapped between the two remaining most important loves of my life, my mom and my daughter.

This state I am in, is very common. This demographic is called the “sandwich generation”. We are taking care of parents while being parents. This is just one demographic of caregivers.

For me these are the powerful steps I have taken over the last 6 months:

I moved into my own apartment, in a more progressive city, with more of my kind of people, although it was barely affordable with my teaching pay and I felt guilty for leaving my mom .

I fortunately, do not drink as much. As I got happier, it is not a focus anymore. Some people would need professional help to recover. I am grateful that I could take it or leave it in my new environment.

I became an OULA instructor– which is a dance format exercise program and taught for a while. This helped me find more of my people and get my body back to functional. The food in Indiana is delicious and I had been eating more and exercising less. I am trying to get back to eating mindfully and including more super foods.

I maintained a membership at my Y. I have started lifting weights and taking Zumba again.

I became an art teacher for a year. The pay was not good. The commute was long. The benefit was that I had a break from some of the greater stresses involved in special education and I got to focus on art and continue to work with children, my passions. I am now looking for a job where I can serve and use my talents, but also be more financially empowered to take care of my loved ones. I am also starting up my coaching business again because it my personal calling to help people through coaching and art. I feel it is time to make myself available again.

I have a lot of information and tools to help caregivers but for me, going through this personally, the most powerful step for me was to take control of changing my environment to the extent I could. We all need “sanctuary” from life. I needed a home of my own, where I could just be. I spend hours every day just day dreaming n my little peaceful apartment, at times, that if I were in my hometown, I would have needed a drink. I also need a place to work that is healthy. I need to work in a place where I am fulfilled and my financial needs are reasonably met by that work. Most of life is not a beach. Life is mostly work and home. If we can create good environments in both, life feels more in balance. My work is a life coach is to help clients find a plan they are willing to work at and hold them accountable to work that plan. For caregivers, there is often a need to have someone to remind them that self-care is not selfish. We take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.

Above is a painting of an elephant honoring their ancestors with their young at their side. I painted this the summer after dad passed. Elephants often return the to bones of their ancestors, pick them up and seem to peacefully remember their lost relatives. I lost my dad, I get to be here for my mom, I am doing my very best for my daughter. I deserve space to heal myself. If you are a caregiver, you deserve that, too. Take Care.

You can find more about this CDC recognized health crisis for caregivers at this link, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/index.htm

If you want to set up an initial coaching session to see you can find sanctuary in the midst of caregiving, you can reach me at 651-331-1421.

Coming Out of the Valley

Dear former clients, old friends, acquaintances, and new friends, and loved ones near and far,

I am starting up my coaching business again. I started my former business with blogging. Writing at least helps me. If I am lucky maybe it will help some of you as well.

Today’s talk is about play and creativity. When under stress, play and creativity takes as much energy as fight, flight, or in some cases, freeze responses. Wouldn’t you rather use play and creativity to help through stress? Doesn’t it sound more fun?

I have been in a metaphorical valley. Dahlias and Fireflies is a painting I did in another valley of my life. Dahlias are flowers the grow in valleys and fireflies represent hope and inspiration. This last valley was pretty deep and lonely. My dad died about 3 years ago this coming August. I came home in time to be with him at his last breaths. In that first week, I planned his funeral. In the weeks that followed, I decided I needed to stay in Indiana to be with my mom. I got a new job as a special education teacher in my hometown. Due to problems before my dad died, and issues after my dad’s death, I broke up with my boyfriend. Some people were mad about the break up not knowing what my reasons were. I disconnected with some people for a while because of that. I had to leave my dog in Minnesota for several weeks. I went back to Minnesota and made a stressful move taking about a third of my possessions that remained after already pairing down my possessions as a minimalist. Good news,though, I got all of my paintings. Thanks Kelly! Also, thanks to the three dear friends that helped move all of those paintings to my new apartment I live in now. They were light to move but required many trips. I have nice people in my life. I digress.

By January of that first year, I decided I did not have the emotional energy to be a coach and closed my business. In short, I have started all over. It was traumatic. I made some bad choices to cope, and I might discuss those in a future blog, but there were some good choices, too. I made some new friends that could make me laugh real hard. As I worked with children, the children constantly reminded me to access creativity and play. I learned early in my career as a teacher that play and creativity was a great way to get children unstuck. They have problems, too. Divorce, poverty, abuse, sickness, and death unfortunately does not spare children. I tell people that when dad died it was like being hit in the face and still seeing stars three years later. There were some sacred moments of art and play with children that were like a walk in the Minnesota woods I love, with butterflies, egrets, dragonflies, fawns, frogs, and foxes. Those moments smelled like lilacs. Those moments felt like the softest blanket and a breeze through the trees after a rain. Those moments sounded like children’s laughter and their inquisitive questions– my favorite sounds. I am grateful for those gifts. In my time of need, the children I worked with and my new friends were my dahlias and fireflies.

Have you been through a valley recently? Who were your dahlia’s and fireflies?