Stark and Serene Little Big Horn

On our summer coast to coast trip, my boyfriend Roy and I had the opportunity to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  In talking with my brother Rick later, I believe that I had been there as an eight-year-old with my family on a cross country trailer trip.  It would make sense since my dad was a history buff and what is known as “Custer’s Last Stand” would have been a place he would have wanted to visit. So, in driving from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to Billings Montana, there appeared on the map Little Big Horn.  We decided to venture into the park.

On June 25 and 26th of 1876, “Custer’s Last Stand” took place with the U.S. Army losing 268 and 55 severely wounded; 31 Native American warriors and 10 bystanders lost their lives.  It was a great victory for Lakota leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Among the Lakota people it is referred to as the Battle of Greasy Grass. It is a place for reverence for all who lost their lives.

Here are my highlights from the battlefield:

Stark

This place is in the middle of vast rolling grasslands.  We arrived on an unusually hot, windy day.  It was 113 degrees and it was very gusty. I almost felt transported back to the dust bowl.  Dry, hot and windy.  Amid this starkness and undulating grass are headstones, a single lane road and several monuments.  It is barren.  As you drive from one vantage point to the next or walk from one monument to another, there is nothing but wind and infinite space.  Among that space are headstones dotted in hilltops, gullies, and plains. This place is stark and austere.

Horses

We spotted several groups of wild horse roaming free on the grasslands. There was a mix of graceful chestnut, palomino and pinto horses communing close to the banks of the Little Big Horn River. It’s fascinating to me that these beautiful beasts are roaming free in the Montana grasslands.

Crow

As we traveled across the west, many of the national parks have a good bit of their land that is Native American property. Depending on the tribe, that portion of the park can be closed.  At Little Big Horn, we were able to travel through the whole park. I felt fortunate that we were able to see the whole park. I was really touched to see that the Crow people had donated a good portion of the land on which the national monument sits “in hopes that people of all races could enjoy this place of beauty together.” I felt honored to be able to enjoy it.

Two fallen Native American warriors

Serene

I felt as if the place was utterly serene.  Roy described it as spiritual.  There is reverence here.  In the quiet beauty of the swaying grass, the roaming horses and the headstones dotting the hills where warriors fell. I was most struck by the headstones that were side by side.  Two by two randomly across the countryside. There is the main graveyard where most of the U.S. Calvary and Lt. Col. Custer lost their lives but beyond that, scattered on the hillsides there are pairs of head stones. The white stones were of the fallen army soldiers and the red stones were of the fallen Native Americans.   Somehow, I found it comforting to know that perhaps when they fell, they were not alone.

In 1992, this hollowed place was renamed Little Big Horn Battlefield (from Custer’s Battlefield) to recognize the Native Americans on both sides of the conflict, Custer had Crow and Arika scouts working for him while there were over one thousand Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors on the other side of the fight. There is a beautiful sculpture called “Peace through Unity” to create understanding between all races.  It’s a place of serenity, reverence and stark beauty, I highly recommend taking it in.

Return to the Badlands

Merriam-Webster

noun:

badlands: a region marked by intricate erosional sculpturing, scanty vegetation, and fantastically formed hills —usually used in plural.

It’s been fifty plus years since I stood looking out over the masterful beauty of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  The first time was on a coast-to-coast trip with my family at the age of eight in a roll down the window station wagon and trailer; no AC. In my faded memory, I remember driving through the park at sunset and being overwhelmed by the pastel glow of the Badlands as the sun drifted into the horizon. At that point in my life, the stark barren beauty of the Badlands was completely foreign to me.  It’s a visceral memory for me.  All I remember is what I felt.  Awed and part of something much bigger than myself.  So, when my boyfriend, Roy, and I set out on a coast-to-coast trip this summer, the badlands were a must revisit destination.

Roy and I at the end of Door Trail in the Badlands.

Here are the highlights from my return to the Badlands:

The Door Trail

I think part of the reason I remember this park is that it is so easily experienced.  While I might get frustrated standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking down at an ice encrusted impassabletrail, the Badlands begs to be experienced.  The Door Trail does not disappoint.  After walking down a boardwalk for about 2/10’s of a mile, you go off into the badlands and follow numbered yellow markers until you get to a poignant sign marked “End of the Trail”.  It requires mental and physical agility to make your way through the trail (or lack of a trail).  I was completely engaged on a way forward by climbing, stepping and hiking within and around hills, mounds, steps and gullies.  It was hot and windy and many folks were out there climbing around.  There was camaraderie with the other hikers as I watched how others traversed the obstacles.  Experience the Door Trail.

The Prairie

Unlike the southwestern portion of the United States (i.e., Grand Canyon, Arches, etc.), the Badlands of South Dakota are interspersed among vast swaths of prairie. I was taken aback by how, after countless hours of driving on I-90 and miles and miles of prairie, there were these barren formations of the badlands.  When driving through the park, I kept miscalculating where we were because we were suddenly surrounded by prairie again so I thought, well, I guess we’re almost done; and then we would take another corner and the prairie receded and there were more stark colorful formations taking over the horizon.  The prairie, on the other hand, was flat and covered in grass or small mounds. It’s quite the juxtaposition.

The Animals

Even though it’s called Badlands, there is an abundance of wildlife.  I saw two animals I had never seen in the wild before on this trip.  One was pronghorn antelope.  There was a small herd grazing in the prairie very close to the road.  Next was prairie dogs.  There were hundreds of prairie dogs in mounds across the prairie.  I was surprised and intrigued by their little chirps to each other.  There was a private business outside the park that advertised feeding prairie dogs.  There is no need, there were plenty to behold, video and gawk at from the drive through the park. The last animal, I had seen before hiking at Canyonlands in Utah were, big horn sheep.  I was surprised that big horn sheep could be found in the middle of the prairie instead of stalking the barren rocks. In about 2 hours we ended up spotting pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, big horn sheep and longhorn cattle.  Amazing.

When I reminisced with my brother, Rick about returning to the Badlands, his memory is that we had just pulled off the side of the road in the park and camped there that night in the trailer.  Perhaps that’s why I remember sunset and the glow of the Badlands.  What’s remarkable is how little it has changed yet my experience was so different as I have a new appreciation for the size and diversity of the park. I’m glad I had the chance to return.

The Cruel and Stunning Death Valley

I’ve crossed the Mojave Desert several times in my life. I used to live in Northern California and either driving along I-15 to Las Vegas or I-40 to Albuquerque or Phoenix, took me through the Mojave at least ten times. I always longed to take the detour to Death Valley. It was just never practical to drive the extra 3-4 hours round trip until August of this year. My boyfriend Roy and I were on a coast-to-coast-to-coast trip visiting National Parks and family when we planned to head back to the East Coast. There it was. Looming in the middle of the map. A gigantic chunk in Eastern California: Death Valley. Sure…it’s August. Yeah…it’s hot. OK…it’s a long drive with very few services. But why not? When was this opportunity going to land in my lap again while I live in North Carolina? Likely never. So, Roy (having already driven some 5,000 miles) was game and off to Death Valley we went.

Roy and I at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

Here are some of the highlights:

Shoshone – We set off from my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Palo Alto. As we made plans the day of our travels, I searched for places to stay as we drove down I-5 on our way to Bakersfield. I found a motel that was in the town of Shoshone about 45 minutes from one of the park entrances. Shoshone was just a little dot on the map. By the time we passed through the dilapidated town of Baker, I had no cell coverage. I had no idea if the motel had even 2 stars on their reviews. I was starting to get nervous because, arriving in Shoshone after driving 500 miles into the middle of nowhere, we had no other air-conditioned options. Thankfully the Shoshone Inn was a completely renovated delightful motel. We almost opted to buy a few gallons of gas but at $5.49 per gallon, we figured that a half tank would get us to Las Vegas. If you go to Death Valley, the Shoshone Inn is a must-stay although make sure you go with a full tank of gas.

Sweet little Shoshone Inn outside Death Valley

Jubilee Pass Road

We left for the park from the motel around 6 PM. We had no idea how long it would take to visit the park but we knew we at least wanted to go to Badwater Basin, so we headed out, according to the map, by the most direct route. We had no GPS as we headed on Jubilee Pass Road. It was 115 degrees, a blazing sun, a desolate road, and absolutely no other living things as we drove on a road with no signs except to instruct to stay on the road (no problem there). I was nervous. We had a few bottles of water but you start thinking about “what if’s” as you drive in such inhospitable territory. If we break down, if we get a flat tire, if the engine overheats….you get the picture. This was obviously not the main road in the park, the terrain was other worldly with its orange, yellow and white rock without vegetation or signs of life. I know what you’re thinking…. it’s not call Death Valley for its abundance in flora and fauna but the reality of driving through it is breathtaking. Scary, cruel but breathtaking.

Badwater Basin

From the motel, it took 90 minutes to arrive at Badwater Basin. 90 long, dry, hot minutes to arrive at what is the money-shot of Death Valley. This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.  When we arrived, it was 120 degrees. It was remarkable how the temperature climbed as we started going below sea level.  We parked and walked out on the salt flats of the evaporated “badwater”. It was oppressively hot and the wind was relentless. Buffeting winds whipped across stark salt flats and the Panamint Mountain range 10 to 11 thousand feet (obscured by smoke) loomed as a silhouette. There were two cars in the parking lot, so it was comforting to know that we were no longer alone in such an inhospitable place. High up on the valley wall was a sign that said “SEA LEVEL” which really makes you grasp how truly isolated we were.

Badwater Basin at 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley

Zabriskie Point

We decided to go back on a more heavily traveled road and stumbled on Zabriskie Point. By this time there were three cars in the parking lot (a CROWD!). A winding paved path goes up the Zabriskie Point which is named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company (the company used twenty mule teams to transport borax mining operations in Death Valley). This vantage point is stunning. Again, there is no vegetation, or birds, or bugs. Just rock formations some of which look like jello molds or waves of soft ice cream. It felt like I was standing on the precipice of a cataclysmic change that had occurred many thousands of years ago and that I could have traveled by rocket ship to have witnessed it.

We only visited about a quarter of the National Park. I feel like it was just a taste. Perhaps a nibble of the entirety of the park. If you can make the trip, in a sturdy, gas-filled car with plenty of water, I would highly recommend it. I know I will be going back. The best of course is that I remembered as we arrived back at the motel that I wanted to make sure I went outside to look at the stars. Roy and I walked outside and looked up at the milky blanket of stars above. If you go, don’t forget to look up at the stunning beauty above.

What Story Are You Telling?

You walk into the room and everyone snickers. They must hate the new shoes I am wearing. Your assistant forgets to copy you on an email. She must have it out for me. Your boss doesn’t return your text for at least 2 hours. She must not think I am important enough.

These are all stories we tell ourselves. We take a few floating facts and put them into a story that sets us up for disappointment. We feel marginalized and often shut down. The thing is that everyone tells Their Story in their own head. But how often do we test our assumptions? How often do we verify that we have The Story right? This whole concept was illuminated in Brene Brown’s powerful book, Rising Strong.

Here is how to unravel your story:

  • Curious.  As Brene wrote, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” It is so much easier to live in our self-deprecating assumptions that everyone is out to get us. When we open ourselves to curiosity, we open to possibility. This helps reframe or re-write the story. So how does this play out? Hmmm. Maybe my boss is in an important meeting. Maybe my assistant didn’t forget to copy me intentionally. Maybe I should ask my friend why everyone was snickering. Remain curious.
  • Wabi-Sabi.  Wabi-Sabi is accepting imperfection and uncertainty. As Brene wrote, “It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” Striving for perfection is exhausting. You will never be ________ (fill in the blank: good, smart, thin, funny) enough. Seeking perfection is inviting shame. The shoes will never be right. The report not all encompassing enough. Shame will not help the story in your head. Embrace the wabi-sabi in your life.
  • Enough.  This is one of the best quotes from the book: “Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” It’s so important to tell yourself that you are enough. Try this: Shoulder’s back, stride into the room, smile and make eye contact. The next time you are walking into a room of new people, try it. It makes a remarkable difference in how you show up and how you feel. You are enough.
  • Own it.  Brene wrote, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I’ve done this a few times with my son over the last few weeks. When I started believing that he was mad at me or was upset about something, I would start by saying, “So I have two stories that I’m telling myself. One is that you have a lot of irons in the fire and can’t respond to my text. The other is that you are distancing yourself from me.” Guess which story was true. Now I can own the real story.
  • Discomfort. This can be uncomfortable. It takes bravery. As Brene posits, “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad-asses.” Think of yourself as a New York Times reporter fact-checking your story. It’s definitely uncomfortable to step into the vulnerability of uncertainty. If it’s too comfortable, are you really challenging the facts of the story. Engage in discomfort.
  • Ditch comparison. Comparing yourself to other’s is another way of writing the wrong story. As Brene wrote, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” Comparison is a limiting belief. In addition, it invites in perfectionism. My neighbor has a nicer car. My boss has a bigger office. I don’t make as much money as my colleague. Not very inspiring. Nothing to compel you onward and upward! We are all on our own path. As Brene says, “Stay in your own lane.”

I have slowly tried to incorporate this into my life. I take a step back when I am angry or resentful over something and try to reframe my story. It’s not easy but I do feel more present and I am able to re-write the story. What story do you need to reframe?

4 Steps to Act “As If”

To act As If is to invite or attract what you want into your life. It is a basic tenant of the Law of Attraction. As I headed home from New Bern, North Carolina driving in the rain, I initially became tense behind the wheel and was afraid I was going to hydroplane. I decided that I needed to act as if I would arrive safely at home and to let go of the tension. I imagined that the rain would slow, and I focused on the book I was listening to. The rain didn’t stop immediately, the car didn’t drive itself but once I relaxed into the feeling that I was a safe driver and could handle this, the rain subsided, the car handled beautifully, and I was home. I think that the initial stress and tension had me caught up in fear. When I relaxed and acted as if I was almost home and that the driving was easy, I eased into my goal of arriving safely at home.

It’s not just about positive thoughts. It’s also about positive action. I needed to slow down my car regardless of the truck bearing down behind me. I remember consciously relaxing my hands on the wheel from a vice grip to gentle navigation. I envisioned driving down my driveway safely at home. Most of the work is between the ears, but some of it can be body posture and a smile on your face. All of it is an inside game.

Four easy steps to act As If:

Actor

Imagine that you are Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale preparing for a role. Acting as if requires acting; getting into the role. If you are a successful millionaire, how do you act? If you are a Vice President instead of a director, how do you act? If you are Daniel Day-Lewis performing as Abraham Lincoln, you keep your American accent all day and sign your text “Yours, A.” If you are a drug addict like Christian Bale in The Fighter, you lose 50 pounds and run for 4 hours a day. I have to say when I saw that movie, I remembered thinking, where did they find drug addict to play this part? I had no idea it was Bale. Method actors are famous for taking on the role off-set. They live and breathe it. If you are going to be that millionaire or own that seaside house, you’re going to need to act the part.

As Leeor Alexandra writes for Living Lovelee, “Act accordingly. If you would like to be rich, act rich by spending happily and generously. This is something you might have to practice, especially if you are short on cash. So many of us dread spending even a dollar, and we pay for things reluctantly and with regret. That is the quickest way to become even poorer.” I pay bills the minute they show up and do it with a smile. And, remarkably, money keeps showing up. Act the part and it will be so.

Feel

Take a look at past history and conjure up the feelings and emotions you are looking for. If it’s a new relationship, think back to the first months with your first love and how you felt. The joy, the smile, the giddiness, the wonder of the world. This will attract the same. As written on the Wisdom Post, “If driving a new car makes you feel like a ‘success’, find out an example that you have felt this same feeling before. Take note and be conscious every time when you feel this feeling of ‘success’ every day. Focus on how this feeling has already been attracted to you and continued to come to you on a daily basis. The key is to feel your root emotion in order to feel as if you already have it. As you project more of this emotion, your desire will draw closer to you.”

I have focused on a feeling of being carefree and full of abundance. I am careful not to get caught up in other’s sense of lacking. I don’t hold resentment if I pick up the check or need to help my son with a plane ticket. I feel into the abundance and sense of generosity. I’m not saying I never backslide; I am a work in progress. I regroup and see that I am infinite and can handle anything coming my way. Feel into it.

Speak

Your words are what you manifest. If you say to yourself you are fat, you will be fat. If you say to yourself that you are slim and healthy, you will be slim and healthy. Speak it so it will be so. I lived a long time from a sense of lack. I would tell my kids that we didn’t have enough money for new soccer cleats, a new clarinet or a Vera Bradley bag. I spoke the language of lack and therefore it was so. When I see a large bill now, I say to myself, “I always have money coming in.” It’s amazing how new clients and money are constantly showing up.

As Alexandra wrote, “Watch the way you speak about yourself and your life – if it doesn’t align with the reality you desire, you have to change it. And change it on the spot. Also, take notice of how you react to things people say as well as to every day occurrences. Make sure to only speak and react in the way that you would speak and react once you have manifested your desire. That is how to act as if you already have it.” Speak the language of what you want to attract.

Look

I think of that song, “You’ve got the look.” I plan on hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail with my boyfriend, Roy, this summer. I have the trail runners, the convertible pants and the quick dry shirt. I wear it on the weekends when I walk in my neighborhood. I may only be at 150 feet above sea level and not at 4,000 feet, but I look the part. It helps me feel the part. If you want to be a yoga instructor, buy the yoga pants. If you want to be a Chief People Officer, wear the suit as if you were born into it. If you want that motorcycle, buy the leather jacket and helmet.

As Alexandra wrote, “If you look the way you want, you will raise your vibration and speed the creation process along even more. Look the part is the equivalent of: ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’ Find clothes that fit the life you’re creating and make you feel amazing.” I know when I lost a bunch of weight after getting sober, I eliminated anything in my closet that didn’t fit my new lifestyle. No more loose clothes or things that didn’t make me feel great. As Marie Kondo says, “Does it spark joy?” If it doesn’t spark joy or align with what I desire, it’s gone.

It all comes down to belief and aligning with what you truly want. I originally titled this “4 Easy Steps to Act As If,” but the truth of the matter is that it’s not easy. I have to keep coming back to it. It’s easy to slide back into a sense of lack. I must stay vigilant to stay the course, but over time, it’s all coming into alignment. What do you want to attract into your life?

Return to Assateague Island

I had the great fortune to attend a lovely wedding in Dewey Beach, Delaware. It was a long 7-hour drive from my home in North Carolina, so I decided to stop off in Chincoteague, Virginia for a night’s stay. Assateague and Chincoteague are very foggy memories for me. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and we took many trips when I was a child along the eastern seaboard. I faintly remembering the trip to Assateague and wanting to see the fabled ponies but it was a lingering memory of disappointment. I don’t remember seeing the ponies. So, this was a trip to recapture something I simply could not remember. It did not disappoint.

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I made a reservation on the highest rated boat excursion on Trip Advisor called Daisey’s Island Cruises. When I called, the guy recommended a 9 AM ride, so I made the reservation. I was relieved to not be going on the trip the afternoon I arrived because I was road weary and wanted a good night’s sleep.

These were the highlights of the trip:

Small boat.  Daisey apparently operates several large and small boats but we were on a pontoon boat that sat about ten people. There were seven of us including Captain Nate on the boat. I had expected a larger boat and a slew of people much like a boat ride around Manhattan with a prerecorded tape pointing out the sights. This was much more intimate and there was no preset destination. Kind of like a road trip on a boat with no particular agenda; an open book for discovery. If you can choose, get on the smaller boat as it will be more of an adventure.

Dolphins. Captain Nate was on his radio as soon as we left the marina. He said he had a surprise for us as soon as we left the port. Sure enough, there were ten to twenty dolphins swimming in the channel right outside the marina. It was amazing. We must have sat out there for some thirty minutes as a whole pod of dolphins wrestled in the water. I felt like Jacque Cousteau observing these friendly creatures. Just seeing the dolphins was enough for me but there was so much more.

NASA.  We passed Wallops Island and saw all the launch pads for unmanned missions to resupply Spacelab and a host of other missions. There have been over 1,500 launches since the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was developed back in 1947. So you don’t need to travel all the way to Florida to see rockets take off. Apparently, you can check out the scheduled launches on the NOAA website. All this on a six-square mile island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Chincoteague Ponies.  As mentioned earlier, I had it in my mind that looking for ponies would be a letdown. As we traveled across the water at a fair clip, I assumed that we would be staring at vacant marsh land. But Captain Nate and the other Daisey boats were in constant communication. There were two ponies spotted and we were off to find them. As we sped towards the coast there were two ponies eating marsh grass oblivious to us encroaching on their space. Captain Nate pointed out into the distance at three other ponies and the Stallion off in the trees. Because we were on a small boat we were able to travel up a shallow creek bed to be less than ten feet from the ponies. There were the unseen ponies from my childhood only feet away. Absolutely magical.

Birds.  There were all manner of birds on the trip. There was a whole set of cormorants drying off their wings as they sat atop moorings in the middle of the water. We rode by only feet away but they sat regally benign to our presence. White crane were fishing in the marshy shallows. Seagulls were flecked among the sky. It felt like nature was conspiring to impress me at every turn.

Shellfish.  We passed by countless oyster beds. Apparently, the beds are leased by fishmongers and we happened to see one group out among the beds harvesting oysters. We came up on one bed and Captain Nate laid down and picked out a mass of oysters. Apparently, they grow on each other’s shells, so the one handful was several oysters, some 5 years old and others less than a year depending on size. He shucked the oyster to reveal an enormous thumb size oyster meat which he promptly ate when everyone on the boat turned it down. We also rode by clams resting in the sea water in crates; apparently, a catch being kept for future shipment.

I never imagined that there would be so much so much to see and take in. If you ever get to the eastern shore of Virginia, I highly recommend a boat trip to Assateague Island.

Are You Sovereign?

SOVEREIGN (noun)

a: one possessing or held to possess supreme political power or sovereignty

b: one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere

c: an acknowledged leader : arbiter

Each of us is sovereign.

I learned this concept from a great coach I know, Alysia Vrolyk. I think this is completely applicable to all sorts of areas of your life (and of course mine). It’s probably most applicable if you have a teenage son, are in a committed relationship, work with others or are a coach. So if you are a hermit? Not so much. But if you aren’t, pay attention. You have supreme power over you. I am the acknowledged leader of me. I can love you or lead you or teach you but it is only you who decides what to do with what I give you. Sovereign. 

Sovereign

The best illustration or example of this is the first time a teenage child gets behind the wheel and drives off without any co-pilot…without their mom to tell them to slow down or turn the iPod down. It’s terrifying but true – they are now officially sovereign. Whether that car (and its contents) returns to the driveway is completely and utterly up to that child behind the wheel and all the other sovereigns out there on the road. I have to say I wish I had this concept when my kids were looking at colleges. It’s not up to me, or their guidance counselor or their best friend. The decision of what school is completely up to my sovereign child.

So how do you incorporate a little sovereignty into your life? Here are some tips:

  1. No meddling. Do not meddle in other sovereigns unless you are invited to a détente. So if I’ve started a new exercise regime and I think it would be an awesome idea if my significant other would do the same….stop. If I think the Vice President of Operations should make her whole crew work every weekend until the backlog is gone…stop.   If I think the client’s goal should be to get a promotion instead of feeling confident in their industry knowledge…stop. Respect the authority of others to make their own decisions. If you have not been invited to meddle, don’t.
  2. Detach from the outcome. I wrote recently that my daughter had to decide between three jobs. One of them would have left her in NYC and the other two brought her back home to North Carolina. I could not get attached to any outcome. All three jobs had their pros and cons but if I was excessively attached (like calling every day to find out how job prospect B was coming or constantly talking up prospect B), she would not have ultimately been able to make her own decision. I would have been way too invested in one outcome over another and…she would have resented my opinion. Detach from the outcome.
  3. The gift you bring is your presence. Just because they are their own sovereigns does not mean you can’t be present. In the anguishing weeks where my daughter had to decide where she wanted to be this Fall, we talked several times on the phone. I was present. I listened. She played through the scenarios. She made decisions. I was a sounding board. I wasn’t there to sell her on what I wanted. I was there to let her think things through. It’s the same with clients working through a dilemma. I am present and ask the questions that help them do their own best thinking. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know. Only a sovereign can know what they really want. Sit back and be present.
  4. No sweat. The great facilitator Paul McGinniss uses this phrase when modeling the coaching dialogue and the client hasn’t taken a step they planned. This happens all the time when a client doesn’t do the action they said they wanted to. They didn’t start… exercising, studying for the exam, standing up to their boss, having a meeting with their team. No sweat. Is it still important to you? What would make you feel like you are moving forward on this goal? They are their own sovereign. Let them decide the direction they want to go. You aren’t there for accountability; you are there for reflection and re-framing. Don’t sweat it.
  5. You need to respect your own sovereignty. Don’t lose yourself in giving your time and presence to others. Don’t change the borders of your sovereign just because your neighbor asks. This is not a time to let folks roll over you. Keep the moat filled, the drawbridge in working order and your crown shined up. Don’t diminish your own self-respect. It is great to respect someone else’s space as long as they don’t tread on yours. Keep your back bone and self-respect.

When you grant other’s sovereignty, it’s freeing. You are no longer trying to be a backseat driver for everyone else. You have control of your steering wheel; if someone else fails, let it be. They are on their journey and you are on yours. Accepting that everyone has their own sovereignty untangles the expectations so that we are free to make decisions for ourselves and no one else.

5 Reasons to Keep the Status Quo

Enjoy this repost from 2019.

Status quo is Latin for “existing state.”

When my marriage came to a screeching halt over a year ago, I wanted to escape. I looked at flights to Copenhagen, I checked out apartment rentals in Durham, and I even looked into qualifications to teach English in South America. I was grasping at anything that would get me out of my current state, figuratively and literally. I also looked locally for other avenues to pursue new interests. Luckily, I stayed put. I didn’t want the status quo. I didn’t think I needed the status quo. But looking back, it was the best thing I could have done.

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There is a rule of thumb that you shouldn’t make a major life decision such as moving for one year after a loss like a divorce or a death. I wasn’t thinking about this rule of thumb when I stayed put. I stayed put due to financial reasons. Initially, I wasn’t happy about that. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be on a beach drinking massive amounts of fruity rum drinks with umbrellas in them. I wanted to turn my life upside down and move the hell on. In retrospect, l am happy I didn’t. I’m glad I stuck with the status quo.

Here are five reasons to keep the status quo:

  1. Internal locus of control. I needed to take stock in feeling like I had control over my own well-being. Getting on an airplane or throwing out all my furniture was not going to bring about inner peace. Staying right where I was, in my job, in my house, with my beloved dog, that made me understand the importance of overseeing me. I am sovereign. There is no one else to blame. There is only me. If I had taken off to parts unknown, I would have been blaming the world instead of taking stock of myself.
  1. Getting back to homeostasis. As Annie Grace wrote in a recent newsletter, “Homeostasis is defined as the maintenance of relatively stable internal physiological conditions (such as body temperature or the pH of blood) in higher animals under fluctuating environmental conditions; also: the process of maintaining a stable psychological state in the individual under varying psychological pressures or unstable social conditions.” I realized that my homeostasis was vastly (not dramatically) improved when I didn’t drink anymore. I was in a constant state of equilibrium. I didn’t need the fictitious relief of a sip of wine. After several months, I was free from the pull of numbing out the pain. I felt like the ship I was on was stable and that the waves weren’t as high. Homeostasis is your body’s status quo.
  1. Tinkering with what works. By staying put and confronting the reality of the separation, I was able to make small adjustments. As Stephanie Vozzo wrote for Fast Company, “Instead of trying to be like someone else, appreciate your own qualities. For example, if you’re an introvert, don’t assume life will be better if you transform into an extrovert.” I made small adjustments. I tried Tai Chi. I tried a Body Pump class. I traveled to Assateague island for a weekend. Some things I liked, some things I didn’t. But I had my own laboratory of “what makes Cathy happy.” Tinkering with small adjustments are on the fringe of status quo.
  1. Decluttering is manageable. When my attic was finally completely (yes, completely) empty, I felt an enormous sense of relief. The thing is, that attic took months to empty, organize, sort and pitch. If I had decided to move to Peru, I might have thrown out something irreplaceable and precious like a book my son wrote for his grandfather or my daughter’s artwork. Being able to take time to selectively declutter could only be accomplished in relative status quo.
  1. All you have is you. You can be in Copenhagen, Paris or Lima, but it’s still you under it all. Drastic change or a year of adventure would not have changed the pain that was under it all. As Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is through.” The best way through for me was in status quo. Keeping my environment the same helped me feel my way through. Escape into something new and unknown would not have helped and likely would have masked it all. At the end of the day, you still have you. It’s still you in there.

I’m not recommending that you never engage in adventure again. That you never test the edges of your status quo. I just know that relaxing into what was known, familiar and comfortable over the last 18 months has been rejuvenating and restorative. Do you need to stay in your status quo?

It’s Not My Only Line in the Play

This is a repost from 2018:

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with Roy. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

Tenacity: Lessons from Kayaking Lake Titicaca

This is a repost from 2018.

I have been called tenacious as long as I can remember. I can remember driving in a blinding snow storm to get back to Ithaca, New York after Thanksgiving break. I was alone in my Honda Civic and regardless of the twists and turns down route 79, I was bound and determined to make it back to school. I did. When it came time to reopen my restaurant in Santa Rosa, California after the health department decided I needed a new tile floor at the cost of $20,000 that was not in the budget, I did. When my children wanted to go to Medellín, Colombia for Christmas and my home was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, I still made it happen. If life throws down a gauntlet, I will pick it up and run with it.

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Vicki and I kayaking on Lake Titicaca.

A few months back, my resolve and tenacity were tested. My friend Vicki and I sat in a two-person kayak a thousand miles from shore (well, that’s what it felt and looked like) on Lake Titicaca! The wind was pushing waves higher, the water was 40 degrees and there was no one in sight. At the time I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew; that maybe this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Obviously, I am able to write about this now, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

This is what I learned about tenacity on Lake Titicaca:

Discern. As we headed to the launch site on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca, we were on a large, comfortable boat. I was observing the water. In retrospect, I was actually assessing the landscape. Vicki and I had initially decided we would be in single kayaks for the 3.5 mile paddle. As I watched the water out the window and saw the waves starting to rise, I asked Vicki if she would be OK in a two-person kayak. I felt like a larger boat would be more stable on the waves. It was a decision I did not regret. Only one brave soul in our group, Debra, did a single kayak and she was sorely tested. When handed a big task, make sure you use your discernment before jumping it.

Gear. As we suited up in our rain jackets, life preservers and paddles, I thought back to kayaking on the Newport River about a month earlier with my boyfriend, Roy. I had gotten blisters from the 45-minute paddle. I quickly got the attention of one of the guides and asked for a pair of gloves in Spanish. Luckily, we were the last group to depart from the beach, and he made it back in time with two right handed gloves. I made due with putting the extra right-handed glove on my left hand. The water was cold and I knew that it would be a lot more than 45 minutes for the 3.5 mile trek. Tenacity is important but making sure you’ve got the right gear is important as well.

Learn. This was not my first time in a kayak. It was the first time I’d ever been in a two-person kayak. It was also the first time I would be steering the kayak with a rudder and pedals to direct the boat. We watched as two kayaks departed and how the rudder was deployed. Our rudder was not deploying via a pulley as expected. Once in the boat, I checked the pedals to make sure they were operational and asked one of the guys on shore to make sure he physically put the rudder into place. I also made sure my kayak spray skirt was tight so that water (did I mention the water was cold?) did not spray into the boat. I watched as others who had just deployed went in circles in the small bay from our departure point. As you gather information, make sure you use it to your advantage. I had used a kayak spray skirt some three days earlier and knew it would be important to be snug. I knew that operating the pedals for the rudder would be important. When you have a big project, make sure you learn as much as possible with the time allotted to gather it, and more importantly, use the information.

Team. The biggest advantage of a two-person kayak over a one-person is teamwork. Vicki and I paddled two strokes on the right side and then two on the left. We started off by saying right, right, left, left. Then we started counting 1 right, 1 right, 1 left, 1 left. This morphed into to 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, etc. We would decide initially on 10 strokes, then 15, then 20, then 25 and took brief rests in between each set. We took turns calling out the numbers and then finally decided to just count the first set and the rest were in our heads. We had the ability to adapt. If 25 strokes were too much, we cut it back to 20. If calling it out loud was too taxing (it was), then we would count to ourselves. If I started to get off course from the waves, Vicki would point it out. I’m not sure I would have made it across without Vicki. As Vicki said, “I really am glad that we did the 2-person kayak. It was only my third time in a kayak ever and my first in a 2-person kayak. I would have been miserable by myself and not sure if I physically would have been able to make it.It was a tough paddle that took about two hours. When you want to achieve something, use teamwork and devise a system, if possible.

Strategy. When we initially set off to go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, we had no idea where on the island we were headed. We were in front of all the other kayaks and I just focused on the far-right end of the island, hoping that someone would point the way later. Eventually, a motor boat came along and pointed to the opposite end (the far left-hand side) of the island. I then changed strategies and steered toward the left-hand side. I was open to change in strategy and Vicki confirmed our focal point. A multitude of waves kept taking us off course. A second motor boat came up dragging another two-person kayak behind it. The man on board was shouting to me in Spanish: “Wait. There are dangerous rocks.” I hesitated. I told Vicki what I understood. We seemed to be about halfway to our destination and the lake seemed way too deep for rocks. We decided to muster on. We made the decision to move on but I was cautiously scanning the water for rocks. Once you decide on a strategy, be open to more information and adapt.

Calm. I was pretty nervous for most of the trip to Taquile Island. The waves were even higher than I anticipated. When one wave came across the kayak between Vicki (in front) and myself (in back), I was really nervous. What happens if we tip over? I don’t see a rescue boat close by. I don’t think I can swim that far. I had a thousand concerns running through my head. I shut up the voice of doubt. On a rest break, I looked up at the blue sky, I counted two beats longer and just appreciated the fact that I was on the highest navigable lake in the world (at 12,500 feet) and just tried to take it all in. I kept my worried thoughts to myself and tried to remain as positive as possible. Panicking Vicki or any other kayakers was not going to help anyone. Keep calm and carry on.

We made it. A total of 4 kayakers were towed to Taquile Island. Three kayaks made it in one piece, although it was a lot more arduous than we expected. The current was against us rather than with us. It ended up being life affirming and I am proud that we made the journey. I believe that tenacity won out in the end and it made all the difference.