If you've ever flown, you've heard the airline safety demonstration about putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others if the cabin pressure were to drop in the plane. Fortunately, I've never had to make the decision between myself or my child getting an oxygen mask first, but I think my instinct (like many parents) would be to help my child first. When I think about it intellectually, I understand that hypoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, can cause many issues including confusion to the point of being unable to help others or even yourself. In the moment, though, it's hard to think intellectually, and that's why flight attendants remind us every time we fly!
In the same way that prioritizing our own oxygen supply is critical for saving the lives of those around us in a hypothetical plane crash, it is necessary to prioritize caring for yourself so that you can better care for your loved ones. Self-care can mean different things to different people from a massage to an hour alone to reading a book. Self-care can sometimes feel like an indulgence that we shouldn't desire when, in fact, it's something we should not ignore.
In his article, Dr. Matthew Glowiak from Southern New Hampshire University said, "In a society in which people are expected to work long hours and pass on vacation days, there is an underlying belief that we must always be productive – which can ultimately take away from opportunities for self-care. But by taking some time out to engage in self-care, you may relieve the pressures of everyday life and reset yourself to get back to a healthy point where productivity is once again maximized."
As I was researching for this post, something so obvious began to emerge from my own experience. These days when I hear the word mask, I don't think of oxygen masks on a plane, but instead I think of the homemade cloth masks that I've made over the past several months to help protect my family and those around us from the COVID-19 pandemic. Very early on in the first lock down, I purchased a basic sewing machine. I had to have my 7th grader teach me how to use it since he'd recently taken Family and Consumer Sciences in school. I remember scavenging for old t-shirts and scrap fabric that I could use to make masks. This was back when you couldn't find pre-made cloth masks and the disposable ones had all been bought up. Because of my lack of sewing skills, it took me hours to make just one mask, but I made enough for my whole family (in the event that we'd actually leave the house!)
Over time and with practice, my sewing skills and access to fabric and thread improved enough that I was able to begin making more masks. I made masks for my husband, two sons, some friends, and then more for the kids. I was wearing and washing, wearing and washing the three masks I had (two made for me by a friend and one that I'd made myself.) I bought fabric to make myself more, but whenever I got the sewing machine out, I ended up making masks for other people and put my own masks at the bottom of the priority list.
Only today when I was thinking about the parallels between putting on your own oxygen mask first and the importance of self-care did it hit me that I need to make myself some masks! I'm the one in the family that spends the most time away from the house due to my job, but yet, everyone else has more masks than me. Once I have enough masks, I will feel more secure, less frustrated and spend less time laundering my small supply of masks.
There are selfish people in this world, but many of us think of others before ourselves. It's time to begin looking at self-care as a way to help others. Perimeter Health Care in Georgia explains on their website that, "Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit the good feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you don't have yourself."
Consider these easy ways to care for yourself:
Even though the metaphor of oxygen masks meant actual masks in my life, it can mean anything in yours. Choose at least one way to care for yourself this week because if you continue to give to others without caring for yourself, the less you are going to have to give. Put your mask on first!
Glowiak, Matthew. “What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important For You?” Southern New Hampshire University, 14 Apr. 2020, www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2020/04/what-is-self-care.
Coffey, Helen. “Hypoxia Definition - Why Adults SHOULD Do Their Oxygen Mask BEFORE a Child's on a Flight.” Express.co.uk, Express.co.uk, 24 Jan. 2017, www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/758140/hypoxia-definition-flight-mask.
“The Importance of Self-Care.” Perimeter Healthcare, 2020, www.perimeterhealthcare.com/about/news/the-importance-of-self-care/.
We woke up early on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year only to learn that our home internet was out! Since we were all planning to spend the day learning and working online, we had a few moments of panic. Luckily the internet came back on before long and held steady the rest of the day!
I had planned every detail of virtual learning at our house, but there was still something out of my control. It's good to be reminded that no matter how well we plan, the unexpected still happens. I think this school year may teach us all that lesson many times over! Because there is so much in life that we cannot control, it is helpful to be organized because that gives us the capacity to handle the unexpected when it comes our way.
Whether your kids are doing virtual learning at home full-time or their school has a hybrid approach where just part of the week is e-learning, being a parent of a school-aged child this school year is going to be a challenge! I am trying to use organization to help make the experience as smooth as possible, and I thought I'd share some of my ideas with you.
Challenge # 1: Not enough workspace
We are excited to have my older son's best friend and his younger sister joining us for virtual learning. It gives our kids some socialization and makes their school day much more fun! But we had to get creative to fit everybody in our home and still keep distance between them.
We live in an 1800 square foot, nearly 150 year old house with no spare bedroom or office. On days when I work from home to help supervise the school day, there are six people to fit into the space! We decided that we wanted everyone on the same floor, so we are not using bedrooms as classrooms. Because of that, not every kid has enough room to have all of their books and supplies next to them at all times. We solved that problem with a set of plastic drawers labelled with each kid's name. The drawers are on wheels so if I want to get rid of the school look, I can roll them into the laundry room!
We decided that since most of the school day will be spent on Google Meets with headphones on, it didn't really matter if kids were in the same room because they rarely have to talk out loud during live class. We set the two older kids up in the kitchen and the younger two in the living room in a configuration so no one gets in anyone else's videos!
My husband works in our bedroom on a slim table that we set in front of a window, and when I'm working from home, I work in my craft area. Even though it's a little crowded, I made everyone their own nameplate for their space to define it as theirs. I got acrylic frames for photo booth pictures for less than a dollar, then used scrapbook paper and some markers to make every "desk" a little special. At the end of the day, the kitchen kids have to put everything in their drawer so my family can eat dinner at the same table, but it works!
Challenge #2: Confusing schedule
We have two different schedules with different break times for the elementary and the middle school, and then there are alternating days for certain classes - it gets confusing fast! I got two white boards and two inexpensive easels (check the photo frame section for these) to display the schedule. I used different colors to help the kids easily find their next class. For the schedules that alternate, there is a magnet that indicates what day it is. We have one white board in each room to keep kids on track.
I also created a printable daily schedule that lists each class time, class, and code for the live video session as well as check boxes for other daily requirements. These were great for the first week while everyone was getting used to their schedules. After the second week, we probably won't need these anymore and can just maintain a list of codes for the videos.
One thing I love about virtual learning is how much extra physical activity the kids are getting because they can go outside and play, go on a bike ride, or just get some sunshine during breaks. But it's important for them to stay on schedule, so setting timers is a great way to help kids manage their time and get back to their seats in time for the next session.
Challenge #3: Tech Issues
I work in IT for my day job, so I am used to tech issues! The biggest lesson here is to teach your child how to fix issues rather than fixing them all yourself. It's amazing how even young children can learn to troubleshoot an issue when you take the time to show them how. Before school starts, go through their device with them and explain the basics. Don't assume they know how to open a new tab on a web browser or even turn down the volume. Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on.
We've already run into broken links, unknown passwords, and pictures and videos that wouldn't display. Teachers have been very honest that this is all new to everyone, so don't feel bad about asking them for help or letting them know when something isn't going quite right - but be nice!! Taking a photo of exactly what you are seeing on your kid's device may be more helpful than trying to explain it in words.
Slow or overloaded internet will surely be a problem at some point. If that happens, try limiting video to only when it's needed. Most teachers have a recording if something goes wrong and you can't participate live. You may have to roll with it!
"Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on."
Challenge #4: I have to work!
Many of us are working parents, and work doesn't just stop when school starts. We are in unprecedented times, and employers are trying to make accommodations but still stay in business. There are some who can't work from home because of the nature of their job. This is where we have to stick together and help each other out! I'm fortunate because my husband works from home, but I am trying to be very aware that he has a full time job and as willing as he is to be a teacher as well, I need to pitch in where I can. I occasionally work from home to give him a break, and I also review schedules for the next day and make lists, monitor homework assignments, etc. the night before so the days are smoother.
No matter what kind of job you have or how high up you are in an organization, all employees are just people and many of them are parents dealing with virtual school. Even those who don't have kids themselves, have a child or teacher in their lives and can understand the challenges of juggling work and school responsibilities. Several times a week on conference calls, I hear someone's child in the background or someone on the call has to excuse themselves to help with a school issue. It doesn't bother me a bit - I get it! We are all trying to do our best, and no one can deny that our kids' education is important.
To help stay focused at work when you are at home with school-aged kids, set them up with everything they need before you start your workday. Designate your own workspace and clearly communicate when kids are allowed to enter that space and at what times they need to be quiet. You may consider a sign or visual reminder of these things for younger children. Schedule your breaks around the kids' breaks so you can check homework, answer questions, and enjoy seeing their faces in the middle of they day. You may need to talk to your boss about working an alternate schedule. If there are hours that you need to dedicate to school, is it possible you could work some in the early morning or late evening to make up for that time?
None of us know how long we will be dealing with virtual school, so I encourage you to identify your top challenges and come up with strategies to address them. Organize yourself in other areas of your life to give you more room in your day to deal with the challenges at hand.
Have a great school year!
We are living in a historic time, and many of us are battling conflicting emotions that change multiple times a day. We are in a situation we’ve never been in before nor has anyone ever been! It’s a struggle to sort out the truth from the rhetoric, and a true balancing act between staying informed and becoming obsessed. Our physical and our mental health seem like they are somethings being pitted against each other, and it's been difficult to lead a "regular" life over the past several months.
For me, part of my "regular" life for the past 3 years has been this blog, but I soon realized that it had been months since my last blog post. When stay-at-home orders first hit, I was just busy with my day job in IT, so I skipped a couple of weeks. Then I became envious of those I saw posting on social media about how they were embracing the “pause” in daily life. My work life had not paused, and in fact I was working more hours with more stress than ever, and I still had to be a good boss, a supportive wife, an attentive parent, and even a teacher! The only thing I felt that I could allow myself to “pause” was my blog - so I stopped writing.
About a month after my last blog post, I realized that not ONE person had noticed I hadn’t written or posted on social media, so I became discouraged wondering why I should even start up again. I began to use any pockets of time that I could find to do other things I enjoyed like reading, working in the yard, learning to sew, going on walks with my husband, and spending bonus time with my kids.
I came to love being quarantined with my family. I liked not having to share them with anyone and how having more forced time together took away the guilt of alone time. I began to feel like time was slowing down - it was almost like freezing time that I wrote about a couple years ago. Even though my day job went from crazy busy to sort of normal and back to frantic several times over the past 3 months, I had the ability to work from home during much of that time which was just plain good for my soul. I became more productive and more balanced. I recognize that my family was very fortunate to avoid layoffs and have a comfortable home in which to ride out the quarantine time, and I felt guilty about being in that position when many others weren’t.
Even when I wanted to write, I didn’t know what to say. Believe me, I had - and still have - lots of feelings about the pandemic, the economy, racism, protests, politics, etc. But all of those topics can be very divisive, and I didn’t want to compound the issues by posting my opinions during such tumultuous times. Then I felt more guilt for not sharing my heartfelt thoughts.
"I want to teach them to acknowledge and learn from the past, see others' viewpoints, and develop empathy and understanding."
I see things through the lens of a parent, so as events continued to unfold over the past few months, I knew I had to explain them to my sons truthfully and in a way not to scare them but to educate and guide them. I want to instill in them that threats to health and safety exist and that it’s not just about their chances of getting sick, but it’s about respecting and protecting their family, friends, and community. I want to instill in them that all human life has the same value and, though injustice exists, it’s our personal responsibility to treat others kindly, respectfully, and equally. I want to teach them by example that we have to speak up when we see or hear something that is not right, and getting angry isn’t wrong as long as we control that anger and funnel it in a productive way. I want to teach them to acknowledge and learn from the past, see others’ viewpoints, and develop empathy and understanding.
All of the heaviness of this spring weighed me down, and it became easier and easier to put off getting back to my blog. I even thought about stopping all together, but a couple of weeks ago my high school best friend launched a new small business on Facebook (please check 4 Designs by Tara!) I immediately wanted to help her be successful - and that’s when I remembered the energy I get from helping others achieve their goals. THAT’S why I do this, because my passion is helping others succeed through identifying their goals and organizing themselves and their homes in a way that makes them productive. So, I’m back - I’m done feeling guilty, insecure, lazy, and ashamed. I’m back to chasing my passion which is helping you achieve yours!
I look forward to reconnecting with all of you!
I’m launching the next session of Achieve!, the group goal setting and accountability group for women, in mid-September with a 6 week session. If you have a goal you need help achieving or even need help determining what your goal is, this small group, virtual program may be just what you need. Learn more about the program here. If you decide to sign up, use coupon code: EARLYBIRD by 8/15/20 for your first week free!
It's that time of year when most of us are trying to stick to our New Year's resolutions. Chances are that if you're a woman and you made a resolution, it had something to do with eating healthy or losing weight. According to an article on inc.com 71% of people who made a New Year's resolution focused on diet or eating healthy.
Only about 8% of people who vow to make a change in their habits for the New Year are actually successful, so how can you be one of those who meet your goal? There are many factors in meeting a goal including setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal, creating milestones, monitoring progress, developing new habits, finding someone or a group to encourage you and keep you accountable, and avoiding obstacles.
Today I'm going to focus on two of these factors - developing new habits and avoiding obstacles - and how organizing your refrigerator can help you accomplish your resolution to eat healthier!
One way to avoid obstacles is to remove temptation. When you give into temptation, you might say you have no willpower. Give yourself a little more credit - it's not that you have NO willpower, it's that willpower is a limited resource. An American Psychological Association article suggests that willpower is similar to a muscle that can get fatigued from overuse. We use willpower all day every day whether it's forcing ourselves not to daydream when we should be paying attention in a meeting, not blurting out what we are really thinking when it would be inappropriate, or choosing an apple over a chocolate chip cookie. All of these instances take energy, and the more we can remove temptation, the less work it is to make good choices throughout our days.
In your refrigerator, you can easily remove temptation by cleaning out the items that are unhealthy or not on your eating plan. Well....this is easy if you live alone and no one else has to eat out of your fridge! But even if you have a family not on the healthy eating train, you can still make this work (especially if you are the one who buys the groceries!) First, eliminate the items that no one needs. Examples could be sugary drinks, desserts, condiments high in sugar, etc. Then designate a few areas of the fridge that you are "allowed" to eat from. Guard these areas and only allow foods that you should eat to go in them. In my fridge, I eat mostly out of the crisper drawers and the bottom shelf. This concept applies to your pantry as well.
The second way to avoid obstacles is to make it more convenient to make good choices. Rearrange your fridge so good foods are easy to access. Consider a small lazy susan to help you get to items in the back of the shelves more easily. Remove packaging and prewash and cut fruits and veggies. Having clean, cut strawberries makes it much easier to choose them over a packaged treat when you don't have to spend extra time cleaning and cutting them when you are hungry!
Group foods that you use to together. For example if you make smoothies for breakfast like I do, put all of your refrigerated ingredients together. Use bins to make it even easier on yourself so you can simply pull out one bin, put it on the counter, and have everything you need for your breakfast. I prefer clear bins so you can stack items, but still see what is in the bottom. If you make a lot of salads, you could use one crisper drawer for all of your cleaned, cut up veggies and proteins.
Developing New Habits
Another critical component to achieving a goal is developing new habits. Don't think of a habit as something big like "eating healthy," but rather the tiny things you do that lead to milestones along your journey toward your goal. When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, little habits related to your refrigerator can be very helpful.
Some of these habits do double duty and also help you avoid obstacles - win, win!
"Using all that you buy keeps your grocery bill down and removes the obstacle of 'healthy eating is too expensive'."
If you can get into these refrigerator related habits, you will have a better chance of being successful with your healthy eating plan!
If you would like to increase your chances of meeting your goals by joining other women for encouragement and accountability, consider joining the Achieve! program. Registrations for the February/March 2020 session are still open!
Economy, Peter. “10 Top New Year's Resolutions for Success and Happiness in 2019.” Inc.com, Inc., 1 Jan. 2019, www.inc.com/peter-economy/10-top-new-years-resolutions-for-success-happiness-in-2019.html
Weir, Kirsten. “What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2012, www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower.
I used to tease my kids when they were grumpy and say, "Don't have a saditude!" or "Turn that frown upside down!" Those silly sayings would make them smile against their will, and that smile would contribute to a slightly better attitude.
We've all heard that even though circumstances are beyond our control, we have the power to choose how we react to them. But the question I've always asked is HOW do I get the strength or even the desire to react positively? Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down and complain about it rather than see the bright side of getting knocked down in the first place.
The more I read self-development books and biographies of successful people, I see common themes in their lives. Many of those are small habits done regularly for long periods of time. Some of those habits sound great, but are really difficult for me to adopt like getting up at 5 a.m., running miles a day, or never eating sugar. There is one habit, though, that I read about time and time again, that seems very doable for just about anyone - practicing gratitude.
As the holidays approach, you've likely been hearing more about gratitude than ever before. The research is abundant about how gratitude affects not only our attitude, but also our relationship with others and our mental, physical and spiritual health.
A Harvard Health Publishing article explains what happens when people begin to acknowledge the good things in their lives. "In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
Neuroscientists at USC have studied the impact of gratitude on the brain and have learned that there are actually links between being grateful and our brain structure. They have found that gratitude can prompt the creation of brain chemicals that increase feelings of being connected to others. It is important to note that the changes in the brain, and consequently in our lives, don't happen immediately, but actually accrue over time. This is actually kind of exciting because once you learn to incorporate gratitude into your routine, it becomes an automatic mood booster that is only going to grow as time goes on.
Practicing gratitude doesn't only benefit ourselves, but there is research to suggest that grateful people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, researched the connection between gratitude and generosity and learned that they are both controlled by the same area of the brain. Think about the snowball effect this has - the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be giving, which could provide reason for others to be more grateful and give. This cycle could go on and on!
I think we are all convinced that being grateful is a good thing, but how do we actually learn to recognize what we are grateful for and achieve these benefits? The experts have suggestions including keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters of thanks, and visiting those you haven't properly thanked in the past. I want to share 10 of my favorite ideas with you, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!
I'm extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life, and it's a wonderful time of year to stop and recognize them all. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and pray it is filled with gratitude and giving!
Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash
Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Healthbeat, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Lindberg, Eric. “Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say.” USC News, University of Southern California, 25 Nov. 2019, news.usc.edu/163123/gratitude-health-research-thanksgiving-usc-experts/.
Wong, Joel, and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
Samuel, Sigal. “Giving Thanks May Make Your Brain More Altruistic.” Vox, Vox, 27 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/11/27/20983850/gratitude-altruism-charity-generosity-neuroscience.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Sometimes it seems easier to just give up than it does to start over. That's why some people never get their house organized, complete their passion project, or lose that weight they want to. It's easy to get excited about the possibility of achieving a goal, but it's much harder to see it to completion.
I'm here to tell you that I have been there — lots of times. I'm actually there right now! A few weeks ago I vowed to lose 15 pounds in 6 weeks. It's been —honestly, I don't even know off the top of my head how many weeks it's been — but it's been a few weeks, and I'm not even close to my goal. It would be easiest for me to just throw my hands up in the air and say, "This is too hard. I'll never lose weight." and just quit trying. But I'm going to propose a different way. I'm going to simply start over.
I have been successful in completing goals and even achieving more than I set out to in the past, so I'm going to look closely at those instances to try to figure out how I was successful. One example that comes to mind is the e-book I decided to write and publish in 6 weeks. Even looking back, I'm not sure how I pulled it off, but I did! I have a finished product that I'm really proud of, an e-book for sale on my website called Get Started Head First.
After that experience, I was really pumped up and felt like I could achieve anything. I gave myself a week off, and then jumped right back into another 6 week sprint — the one where I was going to lose 15 pounds. Well...I've already told you this experience has yet to be successful, but why?
When I really sat down to think about it, the answers were very simple. In order to achieve a difficult goal, I need a strict framework to keep me on track and focused. I didn't have that for this attempt at weight loss. I think we will all agree losing weight is hard for lots of reasons. I wrote about my struggle in a previous post, Weight: A Heavy Topic. After the high of finishing a 6 week sprint with my e-book, I think I forgot how hard it really was, so I didn't spend the time and effort in the planning stage to set myself up for success.
Here are the things that made me successful in achieving a goal in the past and how I am going to apply them in the future:
Accountability and Honesty
In my previous 6 week sprint, I publicly announced my goal and my time frame, and I did weekly live videos to report on my progress. This time, I also publicly announced my goal and my time frame, and I did one weekly live video to report on my progress. As soon as I realized I wasn't on track and my progress wasn't what I wanted it to be, though, I stopped checking in. Without that accountability, it was too easy to fall back into old habits. I wasn't even being accountable to myself because once I saw that the scale wasn't moving in the right direction (and sometimes in the wrong direction.) I stopped weighing in and recording my weight feeling like I'd be better off not knowing how I was doing. It soon became easy to go back to my old way of eating since no one would know.
This time around, I'm going to be stickler with accountability. I'm going to check in on my Facebook page with a live video every week to let you know the good, bad and the ugly of how it's going. I'm going to be honest with those I'm accountable to, including myself. Ignoring my shortcomings or even lying about them doesn't help me move in the direction I want to go. I will write down my food and weight daily even if I'm not proud of them!
The 6 Week Sprint Worksheet I used for writing my e-book was filled with small, bite-sized goals. When I filled out the worksheet completely, I was successful. I started out setting 6 weekly goals, and then broke those down into daily goals at the beginning of each week. This time around with my weight loss goal, I did set 6 weekly goals, but when I just looked back at my worksheet, I realized I only ever set the first week's daily goals and after that, I just walked away.
Without small, achievable goals written down so I could physically see them, I got overwhelmed and felt like I was failing at the whole goal all of the time. If I could have focused on just one day's goal, I would likely have been able to conquer that one thing at a time.
This time around, I'm going to put a daily reminder on my calendar to review and log my progress. In addition, I will create a weekly reminder to set daily goals for the upcoming week.
As much as I want to be able to do a million things at once, the truth of the matter is — I can't. I distinctly remember after finishing my e-book, and deciding on my next 6 week sprint that I couldn't decide between two things: losing 15 pounds and improving my online presence for My Life In Order. So what did I do? I decided to do them both! That was a mistake because I haven't done a good job on either of those projects. I was afraid I would be bored if I only chose to focus on one or the other. It's so easy to look back and see our faults, isn't it?
What I needed was true focus. Obviously I would still have to do all of my daily tasks and responsibilities, but to take on something "extra," it needed to just be one, focused thing.
This time around, I'm going to choose me and my health as my true focus. As much as I love My Life In Order and enjoy trying to figure out how to gain more followers, newsletter subscribers and potential clients, that's going to just have to fade into the background for now while I focus on my true goal of getting healthier for the next few weeks. My hope is that soon that healthy lifestyle will become one of those daily tasks and responsibilities and no longer feels like an "extra." When that's the case, I will take on a new project, but until then - one focus for me!
How about you, do you want to vow not to fail, but instead to start over with me? It could be anything you want it to be. Download a free 6 Week Sprint Worksheet, and give it a try. Just make sure you have:
Last week I was in Las Vegas at a huge conference for my job in IT. As I sat way up in the nosebleeds in the arena needed to hold the 6,000+ people in attendance, I felt more than a little insignificant. I looked around and saw so many people that seemed to have more knowledge and experience than me, and though that could be a good thing - an opportunity to learn - it was also overwhelming!
Where do I start? There is so much, so many choices bombarding me everyday. I struggle with choosing an area to focus on and get better at, because I feel like if I do, I will neglect everything else - and what if there was a better choice and one that would have been more important or had more impact? Nearing 40, I'm starting to feel like my potential is fading. I used to be the youngest in the room, and many times the only woman. That was my identity - the young, promising woman poised for success, but now I ask myself, "Where did my potential go? What has been my contribution, and did anyone notice?"
Now, when I hear a motivational speaker, I get all fired up...for a minute. When I was younger and less experienced, I was more easily inspired, but the older I get, my level of cynicism grows as my level of inspiration wanes. I'm now more grounded and practical and want to see my actions and contributions matter. I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out.
"I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out."
Last week, I realized it was time to embrace that being a small part of something big is enough. As I pondered what this meant in my real life here's what I came up with:
What about you? Do you feel like you have to be on top to matter or have you already mastered the art of teamwork and honing your specific skills so that you can compliment others with a common, big-picture goal? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
As the holidays approach, I begin to think more about my Grandma who passed away on Thanksgiving Day 5 years ago. She lived 98 years, and I had the privilege to know her for 32 of those. Appropriately, earlier this week I saw a quote, "Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone," and it made me sad to think about three of my four grandparents who are gone. But then I realized how fortunate I am to have had so many good examples in my life (including my other Grandma who I'm blessed to still have!) What a great way to honor them by being the things I loved most about them!
"Be the things you loved most about the the people who are gone."
I have two Grandpas and one Grandma who are in heaven. I don't know if there's anyway that they can look down on this world or not, but it's comforting to think that they might be. I hope that if that's the case, they'd be proud to see their granddaughter living out the lessons they taught me. One of my grandfathers died when I was only 9, but I have vivid memories and lessons learned from him just like I do my other grandpa who died when I was almost 30. I've chosen three qualities from each of my grandparents that I want to display in my own life, and I'll start with my Grandma Lena who I had a very special bond with.
Grandpa Ralph (married to Grandma Lena)
I'm a bit tear-stained as I write this because I miss them all so much, but it is nice to relive these memories and see how the things I loved so much about these pillars in my life still resonate in me today. Were these people perfect? of course not, but in these few ways and many more that I don't have time to share, they provided me a framework for a really fulfilling life. I want to apply these qualities to my life and I sincerely hope that some day my kids and future grandkids will remember some of these same types of things about my life that will help guide their future. Take the time to list out the things you loved most about the people who are gone from your life, but certainly not forgotten. It will make your heart feel very full!
The final way to define order is to request something be made or supplied to you - - or in short, ask for help. As women, wives, moms, professionals, caregivers, volunteers, or women who are crazy enough to try wearing multiple hats at once, we tend to take pride in the “I can do it all” gene we think we have. I know I often try to do it all, fail, and then complain about it. When I realized that making the unattainable my goal was unhealthy and just plain depressing, I stopped equating asking for help with weakness. I now put in “orders” for help all the time!
I used to use coupons, shop around, and price match, but now there’s Amazon Prime. I’m still thrifty, but now when I think of something I need that can’t be purchased on our weekly trip to local discount stores, I look it up on my Amazon app and buy it right then. How amazing is it that the item will be on my doorstep before I would make it to ‘town’ to go shopping?!
Then there are GRANDMAS - -not only can I ask them for help, but I’ve also learned to accept help when it’s offered to me by my mom and mother-in-laws (yep, that’s plural – I’m lucky enough to have two. And that is seriously not sarcasm!) Help has come in the form of house cleaning, cooking, laundry, and child care. One Christmas I got new socks from one mother-in-law and kitchen glasses from the other because they had noticed while helping with my laundry and dishes that I had holes in my socks and chips in my glasses. Before kids, I would have been offended, but I was actually touched. All three Grandmas have watched sick kids, helped with school pickup, taken them to doctor appointments, driven to sports practices, and chaperoned school field trips. These are all things I would rather have done myself, but in reality, I couldn’t, and Grandma saved the day! (Grandpas have done their share, too!)
You may not be as fortunate as I am to have parents and in-laws who are willing, able, or geographically close enough to help in this way, but we all have a variety of people in our lives that, if asked, will help in some way. A co-worker, someone from church, a child’s friend’s parent, scout leader, neighbor, etc. will likely say yes when you ask for help for one specific request.
The last example of how asking for help leads to a life in order is the cleaning lady. I learned from my mom that a little dirt never hurt and that tidy trumps a deep clean every day of the week! I like order, but don’t think of it as a synonym with clean. Dusting, vacuuming and tub scrubbing have never been on my priority list, but I like the end result! I used to clean on the weekends to avoid the guilt of having a dirty house, but then be mad about using up my precious free time.
My husband surprised me (and scored big brownie points) one Christmas when he got me a cleaning service! My house got dusted, floors vacuumed and mopped, toilets and tubs scrubbed, and sheets changed every other week! I still handled the clutter, but I like that part. The first weekend after the cleaning lady came, I sat on the couch and read a book - - READ A BOOK – on a SATURDAY MORNING – what?? It was amazing! Paying someone to clean your house does more than get it clean, it motivates you keep it picked up, takes away your guilt for not cleaning, reduces your stress, and gives you back precious time! The money for this service may not be in everyone’s budget, but there are many items I would give up to pay for a cleaning lady! Another option is to treat yourself as the cleaning lady and set aside a realistic amount of time to do the job and prepare for that time the same way you would if someone else was doing the cleaning for you. Get your family involved in the pre-work by picking up clothes, toys, and clutter. When it's time to do the cleaning, send everyone out of the house so you can clean without distraction. Treat it like you were at someone else's house (where cleaning is always more fun!) Then pay yourself either with a treat or by putting a little money aside in a special account that can grow over time.
We’ve come to the end of the series on the definitions of order - doing things in chronological order, arranging items within boundaries, telling your stuff and time what to do in an authoritative way, and requesting items to be provided to you. I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to remember and practice all of these principles all of the time, but I want to help you find practical ways to infuse order into your everyday life. Thanks for sticking with me so far. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment on a post, contact me through the site, or email me at email@example.com. There’s so much more to come - I can hardly wait to write more! Next time I'll be talking about using creativity to create order.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!