Tag Archives: Inspiration

Are you a Jackhammer or a Hummingbird?

“If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I wasted some of my twenties feeling depressed about my lack of passion. Like most people my age, I’d been told I could do whatever I wanted with my life, but had no idea what I wanted. I had things I loved to do, but no idea how to turn them into a career. Somehow I found myself sitting in a cubicle typing away about topics I didn’t find so interesting after a few years.

Then, driven by my unhappiness, I let go of the idea that I had to be madly, deeply committed to my career and started to just follow my curiosity. I knew I was adequately entertained as a substitute teacher right after I graduated from college. I felt drawn to the elementary school I walked by each morning on my way to work. Even though I didn’t feel a moving passion to become a teacher, I was curious whether it would be a good fit. So, I applied to a teacher residency program, got accepted, and quit my job.

It was a good move. I pushed myself to become more outspoken. I let go of a lot of fear. I loved working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what I’d ever imagined for myself, but it was enough. I felt inspired, motivated, and dare I say it, happy.

But, as I’m beginning to understand is my nature, it wasn’t enough to hold me for more than a few years. After the birth of my daughter, I experienced a sort of renaissance where suddenly I had permission to explore all my curiosities without needing to be financially viable. In the past two years, I’ve written a middle grade novel, started an online business, and taken on two part-time jobs at a Waldorf school, one teaching games, the other special education.

Pulled multiple directions, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to focus. Because I’ve been conditioned to attack goals one at a time, I felt a need to put more energy into fewer projects so I could actually “accomplish” something. Then my step-mom pulled me aside and had me watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It finally clicked.

In Gilbert’s description of either being a hummingbird (someone who flutters from project to project) or a jackhammer (someone who focuses intensely on one “passion”), I realized I needed to let myself be a hummingbird for awhile. My whole life, I’ve tried to approach everything with a jackhammer resolve, when really I derive a great amount of joy from exploring my many curiosities. And, the best part, there’s still hope for one of these curiosities to become a full-fledged, all-in passion.

Whew.

Talk about a relief. It’s amazing how reframing your perspective can change everything. So, this year, instead of trying to focus on just one or two things, I’m letting myself be a hummingbird for a bit longer. In fact, I’m embracing the hummingbird and trusting it will lead me where I need to go.

What about you?

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Here’s a teaser from Gilbert’s talk, (the full version is available in the link above):

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Bohemian Abundance & Peace at Home

We each have a formula of things that bring us happiness. For me, it is purpose in my work, expressing myself through writing, yoga, my dogs, travel, and most importantly, the people I love. This month has been a lesson in the reality that more money is not on that list. I can have all those things without ever being materially rich. Abundance exists in how we live, not what we have.

Sometimes the answers are so simple.

Sometimes the answers are so simple.

Everyone knows people who choose to live minimally but have incredibly rich life experiences. The vagabond, the bohemian yogi, the teacher who lives on little during the year to spend his summer backpacking. For most of us reading this blog, our dreams are achievable within the means of what we already have. I’m not saying poverty is not real, but rather our dreams are closer than we think.

Rick Steves says it well. He argues that driving an older car, living in a more modest home, eating out a bit less during the year can open up a world of travel we never thought possible. I have read incredible stories of people who live in tiny studios and then put their stuff in storage to allow themselves the freedom to travel. It all comes down to priorities. Maybe travel isn’t your thing, but something is, and whatever that thing may be, you have to find a way to give it space in your life, even if this means rearranging your priorities.

Likewise, we must give space to the people in our lives to do the same thing– our partners must create their own list of happiness ingredients and we must work together to honor how our priorities can coexist within the same home. After all, peace at home is not just about ourselves. It is a give and take, an acceptance of others for their true nature, not our selfishly-imposed vision of how the other should be.

Happiness is complicated. We expect this space of bliss to exist where all the hard parts melt away. This recent article on Offbeat Families says it well:

New love is beautiful, but it isn’t the point of life. Honoring it and allowing it to be, to flare and flourish and light up the sky and then to fade in its own time, like everything does… and staying with it, consuming it, taking it into ourselves, letting it become us, to become as vital to us as our lungs and heart and tongue, might be the point of life. Finding the deeper meaning and beauty beyond the flashier, temporary kind that comes with newness, might be the point.

-Amanda King

I am coming to realize that happiness is layered in challenge and perseverance. It is not easy and it is not constant, but when you are living a life aligned with that list of ingredients that rings true for you, it is there, just beneath the surface, helping you find peace in the chaos, giving your life meaning beyond any sort of obsession with needing more. We are already whole, we just need to figure out what this means and how to honor it.

Peace, too, is a state of mind. Some people are able to find peace in chaos, while others create chaos in peace. I am working to be the person who finds peace without hiding from the world or avoiding conflict. My work as a teacher helps me practice this every day, but it is still work and I am still learning.

It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.

-Abigail Adams

As I sat over a greasy spoon breakfast of eggs and country potatoes with my dad early yesterday morning, I was reminded that we do not face this journey alone. We are part of a network of people who can hold us up closer to our dreams, if only we figure out what they are and let go of our stubborn desire to do everything on our own. We are more powerful together, both at home with our partners and in our larger communities of families, friends, and neighbors. A bohemian sort of abundance already surrounds us, we just have to figure out how to embrace it.

Join me in the Bloggers for Peace June challenge, what brings you peace at home and in your relationships? 

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When It Don’t Come Easy

A coworker, friend, and yoga buddy just started his first blog– check out his first heart-felt post and click follow!

I remember talking to myself driving on the highway trying to find the right song that would understand and keep me company through this trip, trying to keep it together and be focused. Hours earlier I received a call from my mom that her and my dad were in Palm Springs as my sister, Ana, had been in a severe car accident(jaws of life to get her out, life flight helicopter, etc.),had to have both of her legs amputated and was in ICU sustaining other injuries. How in shock I was at work when I tried to get the words out of my mouth to my supervisor and co-workers. I felt disoriented, it couldn’t process, “MY sister? My little sister?! Both legs amputated?! This can’t be right.”. Here I was hours later, making the drive from Sacramento to Palm Springs(that I would eventually become pretty familiar with)still trying process this…

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19 Days of Yoga Rambling

I know today is the 17th, but I gave myself two days of a head start in April. I have practiced yoga daily for the last 19 days, which is probably my longest stretch ever. Here are a few of my latest take aways:

1. Some days lying on the floor counts as yoga, (especially if you focus on breath and meditation and throw in a few lazy poses…). I am grateful to a lovely yoga teacher who told me this would be true. Without her permission, I might have pushed my body harder than would be beneficial.

2. Surfing the internet and reading can be happily accomplished in many yoga poses with a mat on the floor, resulting in far less neck and back tension than the couch or a computer chair. Bonus, the dogs think it’s fun to join me.

3. Yoga makes you look healthier. I have never been told so frequently that I look really healthy. That’s not a statement of vanity but instead of true gratitude. Health is a mission. True health radiates. I’ve eaten really well for years, but adding consistent yoga to the mix makes a real difference.

4. I’m less tired. Earlier in the month I was in this weird pattern of needing a nap every day after work. Now I do yoga instead and it achieves pretty much the same goal of relaxation with the added benefit of endorphins.

5. Yoga is kind of a religion. The more I practice, the more I’m interested in the spiritual aspects, and the more I feel like the mind, body, and spirit are all really connected when it comes to the health of each. I feel more emotionally constant with yoga as part of my daily routine, which spills over to the classroom and all aspects of my life.

6. Real physical strength can be built through yoga. Upper body strength has never been easy for me and I hate push-ups/weights. However, the balancing challenges of poses like crow make building upper body strength fun– I can now hold crow about three seconds, which is pretty amazing considering I was down to zero on April 29. Three seconds may not sound like much, but it feels like an accomplishment when you’re balancing all of your body weight on your spread hands and elbows. Just don’t try crow next to my brother. He doesn’t frequently practice but he’s strong enough to extend his legs to the side in advanced variations. Show off.

7. Yoga brings amazing people into your life. Yesterday an instructor I love shared the idea that when you’re brave enough to be your authentic self, you attract people with similar levels of authenticity. What started as a whim to do yoga every day in May has brought people in my distant sphere closer– so much gratitude for this. More friends with shared interests and values is a good thing indeed.

8. I’m now obsessed with Wanderlust. The posters are at all three of the studios I’ve visited this month, calling to me, “YOGA! YOGA! YOGA!” However, I don’t camp and the idea of camping alone at a festival is intimidating. I need to recruit someone to go with me. I also need to learn how to camp. It is a life skill I really should acquire… Maybe Wanderlust will convince me to give it a go.

If you’ve made it this far, bravo. I leave you with my favorite cover of “Forever Young”– discovered during a yin yoga class yesterday, (motorcycles be darned).

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Things That Grow

A beautiful post from a teacher brave enough to share her students’ stories. Someday I hope to have the courage to follow in her footsteps.

New to the Orleans

A kid had a wadded up piece of newsprint in his pocket today that he was showing other students. It was a photo of his brother that was printed in the Times Picayune with “Second Degree Murder” under it. Brother is being tried for murder. The kid who was showing the photo has been in jail recently for 5 months. Two days before he got out, brother was arrested. And yes, it’s constantly on his mind.

A girl told me today her family lived in 6 places after Katrina before coming back to New Orleans. When they lived in Texas, her little brother burned down an apartment complex they lived in. He was flicking a lighter under the bed and poof, the mattress caught fire. Her mom grabbed the baby “by the Pamper” off the burning bed and they fled.

Another kid shared the line, “Money is a pacifier,” from…

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Writers: Finally a good use for Pinterest!

I know plenty of women who are obsessed with Pinterest. From teachers to moms to fashionistas, Pinterest appeals to pretty much every woman I know, (as well as some of the men, too, I’m sure). Until today, this excluded me. I signed up because I use it from time to time for visual inspiration or to find a picture for my blog, but I have never got into pinning things, (I already waste my valuable writing time in too many ways).

However, one of my big goals in revisiting my book is to anchor it with more specific visual cues. I don’t want to turn into Steinbeck with full page descriptions of meadows, but three words here, five words there can really shape what readers see. I want my book to feel more textured, more quirky, more unique. This comes from no one other than myself. I feel like many of my visual descriptions are too generic, even if my goal is to keep much of my description minimalistic.

So– I’ve decided to create a board on Pinterest for images that fit with my vision of the book. Before I revisit each chapter, I’m spending a maximum of five minutes pinning images that mesh with what comes next. I tried it with my prologue this morning and the story felt much more alive. I could see Kristen’s outfit more clearly, I could see Jake’s gift sitting on the kitchen table. Best of all, by the end of the book, I will have a board full of images from their travels, their choices, their lives. I love it.

Feel free to stop by and watch my story grow. And, if you create a similar writing board for your work, I would love to check it out.

Any other good writing uses for Pinterest?

Pinterest is full of so many images

I have always googled images while I write, but Pinterest gives me a way to keep all of the images together, creating a visual storyboard of my novel.

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Women: We Could Learn from Our Men

I am sure you have already seen these clips before. The first is the real thing, the second is a parody. Women are asked to describe themselves and focus on their weaknesses. Men are asked to do the same thing and overplay their strengths. While both offer an unbalanced self-image, I think we women have something to learn from our beloved male counterparts. A little self-love could do us some good.

A friend sent me both these clips a couple weeks ago, I watched and laughed (and cried) and then moved on. However, the messages stuck with me. Out at dinner with friends, a girlfriend and I noticed how our husbands like to talk themselves up, “I’m great at… One of my strengths is…” We laughed because we never go around giving lists of our positive qualities to each other.

Maybe we should start.

 

 

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Monday Words of Wisdom: Be Brave.

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. – Cheryl Strayed, Wild

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Thankfulness Thursday: Girl on Fire.

I am part of a generation often accused of being too self-entitled. While I agree hard work and gratitude should be part of the equation, I also stand firm in my opinion that each and every one of us deserves greatness. The definition of greatness may vary from one to another, but whatever that greatness is, we deserve it.

Lessons always seem to converge at once. This weekend, while I was in a particularly grumpy mood, the women in my family reminded me we deserve the moon. Then another woman I deeply admire posted an article about an adoptive mother who decided to teach her timid toddler to physically fight back against her brothers. This article permeated my being, (read it!).

I always thought I believed in myself. Then I realized this belief is contradicted by the guilt I feel in whatever I have, achieve, desire. Since I was a little girl, I have confused guilt, humility, and gratitude. I finally get it, if only for a moment. Guilt should not accompany success won through hard work and thankfulness. You can lovingly serve others without losing sight of your own worth.

For the first time in years, I allowed myself to seethe in all the parts of my life I want to change, and, to my shock, the seething felt amazing. I let anger I never knew existed escape my soul. I realized my worth and felt no guilt in my desire for greatness. What a concept, self-worth and desire without guilt. I was a girl on fire, ferocious and proud. So much gratitude. I hope it lasts.

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Writing Improvement Program: Which authors do you most admire?

According to The Art of War for Writers, “The idea is not to try to become an exact copy of the writer you admire. Rather, you are incorporating rhythms and possibilities into your own inner writing.” The book recommends copying down memorable passages and reading them aloud to feel the cadence of the words as part of your personal writing improvement program. I love this idea.

As my dream writing self, I would borrow the soulful honesty of Cheryl Strayed and combine it with the expert narrative weaving of Audrey Niffenegger and Jeffrey Eugenides, who both bring their stories to life through the eyes of unusual, but still relatable characters. Below you’ll find some quotes from their works that capture the gifts I would most like to cultivate in my own writing. Maybe there are better examples, but I always lend out my most beloved books, so I had to rely on Goodreads.

Which authors best embody your ideal writing self? I know the goal is to be unique, but there is something to be said for slowing down to examine what it is you most enjoy about your favorite writers. I’d love to hear who you admire. And, who knows, maybe you’ll inspire me to add a few more books to that growing pile on my dresser.

Stolen from Pinterest.  Not sure if that counts as stealing when it was already stolen, moral imperative I guess.

Some of my favorite Cheryl Strayed words… Thanks Pinterest.

Cheryl Strayed: Words that pierce your being.

“It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.” – Dear Sugar

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.” – Dear Sugar

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.” – Dear Sugar

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Audrey Niffenegger: Intricately woven narrative with love at its core.

“We are walking down the street holding hands. There is a playground at the end of the block, and I run to the swings and I climb on and Henry takes the one next to me facing the opposite direction. And we swing higher and higher passing each other, sometimes in synch and sometimes streaming past each other so fast that it seems we are going to collide. And we laugh and laugh, and nothing can ever be sad, no one can be lost or dead or far away. Right now we are here and nothing can mar our perfection or steal the joy of this perfect moment.” – Time Traveler’s Wife

“The hardest lesson is Clare’s solitude. Sometimes I come home and Clare seems kind of irritated; I’ve interrupted some train of thought, broken into the dreary silence of her day. Sometimes I see an expression on Clare’s face that is like a closed door. She has gone inside the room of her mind and is sitting there knitting or something. I’ve discovered that Clare likes to be alone.” – Time Traveler’s Wife

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Jeffrey Eugenides: The world seen through distinct but somehow familiar eyes.

“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.” – Virgin Suicides

“I was thinking how amazing it was that the world contained so many lives. Out in these streets people were embroiled in a thousand different matters, money problems, love problems, school problems. People were falling in love, getting married, going to drug rehab, learning how to ice-skate, getting bifocals, studying for exams, trying on clothes, getting their hair-cut and getting born. And in some houses people were getting old and sick and were dying, leaving others to grieve. It was happening all the time, unnoticed, and it was the thing that really mattered.” – Middlesex

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When it’s hard, try harder.

When it's hard, try harder.

“This is too hard.” Those words make me cringe. I hear them daily. They might be the most common words in my professional life. I tried to ban them. It didn’t work. They still sneak their way into lessons, tests, discussions.

“When it’s hard, try harder.”

That’s my newest response. I wrote those words on the board today, before we took our reading benchmark. I also tried something else. The school psychologist slipped a book into my box, Teaching Meditation to Children. We closed our eyes and imagined ourselves on a beautiful spring day confronted with an enormous wall. Instead of turning around, we figured out a way over, through, under… We didn’t give up.

The irony does not go unnoticed. I teach kids to do their best, to not get discouraged by their mistakes or failures. Yet, sometimes in my personal life I want to give up. Lately writing has felt this way. At first I was unfazed by the rejection letters from my queries, but more than forty later, they are beginning to feel heavier as they pile up. The worst are those from agents who asked to see more but then weren’t interested. The others feel less real, less personal. They didn’t take the time to look.

I’m not sure what’s next. More querying, rewriting, beta readers, self-publishing, a different project, or some combination of it all. Today I realized the important part is that there is something next, that I follow my own words to try harder when it’s hard. After all, what good is a leader who does not believe her own words. Maybe a little meditation would not hurt either.

"Children experience feelings such as love, joy, fear, disappointment and anger with intensity they may never match in adult life." So true. I remember that intensity. I also remember the teachers who asked us to close our eyes and imagine.

“Children experience feelings such as love, joy, fear, disappointment and anger with intensity they may never match in adult life.” I remember that intensity. I also remember the teachers who asked us to close our eyes and imagine.

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Dear Buddha,

Buddha

Someone special gave you to me when I made a big life choice.

You sit on my desk and remind me of this choice daily.

Your goofy grin is a bit disarming.

Sometimes, I catch myself rubbing your big belly for good luck.

You carry your wealth from place to place on your back because all you need is with you.

I guess this means that all I need is with me too.

Thanks for the reminder,

Olivia

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