Are the Routines of Your Life Working For You?

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life is that challenging times are actually opportunities that can lead me to thrive in ways I would have never undertaken on my own.

Twenty-five years ago, I was in a marriage in which my husband left me for another woman. I felt like the framework of my life had been ripped out from underneath me. My need to overcome my pain led me to study teachings that I would never have explored on my own. I’ve come to recognize that this experience laid the foundation for philosophies which now govern my life.

The Organic Necessity of Change

There is no doubt that we are living in tough times. We have all been sacrificing things which typically provide us with a sense of physical safety, financial security, and overall pleasure. Yet there is a great opportunity here to approach things differently. So often we keep on trying to force something to happen in the same old ways, without considering that perhaps it’s not working because it is no longer meant to be. It no longer fits who we are right now.

Eggs, milk and yogurt are not the only things in life that have expiration dates. Who we are ages and changes as well. What we value changes as a result of every new day of experience. To expect that we will feel the same level of fulfillment by keeping our routines steady for long periods of time is unrealistic and a recipe for unhappiness. We must listen more closely to our soul.

Questions to Ask Yourself

I am welcoming this as a time to ask myself the question of what’s working for me and what’s not. It’s made me realize how my experience of life is not made in one wide swoop, but rather a tapestry of decisions involving minutia ranging from where I feel safe shopping to who enriches my emotional joy to what work fulfills me to when, where and how I work out.

You know how we are frequently being asked by businesses to complete a survey about our satisfaction of their service? How about asking ourselves how fulfilled we are with the routines we have established for our life?

Please stay well.

Susan

My Biggest Lesson of the Covid-19 Pandemic

I have been a slave to the gym for the past 25 years. Although I was a runner for most of that time, I always kept a gym membership as a support system during cool and rainy weather.

I don’t like to admit it, but my gym schedule ruled my life. I was a class-goer for the most part, so my favorite classes defined the hours I was available to participate in other social or business activities. The last few months before the lockdown I would be hard pressed to consider any invitation that would take me away from Nick’s 6 PM spin class or Chris’s Thursday 5:30 PM core class. You might think this is crazy, but it was my truth.

Although I prided myself on my 4 to 5 day a week dedication, I would often wonder what my life would be like if I could take back all the time I spent at the gym. Yet because staying fit is so important to me I never considered there could be an option to the gym.

On March 16, 2020 that belief began to change when I received an email from the owner of my gym that it would be closing for the next 3 weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That 3-week projection has now morphed into ten week as I write this.

My Gym Withdrawl

For the first few days I was miserable. If you’re someone who works out frequently, then you can relate to the feeling that your muscles are begging for a workout. Parts of my body began to feel sluggish and I wasn’t happy with that at all. I didn’t feel like me.

Luckily my husband and I jumped on the idea to buy a spin bike before the rest of America was shut down. Three days later almighty Amazon delivered the box that I didn’t realize at the time would play a big role in changing my life.

During the days that led up to the bike’s arrival I started exploring fitness channels on YouTube. I had been a follower of Yoga with Adriene for some months, yet it never occurred to me that I could fulfill my weight training and ab workouts through videos as well.

Over the next few weeks I discovered Maddie Lymburner from MadFit, Amy Jo Palmquest from Athlean-XX for Women, and other inspiring women who have become my new personal trainers. They have given me a better workout in an intense 15-20 minute session than a 50-minute class at the gym.

How My Life Has Changed for the Better

I should start out by saying that I’m super blessed to not be one of the tens of millions of healthy Americans to be without work right now. I experienced that in 2008 and I understand the stress of the uncertainty of times.

One thing that comes up for me as a result is knowing that I’ve lived through some tough times and have survived. It’s given me faith. We will get through this and perhaps even come through stronger on the other side if we are able to look at the gifts that have come out of the challenges.

For me now in the midst of Covid-19, I am grateful that my family and I are healthy. I cherish the company of my husband. The Shelter at Home order has led me to design my life from a perspective that is totally under my control within that order.

No pressures to be anywhere/do anything that is beyond my home. I have found it very freeing to get in touch with what I really enjoy and need to thrive. I feel happier! Life is simpler.

I like not being a slave to the gym.’ I feel like I’ve taken my life back. I can ride the bike whenever I want. The weather has warmed up and my husband and I have been taking some great walks in the hills around our neighborhood. And the YouTube videos have become a new ritual that I look forward to every evening.

The Lesson for Me

I think the main lesson for me has been to explore anything that feels uncomfortable in my life. I began wondering years ago what life would be like if I didn’t spend hours of my life every week at the gym. But I never looked beyond the ponder.

The universe delivered a situation that forced me to look at the question. I am grateful for the opportunity to discover a new truth that I had been unable to get to when left to my own devices.

Coronavirus Spiritual Correction

It’s been a week now since the San Francisco Bay Area in which I live was put on a shelter-at-home order. While not all states have yet followed, communications I have had with colleagues and friends throughout the country confirm that this crisis has hit us all at our core in a way we’ve never experienced. But as scary, inconvenient and uncomfortable as it may feel right now, I sense that this may be good for us spiritually. Maybe, like a stock market crash facilitates a “correction” in financial markets, we’ve been led to a spiritual correction that we didn’t realize we needed.

I run a marketing agency and get emails from a plethora of individuals and organizations every day. What has struck me this past week as I’ve been working from home is that we are now communicating from a place of heart. I have felt that the business of the day has temporarily fallen in priority to connect at the human level first. The vast majority of the emails I’ve received and send acknowledge the understanding that we are living in unprecedented times. We express hope that each other’s loved ones and teams remain healthy. And we repeatedly remind each other that we are all in this together. We will get through this.

Communication right now begs for an acknowledgement of the truth about what we are facing. To not acknowledge the emotional fragility that abounds now with those we engage with seems insensitive and cold. Perhaps that’s one of the purposes of this crisis—to bring us back to a place where we feel our unity and express genuine care for each other.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Wherever you are, please be safe and be well.

3 Simple Steps for Happiness

I have been noticing lately that I feel an intense admiration for people who have a passion for something, and then create a successful life that is an expression of that passion. It’s not that this is a new respect that I have. I’d describe it as more of a shift in my focus. In the past I would be focused more on honoring someone’s work. I’ve gotten in touch with the fact that I now honor the person because they have succeeded in bringing their passion to a level of success.

1. Get in Touch with What You Honor

I recognize that what I honor in others is what I want for myself. This is a huge life compass, especially for someone like me who is beginning to see that there is a limit to the time I have here on this earth.

2. Understand What is Driving You

I am someone who is driven by the need for financial security. I guess I equate it with freedom. I started working at a movie theater at age 14 because I wanted to have the freedom to buy clothes on my own dime. I changed college majors from psychology to business once I started looking at the job opportunities and pay scales in the newspaper want ads. The job choices I made through my marketing career were usually driven by compensation.

Seemed wise at the time, but now I can see how empty this can leave your soul, and its desire to be who it wants to be. I am convinced that alignment with our soul’s desires is the key to happiness. How can I be happy if I am faking who I am and ignoring what I really want to be?

3. The Recipe to Happiness

Pay attention to your feelings. Honor them. Take direction from them. Give them some kind of outlet in your life. Don’t have any expectations, yet see where they take you.

Give yourself the opportunity to be you, one step at a time.

Are You Living The Legacy You Wish To Leave Behind?

Yesterday my husband and I were doing some gardening out on our back deck when my neighbor of 20 years came out to ask what we knew about the schedule for our upcoming roof replacement, a current project in our waterfront condominium community. We haven’t seen much of Perry, 78, lately, so it was nice to have an opportunity to chat with him.

When we finished discussing the community business, Perry complemented us on the  flower beautification project we were in the midst of and shared that he hadn’t had the energy for gardening lately.  He went on to tell us that he hadn’t been well, and that he had cancer of the stomach… a terminal diagnosis.

What do you say to someone you’ve known over a fence for 20 years who tells you they’ve been told they have 4 – 10 months to live? How do you communicate to them that you’re deeply sorry, that the news has shaken you, and that there is something you wish you could do to help turn things around?

How does the prospect of loss impact how you look at your own life?

Over the past year cancer has been hitting close to my home in far greater instances than ever. I lost a dear uncle and a beloved cat. My father was diagnosed with Stage 1 throat cancer and completed radiation treatments. Two other good friends have undergone or are in the process of chemotherapy for lymphoma. My naively optimistic view of my own longevity is beginning to shudder.

My neighbor sharing his diagnosis has invoked a wake-up call for me.  How can I assume that my healthy life will continue through old age? What do I want my legacy to be? What do I need to do to push that legacy forward?

The commitment to your legacy

What’s come up for me in the last 24 hours is that I need to make a commitment to the legacy I wish to leave behind. And that means I need to commit time to it, to make it a greater priority than the other things I do to “entertain” myself outside of my day job. I know that it is doable because I’ve done it tonight. I’ve shared this with you.

 

 

Memories of My Aging Parents

Last night we took my mother out for dinner to celebrate her 81st birthday. My parents still live in the house in which I grew up, in a suburb south of San Francisco. I’m lucky enough to have easy access to them, living within an hour’s drive on the northern side of the city by the bay.

My father, 83, was a career longshoreman whose work involved tough manual labor for most of his career. He now suffers from a bad back and walks with a cane to support his stooped over posture.

Signs My Parents are Aging

I first noticed my dad’s cane in the trunk of their main commuting car about three years ago. He rarely used it, yet I’ve seen his reliance on it grow in the last couple of years. Yesterday when we arrived at my parents’ home, I discovered a second cane for the first time in their bedroom.

Over the past couple of years my mom has become the primary driver because my dad’s eyesight isn’t great. He’ll drive himself to his weekly Tuesday lunch with his buddies, but that’s about it. Whenever we all go out now, we drop my dad near the front door of the restaurant so that he doesn’t have far to walk.

In comparison, my mom is in pretty good shape. She gets around rather well, yet lately I’ve been seeing different signs of her aging. The once almost immaculate house is no longer immaculate. Her outdoor orchid plants, until recently her passion, now have weeds in between the potted bulbs.

Gratitude for Time with My Aging Parents

Last night after we finished a wonderful dinner at their favorite Basque restaurant, I looked at my parents across the table and felt an emotional wave of gratitude for all the memories I’ve been able to share with them as an adult.

I spent a good chunk of my mid-20s to mid-30s living in New England for my work. My parents were in their 50s then. Although my dad, who immigrated to the U.S. from the island of Malta at age 16 had seen many parts of the world before arriving in San Francisco, he’d not traveled to the northeastern part of our country. My mom who was a Brooklyn born full Croatian had never traveled the northeast states either. So my home in New Hampshire made for the perfect launching pad for memories.

Reminiscence of My Time Together with My Aging Parents

During one of their early visits to see me in New Hampshire, my parents had expected to be driving with my husband and I to Montreal, yet our SUV that was supposed to get us there was sitting at the local garage. Somehow we gained access to the SUV the night they arrived and my dad fixed whatever was wrong so that it became our vehicle to Montreal the next day. There was another time when my mom and I laughed our pants off when we couldn’t find our way off the toll road that kept bringing us back to Newport, Rhode Island. I loved that I introduced my California parents to Maine steamers and lobster and the beauty of Vermont. Those were the days.

I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996, and a year later bought a waterfront condominium in Marin County, which was a spot that fostered many other great memories with my parents. My father, a bird lover and a fisherman, enjoyed the unique outdoors where I lived. My mom was a presence I could rely upon, whether that be in-patient surgery or holding my hand as I said good-bye to my treasured kitty friend.

They haven’t spent much time at my place over the past few years. The traffic to get through San Francisco is too much for them and they’ve become much more comfortable sleeping in their own bed.

I miss the old times. I wish I had been more appreciative of those days as they were happening. I knew we were enjoying time together, but I didn’t have the awareness that those days would someday be limited.

I know that now. And better late than never for it gives me an understanding of how I want to charter the remaining times we have together.

Might you somehow relate?

Don’t Take Anything Personally

I joined a new health club a couple of months ago and am now settling into my routine.  I’ve recently discovered a class instructor who has become my favorite. Her classes are always very challenging, yet different, and she pushes us really hard. I always leave her classes with a great feeling that I’ve given myself a healthy workout that I can feel into the next day.

Although I do know the instructor’s first name, I refer to her as “Sergeant” when I talk about her with my husband. I call her this because of the grueling nature of her instructing style, along with an overall lack of warmth or compassion. While she has a good sense of humor, her demeanor is tough.

Yesterday was the Sunday morning after turning the clocks ahead. I was planning on attending Sergeant’s 10 am Total Body class and considered that I needed to go to bed early enough on Saturday night to feel energetic despite an hour of sleep lost. My alarm first went off at 8 am Sunday morning. I knew I had time to spare and made a mental note to snooze my alarm. That didn’t happen. Instead I woke up at 9:22 and jumped out of bed in a panic to make the class.

I got to the health club in plenty of time to make the class. Once the Zumba class ahead of us had cleared, I walked into the exercise studio with all the other women. We grabbed a step platform and weights. Sergeant got the music started and our time together began.

As we worked through the hour with cardio, weights, bands and core exercises, I felt a sense of joy that I was getting the workout I wanted. It was probably the sixth class I’d taken from Sergeant and I was thinking that it was time to express my appreciation to her and introduce myself after class.

Putting Myself Out There
After class ended and the exercise studio was emptying, I took a place behind a woman talking with Sergeant at the front of the studio. It was clear from their conversation that the woman had been a regular in Sergeant’s classes and that there was a fair amount of familiarity between them. When that woman stepped away, Sergeant turned her body away from me to focus her attention on the music she was disassembling. It struck me as odd. Hadn’t she seen me standing there waiting to talk to her?

I thought about tapping her arm or shoulder to get her attention, but instead I just spoke. I said, “I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your classes. You really give a great workout.”

The Surprising Snub
What happened next surprised me. Or better said, what didn’t happen amazed me. I expected a smile. I expected to see some type of facial expression or eye contact that displayed feelings. I expected to see that my outreach of gratitude was felt and appreciated. I experienced none of that. Instead I got a cold snub. It made feel bad.

I walked out of the exercise studio, through the health club, and outside to the parking lot totally attached to the bad experience I’d just had. I felt humiliated having extended myself and then being treated like that. I was pissed. If her classes weren’t such good workouts, I would have vowed never to attend them again. But they are, and I had to find a way to deal with my experience.

Don’t Take Anything Personally
After I got home and continued to process this experience, I was reminded of the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic book, The Four Agreements, in which he wrote—

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves…”

I was reflecting back on what I’ve observed in the woman I call Sergeant. First of all, I typically refer to people by their names unless there’s a particular aspect about them that is part of the story I’m trying to tell. Why would I ever expect that a woman I have named Sergeant will be warm and fuzzy to me? Duh!

I’m also suspecting that I may have encountered Sergeant at a time in her life when she’s not feeling particularly good about herself. She’s mentioned in classes that she’ll be turning 60 this year, that no matter how hard she works, her body is becoming “fleshy”, declares that she hasn’t gotten a face lift because it will mean too much time away from the gym, and so on.

The coldness I encountered is not about me. It’s about whatever is going on in her life that is preventing her from having an open heart.

The next time I see her will be through eyes of compassion rather than insult.

A Personal 40-Year High School Reunion

Last weekend I got together with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. That was 40 years ago for me! Lynn and I joked beforehand that we didn’t feel like we were old enough to not have seen someone in 40 years.

We were meeting for lunch at a restaurant that was only a half hour ride from my home, but it gave me an excuse to experience our new regional train system. Lynn offered to pick me up at the train station.  She told me that she had a dark red SUV, which I immediately recognized when I arrived at the top of the train platform, which faced the street where she was parked. I gave her a big wave as I walked down the platform steps and she waved back, like it had been just yesterday.

As I reached her car, Lynn jumped out and we shared a big hug. We climbed back into her car and made our way the half mile to the downtown area where I’d made our lunch reservation. We exchanged small talk while we circled the block looking for parking, but once we landed the car and got on our feet towards the restaurant, we began our process of catching up.

Lynn and I weren’t exactly close in high school, but I often hung around with a group of girls that she was close with. As we walked towards the restaurant, we retraced how she came to recently connect with me on Facebook and we were reminded that we shared a family connection. I have twin cousins who are close friends with her younger sister and her parents had shared a friendship with my aunt and uncle.

We arrived at the modern Italian restaurant and buried ourselves in conversation for over two and a half hours, before noticing that we had blown through their designated 3:00 PM close time. We told our waiter that we hadn’t seen each other in decades, and the staff graciously allowed us to linger in the dining room while they were technically closed. Once we realized this, it was time to get me back to the train station, where Lynn set me off with another hug.

I’ve noticed that the conversation that I shared with Lynn has influenced my thoughts over the past week. The process of sharing 40 years of my history has reminded me of the wide variety of interesting things I’ve done in my life that I no longer acknowledge in my day to day thinking. I am often guilty of being so fixated on what I want to accomplish next that I don’t give any attention to the cool things I’ve done that I feel really good about.

The Take-Aways

Spending time or sharing with friends from your past is a great window into your soul. These are the people who can help you to see who you are, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

 

My Voice A Passion

I have recently said yes to a journey to explore an interest which has lived inside of me for some 40 years. It began when I was invited to be a part of KFAL, the radio station for Crestmoor High School,  my now defunct Alma mater just south of San Francisco . Every Wednesday at 11:30 am I would step up to the microphone to read the announcements that were being broadcast throughout the campus. It was fun but I didn’t give any thought to it other than it gave me an opportunity to be in the same space with a guy I had a huge crush on.

Some twenty years later I was asked to do a voice-over for an apparel company that was one of my then employer’s biggest clients. I didn’t think any more of it beyond it being a fun give-back to my employer. I drove to a studio in Manchester, NH to do the taping. There were a few takes, but nothing excessive. It was a totally new experience that I didn’t know what to make of. Somewhere buried deep in one of my storage boxes lies the final packaged recording.

Since I moved back to California 20 years ago, my interest in doing something voice-related remains. I attended introductory classes to two different voice-over training programs, yet skipped out on each after the initial day, feeling intimidated and afraid that I could never be good enough.

After I left my corporate marketing job in 2005, I worked three seasons as a wedding officiant. I created personalized ceremonies that embraced the couples’ unique relationships and just loved to practice reciting the ceremonies out-loud. I loved using my voice to inspire an important message.

I’ve recognized this passion with my voice come up for me frequently enough throughout my life that I recognize there is something there that I need to explore. Over the past month I have thrown myself in as a student at VoiceOne in San Francisco. This time I’m ready to walk through the fear rather than walk away.

 

Are You Making the Most of the Days of Your Life?

Tonight I learned that my 51-year-old cousin has colon cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes. She’s got a husband, two older kids and six months of chemo–I hear–in front of her. My cousin and I aren’t close friends but we share the bond of family and I love her. I pray that she will beat this incredible challenge and thrive.

I learned about my cousin’s condition on a phone call tonight with my mother. It reminded me of how vulnerable we all are, going about our lives thinking that we are free from harm–that something bad will never happen to us. I’m guilty of this big time and I know that this thinking gets in the way of me getting totally serious about taking total control of my life.

The Days are Numbered Mindset

I think that the biggest gift that we can all give ourselves is the constant realization that our days are numbered. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I am a native Californian who has never been to Yosemite. I’ve wanted to learn Spanish but I haven’t lifted a finger. There are so many other things that I’ve said I wanted to do that I haven’t followed through on. As I now feel the clock ticking, I see that everyday decisions make a difference in the quality of our lives.

Learning about my cousin has given me the desire to want to see her life dreams carried out. At the same time it has inspired me to focus on my own. What are they? What are yours?