Following Your Heart: Not Always So Easy

As much as I advocate for following your heart, I can’t say that it’s always easy.  In fact, it’s usually harder.  But in my experience, it’s always worth it.

For example, I have chosen a lifestyle in which there is no steady paycheck.  I tried the 9-5- get-paid-every-two-weeks thing.  For a myriad of reasons, it doesn’t work for me.

My heart says I’m doing the right thing.  But my mind will creep in occasionally  with thoughts like, “You know, life would be a lot less stressful if you had a steady paycheck.”  To which my heart responds, “Less stressful?  Maybe.  But I’d be miserable!”  I’d have to pick one thing – just one thing – and do it for forty hours?  Then how would I pursue all the other things I want to do?

 

Sometimes, however, the logical part of my brain sways me and I take on work for the wrong reasons. I have a physical therapy degree I got ten years ago and haven’t used since.  Seven months ago, I decided maybe I should use it.  Well, I should clarify: my mind tried to tell me I should use it.  My heart was in strong disagreement.

My mind said it was a completely logical thing to use the degree for which I had worked so hard.    It also said, “You like working with seniors, you like teaching – you can do both if you work at a hospital or nursing home or rehab center.”  My heart simply said, “You know you won’t like it.”  But I went for the steady paycheck. And just fourteen hours a week so I could still pursue my other interests.

As usual, my heart was right.  I turned in my resignation two weeks ago.  Why?  Well, the simplest reason:  My heart just isn’t in it.  As I mentioned in earlier “follow your heart” posts, the decisions you make with your heart don’t usually have a ton of reasons – you just “know.”

So just realize that listening to your heart isn’t always easy.  And don’t beat yourself up when you go with your mind instead.  Sometimes you need to be reminded that it’s always best to follow your heart.

They were pushed!

If you live where I do, autumn is the time of falling leaves.   But last year I found out the leaves don’t actually fall.  They’re pushed! Check out http://tinyurl.com/yfdnva7 for the full story.

This got me to thinking about falling vs. pushing vs. jumping.  How many times, when I ask someone how they got into their line of work, do they say, “Oh, I fell into it.”  When I hear this, the person doesn’t sound too thrilled.  They sound quite blase about it, in fact.  As I see it, “falling” indicates something that happened to them, not something they chose themselves.

Pushing is also something that happens to you.  You might get pushed into doing something…or “dragged into” as the case might be.  I’m reminded of the numerous college students I’ve worked with who were pushed into fields they had no interest in – usually by someone older and “wiser” saying, “You’ll make good money doing that,” or, “You’ll have job security if you do that,”  as if money and job security were what life was all about.  As if money and job security are guarantees.  The current economy proves otherwise.

Then, there’s jumping.  Jumping can’t happen to you.  It’s something you have to do for yourself.  There might be folks on the sidelines cheering you on, or discouraging you from doing it.  Those cheering have done it before and know what it’s like on the other side, or they haven’t done it but believe in you.  Those discouraging you usually haven’t tried it, so they’re not the best ones to take advice from.  It’s can be scary contemplating a jump but it can also be exhilarating.  If it works, it’s an amazing high.  If it doesn’t, experienced jumpers just pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going.

Which reminds me of the quote next to the register at my local coffee shop (which I’ve seen attributed to all sorts of people):

Life is not a journey to the grave
With the intention of
Arriving safely in a pretty
And well preserved body,
But rather to skid in broadside,
Thoroughly used up,
Totally worn out,
And loudly proclaiming,

WOW !!!! What a ride!

Oxygen

Pursuing everything that interests me can make my schedule a bit hectic sometimes.  I have a tendency to book too many things in one day.  Then,  when an unexpected situation arises for which I’d like to offer help, I find myself squeezing even more into my already full day.

I was fretting over this yesterday when a friend said to me, “You know how on a plane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, then help other people with theirs?”

For a moment, the world just stopped.

Then I started laughing.  I knew exactly what he was getting at but I’d never heard it described that way.  It was advice often given to mothers: that in order to take the best care of your kids, you have to first take care of yourself.  I realized now that this didn’t just apply to mothers.

So today I just want to say thanks to all my friends who know me so well and for the countless times you’ve given me the exact words I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear them.

On Patience

“…today we are used to thinking that there are explanations for everything. But there is no explanation for most of what goes on in our own hearts, and we cannot account for it all…But if we learn how to have a deep inner patience, things solve themselves, or God solves them if you prefer, but do not expect to see how. Just learn to wait, and do what you can and help other people.” -Thomas Merton

Isn’t it interesting how the right words seem to come to you at the right time?  I found the above quote in my inbox just now.  I get weekly inspiration from mertoninstitute.org.  Sometimes the quotes don’t really speak to me, but at other times, they’re dead on.

I’ve talked in previous posts about the lack of “explanation for most of what goes on in our hearts.”  However, the aforementioned quote brings up something I have great difficulty with – patience.

Some people will disagree and say I have plenty of patience.  In some situations, this is true.  For example, when I’m working with residents at the nursing home.  But that’s not the kind I’m talking about.

What I have trouble with is waiting for things to “solve themselves” as Merton says.  For example, last spring I was looking for a new place to live.  My roommate wanted to cut her commute time and was moving out.  I knew in my heart that things would work themselves out, but I had a lot of trouble waiting for them to do so.  No, I didn’t just sit back to see what would happen – and that’s not what I’m proposing.  I did “what I could” (as Merton suggests). I posted ads for roommates and looked at one bedroom apartments just in case I couldn’t find a roommate.

I found plenty of one bedroom places no bigger than a shoe box and a few roommates that just didn’t work out.  Thoroughly frustrated, I would say to God, “Ok…I’ve had just about enough of this – can you please just let me in on what you’ve got planned here?”  And I’d get silence.  But I could see him just sitting there smiling – like that look your mother has when she sees you struggling but knows from experience that it will work out for you and she’s not going to help.

Now, this whole idea of talking to God might frighten some of you.  Don’t get stuck on it.  I’m sure there are plenty of you who talk to yourselves in your head (or out loud).  I prefer to think I’m talking to someone, so I pick God.  You don’t have to.  Do it however you like.  All I’m saying is that I’m sure you’ve been at that place where you just want to stand in the middle of a room and scream into the air for someone to help you.  I used to have that feeling (and sometimes still do).  Only now I’ve realized there’s something good in all of this, and it’s just not my time to see it yet.  And that’s where I need this patience that I find so elusive.

Well, the apartment thing, like lots of other things in my life, worked out – just not on my time line.  A few weeks before my lease was up, with not a roommate in sight, my father found out an old family friend had an opening for a tenant at an apartment he rents out.  My dad called him (unbeknownst to me) and said “I hear you’re apartment is available.  I’ve got a question for you.  Really think about this.  Who would be your ideal tenant?” my dad asked.  Without prior knowledge I was looking for a place, the response given was “Your daughter.”  My dad laughed.  I had my apartment.

I have no secret for how to get this patience thing down.  However, there is some consolation in believing it will work out.  And that rarely does it work out on my time line.  I just need to be reminded of this sometimes.  And just when I need the reminder, I get an e-mail in my inbox….

A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

When pining over the loss of a relationship a few years ago, a dear friend told me that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime – and this most recent guy was apparently not the lifetime type.

I have been thinking recently that, for a Renaissance Soul like me, my friend’s words are true not just about people, but about everything else I try.  I pursue some interests for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime.  Many interests start out in one category, but end up in another.

For example, traditionally, people go to college to study something they think they will do for the rest of their lives.  I’m here to tell you that there’s no rule that says you have to do forever that which you studied in college.  I’m living proof.  I used my physical therapy license for three months after I graduated.  Then, I resigned and didn’t have use for that license for the next ten years.  What I initially thought would be a lifetime pursuit turned out to be nothing close to that.

I returned to work I’d done one summer while in college – I went back to being a Park Ranger.  I loved it.  But it’s seasonal work by nature.  Yes, there are people who do it full-time, but I didn’t want to be one of those.  I didn’t know it at the time, but there was nothing that I wanted to do full-time, year round.  It felt entirely too limiting.  Pick just one thing and do only that thing?  How could I?

What was a seasonal job has turned into a lifetime pursuit, though not in the traditional sense.  I developed a love for national parks.  I will plan entire trips around them.  When I had a job for which I traveled a lot,  my first thought when I got my next assignment was “Are there any national parks close by?”  I’d go to nps.gov to find out.  That’s how I got to see Carlsbad Caverns and Colorado National Monument.  (I visited both all by myself – see previous post.)

So try something.  Don’t think you have to do it forever.  Do it for a reason.  When the reason is no longer valid, let it go.  Appreciate that it came into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

On Doing Things Alone

Some people are shocked when they here that I go out to dinner by myself.  “Oh – I could never do that,” they say.

I’m not sure why it’s never really bothered me.  As the oldest of five children, I did cherish the times I got to be alone.  Maybe I got used to it when, as a painfully shy eighth grader in a new school, I sat by myself at lunch for the first few months.

Either way, I try not to let the excuse of “not having anyone to go with” get in my way too much.  After all, I come up with a million ideas of new adventures I’d like to try each day.  Some are too good to pass up just because I can’t find someone to go with.

Don’t get me wrong.  Most of the times I “go it alone” I would much prefer to have someone with me instead.  However, it’s a very different experience on your own – and one I recommend you try sometime.

Here are some things I’ve learned about going out on your own:

1 – Where to Start – If it’s your first time, start with some place where you won’t be the only loner.  You’ll often find people roaming museums on their own.  Also, any sort of shopping experience – craft fairs, festivals, etc. – are good as people won’t know you’re alone – they may just think your partner is over at the next booth.

2 – Timing – If it’s eating you’re going to do alone for the first time, pick a day or time of day that’s slower.  Go to a cafe around 1:30 – after the lunch crowd has gone.  Go to a restaurant for dinner early – 4ish – before the dinner rush starts.

3 – Motive – You can go alone and stay alone, or you can show up a alone and find yourself with others in no time.  If I want to stay alone, I’ll bring a book or a journal to a restaurant – and sit at a table.  I have no problem sitting, reading or writing while waiting for my order.  However, if you want to get involved in a conversation, sit at the bar where you can meet all sorts of salty folks.

4 – Location – Sometimes, you’ll find certain places you prefer to do alone.  I have yet to find someone that enjoys national parks as much as I do.   By that I mean someone who wants to stay at one for hours, talking to park rangers, asking questions, etc.  Ever been to Alcatraz?  You probably took the boat over, spent a few hours, then went back.  I, on the other hand, took the first boat of the day over and the last possible boat of the day back.

5 – Perks – I talked to most every park ranger and volunteer on Alcatraz island.  In so doing, I got offered a personal tour of the infirmary wing – closed to the general public.  Then, they took me up to the guard lookout area.  While everyone else was down looking into the cells, I was up above looking down on all the activity.

6 – The Next Step – If you’ve done a few things by yourself, up the ante a little.  I took a three week trip to Europe alone.  The interesting thing is that each day I had the option to spend with or without other travelers.  The reason?  I stayed in a hostel.  I was shocked at the number of solo travelers.  At breakfast, someone would join me and we’d discuss our plans for the day.  If I was going someplace he wanted to go or vice versa, we’d go together.  If I didn’t want anyone to join me, I’ll tell them my plans but tell them that I was looking forward to having a day to myself. I toured Versailles with an Australian couple, an American who was on vacation from teaching English in China, and a couple of girls from California studying abroad.  After our tour, we bought a roasted chicken, some bread, and some cheese and picnicked together.

7 – Invitations – A lot of us who dine alone would love to get asked to join someone.  If you see a loner, ask them to join you.  Or, if you’re the loner, strike up a conversation.  On the self-guided tour of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, I was behind an English speaking father and son.  I found their commentary on what we were seeing quite amusing.  At the end of the tour, I casually thanked them for the entertainment.  After a little bit of small talk, we became quick friends.  I ended up climbing to the top of St. Mark’s with the son, and then enjoying lunch with the two of them (and the father even treated!)

8 – You’re turn. So try it sometime.  All by yourself.  Or if you’ve done it already, tell me your tales:)

Benefits of not working 9-5

Warning: If you’re a 9-5 worker, you might not want to read this.

I don’t work 9-5.  It’s just not my thing.  Some might miss the “benefits.”  The funny thing is, I think I have better benefits.  For example:

1 – I can get my hair cut at 2 in the afternoon on a Wednesday (which I did today).

2 – I can have a piano lesson at 2:30 on a Tuesday.  Then, when I get there and my teacher says, “I haven’t been out of the house in a while,” I can go shopping with her for two hours, and then have my lesson (which I did yesterday).

3 – I can spend two hours in bed on a Thursday morning finishing a good book (did that last week).

4 – I can teach an adult education class on a topic I love on Wednesday mornings (which I’ll be doing in the spring).

5 – I can decide I’m not going to work today, and don’t have to ask anyone for the day off (which I did a lot over the summer).

6 – I can go to the library on a Thursday morning.  Or the bank.  Or the bookstore…..you get the idea.

7 – I can meet Grandma at 4  pm on a Tuesday to show her the Walkway Over the Hudson for the first time.

Basically, I can do everything during off-peak times.  Plenty of parking, no lines, no waiting, excellent service.

I have no problem paying for my own health insurance if I get the perks above instead:)

On Trying Something New

When is the last time you tried something new?  Was it scary or exhilarating?  Or a little of both?

It’s one thing to try a new dish or a new route home.  But what about trying a new line of work?  My mother likes to remind me that near the top of the list of things “people dread most” are moving and starting a new job – and that I do both on a fairly regular basis.

This is typical among Renaissance Souls – those of us that have interests in too many things to pick just one.  In fact, in the past 10 years I have had at least seven jobs that many choose as their life careers. And they weren’t all exactly related.  What do a park ranger, a math tutor, a physical therapist and an anatomy instructor all have in common?  Me.

You’d think that I’d eventually get over the fear of trying something new.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Will Keim, in his book “The Education of Character,” reminds us that “Everyone is a Freshman at something,” but I wonder: does it get any easier with the wisdom of age?

Today, as I made some concrete moves to add a new interest to my repertoire, I asked myself what knowledge I had gained in all of my “freshman” attempts.  The answer I kept returning to: role-playing.  I know – not what you were thinking.  But hear me out.

Though talking about ideas to friends helps, role-playing the actual conversation is where I really start to build confidence.  Let me give some examples.

When I wanted to start tutoring math, my biggest fear was calling a high school guidance office to tell them about my services only to stumble over my words or not know what to say at all.  As I fretted over this, one friend said to me, “Okay – so I’ll be the Guidance Counselor – let’s go.  Ring, ring.  Good morning, high school guidance office, can I help you?”  And with that, I had my first role-playing conversation.  Yes, I stumbled over the words.  But I got to do it over, and after a couple tries I had down what I was going to say.  I made the first real call, was successful, and then the rest were a piece of cake.

When I decided to go back to work as a physical therapist after being out of the field for 10 years, I worried that no one would want me.  After all, I’d left the field only three months after getting my degree in it.  This time, I didn’t need a friend to play the role of potential employer.  As I drove in my car one day, I played both roles.  I practiced until I had it down – until I could clearly answer the inevitable question of why I left and why I wanted to return.  Then I made the call.  Then another.  A week later, I had a job.

So take some time and think about some of your recent “freshman” experiences and what wisdom you’ve gained from your attempts.  And if you haven’t had any “freshman” experiences lately, I think it’s time:)

On Trying Things Out

It can happen any where, any time, any place.  I see an ad, overhear a conversation, see it in an Adult Ed magazine.  Whatever “it” is, I see it and say to myself, “I want to try that!”

“Try” is the key word here.  I decided I wanted to try flying on a trapeze.  I also wanted to try walking on stilts.  Just to try it.  I didn’t want to become a pro and join the circus.  I might just try it once and declare I’ve had my fill.

If this happens to you, here are my suggestions of the best ways to go about “trying” things:

1 – Take an adult ed class. They’re cheap, they’re short term, they’re taught by people who teach the subject because they like it, not because they earn tons of money to do it.

I’ve taken adult ed classes in Stilt Walking and Making A Living Without a Job among other things.  (For more info on the latter, check out the book of the same title by Barbara Winter.)  The instructors were people that had a skill or a knowledge that they loved sharing with others.  And for a very reasonable price, I got to try out a new skill and a new lifestyle.  I didn’t stick with the Stilt Walking, but the Making a Living Without A Job session changed my life.

2 – Visit the library. Want to learn to crochet?  Thinking about walking El Camino?  Interested in starting a garden?  At one time or another, I’ve been interested in all three.  Head over to your local library – I’m sure someone’s written a book on it and your librarian can help you find it.  As above, I’ve found librarians are people who have the ability to help you find a book about anything, and they love doing it. And it’s free (but please do support them and make a donation once in a while!)

No time to visit?  Go on-line.  In a lot of towns, you can search your library catalog on-line.  Many libraries are even part of a network so if they don’t have the book you want but another library does, you simply request the book and it gets delivered to your local library.

3- Visit the bookstore. Same as the library.  I recommend a local bookstore as opposed to a big chain.  See my piece on talking to strangers.  You can learn a lot talking to the folks at your local bookstore.

4 – Peruse craigslist. Want to try rollerblading?  Think you want to ride your bike across Iowa?  Before you go out and spend all that hard-earned dough on a pair of skates you may only use once, check out craigslist.org for your area.  My $80 craigslist-purchased bike got me across Iowa fine, and I’ve gotten over the guilt of not having ridden it since.  I surely got my $80 worth out of it:)

5 – Ask around. Want to learn Italian?  So did I.  You’d be surprised how many people know someone that speaks Italian once you start asking around.  And chances are one of them would love to help you learn the language, too!

So go ahead.  Try it out:)

On Success

Our life is full of other people’s expectations.  They start when we’re quite young.  As infants our parents expect that one day we’ll crawl…then pull ourselves up…then walk.  As we get older, we’re expected to go to school, to graduate, to get a job and be successful.  But successful by whose definition?  At what point do we let go of other people’s expectations and decide for ourselves what success is?

In college, I thought I’d be “successful” when I graduated and became a physical therapist.  But then I realized I didn’t want to be a physical therapist.  I didn’t think I was a failure, but I definitely went against the expectation, and ever since have been struggling with what defines success for me.

Here’s a little of what I’ve come up with.  This is my definition of success for me.  Yours can be whatever you’d like:)

Success is having people in my life who love me for who I am – even if  I don’t know myself some days, or if I change who I am seemingly every day.

Success is being able to pay my bills, save some money, and still have money to spend on traveling.

Success is being able to modify my schedule so I can take a vacation whenever it is I feel the need.

Success is failing.  It’s recognizing the failure, getting back up from it, learning from it, and moving on.

I thought this would be a big long list, but I find it’s really quite simple.  And according to the list, I’m successful at this very moment, and have been for quite some time.  What a good feeling:)