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:)

On Living in the Present

As one who is forever letting go of work she is no longer interested in and picking up new pursuits, I find I’m very “forward” thinking – not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that I’m always thinking about what lies in front of me.  What interests will I pursue next?  How can I adjust my schedule so that I can pursue a newfound interest?

Something I struggle with is the ability turn off this forward thinking and look around once in a while to accept and enjoy what is here and where I am in the present.

I believe that there can exist a happy medium – a place where I can both enjoy where I am while also thinking about where I next want to go.  However, I have not yet been able to master living in that space.

But I’m on a new path.  Now that I’ve recognized how stressed I make myself in thinking about the future, I realize the benefits of recognizing and appreciating the present.

And that’s where gratitude comes in.  Because isn’t part of living in the present being grateful for all it is that you have right here, right now?  So here are some things and people for whom I’m grateful:

My family – who seems to be quite accepting of my lifestyle, though I know it took some getting used to

My friends – who pull me “back from the ledge” when I think I’m going to ditch this life and go for the standard 9-5

Anyone I’ve met who is curious about how it is I manage to make a living – I love answering your questions.

I’m also grateful for the local farmer’s market that didn’t exist in this town when I was growing up here.  And for the winter CSA share I’ll be getting.  (Check out localharvest.org to find local food and/or restaurants that serve it near you!)

I’m grateful for the friends I have that come over and eat whatever concoction it is I’ve cooked that night.  As a woman living alone, it’s hard to get motivated to cook for just me, but much easier (and an absolute joy) when friends are coming over.

For my local library – one of the best sources out there for people who are curious about all sorts of things.  And also for that fact that they are on-line – which means as soon as someone recommends a book I should read, I can request it and have it delivered to my local library.

So take some time today and join me in being grateful for the present:)

More on Following Your Heart

Following your heart is not to be confused with following your head.  How do you tell the difference?  Well, here’s what I’ve learned:

1

Your heart’s message is usually pretty simple.   (For example, “Give them one more try.”)

Your mind’s message is usually a never-ending stream of debating what you should do.  (For example, “You’ve gone in that place a few times, and they haven’t had what you wanted.  You’re running a little late this morning besides.  So why waste your time stopping when they probably don’t even have what you want?  I mean….”)

2

Your heart’s message doesn’t usually have any “good reason” to go with it.  It just “feels” right.  If someone were to ask you why you were going with your heart, you wouldn’t easily be able to explain it.  In fact, you’d most likely say something like, “I don’t know…I can’t really tell you, but I know it’s the way to go.”

Your mind, on the other hand, presents you with all kinds of “logical reasons”.  See above examples.

And that’s pretty much it.  Some of you are pretty clear on telling the difference, but for those of you that aren’t sure, try to distinguish between the two.  Then, if you really want to see some amazing things happen, go with your heart:)

Follow Your Heart – part 1

You’ve probably heard it before.  It has many forms: follow your heart, follow your bliss, go with your gut, etc.  Some refer to it as the “voice” in their head, some even refer to it as a higher power speaking to them.  Whatever it is, I’ve learned that when I follow it, I can’t go wrong.

It’s opposite, or complement, is your mind.  The logical part of your thinking, the one that tries to justify all your decisions with a “good reason.”

For example, I stop at my local coffee shop once a week for their Morning Glory Cookie/Muffin.  It’s full of good-for-you stuff and keeps me going until lunch.  Lately, though, whoever was baking the Morning Glories was cooking them a little bit longer than I would have liked.  So I went in a couple weeks ago, looked at them, and when the usual woman went to get my usual morning order, I stopped her saying, “They’re a little to well done for me today.”  She expressed her concern.  I said not to worry about it and bought a fattening sugar coated goody instead.

This past Tuesday, I was debating to stop in to see if the Glories looked any better.  My logical mind said, “You went back a couple times and they weren’t good – why try again?”  But my heart said, “Just give them one more chance – trust me.”  So against my better “judgment” I went with my heart.

“You’re back!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed as soon as I walked in the door.  “LOOK!” she said, and spread her hands out before her encouraging me to look at the plate of Morning Glories.  They were perfectly golden – not too dark or overcooked.

“Perfect,” I said, “I’ll take one.”

“Oh, good,” she said.  “We didn’t want to lose you as a customer!”

A younger employee hurried over.  “I’m sorry – I just started taking over baking them.  They’re good?”

Before I could answer, the manager came over.  “It’s on the house today.”

I thanked them all, assured the young baker she was doing a fine job, and left with a smile on my face.  My heart was right – but beyond any way I could have imagined.

Of course, this is also a lesson in stellar customer service, but that’s a story for another day.

Now, you might be thinking “it was just a muffin.”  But sometimes when following your heart, you start small.  Like with a muffin.  And once you see how well it works, you go with it on larger things.  That’s why this is just Part 1 of this segment:)

Encouragement

I’m a volunteer at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site  in Hyde Park, NY.  What I love most about being there is talking to people from all over the country, and the world.  Today I met a woman visiting us from Maine.  Her father had asked me about the other historic sites in our area, and he and I got to talking about where we’d been.  She wheeled over to us and joined the conversation.  Her father started talking about a trolley that took folks from Springfield, MA to the Berkshires.  He casually said, “I don’t know how familiar you are with Massachusetts.”

“I lived in Boston for five years,” I said.

“Oh really?  Why did you leave?” he asked.

“Because I thought I wanted to buy a house.  So I moved in with mom and dad here and started saving only to realize I really didn’t want to own a house by myself.”

“Good for you,” his daughter responded.  “I was 38 when I bought my house – there’s no rush.”

“I’ve moved every year since college, and I don’t really know where I want to settle yet – if at all – so I’m fine with renting right now.  I might never buy something – I like the freedom of being able to just up and go,” I explained, though I knew I didn’t have to explain myself to her.

“How old are you?” she asked in a lower voice.

“Thirty-two. ”

“Oh – plenty of time.  Get out there, do it all while you can.  I’m glad I did,” she said as she looked down at her legs in her wheelchair.  “I spent two months driving across the country when I was younger,” she continued.  “And thankfully he let me go,” she said, smiling at her father.  I asked about her route.  She lit up as she talked about her travels.  “I met a lot of blue hairs who said they wished they had done the trip when they were my age.”  She explained that she had no idea at that time that she’d end up in a wheelchair at this point in her life.

It was the “blue hairs” she mentioned that had inspired me to travel as well.  When I first started working as a Park Ranger at Vanderbilt Mansion, the place was flooded each day with tour buses of senior citizens.  Plenty of them would come up to me, in my uniform a mere eighteen years old, and say “Travel while you’re young!  And especially when you have hardly any money!  You can sleep anywhere and you’ll have a lot more fun!”

Since those wise words of wisdom, I’ve been to Europe twice – once all by myself.  I’ve hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  I took internships in places I’d never heard of just to experience living in another part of the country.  I volunteered in Mississippi and realized how amazing our own country is, and how strikingly different it can be from north to south, east to mid-west to west.

So when I need a little pick-me-up, I don’t go out shopping.  I volunteer at my local national park, and find I get a lot more than I give:)