Motherhood and Purpose

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I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 year old. This means that I don’t get a lot of time to myself, even in the bathroom. I’m always wiping up after someone, or fetching something for someone, or stopping someone from doing something incredibly dangerous. And that’s exactly what I signed up for. I planned my pregnancies, and I very much wanted my children. I knew that having them would change my life in all kinds of ways, even if I didn’t exactly understand how. Maybe I thought I understood, but until you’re in these shoes, the full weight of the situation eludes you.

One of the changes that motherhood has brought me is a new sense of purpose. If I accomplish nothing else today, I’ve contributed to the lives of two little people. I’ve helped them to grow into the adults they will one day become. And that is so, so huge. I know that I am doing the most important work that I will probably ever do each and every day of my life. In fact, I’m doing it whether I even really want to or not.

And yet, even as I see the meaning that my children bring to my life, I’m uneasy with it. I don’t really like to feel as if my children are what bring purpose to my life. It’s true that having them brought things to my life that I didn’t even know that I was missing, and without them my life would be much different. But I like to feel that my life’s meaning is at least somewhat independent of my children.

Sliding kids
My babies

Here’s the thing – my children will grow up. In fact, they already are growing up. At 6 years old my daughter Hannah still needs her parents, but she needs us a whole lot less than she used to. She can dress herself and bathe herself and use the bathroom by herself. She’s learning to read by herself, and tie her own shoes, and even prepare some simple food. This is just as it should be, and I take a certain amount of pride in the knowledge that I helped her get here.

Knowing that my children will grow up leaves me wondering what happens next. Time flies in parenting, and before I know it I won’t be in the trenches anymore. And I don’t want all meaning in my life to be tied up in my children when that time comes. When it’s time to move on to a new season of my life I want to be prepared to embrace it with open arms and confidence that I completed the last task to the best of my ability and I’m now ready to move on.

This is the crux of Crafting my Life for me. I want something in my life that is just for me. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to pay me a bunch of money. In fact, it doesn’t even have to pay me anything. It just has to be wholly mine. Something that speaks to my heart, and the person that I am underneath the trappings of my life. If you strip away the marriage and the children and the house in the suburbs, you find me. A person with dreams that have nothing at all to do with making yet another PB&J with the crusts cut off.

I may not have time right now to pursue all my passions, but I have plenty of time to dream. And so that’s what I’m doing. I’m dreaming, and exploring, and experimenting. It happens 15 minutes at a time. And slowly, it’s amounting to something. A purpose for my life that is all about me. It embraces motherhood, and accounts for motherhood, but it isn’t defined by motherhood. And it fits me perfectly.

I wonder what you think. Do you find purpose in motherhood? Does that sustain you, or do you need something more? And what do you think you’d like to do when your children grow up? Please share!

Crafting a Career

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My Crafting my Life journey started when I was laid off. It was one of those moments in life when you come face-to-face with a lot of big questions. It’s a wake-up call, like any other significant change can be. I decided (once I stopped crying) to view it as an opportunity. A chance to move off the path I’d been on, which was largely about what I thought I was supposed to be doing, and instead find a path that was about what I wanted to be doing.

In the process I switched professional gears. Instead of working for another person in a traditional job, I took on some freelance gigs and started building something like a business for myself. I gained a lot of experience in areas that I previously knew little about – marketing, social media, writing. It’s true that prior to my lay-off I was already blogging, but things changed a lot for me when I stopped looking at this as a hobby and started looking at it as my Thing.

A lot of people who are striving to create a life for themselves also want to move off of the traditional career track. And I understand that. Working full-time in a job that doesn’t really fit you well can be a soul-sucking experience. It can cause you to forget who you really are, and what is really important to you. And so working for yourself, doing something that speaks to who you really are, holds a lot of appeal.

But, as Pamela Slim says, hating your job intensely is not a business plan. And even beyond that, there are a lot of trade-offs that come with working for yourself. It can be a feast or famine thing. It’s also a lot of work, and a whole lot of responsibility. If you want to go on vacation you can’t count on your co-worker to cover for you. And you can’t count on someone else to handle all the little details, like book-keeping and marketing and answering the phone and making photocopies.

If starting a business is what you want more than anything, I believe that you can find a way to make it work. I also believe that you will be more willing to put in all the energy necessary to make your Thing fly. I’ve certainly found that when I’m following my heart I’m far more likely to invest my blood, sweat and tears in a project. Taking some time out to plan and evaluate before you quit your job to work for yourself is a good idea, but it is totally do-able if that’s what you want.

But what if that’s not what you want? What if you’re looking for greater purpose in your life, but you kind of like your job? Or what if (yes, it’s possible) you really love your job? Then I have good news for you – living a life of intention and purpose does not have to mean quitting your job.

Let me say that again in a slightly different way: Crafting your life does not have to mean quitting your job or starting your own business.

A lot of the qualities that we look for in a life of authenticity have little to do with how we make money. Most people, when they’re striving to create a life that fits, are looking for things like balance, meaningful work, time to pursue things that interest them, good relationships, financial security and some plain old fun. The tools that we use to get there, like learning to use our voice and finding our bliss and taking charge of our money can be used whether we’re working for ourselves, or someone else, or not doing any paid work at all.

When you engage and live authentically, it enhances your life no matter what it looks like right now. So let me tell you that you don’t have to be laid off to craft your life. You don’t have to quit your job, or move halfway across the country, or convert to a new religion. You can bring more awareness and intention into your life just as it is right now, and in the process, you can find yourself. Because sometimes, small changes and little adjustments in your perspective can make a world of difference.

Now, I’d love to ask you what your ideal work situation looks like. What makes your heart sing? And if it’s not the situation you have right now, what’s holding you back from pursuing it?

Looking and Leaping

As part of the Crafting my Life class, I interviewed some fabulous people. I was actually terrified about doing it. Sending the emails to folks that I admire, asking if I could chat with them for my class, freaked me out. It got all of my dragons going, telling me that the people I asked to interview were going to laugh at me, that they would never want to take part, and that my class would be a big whopping failure. Dragons are like that.

But, you know what? I really enjoyed the interviews. It ended up being the best part of the class, for me. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t want to stop interviewing people. And so the Strocel.com Podcast was born. Every couple of weeks or so, I chat with someone and post the interview on my website and on iTunes. It’s totally fun, and I’m learning a lot. And this is how I came to find myself having a discussion with Rachel from Minimalist Mom about embracing a life with less stuff.

One of the the questions that came up during our discussion was whether it’s better to take small steps when you set off on a new path, or whether it’s better to make the commitment and jump in. I’m of two minds about this, honestly. During Crafting my Life I say over and over and over that you need to meet yourself where you are. I totally mean that. If you have little kids your rate of change is going to be slower. That’s just life. Accepting that, and walking your own path at your own pace, is going to be more effective than berating yourself if things are going more slowly than you’d hope.

And yet, there’s something to be said for going for it. If you’re trying to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, for example, clearing out your closet is going to get you further than spending a lot of time thinking about cleaning out your closet. At some point in most journeys, you have to make a decision to act, and accept the consequences. And I often think that step – taking definitive action to move your dream forward – is the most important part of crafting a life. It’s the part that moves you forward on your path.

As I see it, there are two common problems that we face as we seek to live with passion. There’s our fear when an action feels too big. The remedy to this is giving ourselves more time and taking small, manageable steps. We need to be gentle with ourselves. Then there’s our discouragement, because all of these small steps don’t necessarily add up to much. The remedy to this is to make a commitment and take that big step that puts us on our path. We need to trust in ourselves and our dreams enough to go ahead and pursue them, come what may.

I don’t think that the need for gentleness and the need to take action have to oppose each other, though. That’s the good news. I think it’s possible to meet ourselves where we are, make small manageable changes, and then, when the time is right, take bigger steps. The big steps will still feel scary, but hopefully, once we’ve spent some time working up to them, they won’t be quite as scary. And because we’ve made an effort to meet ourselves where we are and recognize the constraints in our life, we’ll be better able to time our leaps so that we have the resources and space that we need to see them through.

Wherever you are right now, whether it’s a space where you’re ready to move, or it’s a space where you need to retreat a little and rest, it has value. There are times to leap, times to plan, and times to nap. By recognizing the time you’re currently facing, you can create a life that truly works for you.

What do you think? Do you like to jump in to things with both feet, or do you like to move slowly? And how do you meet yourself where you are, right now? I’d love to hear!

Thinking in Colour

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In my post last week on being adventurous I said:

… potential bad is no more real than potential good. Of course, we’re more afraid of the bad-ness, but that doesn’t mean it’s more likely to happen.

I’d like to expand on this idea a little bit more today.

One of the things that my dragons love to tell me is that there are only two possible outcomes to any project. The first possible outcome is that it will be a rip-roaring success, and everyone will love me because I created it, and I will become rich and famous. The second (and, supposedly, far more likely) outcome is that it will be an abject and complete failure, and everyone will hate me because I created it, and I will end up living in a van down by the river. My dragons, it seems, are all about the black and white thinking.

When I actually examine the stuff I’ve done in my life, though, it’s not so black and white. Instead of success and failure, I see a far more nuanced and complex picture. I don’t just see shades of gray, I see an entire rainbow full of colour. There are mistakes and mis-steps, as well as strokes of luck and successes. There are a whole lot of lessons, and a whole lot of choices. And in the end, usually, it’s not all good or all bad. Life almost never is all good or all bad.

The problem with the black and white thinking that I often engage in is that it leaves me feeling paralyzed. If there are only two possible outcomes, then I’d better be totally sure of which one I’m headed for before I start out. After all, complete and total failure is not anyone’s idea of a good time. When I believe that kind of failure is a likely outcome, I get very mired down in analysis and investigation, to the point that I don’t act. I need all the answers up front, so that I can protect the downside and make sure that I’m successful.

Of course, it’s impossible for anyone to have all the answers before they start a project. Parenting is a very good example of this. I couldn’t have understood what it’s really like to be the mother of a 6-year-old and 2-year-old before I got here. Every day, I learn something new about being a mom. Every day, I grow and change right along with my kids. Every day I do something that I regret, and something I’m proud of. There’s no knowing the outcome now, so all that I can do is trust the process and show up.

I think that the same general concepts apply to almost any new path. Whether you’re starting a new career, or moving to a new home, or going back to school, you’re going to learn as you go. From time to time you may need to correct your course, or double back and start over. But you will have gained something from the experience, no matter how it turns out.

There’s a whole lot of colour in the world. It’s important to remember that, when we begin to think in black and white.

The Improbability of it All

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I recently recorded Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class, and I’ve been watching it in pieces. I have little kids, after all, so I do everything in pieces. I rarely watch Oprah’s show – in fact, I haven’t seen an entire episode since our TV died in November, 2008. We’ve had a TV again for almost five months, and I have yet to tune in. But the Master Class, for whatever reason, intrigued me, and I’ve been enjoying it.

Early on in the first episode Oprah points out the improbability of every person’s existence. The odds against you being here are really staggeringly high. The average man produces 1500 sperm a second, or about 130 million a day. Just think about that. There are only 30 million people in Canada, total. A woman has about 300,000 eggs. So if you want to start playing with statistics, you can see that winning the lottery seems pretty likely compared to ever being born.

What does this mean, though? Does the fact that our very existence is a long shot mean something about us, and the significance of our lives? I’m not really sure. That’s probably a question for a philosopher or a theologian, and I am neither. But I will say that it makes me look at my own children differently. I can’t imagine having different kids than the two I ended up with. The fact that their existence is so tremendously unlikely makes them seem even more precious. Of course, I would have felt the same way about them if I’d had different children, but the fact is that I didn’t have different children. I had these ones, and they are totally unique and irreplaceable.

If my children are unique and irreplaceable, then I am unique and irreplaceable, too. And so are you. And so is that guy who usually sits across from you on the train, or the teacher at your kid’s preschool who is always just a little too perky at 8:30am drop-off. We’re all statistical improbabilities, and the fact that we’re here at all is amazing.

This could all just be random chance. I’m not so sure that it isn’t. But as I thought about it, here’s the conclusion that I reached – if my life is so rare and valuable and totally unlikely, I sure as heck want to do something with it. I want to wring all of the living that I can out of my time here. Viewed this way, our entire lives are sort of like a week-long tropical vacation that took over a year to plan – a brief and precious interlude, not to be wasted.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I expect myself to achieve the same kind of fame and fortune that Oprah has. It also doesn’t mean that I expect myself to give up all past-times that don’t directly contribute to the world in some way. Sometimes, doing nothing in particular is just what is called for. And sometimes, success is measured in how many slobbery, open-mouthed baby kisses you get, not how big your house is.

What I’m saying is that, to go with the Oprah theme, I want to live my own best life. A life that I generally enjoy living, and that fits me, quirks and all. Because each one of those quirks is a gift, really. It lets me know that I’m me, imperfect and unfinished and completely myself. There can’t be another one of me – Oprah told me so – and so I am going to embrace my me-ness. I suspect that may really be the secret to life, in the end.

When you consider how unlikely it is that you would ever be born, how do you feel? Does it make your life seem more precious, or not? Please share your thoughts!

Being Realistic is Overrated

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Teenagers are wildcards. Compared to adults, in general, they act more impulsively and with less fear. Science confirms it. They’re still developing. Their lives lives contain much more possibility, and they have not yet learned to be cautious and sensible. And, as adults, we do pretty much everything we can to beat it out of them.

One of the big things that we strive to teach high school students is to be realistic. Get a haircut, get a real job, choose some “safety” schools when you’re applying to university, and learn some financial responsibility. The world is a hard place, Kid, and you need to protect yourself from it. A person could starve if they don’t have a solid day job and a healthy savings account.

I understand this impulse. I am the sort of person who craves a lot of security. I like to have money in the bank and I like to know what I will be doing every day for the next week. I don’t think that I could stand idly by and watch my own children make huge, life-altering mistakes. Not that I will necessarily have much choice in the matter, but of course I want to do my best to equip my children for life.

But. But. Here’s the thing. Many of us spend so much time considering the downside, and trying to be realistic, that we forget about life’s possibilities. If we examine that adolescent spirit, which says that pursuing adventure and living with passion is paramount, we can find some valuable lessons. We can learn to embrace life instead of fearing it. We can learn to go after our dreams, no matter how “unrealistic” they may be. And we can learn that taking action is often more important than planning and protecting the downside.

As much as our dragons try to convince us otherwise, potential bad is no more real than potential good. Of course, we’re more afraid of the bad-ness, but that doesn’t mean it’s more likely to happen. Because, you know what? It’s not.

Having a safety net is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But the only way to make things happen is to go out there and do them. If we get too caught up in safety and security and protecting ourselves, we don’t act. And then we really never will make our art. We’ll be missing out, and so will the world, because it won’t be getting our best selves.

Maybe we could all benefit from being a little bit less realistic, and a little bit more adventurous. Instead of fearing the downside, let’s embrace the possibilities. Do a little less looking, and a little more leaping. And see if, maybe, being a wildcard is a good thing after all.

What do you think? Do you think your life needs more or less realism? Are there times you wish you’d had a safety net and didn’t? And are there times you wish you’d acted and you didn’t? I’d love to hear!

The Freedom to Say No

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At the risk of sounding pretentious, I will tell you that my blog at Strocel.com is now “big” enough (whatever that means) that I field a lot of PR emails. Although, sadly, I did not receive the slightly-unsuitable for work, yet gloriously embarrassing best PR pitch ever. Still, on most days a couple of people drop out of the blue and into my inbox to tell me about their Thing, in the hopes that I’ll talk about it.

I politely decline most of these offers. My goal in blogging isn’t to sell to my readers, it’s to connect and build community. I don’t talk about other people’s stuff unless it’s sufficiently interesting to me, and as a rule of thumb laundry soap is not what I consider interesting. Fair enough. But not that long ago I got an email that was interesting enough that I followed up. I asked a couple of questions, and the person who had emailed me suggested we arrange a time to chat on the phone so she could answer my questions.

At the appointed time I got a call, but not from the person I’d emailed with. It was another person, and I think it’s fair to say we didn’t exactly hit it off. I kind of got the impression that he thought I was being difficult and slow to catch on, and wasting his time with my questions. He kept saying that he didn’t know what more I wanted from him, and then at one point he even informed me that he was the Director of such-and-such, which I suppose means he’s terribly important and I should do what he says.

Going into the call, I had planned to take the company up on their offer. Leaving the call, I felt confused and just generally upset. I don’t even like talking on the phone. The call hadn’t been my idea. And yet somehow I felt guilty about it. And then I thought that maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I was being slow to catch on and difficult to deal with. Maybe I was wasting Mr. Director’s time. Perhaps this opportunity really was the best thing since sliced bread, and I should jump on it like he suggested.

When my husband Jon got home that evening I talked to him about the experience, and the emails that had gone back and forth both before and after the phone call. Jon, in typical style, cut through all of my angst and self-doubt when he said, “Look, you don’t want to deal with this guy. He sounds like a jerk. You can just say no.”

I can just say no. Just because some guy called me while my children wailed in the background and then spoke to me like I was 2 years old does not mean that I have to do what he wants me to do. I should know this. Not every opportunity that comes my way is going to be a good fit for me. Living with intention means, at least in part, giving myself the freedom to say no. I can decline something, or end something, or request some time and space to make a decision. My dragons sometimes try to convince me otherwise, but they’re wrong.

And so, that’s what I did. I said no. And I felt a big weight come off my shoulders. I felt space open up around me. It was a good thing.

I think I will put a sign up on the wall beside my core values. It’s going to say: You have the freedom to say no to things that don’t work for you. Because I do. And you know what? You do, too. And if a direct ‘no’ isn’t comfortable, there are a lot of other ways to get your point across. You can be polite and friendly while still setting boundaries.

I wonder what your experiences are with saying ‘no’. Do you find it easy to decline when someone asks for something, or offers something, that doesn’t work for you? Or do you find yourself gritting your teeth and doing a lot of stuff that you don’t like because you feel obligated? Has your ability to set boundaries increased or decreased with time? I’d love to hear from you!

Do Not Do List

I’m currently reading The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis. I’ll be talking about the book in more detail, and sharing a podcast of an interview I did with Meagan, on April 16 at Strocel.com. It’s a great book, and I had a great time chatting with Meagan, so stay tuned for that. But right now, I want to talk about an idea I got from the book. It’s profound and simple – make your life easier by creating a “Do Not Do” list.

I am constantly talking about my word for 2011, which is “space”. I want to create more space in my life for myself, and it strikes me that a “Do Not Do” list is a great way to do that. You can make a “Do Not Do Right Now” list, or a “Do Not Do This Year” list, or a “Do Not Do Ever” list. And you can use it to let yourself off the hook in big and little ways.

But this exercise can be about a whole lot more than creating space. It strikes me that while many of us aren’t sure about what we want to do, we often have some good ideas about what we don’t want to do. Honouring those preferences – that is, not forcing ourselves to do things we hate – is every bit as important as following our bliss. Ditching the stuff that isn’t working for us can be the first step in giving ourselves the freedom to live with intention. As we become more clear on what we don’t want, those things we do want often become more clear.

And so, in an effort to honour myself and create some space, I’m taking inspiration from Meagan and writing my own “Do Not Do” list.


Things I Will Not Do, No Way, No How

  • Dust
  • Sign my kids up for more than one activity at a time
  • Work all alone in a gray cubicle
  • Sell a product I don’t believe in
  • Buy second-hand underwear
  • Hit my kids
  • Hang out with people who treat me badly
  • Wear thong underwear
  • Sew my own pants
  • Sew for money
  • Cut hair, starting with my own and working out from there
  • Drive more than two hours from home with a 2-year-old
  • Eat processed cheese

My list is unique to me. If you do some of these things, and they work for you, that’s great. Sew your own pants while eating processed cheese with my blessing. This exercise is about honouring our own preferences, so I am giving myself the freedom to state mine. I hope that you feel free to state yours, too. So, please, jump in. What’s on your “Do Not Do” list?

Little Pieces of Beauty

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My laptop is pink. My laptop bag is pink. My computer mouse is pink. My iPhone case is pink. My mother-in-law likes to joke that I look like a Mary Kay lady, carrying around all that pink technology. She may have a point.

I wouldn’t consider myself terribly girly. I wear make-up precisely twice a year, and I live in jeans and sweaters. I am an engineer, and I proudly wear an iron ring. I own very few items of pink clothing. And yet, when I am able to choose the colour of my technology, it’s invariably pink. There’s just something about a pretty computer that makes me smile.

I have another habit, which may seem unrelated, but I think ties in. And that is that I value sequence and symmetry above all. When I put markers back in their, I order them like a little rainbow. I do the same thing when stacking the colourful plastic IKEA bowls and plates that my kids use. And when I use eggs, I leave the remaining eggs in a symmetrical pattern inside the egg carton. For the longest time I thought this was just another example of my charming neuroses, but now I’m not so sure.

Close-up of the pretty pink laptop
My pink laptop

I think that the pink computer and the rainbow plates point to the same thing, which is that little pieces of beauty make a big difference in my life. Sure, plates that are out of order, or eggs that are all in one end of the carton, will not cause the world to stop spinning. But when I open the cupboard and see the rainbow staring back at me, I smile. When I carry my pink work bag stuffed with pink technology, I smile. And smiling is good.

Our environment affects us. When things are noisy and chaotic we feel different than when they’re calm and quiet. When a room is clean it’s usually more pleasant to be in, and when a house smells good, it’s more welcoming. Which doesn’t mean that you need to keep a perfectly clean house at all times, and constantly be baking cookies. Rather, I’m suggesting that you figure out what little things you can do to make your environment a little more pleasant. You may not care how the markers are lined up in their box, but you may care a lot about whether your laundry’s put away, or you may love having fresh cut flowers around, or you may play a lot of soothing music.

As my desire to stack plates a certain way shows, frivolous little things can help us to create a space in our life that honours our need for beauty. That space can be physical, or it can a mental space that is invoked when you hear a certain song or touch a certain object. It’s the space that you’re making in your life for yourself – just for you, because you matter. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to living with intention.

Are there things that you do, or colours you gravitate towards, because they bring beauty into your life and make you happy? I’d love to hear about it!