New Year, New Direction

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time – composing it in my head, letting the words roll around, hoping they would sort themselves into something that expressed my thoughts with perfect coherence. I am sad to report that the words did not do as I hoped. They did not write for me. They did not line up in order until I felt that tingle that let me know that I had found it. Back and forth I went as I knitted, and washed dishes, and vacuumed. In the end, there was nothing left for it but to actually sit down and type it all out.

Life is often like that, I find. You have to show up and do the work. But if you do … ah, then magic sometimes happens.

For me, Crafting my Life has been a sort of magic. Two years ago I launched the first run of the online class. And people showed up! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I found living through each life-crafter’s journey vicariously to be immensely inspiring. Watching people take steps towards greater meaning and purpose is an incredible privilege. I feel very lucky to have had it.

crafting my life strocel.com goodbyeThrough Crafting my Life I discovered my love of interviewing others, which eventually morphed into the Strocel.com Podcast. There was more magic there, for me. Being entrusted with other people’s stories is also an amazing privilege. When someone agrees to chat with me, I get a little thrill. I never know what I am going to hear, exactly, or where the conversation is going to go. It’s like taking a voyage of discovery, and it makes me feel alive.

While I have gained a lot through Crafting my Life, in the past few months it has become increasingly clear for me that it has run its course for me, in its present form. I am working more actively for VancouverMom.ca, where I’m the Managing Editor. I am enjoying that a lot. I’m working with other people, as part of a team. I’m writing. I’m sharing stories and following along with other people’s journeys, just on a different platform. And I’m still blogging at Strocel.com, where I’m chronicling my personal journey and hearing from other people through comments and email and social media and all that good stuff. My life is very full, and something has to go. Crafting my Life is going to be it.

This does not mean that I am no longer crafting my own life. Quite the contrary. It simply means that I am no longer creating online tools, and I will no longer be writing in this space. I will be leaving the site up as a resource, and because I like it. But if you would like to keep in touch, the best way to do it is to drop by Strocel.com, or to catch up on Facebook or Twitter.

I want to thank you very much for taking this journey with me. I hope that you’ll let me know how you’re doing from time to time. I really would love to hear from you. And I trust that there is magic out there waiting for you somewhere, too.

Repost: Sunk Costs and Letting Go

As I was going through my archives recently, I came across this post that I wrote a year ago. The things I wrote about here are things I still grapple with – namely, learning to let go in order to create space. It’s not always easy to admit that you’ve paid for something you won’t use. As we rapidly approach Christmas Day, and we need to make space in our homes for the holiday, it seemed like a timely issue to reconsider.

In economics, a sunk cost is something that you’ve already paid for, and can’t get your money back from. It’s a done deal. Building the Titanic, for example, was literally a sunk cost. Once it wound up at the bottom of the ocean, there was no returning it for a refund.

Recently, I was cleaning out my pantry cupboard, in an effort to bring a little bit of organization to my kitchen. My method of “shove as much as you can in there and close the door quickly before it falls out” wasn’t really working anymore. As I went through the cupboard, I grouped things into three categories:

  1. Things I would definitely use, if not immediately, at some point in the not-so-distant future.
  2. Things I would definitely not use, because they were expired or stale or otherwise no longer edible.
  3. Things I would probably not use, most likely, but that were still theoretically good.

pantry cupboard letting go making space sunk costsIn my pantry triage, the first two categories were easy to handle. The things that I would definitely use stayed in the cupboard. The things that I would definitely not use were disposed of appropriately. The final category, though, where things fell into a gray area, was a little murkier. My can of chipotle peppers, for instance, was still theoretically good. And yet, the fact that I didn’t eat it during the two years that it was in my possession suggests that I am not likely to eat it anytime soon. I’m also not likely to eat the very expensive organic rice pasta that I bought when I first went off gluten, and that turned to mush when I attempted to cook it. But it was very expensive, and I only bought it a few months ago. It’s still in the prime of its (flavourless, unappetizing) life.

As I considered the items that I probably wouldn’t eat, but still theoretically could eat, I thought about the concept of sunk cost. Pretty much everything in my pantry is a sunk cost, at this point. There’s no getting my money back. I’ve already paid for it, whether I eat it or make art out of it or just leave it in there for the next four years. And while it’s true that eating the food I already have in my pantry is a cost-effective option, in that it saves me having to buy new food, the truth is that I’m probably not going to finish all of it. Life is too short to eat truly awful pasta.

In the end, I decided to dispose of the category three items as I organized my food. While it pained me to toss noodles that I’d paid $11 for into my compost bin, I felt a huge relief after I did it. By clearing out the stuff I won’t use, I made space for the stuff I will use. I also made my pantry much more workable. Now I can actually find the stuff I want, when I want it, no digging required. So novel! So lovely!

I suspect that if I could let go of the sunk costs in my life that aren’t useful to me, I would notice something similar to what I saw in my pantry. I would find more space for the stuff that matters, and that I enjoy doing. If I wasn’t clinging to stuff because I don’t want to be a quitter, I don’t want to be wasteful, or I don’t want to acknowledge that I made a bad choice, I’d probably have a lot more mental energy. Yes, it’s sad that I paid a bunch of money for pasta that I’ll never eat, but it’s done. It’s over. I can stop beating myself up about it and move on. And the same goes for a whole lot of other things that are taking up space in my life.

As the end of the year approaches, so does an opportunity to set a new intention. There’s something about the New Year that evokes thoughts of endings and beginnings, of clearing out and welcoming in. This is the perfect time, then, to acknowledge the sunk costs in our lives that are weighing us down. If we clear them out now, we’ll create the space we need for a better, happier, more purpose-filled year ahead.

Why not let go of the stuff that’s weighing you down, and the guilt that comes along with it? And when you do, take the opportunity to start fresh, set a new intention, and leave more space in your life for yourself, and less for personal baggage.

Vlog: Responding When There’s no Good Response

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. A little while before I planned to record this week’s vlog, I heard about the school shooting in Connecticut. In a world where the Internet has a way of connecting all of us, people I know online count family members and friends among the victims. We’re simply not as removed from tragedy, and senselessness, as we would like to be. And when something like this happens, whether we have any kind of connection to the people involved or not, as parents we’re all feeling the loss acutely. We can’t help but think what if that were my child?

There are no good words. There’s no way to right this wrong.

In these situations, we’re left at a loss. How do you respond, when there’s no good response? I don’t really know. But I know what’s helping me. That’s what I’m talking about in these week’s vlog:

Just Call me June

Lately I’ve been wearing high heels around the house. It’s part of a scheme to get used to wearing heels in advance of my husband’s fancy-schmancy work Christmas party this weekend. One evening, recently, it came time to clean the kitchen. It so happened I had been wearing a dress that day, and as I put on my heels (because standing at the sink is as good a time to get used to wearing them as any), it struck me that but for a string of pearls, I could pass for June Cleaver. The idea made me laugh, so I found my pearls and added a frilly apron for effect before I started cleaning.

june cleaver acting as ifSomething funny happened as I worked. The truth is, I hate doing dishes. Hate. It. But as I stood at the sink, up to my elbows in soapy water and dressed the part of a 1950s housewife, somehow it didn’t feel so bad. Dressing up for the occasion somehow made it seem less like drudgery. They say that when you look good, you feel good, and maybe that was it. Maybe it’s because I was acting as if – in this case, as if I was the sort of person who did dishes with a smile on her face. Or maybe it’s just because the whole thing felt so vaguely ridiculous that I couldn’t help but laugh, and that lightened the load.

Whatever it was, my June Cleaver costume did the trick. I think this idea could be used to lighten the load when it comes to all kinds of work. The truth is that getting started is generally the hardest part of any job. If you can overcome your own inertia and get moving, you can accomplish a lot. Dressing up and acting as if is one way to overcome that inertia. It creates a space for a task, which helps you to get past all of the internal stuff that’s keeping you from doing that task.

june cleaver acting as if

When you decide to adopt a persona on your own terms, you’re changing the game. If we look at June Cleaver, for instance, she was a figure of oppression for many women. This is because the image of the happy housewife, spending her days vacuuming in heels and pearls with a smile on her face, became something not only to aspire to, but to live up to. If you didn’t find wiping up spills to be fulfilling, if you found heels ill-suited to house-cleaning, if you yelled at your kids or locked yourself into the bathroom to cry – well, then, you probably weren’t a very good person.

Deciding to dress up like June Cleaver on your own terms is something else entirely. I found it funny myself precisely because it is a little silly. Because I so sincerely don’t feel fulfilled by housework, and because you’ll never see me wearing heels, least of all while I scrub the toilets. I have long since abandoned any pretense of being the model housewife. In fact, I don’t consider myself a housewife at all. I may work from home, but work is the operative word. I can assume the persona without also assuming the baggage. If you can’t, well, that’s probably not the right persona for you. See if you can find one that works better, and try it on for size. It just may help you get through that task you’ve been avoiding forever.

Creating Routines: Streamlining Supper and Handling Email

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesThis fall I started a new monthly series here at Crafting my Life, dedicated to creating routines to support a more purposeful life. The idea is to craft daily rhythms that support how you’d like to live your life. Each month I choose one goal for myself, and one goal for my family. By keeping the change small, it’s more manageable and sustainable. If you could use better routines in your life, I encourage you to join in.

Last Month’s Recap

My November goals were:

  • For my family – Work on the morning routine
  • For me – Weekly financial check-ins

I’m happy to say that fine-tuning the morning routine actually went quite well. I made charts for each of my children, showing the basic tasks that they had to do each morning – things like getting dressed, eating breakfast and so on. They were really simple, but somehow having it down on paper helped them to stay on track better. I also pointed out to Hannah that if she finished her morning tasks with time to spare, she could do something fun before school, like read or draw. I wouldn’t say that our mornings are perfectly smooth now, but they are smoother, and that’s what I was going for so I’d call that a success.

On the financial front, the weekly check-ins have been going well. My husband and I are both on the same page again, when it comes to money, and we know what’s happening with our bank account. Those are all good things.

Creating Routines for December

For December my goals are:

  • For my family – Give the kids dinnertime tasks
  • For me – Come up with an email system

creating routines dinnertimeDinnertime is one of the most trying times in my family. I often joke that you can tell when it’s six o’clock because everybody’s crying, including me. By the time dinner rolls around everyone’s a little bit tired and hungry, and tempers are wearing thin. The result is that getting food on the table is just that much more difficult. Sometimes I enlist the kids to help, but I’m haphazard about it. I’d like to build a regular routine, with the kids having specific jobs. Not only does it lighten my load a little, I’ve found that they do better when they’re doing something purposeful.

As for me, email is my eternal nemesis. I have tried a bunch of different ways to get it in hand. This month, I’ll be trying again. I’m tired of things getting lost in my inbox. I’m tired of having dozens of unread messages. And I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed by the constant deluge. I need a better system, and I’m going to focus on developing that this month.

As I said, I encourage you to join in on creating routines. Would you like to pick one or two goals for yourself for this month? I’d love to hear. Also, if you’re joining in feel free to grab the button for your own blog. If you need help with the code, check out my buttons page.

Vlog: A Shoe Saga

Today on the Crafting my Life Vlog, I’m sharing a story about high heel shoes, and putting things out there.

I Need Help With High Heels

Crafting my Life Vlog A Shoe SagaI have a love-hate relationship with high heel shoes. I love the way they look, I hate the way they feel. The result is that I rarely wear them. Looking ahead to my husband’s company Christmas party later this month, I realized that I didn’t have any high heel party shoes to wear with my fancy new dress. But I didn’t want to repeat my pattern of buying shoes that I only wear once, for about 45 minutes, before ripping them from my feet in agony. So I put it out there, and asked people on my personal blog for high heel help.

Put it Out There, See What Comes Back

When you put it out there, and ask for help, it has a way of showing up. The truth is that many of us want to help each other. We want to use our hard-fought knowledge to someone else’s benefit. But we don’t know how to help. When someone asks, it takes out the guesswork, and lets us know that our assistance will be welcomed. This is true whether you need tips for choosing and wearing high heel shoes, or you want to learn how to make your own cheese, or you’re looking for a new accountant. By putting it out there, you’re seriously increasing your odds that help will come your way.

A Vlog About Shoes and Putting it Out There

Today on the vlog, I talk about what happened when I issued my call for help with high heels. It came – and not always from the place that I expected it to. I heeded the advice that came my way, and bought a pair of shoes. If you could use a little bit of help yourself, take a couple of minutes to watch the vlog and then get ready to put your own call out there:

My Happiness List: November 2012 Edition

Every so often, I like to take some time to think about the things that are making me happy. Interestingly, looking back through the archives, the last time I did this was in February. Now it’s November. These are my two least favourite months – clearly, at this time of year, I need to take a little bit of time out to consider happiness.

When you seek happiness, you send an important message that you matter. When you honour yourself, and seek those things that bring you joy, you become a more complete version of yourself. You’re better able to meet your own needs, and other people’s needs. You’re doing your best work, and setting a good example for your children. There are a lot of reasons to seek happiness.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

It felt like a good day to fire up the fireplace

My Happy List

  1. Candy canes, and peppermint bark, and candy cane ice cream, which all make me feel festive.
  2. A drawer in my pantry, stuffed full of tea.
  3. Three finished sewing projects in the last month, giving me something tangible I can hold in my hands.
  4. New fancy shoes, ready for holiday parties.
  5. The Harry Potter books, which I am reading yet again, and enjoying every bit as much as the first time.
  6. Instagram.
  7. A gas fireplace to curl up in front of on cold and rainy days.
  8. The smell of autumn leaves.
  9. Having a great team to work with as Managing Editor of VancouverMom.ca.
  10. Giving myself a break when I need it.
  11. My four-year-old, who refuses to answer to his own name. (He’s Tarzan. Of course.)
  12. My seven-year-old, who is so excited when she gets to be special helper at school.
  13. Warm hand-knit hats to wear on cold mornings.
  14. Fuzzy slippers.
  15. The people I connect with online, and who inspire me every day with their words, images and caring.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? Leave a comment and tell me!

The Importance of Having an Exit Strategy

I have two young children, which means that I have spent my fair share of time rescuing small people from sticky situations. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the process it’s that children don’t really consider their exit strategy before jumping in with both feet. This is how they end up wedged inside cupboards, stuck on top of furniture, and locked out of the house.

On the one hand, you have to admire their enthusiasm. They’re going out and embracing life whole-heartedly. They’re not agonizing over their decisions, worrying about what’s the right thing to do, and what’s the wrong thing to do, and whether they have adequate insurance to protect them if things go sideways. They know that the only way they’re going to learn is by going out there and doing and trying and getting stuck and making mistakes and trying something different next time. These are all good things.

Exit Strategy five green and speckled frogs

The five green and speckled frogs know that if things get too hot, they can jump into the pool

On the other hand, as adults we do need to consider the consequences of our actions. While we often spend too much time agonizing over our decisions, we can’t be overly flippant, because unlike our children there may not be anyone to come rescue us when we get stuck in that closet. On top of that, as parents, our stakes are higher. We’re not only looking out for ourselves, we’re looking out for the little people who depend on us, and need us to take care of details like taxes and insurance and meal planning.

What’s my point? My point is that while it’s great to be enthusiastic, it’s also important to have an exit strategy. If you’re taking on a big change, the truth is that you can’t really know what the outcome will be most of the time. Just like your children – just like everyone, really – you’re learning as you go. That’s fine, and knowing that can help you to stop agonizing over all your decisions before you act. You don’t need to have all the answers before you start something. But if you try it and it turns out it’s not for you, you want to have a way to get out of it so that you don’t end up stuck.

Whether you’re buying a home, taking a class, starting a business or launching your art career, there will be things that come up that you didn’t expect. As a capable adult, I’m willing to bet that you can handle most of them. Sometimes, though, things will come up that are deal-breakers. If that happens to you, you’ll be grateful you took the time before you started to plan your exit. And if it doesn’t, you can still be glad that you’re protecting yourself and the people who depend on you, knowing that we can’t control what life hands us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my son has wedged himself between the couch cushions so that he can’t get out. Again.

Falling off the Wagon, Getting Back On

As I write on this blog about all of the things I’m doing to create a more purpose-filled life, I worry that sometimes I give a false impression. While it’s true that I do things like adjust my schedule to make the day flow more smoothly, make time to meditate regularly, and stay on top of my finances, it’s also true that sometimes I don’t. What I mean is, like everyone else, I am not perfect and sometimes I fall off the wagon. Sometimes I realize at midnight that I forgot to shower that evening. Sometimes I realize that it’s been three days since I meditated. Sometimes I realize that my efforts at keeping the house clean have totally fallen by the wayside.

When you fall off the wagon, you have two choices:

  1. You can give up.
  2. You can get back on.

falling off the wagon

When you get off track, it’s up to you to decide whether to get back on.

Sometimes, when you fall off the wagon, it’s a sign that something isn’t working for you. If your life is already full to overflowing, for instance, you’re probably not going to be particularly successful if you try to add a new 90 minute workout regimen to your daily routine. That’s too much change, all at once. If you can’t keep it up, it’s a signal that maybe you need to start more slowly, or let something else go before you add a big new commitment in. Or maybe there’s something you committed to some time ago, and it no longer works for you. In any case, if it’s not working for you, there’s no sense in beating yourself up over it.

Other times, when you fall off the wagon, it’s just life getting in the way temporarily. Either you forget, or your child gets sick and you have to drop a lot of stuff, or you’re just really excited about the new episode of your favourite TV show and you don’t make time for the other stuff on your list. If this is the case – and you really do want to get back on the wagon – then do it. Once again, there’s no sense in beating yourself up, though. That will only make you less likely to stick with something. Instead, forgive yourself, understand that no one is perfect, and move on.

When we say we’re going to do something every single day, or when we take on a big, new change, it’s normal to fall off the wagon from time to time. When you know that, and you can give yourself the room to be an imperfect but worthy human being, you’re more likely to stick with it in the long run. This is because when you take your perceived shortcomings very personally, you’re creating a negative association. Instead of viewing exercise or meditation or what-have-you as something nice that you’re doing for yourself, you’re viewing it as an obligation that you haven’t fulfilled. When you think about it, you’re thinking of how you’ve failed, not the good things it does for you.

As I wrote at the outset, I’m not perfect. You probably aren’t, either. No one is. The good news is you don’t have to be. You only have to decide, in any particular moment, what the best course of action is. Whether it serves you better to let something go, or get back on the wagon. And then, once you have your answer, give yourself the space to do it, without self-recrimination. In the process, you’ll be spending your energy creating a better life for yourself, rather than spending your energy feeling bad for failing. We each only have so much energy, so use yours wisely.

A Moment of Clarity

My word for 2012 is clarity, and recently I had a moment of clarity that I’d like to share with you.

I’m committed to meditating every evening. I’m just finishing up a book that offers some meditation tips, and I was trying insight meditation. The idea is that as you sit, rather than trying not to think, you passively observe the flow of your thoughts. As you observe from a more detached position, you can start to see patterns and gain insights into the way you think. And what I realized as I tried to observe my thoughts is that I spend a whole lot of time worrying about what other people think of me.

I think it’s normal and natural to want other people to like and appreciate you. The fear of being alone is one of the biggest dragons that many of us face. As a result, we consider the way that our choices will be viewed by others. We choose our words, our clothes and our actions, at least in part, in order to help us fit into the broader society that we live in. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be part of a group, and wanting to forge positive relationships with others.

Behaving like a professional at work, working to get along with your child’s teacher, or doing something nice for a friend to lift her spirits are all good things. However, many of us (myself included) can take this drive to get along a little bit too far. When you find yourself spending far more time worrying about what others will think of you than you spend worrying about what you think of yourself and your own life, it’s a sign that things are out of balance. After all, this is your life. It doesn’t belong to your co-worker, your brother, the fabulous woman who styles your hair, your partner or your aunt.

a moment of clarity

What does this giant leaf want from me?

The truth is that you can’t make everyone else happy. You just can’t. Like most of us, you likely have people in your life with conflicting interests, for example. If you please one, you upset the other, and vice versa. As well, many of the people in your life may not be entirely sure what they want themselves. We’re all subject to uncertainty and changing opinions, which means that trying to keep everyone happy is a constantly shifting game that you can never win. The more time that you spend trying to please others, the more energy you’re wasting on an impossible task.

Giving up on working overtime to please others doesn’t mean that you have to be rude or uncaring, and it doesn’t mean that you will not longer be concerned about other people’s opinions. Rather, what you’re aiming for is giving your own needs and desires equal billing – if not more. It also means learning to let go of the things you have no control over. You can’t force someone else to like you, so your time would be better spent building a life you can hang your hat on than trying to please your toughest critic.

This is all well and good, but how do you give up your people-pleasing ways? Clearly, as you can tell from the amount of time I spend worrying about what other people think, I’m still working on this myself. However, there are some steps you can take that will help:

  1. When someone asks you to do something, don’t respond right away. When you’re accustomed to pleasing others, you’re likely to answer yes without thinking to almost any request. By asking for some time to think about it, you’re giving yourself the space to reflect on whether or not this really works for you. And if it doesn’t, it’s totally fine to politely say no, I promise.
  2. Spend a little bit of time at the end of every day thinking about what you did well. This can be as little as three minutes while you’re showering or washing the dishes – it doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. But by giving yourself the approval you absolutely deserve, you’ll be less likely to look for it outside yourself, where you may or may not get it.
  3. Be willing to ask yourself the big questions. What do you want out of your life? What do you want your kids to say about you when they’re all grown up? What is your personal mission? You don’t have to know the answers to these questions, but the more time you spend considering them, the clearer your picture of the kind of life you want for yourself will become. When you know what you want, you stand a chance of making yourself happy, rather than wasting time trying to make others happy.

Clearly, I still have a long way to go. It’s okay if you do, too. By working at it, you will make progress, and you will free up time and energy you can spend on building the kind of life you actually want, rather than the kind of life you think someone else wants for you.