The People Who Make a Difference

As I write, my daughter just got her grade two class assignment, at long last. It takes at least a week each year for local public schools to work things out, and so in the meantime the kids head to a temporary classroom. Now that things are worked out, the kids can finally settle in and get to know their new teachers.

Watching my daughter head off to a new school year with a new teacher has started me thinking about those people who make a difference in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I still remember all of my elementary school teachers, even 30 years later. They made an impression on me, and they taught me some very valuable lessons, academic and otherwise. At the time I didn’t even fully understand what I was learning from them. Now, with a few decades more experience under my belt, and watching my own daughter head off to school, my perspective has changed. I see all the little ways that they influenced me.

making a difference grade one class school photo

Teachers aren’t the only people who influence you and make a difference in your life. Family members, friends, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers can say or do things that help you look at the world differently, or give you a lift when you really need it. Even a smile can make a difference in the right situation. In The Power of the Thumbs Up I shared how two words from a woman on the street helped me when I was on a run that wasn’t going well. She’ll never know the impact she had, but I’m very grateful.

When you think about the people who have made a difference in your life, you may also think of people who have no idea of the impact they had. We don’t always take the time to tell people when they’ve done something positive for us, or to thank them for their help. It’s not even possible to thank everyone, for that matter. The result is that there’s a whole lot of good out there that goes unrecognized.

Given all the people who go unthanked for the good they do, there’s a good chance that you’ve had a positive impact on the life of someone else that you don’t know about. In fact, it’s almost certain. Just as other people have impacted you for good, you have undoubtedly done the same for other people. It may not have been obvious to you at the time, and it may not have been a person who you know well. But all those little interactions in our lives sometimes work out in positive ways.

making a difference grade two school photo

If you take the time to consider the people who’ve inspired you or helped you, know that there are people out there who think the same of you. There are people whose lives are better because of something you did. That’s a pretty powerful thing.

When you’re trying to decide what you want to be when you grow up, and you’re venturing into uncharted territory, you may not feel very capable. By taking the time to think of the good you’ve done – both what you know about and what you don’t – you can remind yourself that you are a capable and deserving person. You are enough, just as you are. You can do some pretty amazing things. You don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to show up and make your art. Positive things will flow out of that, whether they’re always obvious to you or not.

Who are the people who have made a difference in your life? How many of them know the impact they had on you?

Half a Year Gone: Reviewing Your Goals for 2012

Tall grass and a grey day

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, mostly because in my experience they’re rarely kept. I’m not just imagining things, either – research backs me up. However, I do choose a word to set an intention for the year. For 2012 my word is clarity. While I don’t view choosing this word as a resolution, by setting an intention for the year there were specific things I hoped to accomplish.

Whether you set resolutions, chose a word, created a five-point action plan or ignored the whole thing, the fact is that 2012 is now a little more than halfway over. This means it’s a great time to consider what you were hoping to accomplish this year, and examine how far you’ve come. Have you made headway on your goals for the year? Do the goals you set in January still make sense now? What can you do to get yourself back on track if you’ve fallen off the wagon? Only you can answer these questions for yourself, but as you do you’ll get a clearer picture of what 2012 has held so far, and what you’re hoping it holds in the final six months.

Taking time out of your life at any point in the year to do a little bit of evaluation can help you to stay on track as you pursue your dreams. As you do this, though, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not in the same position today as you were when you first set out. You’ve gained knowledge and experience, and likely encountered events you didn’t expect. If you’re not exactly where you were hoping to be, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It simply means that you took a different path than you thought you’d be taking. And in any case, it’s never too late to get yourself back on course.

There’s a lot of 2012 left to go, and there’s still plenty of time to take concrete steps towards a better life. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done with the first half of the year. It doesn’t matter if your progress is slower than expected. All that matters is that you’re willing to show up and try. By re-examining where you are now and setting some intentions for the rest of the year, you’ll be giving yourself the best shot at success.

If you need a little help setting your direction for the rest of 2012, check out the Crafting my Life Playbook. All summer long it’s on sale for over 50% off the regular price, plus it’s bundled with new audio interviews. Download it today! To stay in the loop on what else is happening at Crafting my Life, subscribe to the mail list. As a bonus when you subscribe you’ll receive Four Easy Ways to Kick-Start a Life of Intention for FREE!

Not How You Remembered

Human memory has a way of distorting the truth of what actually happened. In fact, Wikipedia has a huge long list of memory biases, containing more than 50 ways that our memories can become inaccurate. I’ve experienced many memory biases and distortions myself. There’s the classic example of returning to a childhood home or an old school, and finding it much smaller than you remember. Or the other classic example of two people who witnessed the same event arguing about what actually happened. Most of us don’t have photographic memories or instant recall, so our memories blur and shift, and the actual truth of what happened gets lost along the way.

One of the results of our shifting memories is the idea that things were somehow better in the past. Just yesterday, for example, I was listening to a show on CBC Radio. They were talking about butter, and caller after caller rang in to talk about how butter isn’t what it used to be. Apparently, butter used to be creamier and have a better colour, it used to melt more easily, and it was more flavourful. Today’s butter is only a pale comparison. How much has butter really changed? I don’t know. The golden age of butter ended before I was born. But I’m willing to bet that if you were able to travel back in time and sample some of that legendary butter, it wouldn’t be quite as you remembered it.

Amber turns 4
My 4th birthday – and that couch is different than I remember

This tendency that we have to distort the past has implications for us as we seek to bring greater intention and meaning into our lives. Believing that the good old days were really that much better can lead us to chase after unfulfilling dreams. It can also cause us to berate ourselves, as we compare our present reality to an imagined past. We believe that we aren’t measuring up to the standards set by an inaccurate memory of someone we look up to. Finally, our distorted memories can cause us to become fatalistic. If we believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, it’s not a big leap from there to feeling as if there’s nothing we can do to improve our current situation.

I’m sure that some things were better in the past than they are today – but some things were almost certainly worse, as well. And regardless of how things have changed with time, we have the power to improve our lives for the better. We don’t have to go back in time to experience wholeness and authenticity and a sense of purpose. We can create those things in our lives in the present.

It can be fun to do a little reminiscing. To remember ourselves as we once were, bad hair, questionable fashion sense and all. When we do that reminiscing, we should keep in mind that things may not have been exactly as we thought they were. And our best times? Those still lie ahead of us.

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Reflecting on a Year

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It’s the last day of 2011. Occasions like this leave me feeling pensive, as I look back on the previous 12 months and all that’s happened – or hasn’t happened. Inevitably, there are goals I didn’t fulfill, or outcomes I didn’t achieve. That’s not the full story, though, because there are usually things I didn’t expect to do that I did. Surprise, impromptu accomplishments, which may have derailed my plans, but also may have led to something even better.

Life has a way of laughing at plans.

Years aren’t really measured in items ticked off a to-do list. Years are measured in units that aren’t easily quantified, like smiles from a baby or miles spent running behind a six-year-old who’s learning to ride a two-wheeler. Years are also measured in time spent with people who matter to you, moments of bliss, times of deep sadness, wins and losses, and lessons learned (often the hard way). You can have a year overflowing with significant moments and big events, and not accomplish a single thing that you set out to accomplish. This doesn’t mean that you failed, it means that you lived.

Me and my babies

As I reflect on 2011, I can see that I did a whole lot. I finished some of the things that I wanted to finish this year, and I didn’t even start others, but I still had a very full year. I think maybe that this is as it should be. As you sit down on New Year’s Day and consider the year ahead, you can’t know what it’s going to bring. Setting a laundry list of goals, and never deviating from it, just doesn’t make sense. If something is important to you, hold onto it, and find a way to make it happen. But if something falls off your list because life knocked it off, it’s okay to let it go. It probably wasn’t meant to be. You’re not quitting, you’re making adjustments on-the-fly, and giving yourself the space you need to maneuver.

At the beginning of 2011, I chose the word space. My goal for the year was to bring more of it into my life. In some ways, I did, but as I created space I filled it with new things. The things I filled it with were things I welcomed whole-heartedly. They were good things. As I leave 2011, though, I would say that a better word for the year is fullness. My life has been very full – sometimes to overflowing. I can see that how things played out helped me to progress personally and professionally in ways that I didn’t anticipate when I chose the word space. Because of that, I wouldn’t say that I failed at my goal, I would say that I succeeded at adjusting my expectations based on what came to me in the past 12 months.

Learning and growing isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always tidy. It can really mess up your life, in fact. But if we can trust that no experience is wasted, and give ourselves the space and permission we need to live our lives as they are, rather than as we planned them to be, we can discover a richness that we never anticipated.

Happy New Year! Here’s to 2012 – whatever it may bring.

Apologizing for Myself

I’m making plans for what happens next in Crafting my Life. I’ve just received the finished Crafting my Life e-Book from my editor, and I’m making plans to run my online class on living with intention for a third time. If you’re ready for a change in your life, and you want to be the first to hear what I do next, as well as be eligible for advance access and special pricing, subscribe to my mail list!

I had one of those experiences recently in which I felt like I was observing myself from outside my body. Has this ever happened to you? You’re going about your merry way, shopping for groceries or driving your kid to soccer or what-have-you, and suddenly your thoughts come into focus and it’s like you’re seeing them in a whole new way – almost like it’s not even you that you’re seeing, but someone else. This happens to me once in a while, and it’s always kind of jarring when it does.

Constantly Apologizing for Myself

In my most recent self-observation experience, I was driving somewhere in my car, and I was running late. I’m always running late, so this is hardly news. I sometimes joke that I should have Sorry I’m Late tattooed to my forehead just to save time. Anyway, as I drove I was thinking of something witty I could say to explain my late-ness, and as I heard myself think it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time apologizing for myself.

I apologize when I’m late.

I apologize when I’m early.

I apologize when I don’t reply to a question from one of my Twitter followers immediately.

I apologize when I can’t find the time to read blog posts regularly.

I apologize when other people bump into me at the store.

I don’t know why I feel the need spend so much time apologizing for myself. It could be because I’m Canadian, and apologizing is understood to be our national past-time. We’re sorry if we do too much apologizing, eh. Or perhaps I apologize so much because I’m a woman, and I received lots of messaging in my childhood that this is what females do. Or perhaps – and I think this is most likely of all – I apologize because I’m afraid of taking up too much space.

Apologizing Robs me of Space

I chose space as my word for 2011, because I wanted to bring more space into my life for myself. One of the big things that I’ve discovered along the way is that I do really want space, but I’m also sort of afraid of it. Space means being alone with my thoughts. It means owning who I am, and being comfortable in my skin. It means having the time I need to accomplish the tasks that are important to me. It means expectations, and possibly uncomfortable personal growth.

As I listened to myself plan yet another apology in my head, it occurred to me that my constant apologies aren’t serving anyone. If I’ve genuinely wronged someone, of course an apology is called for. But if I’m going about my daily life and I don’t always hit every mark at exactly the perfect moment, well, that’s probably okay. In fact, given that I have two small children and a variety of daily commitments, it’s probably expected. But when I constantly apologize for every step I make, I’m telling myself that I’m not enough as I am, and I’m robbing myself of the space to be unapologetically me.

I am enough, and I am okay. There is no need for me to apologize for being Amber. And there’s no need for you to apologize for being you, either. So you know what? Let’s just … not. I’ll stop apologizing for myself, and you’ll stop apologizing for yourself. And together, we’ll figure out what to do with the space that brings us.

Do you do a lot of apologizing? Does it enhance your life, or detract from it? I’d love to hear your thoughts – no apologies required!

Ten Things I Hope my Kids Remember

Like pretty much every parent, ever, I’m working very hard to create a happy childhood for my children. I want them to look back on this time in their lives fondly. I expect there will be times when they don’t so much, of course. Those dreaded teen years will likely present their challenges. But I’m expending a lot of effort, and in the long run I hope that they can see and appreciate that.

While I’m doing my best to create a happy childhood, I understand that my views may differ from those of my children. I know that I look back on my own childhood differently than my mother does, which is to be expected, since we are two different people. But it’s interesting to me, because it means that I am not necessarily able to predict what my kids will view as important 20 years from now. I’m running on faith, and making a lot of educated guesses.

As I seek to live with greater intention in my own life, my parenting changes. And one of the ways that it changes is that I try to dwell in the moment with my children more. I want to enjoy this time of having little kids while it lasts, and I want to carefully consider how I balance parenting with everything else I do, so that I’m able to really enjoy the time my kids and I spend together. I guess you could say that part of crafting a life is crafting your parenting.

There are some moments that I really hope my children remember. I think taking the time to consider what those are is a valuable exercise. Not only because it helps me to maintain my parenting focus, but also because it reflects what is and isn’t important to me in my life. It shines a light on my passions and my bliss, and helps me to remember where my priorities lie. So I decided to take a little bit of time out to ask myself what memories I hope my kids will carry with them and look back on fondly.

Me and my babies

Things I Hope my Kids Remember

1. Picking blackberries and salmonberries in the park.
2. Walking to school and back together.
3. A cupboard full of thrift store teacups for parties or just because.
4. Singing along to the music in the car together.
5. Reading together before bed.
6. Making our own ice cream.
7. The funny little songs I made up for them.
8. Running into the wind on the ferry boat.
9. Making art together.
10. How I laughed at every joke they ever told, no matter how many times they told it, or how it wasn’t really even a little bit funny.

What do you hope that your kids remember?

If the World Ends Tomorrow

A number of months ago, while driving through the bustling metropolis of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, I saw a billboard much like this one:

Judgment Day is Coming, May 21, 2011
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

It turns out they’ve been put up all over the world – I found a news story about the predicted end of the world from Zimbabwe. And here’s a news story from Australia:

When it comes to predictions of Armageddon, I’m not a believer. While it would be awfully convenient to know exactly when and where I’ll meet my demise, the planet has survived many predicted end dates with nary a scratch so far. At this point, it’s all taken on the air of the boy who cried wolf. But if you want to be safe, you can read all about how the world will end tomorrow online. And then you can stop by the CDC’s website and find out what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

Regardless of whether you believe that tomorrow will be the last morning you ever wake up, or you’re playing “Doubting Thomas” with me, it’s interesting to consider what it would mean if the world did end tomorrow. If you really knew that this was your last 24 hours on the planet as you know it, how would that change your perspective? What would you spend the day doing? And what would you think, looking back on your life so far?

That last question is really the most interesting to me. I just did the math, and I have been alive for 12,798 days. I don’t think I can do much with my 12,799th day that will change everything I’ve done in the days before it. And so, I want to know if I am happy with the life I’ve lived so far. Do I think I’ve made good use of the time I’ve had? And if not, then what?

The answers to those questions are the essence of what Crafting my Life is all about. I want to live in a way that fills me with purpose, feeds my passions and contributes to the larger world in some way. This does not mean that I’ll bound out of bed every morning filled with enthusiasm, and enjoy every minute that follows until I go to sleep, satisfied, at night. But it does mean that I want to live the kind of life that fits me, and makes a difference somehow.

So, tonight, go out and do something fun. You never know what will happen tomorrow. But if the world doesn’t end, then on Sunday morning take the opportunity to ask yourself where you go next. What will you do so that, when you look back on your life, you can say it was well-lived? You can do it. You really, really can. And what’s more, we all need you to do it. Because it’s only when we’re all contributing our best work that we can actually save the world, instead of just predicting its end.

Seeking Outside Input

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Before you set out on your journey to live with intention, it’s a good idea to take stock of where you are. That’s why the first week of the Crafting my Life class is called Taking Stock, in fact. If your life is a map, then this is where you go searching for the little red dot that says You Are Here.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with listing their own strengths and weaknesses – most especially their strengths. We’ve been taught not to brag, not to blow our own horn and not to get too caught up in ourselves. Women, in particular, may have heard this messaging all their lives. Sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and coming up with 10 things that are awesome about yourself can feel more daunting than public speaking while naked.

If you find yourself in this position, there’s a way out. Instead of struggling to come up with a list of your own personal strengths, call on someone you love and trust. Your partner, your mom, your sister or your best friend probably have a lot of good things to say about you, if you let them. So why not let them? And then you can be a pal and return the favour. Just imagine the schmaltzy love-fest that will ensue!

I’ll be honest, here. At first, the prospect of telling someone else that I was trying to re-invent myself and I needed their input was pretty scary. What if they laughed at me? What if they thought it was the stupidest thing they ever heard? What if they had nothing good to say about me? Oh yes, my dragons had about 347 reasons why I should zip my lip and keep my dreams to myself.

It turns out that my dragons had no idea what they were talking about. Other people have been far more supportive than I expected them to be. In fact, most of the time they’re far more supportive of me than I am of myself. I think it’s because they actually can’t even hear my dragons. They’re so caught up with their own dragons that they really don’t have the time or mental energy to invest in talking me down – just as I am too caught up with my own dragons to spend much time picking apart what other people look like in photos. And so my friends and my husband and my family feel far more free to say nice things about me than I do about myself.

Sometimes, as we talk to others, we can have epiphanies and discover things that we didn’t even know about ourselves. They’ll naturally have a different perspective than we do, filtered through different experiences and ways of thinking. That outside input that they have to offer can not only boost our confidence, it can grant us greater insight and teach us something that we couldn’t learn on our own. These are all great things.

So if you find yourself stuck, unsure of where to go next, and uncertain about whether or not you can get yourself there, why not seek outside input? Take the scary step of letting one trusted person at a time in on what you’re dreaming about. Ask them for help in figuring out where you are now. And offer them the same loving input in return. You just may be surprised by what they share.

I wonder what your experiences are with seeking outside input. Do you find that others are more supportive of you than you expect? Do you broadcast your message far and wide, or just have one trusted confidant? And have you been able to return the favour for someone else? I’d love to hear!