Sunday, August 26, 2012

the comfort zone

A little more than a year ago I recall reading a quote that stuck with me. "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." I liked it. Liked it so well that a few weeks later when I was talking with a student about how she might get members of her student organization to try new things in order to make membership more meaningful, I commended this quote to her as relevant to her organization and their plight. 

This morning I am looking at that quote in a new light. I understand, and agree fully, that staying in our comfort zone--that place where our norms, our habits, our viewpoints are familiar and unchanging--can stunt us. It's hard to make new discoveries in a place that doesn't expose us to new thoughts, ideas or experiences.  We may be content to remain where we know what to expect, and where our choices serve us. 

It has been my experience in life that when I risk stepping beyond the boundaries of what is known and safe I benefit from the experience.   Sometimes my boundary--my zone--expands to incorporate a new idea or ritual. Other times I find that what lies beyond does not serve my needs or enrich my life. Not every experience will, or should be life-changing. When we taste something new we may find that it is sweet or bitter or on our tongue.

Yesterday I was invited by a friend/acquaintance to attend a training meeting for members of her direct sales team. I've spoken with her several times about the opportunity her business offers, and lord knows that since I no longer have a paycheck the need for some income is great. The potential of what can be achieved and earned through Sandy's company is tempting. In less than three short years in this business she is earning more than $20,000 a month. And she's happy.

I'm familiar with direct sales. I've lived the regimen for the last five years as a consultant with The Pampered Chef. I love PC. Love the products, love the perks, think the training is second to none, and the support I receive from my director and other team members is beyond sufficient to succeed. The Pampered Chef provides all the tools for me to do well and become its poster child. The only thing standing in the way of banking a big commission check is me. 

Here's the bald truth. I don't "do well" with my PC business. There are aspects of working with customers and promoting the products where I excel. But the nitty gritty, nuts and bolts parts that stand in my way are outside of my comfort zone. We're encouraged to step outside that zone, to push ourselves to take the steps that will lead to success. Can I do it? Of course. But I hate how the effort to dig down to find the energy and the courage to perform the necessary tasks makes me feel. To paraphrase another quote that has circulated and become popular, it's like asking a fish to climb a tree. No matter how badly that fish may want to climb that tree, it just isn't equipped to do so. 

I am not equipped for direct sales. As I listened to the encouragement and motivation Sandy offered yesterday to her team and the guests present, I knew that it would be a mistake to sign on. I'm already living outside of my comfort zone selling Pampered Chef. What I take away from that experience is that my "limits" are confirmed, my deficits highlighted. I am reminded that when I play to my strengths my life is richer and happier, and I have energy that enables me to offer the best of who I am to the world. 

Life doesn't begin at the end of our comfort zone. Rather, at that fuzzy edge between comfort and risk we have the opportunity to examine that zone, to consider how what lies beyond might transform and empower us, or cause us to seek retreat. The willingness to step beyond is critical. Staying there is not always to our advantage. The discomfort of being out of our zone is also instructive.

My present circumstances require my presence in the territory of the unknown and yet-to-be-revealed. It serves me well to step outside my comfort zone and listen for what the world has to offer as well as to heed what I already know. I have put my hand into the hand of God, whose wisdom is sufficient and whose guidance I trust. That is the only zone I really need.

Friday, August 24, 2012

fun times ahead!

Timing is everything.

Yesterday I popped over to facebook to see what updates had been posted since my last visit, and there at the top was a note from Nashville Paw Magazine that they had a vendor opening for their annual Barktoberfest event this fall. First one to get in touch would get the opening!

I emailed immediately and said I'd take the spot, and I'm in! I don't ordinarily enjoy booth opportunities at events as a way to conjure up customers for my Pampered Chef business, but I love the idea of being at this dog-friendly and -focused gathering. I can fuss over people's dogs, share the love, and say, "did you know that our Silicone Mat is the perfect tool for rolling out dough for dog biscuits?" Barktoberfest's theme this year is Vintage Halloween Carnival, and we're encouraged to decorate our booths (and ourselves) accordingly.

I'm not particularly inclined toward vintage or carnival themes most days of the week, but I have to say that after scoping out the ideas on Pinterest I am beyond excited about the possibilities. In fact, I have too many ideas to implement, and will have to work hard to restrain myself and narrow down my choices.

Since this is an outdoor event we (Ken has been alerted that I will need his help) will be using the EZ-Up "tent." Here are a few keepers:

These will be clustered inside the EZ-Up. Change the colors to black, orange and purple (and maybe that lovely neon lime-green), and decorate the balloons with paw print designs.

Pole curtains!  The curtains at the corners will cover the metal posts as well as the gizmos we employ as weights to keep the thing from getting upended by wind. Been there! The EZ-Up has only four poles, which will make life considerably easier for decorating purposes. Halloween fabric will be employed. Flowers will not. It may be possible to decorate the top of the EZ-Up somehow, although I'm thinking that may be taking this a bit too far.  We'll see. Ken's willingness and enthusiasm to make it happen may be a determining factor. I also need to be careful to avoid creating a "big top" look, since Nashville Paw is clear that we are not emulating circus themes (because of animal abuse issues).

A decorated pumpkin with "The Pampered Chef" written on it, and paw prints instead of dots. Not sure what I will put on top, but I'll think of something!

A cluster of pinwheels (in Halloween paper) displayed in a Pampered Chef product (not sure yet which one).

And so much more! Bunting, a ring-toss game (the prize will be a specially printed recipe of dog treats prepared using Pampered Chef products), bags of dog treats for sale, a guess-how-many-candy-corn-pieces-are-in-the-jar opportunity, soda bottles filled with Halloween-colored water...

My biggest challenge? Figuring out what my costume should be! I've got some time, and I will start working on putting together my pinwheels, getting fabric, balloons and what-not. But I'm psyched. Are you having fun with me?

Time to get out the new fall catalog and go through it to make some decisions about what products to have on display, and what I will offer as a give-away. This is going to be a blast!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

the next blank page, part 2

Writing is a time-consuming proposition. This is probably a good thing as it serves to weed out those who are less committed to the art of communicating through the written word. It is an art and a craft, and it most certainly requires commitment. If one is going to take the time and make the commitment to write, the result may as well be something that matters.

It's been 21 years and almost 11 months since the idea for this book suggested itself to me. I can be precise about its genesis because it took place within the first 24 hours of my nephew's life. I've written of this before, but to save all of us the trouble of trying to recollect when and where, I will repeat myself!

Jesse was born late on a Saturday night. The next morning my brother Jamie made the appointed calls to members of the family to announce that "he's heeeere..." and we galvanized to pay a visit to this first member of the next generation of our family. My mother, then living in Westchester County, NY, drove into Manhattan to pick up my grandmother and the two of them motored to Connecticut to greet the newborn. We all converged at the hospital late in the morning where we oohed and aahed at Jesse through the glass partition of the nursery, and my grandmother proclaimed that he was "trying himself out." Indeed he was.

In due time we decided that Barbara needed to get some rest and have some respite from the crush of family, so we parted company and headed back to their home. The detail of why Jamie rode with me is now a part of the ether, but it doesn't matter. I drove through town and turned left off the main drag to wend my way via back roads, avoiding traffic lights and congestion. I knew this route because I am blessed with the "good sense of direction" gene, and because I also have the gene that likes to be efficient in most aspects of life. Knowing the most direct route between two points is just one of those things that I determine as quickly as most people blink.

As I made that left hand turn I noted from the corner of my eye that Jamie was nodding with a smile and approval. Shortly he offered, "There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who do and those who don't." I knew immediately what he meant. Jamie and I may not be on the same wavelength on every subject, but we are related, after all, and carry the same aforementioned genes. While his do and don't reference was inspired by my navigation it went beyond directions and shortcuts. It included as well the tendency to pay attention, whether to details, actions, or as a consumer of knowledge. It also meant drawing on what we learn by paying attention to guide decisions and take action.

As we drove the remaining minutes to the house I reflected on his observation, and the way that the phrase "there are two kinds of people" can be used. To note that one person is of one view or inclination and another holds a different view can be used to suggest that one is right and the other wrong. Sometimes this is employed humorously, like the take, "There are two kinds of people: those who like bacon and those who are wrong." At other times intimidation is the goal, "There are two kinds of people who understand Marines: Marines and their enemy." Mostly it seems that the phrase is put to work justifying one's preferences with a subtle, defensive tone: "There are two kinds of people in the world, and one of them puts ketchup on their eggs." Most of the time "two kinds of people" seems to emphasize differences, and in a way, division.

As a person who was raised to respect differences between and among people and who has learned to value those differences, I see "two kinds of people" as an opportunity to bridge the difference gap with understanding. Years ago a friend and I were discussing our teaching styles. We employed different methods in our teaching, and this had resulted in some conflict. After some lengthy conversation she finally sighed and said, "I need to remind myself that you don't think like I do." I took her words to mean that she felt she was unsuccessful at persuading me to her viewpoint, the "right" viewpoint. All along I thought we were trying to understand one another and learn from each other.

Because it matters to me to work toward understanding different points of view, using "two kinds of people" as a framework to consider our differences in a new light is where I would like to go with my book. In the next few days I'll share a reflection on a "two kinds of people" observation, and I would like to invite your thoughts about what "two kinds of people" pop up in your life and world. 

How about it, are you game? Or are you the kind of person who doesn't like to play. (Wink).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the next blank page, part 1

No matter how long I live it is probably safe to say that I am past the half-way point. At 55, 110 seems not only suspect but undesirable! As I consider how I want to spend the rest of my work life--likely another ten years--I am also taking a look at other goals I have held for my life over the years. I am aware that although I can say, "there's lots of time ahead of me" to accomplish certain things, the reality is that it's time to apply a realistic assessment to what matters most and what can be released from my pocket of dreams.

This is about more than updating a list. It is about taking stock of my life in very real terms, and determining how I want to spend the days that remain, and what significance I want them to hold. There's a lot that goes into such a reflection, and to do justice to the effort all sorts of nooks and crannies must be explored and examined. Truth be told, this is an exercise not for the faint of heart!

One of the things that inspires my thinking is the story of a little dog named Atticus and his human companion, Tom. I wrote a couple of months ago about the delight I found in the book Following Atticus, and some of the introspection that Tom Ryan's story prompted me to do. I continue to follow Atticus and Tom (and Will, another member of their family) on facebook and on Tom's blog. I resonate a great deal with his perspective and world view, and feel challenged to hone my own life so that the values I hold within are reflected without. 

I've not been particularly successful when it comes to that latter desire. There's a country music song that contains the lyric "I've come to terms with my vanity," and in that same vein a part of the inner work I've done has led me to come to terms with what I call my deficits. I can always try harder, always look for ways to move in the direction of self-improvement, but at the same time I know that some things that have been out of my grasp probably will continue to be so. Part of taking stock means taking into account the things that get in the way, and I have concluded that there are times when the effort to try overcome those obstacles is better spent going around them. This approach is compatible with the notion of playing to one's strengths, something I also wrote about recently

Back to the desire to reflect outwardly the glow of my inward being. Without boring you with the whole process of how I came to consider the following possibility, I will simply share it with you. I think I will tackle a book. Not a novel, because I think that the one that is drastically unfinished within me is likely to remain so, but a collection of reflections. One of the things I do well is reflect, and the vehicle I often use for that process is writing. I have been encouraged to write. And although there are a couple of topics that have actually found some grounding with me, one in particular seems to be working its way into my consciousness for a serious conversation.

More on that in the next post. Consider this one its introduction.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

variation on a theme

This morning I was scrolling through an email from a cross stitch source to which I subscribe, and this lovely opportunity came into view. Well hello, Anne of Cleves! After which I thought, "why in the world would anyone want to stitch a portrait of Anne?" I've already confessed to being enamored of the intricacies of the life of Henry VIII, including his wives (Anne being number four), but still...

Being a person for whom possibilities are fun to consider, however, I began to do just that. Here's a sample of my considering:

Find portraits of all six wives and cross stitch them to make into pillows. Be the first among your friends to have a Tudor-themed living room! Note: the patterns exist! And here's my favorite, though I can't begin to think why someone would spend hours upon hours stitching this to completion. Clearly, someone has. -->

Find portraits of other famous Annes to cross stitch and group the framed collection on a wall in your house. Or garage. Or bathroom. So far Anne Frank, Anne Hathaway, Queen Anne, Anne of Green Gables come to mind. That's a fairly diverse group carrying such a distinguished name!

Find portraits of other noble women of history who didn't lose their dignity, even if they did lose their royal spouse.

Identify famous persons to whom your own family tree has some connection. One of my ancestors helped negotiate the marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves! I'm just realizing this makes me two historic degrees of separation from Henry.  Be still my heart!

Write a dissertation on the queen and frame her portrait in a shadow box with a copy of your manuscript.

Cross stitch a Tudor tapestry to hang on the wall. 

Okay, I've given this a really first rate attempt to think creatively. I'm sure that with the other great minds out there who come here for various reasons we can really beat the band with exceptional ideas. I hope you'll share yours!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

lightening up

I don't know about you, but I could use a lighter tone today. My heart has been pretty heavy the last several days and something a bit more carefree feels in order.

I went back to the blog with the list of 30 ideas for conversation (or blog posts), and they are really more serious than I want to be for this post. Except maybe one: If you could have dinner with anyone in history who would it be, and what would you serve?

This used to be a regular question as part of the celebrity interview on the last page of each issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Consequently, I am prepared for this question. 

I have two answers. I have the one I came up with all those years ago courtesy of Bon Appetit, and another one because I am reconsidering my original, long-held answer, courtesy of Bon Appetit.

The first answer is Henry VIII. Bet you didn't expect that! I got quite fascinated with Henry and the saga of his many wives ages ago when Masterpiece Theater aired a series called, oddly enough, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I was 13. This was also the era when I became absolutely infatuated with Franco Zeffirelli's production of Romeo and Juliet, and I memorized essentially the entire play by listening to the recording of the movie over and over and over again. (This is one reason I so readily recall the prince's exhorting speech at the end that I have quoted a few times on the blog. It contains the phrase, "all are punish-ed!" I can still hear the precise delivery of that line in my head). Was it the costumes?

But I digress. Henry. As a result of the aforementioned exposure to this Tudor king I bought and read the novel The Autobiography of Henry VIII when it came out in 1998.  The novel treats Henry somewhat sympathetically compared to most historical perspectives, and  I became convinced by the novel that Henry got a very bad wrap from history. He had a brilliant theological mind and a complete and total devotion to England.  These two realities in his life are what drove his decisions, no matter how we might evaluate them. I came to appreciate the specific challenges he faced as a monarch, and how his theological training and beliefs came to bear as he tried to make decisions that would result in the best service to his country. Seeing Henry in this light, the opportunity to dine with him and talk about the issues intrigue me. 

Today, however, I see this a little differently. I still view Henry much more sympathetically than most, but I suspect that I would find him much more closed-minded than I give him credit for being, and that might not bode so well for an evening of lively exchanges. Then again, he was an outstanding athlete, poet, musician and charmer, so perhaps the original renaissance man might make a fabulous dinner companion. As to what I would serve him: I have no idea. Think he'd like pizza with pepperoni and onions?

My second choice is my great-grandmother, my mother's mother's mother, Sudie. By all accounts she was an extraordinary woman. Her faith was deep and sustaining, her mind astute and quick, and her devotion to her family and others whose lives were intertwined with her own was unyielding. I realize that this could describe many women of her era (1869-1938). Something I learned about her not long ago, however, puts a little flesh on those general bones: asked what she would have liked to do with her life had she not married, she answered that she would have enjoyed being a landscape architect. How cool! She also had a brilliant mathematical mind. And her daughters thought she was perfect. (No joke!) There are an assortment of other things I've been told about her, but sharing all of that would result in a full chapter. And that from never having met her!

Sudie's dinner is a little easier to imagine: fresh produce from the garden for a salad and from which to make soup (I'm thinking tomato basil); a goat cheese and kalamata olive tart with sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar; rotisserie chicken marinated with a shallot, mustard and herb vinaigrette; mushroom risotto (and I don't even like mushrooms); and for dessert, fresh South Carolina peaches drizzled with a champagne-raspberry reduction. Dang, now I'm hungry!

So there you have it. Who would you invite to dinner? And what would you serve?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

mea culpa

My husband and I love the movie "The Blind Side." We enjoy the humor and the "feel good" aspects of it, but mostly we love it as an example of how the unexpected interactions and transactions of our lives have the potential to transform hearts and change lives in amazing ways. I wonder how often we miss the signs that, if they were to appear in reality would read, "Caution: God's Love at Work."

There is one scene in the movie, however, that always gives me pause. The family is situated in the bleachers for Micheal's first high school football game, and a parent from the opposing team shouts out less-than flattering remarks directed at Michael. Young S. J. Tuohy wants to respond, but his mother gives him a restraining pat on the knee and asserts with confidence, "Sticks and stones, S. J. Sticks and stones."

We all know to what she is referring. Who among us didn't grow up reciting those words in their fuller context as an attempt to ward off the sting of hurtful remarks intended to diminish us? Words most certainly have the power to inflict pain and cause heartache.

This morning I write this as a confessional post, because recently I was the one careless with words that inflicted pain on someone I love. It is never my intention to wound, and I am usually very careful with my words. I know better than to write something when I am upset that carries the potential for regret. On this occasion I failed my better angels, causing hurt and reaping the cost of that failure. For that I take responsibility, and suffer the weight of my sin.

It is humbling to be reminded that as I seek to contribute to the greater good beyond my own life and world, to shape a kinder and more expansive sphere where ideas can be exchanged and boundaries extended, I must also tend to the intimate environments where the impact of my choices is felt most keenly. It is imperative to love and enact justice from an integrated whole of heart and mind if my intentions and beliefs are to find meaning with the next word I speak or action I take in the world at large.

Words matter in every context. They have the power to influence, encourage, persuade, distort, inspire, demonize, denigrate, and yes, hurt. We can respond with laughter and tears, compassion and anger, resolution and resentment. Because the trajectory of what results from our words can lead to pain, brokenness and estrangement, it is incumbent upon us to strive at all times for reconciliation and grace, mercy and love.  

It is inevitable that our efforts from time to time will fail.  Standing this morning in the pool of that failure I seek forgiveness, reaching for the light and love of God that bestows the balm of healing. I learn and grow, and begin again.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

big epiphany. BIG!

I never thought I would see the day that I would actually thank Mitt Romney for something, but just such an occasion occurred the other day on my way to work. Fed up with endless political coverage on the morning news, the sound of his voice prompted me to turn off the radio. In the ensuing silence I took up a not uncommon ritual that begins, "Well God, here we are..."

I don't publicize my years-long struggle with prayer that has left me groping for the deep connection with the divine that I used to enjoy and took for granted. It somehow seemed unseemly to admit that a priest just couldn't pray. I tried. When called upon I could muster up the connection and the words. But something broke a while ago and I have had trouble since then with prayer. 

A recent piece I saw on television that shared the results of a "prayer energy study" convinced me, however, that it was time to give it another whirl. So the other day while driving to work I whirled. In prayer, not on the road.
With anything significant happening in my life I strike up conversations with God. With changes on the horizon as I begin the journey of looking for a new job, it was a natural course of action. I jumped right in where I thought we had left off previously on the subject of vocation, namely: "Please! I need clarity and direction!" This has been a mantra of prayer for more than ten years, and it has been an intensely frustrating effort to hear any acknowledgement or response to my please.

And then the Holy Spirit nudged my mind to wander a bit. Crafty bugger, she is. My thoughts went back 25 years (gracious!) to a card I received from a friend that read: "God loves us for who we are, not for who we are supposed to be," or words to that effect. Inside the card she had written, "sometimes those two are not far apart." My mind considered that wisdom, and on reflection landed on this: I already knew everything I needed to know about what to do next and what direction to follow. Trust that. 

I was reminded of the story about the believer who prayed to God about two choices before him. He appealed to the almighty for guidance making the choice, saying, "this option has all of these benefits, all of which would be wonderful. The other option has those benefits, all of which would be wonderful. Which should I choose?" To which God replied, "either one would be fine with me."

The epiphany is that God has given me all that I need to move forward. I don't need to wait on guidance that has been there all along, I simply need to heed the wisdom of what I already know. Self-awareness is, after all, one of the gifts God gave me. Use it, for heaven's sake!

I can't tell you what a relief it is to come to this understanding, and how it has opened a door to listening in a new way to what I know about myself.  Now the work begins to piece together the knowledge I have and seek opportunities that will draw on the fullness of who I am and what I have to offer.  

Stay tuned. And have a great week.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

door closed

One wait is over and another begins.

I learned yesterday that I will not be staying on in my job. Yes, it sucks. There is a long list of reasons why this job has been such a good fit for me, so it is hard to pack up my things and go home (in two weeks) and see it go to someone else, no matter how qualified. Plain and simple, it hurts.

This morning, and probably for the next several days (if not longer), I will dance between grief and the necessary gear shift into anticipation and looking ahead to whatever comes next. I am grateful that the facebook responses to this news have stuck to sympathy or positive encouragement about the next chapter. I braced myself for the "everything happens for a reason" line and was prepared to delete it. I don't share that view (except along cause and effect lines, like "the road is wet because it rained") and am not in a mood to indulge it. I am particularly grateful for those who understand that I am in a place of hurt and allow me the grace to be here. I will move on soon enough.

So I am back to intense discernment, a very frustrating place to be because I have been in constant discernment for years. Years!  I am torn, somewhat raggedly, about seeking work related to the Church. When I attend worship I find it painful to be in the pew. God did not call me to sit there, and that call renews itself when I do. At the same time parish work has been consistently unsatisfying in too many ways to want to entertain that possibility. Add to that a fractured relationship with my bishop and the way appears strewn with more obstacles than encouragement.

I am so weary of being in a place weighed down with a lack of clarity. At the same time I cannot afford to be still (I am not referring to spiritual stillness--that is a must!). Financially there is no room to go without a paycheck. Practically, in this economy, any gap in employment hurts my chances to gain employment. And for the sake of my confidence, self-promotion and a daily effort to secure work is de rigueur. Starting today--the need to grieve notwithstanding--positive thinking is moving to the front of the line of thoughts. No pushing or shoving by other kinds of thoughts will be tolerated.

Here's my strategy, and I'm inviting anyone who so chooses to join my strategy team. Feel free to assign yourself a job title: something like Encourager in Chief sounds good. Be creative!

1) Pray. Hop on the prayer wagon!
2) Listen.
3) Make some choices about the kind of work I want to seek.
4) Network. I've got a flatbed lined up to accommodate people who will help me network.
5) Remain open to the possibilities (this is actually easy--fits right into my Meyers-Briggs type).
6) Repeat this phrase early and often: "Yes I can!"
7) Generate income by other legal means. I'll continue to sell Pampered Chef and will also promote my genealogy service.
8) Pray some more.
9) Refuse to settle. This may be a real challenge, depending on what crops up, because I know how tempting it can be to settle. Maybe I should view such temptation as Satan-inspired. (wink)
10) Laugh.
11) Create.

I feel much better now. Writing to you has helped me to focus and talk myself into a positive place. What an amazing team you all are! Thanks for that. I mean that more than you know.



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