#gratitude

The Heart of A Champion

I haven’t had time to write much this past week,  just a few notes here and there as I’ve been watching my kids play volleyball in Phoenix and enjoying every moment of it. My thoughts in these times are usually all about the gratitude I feel for the opportunities that they have to play and be coached at levels that were never available to me.  I love sports, they brought my timid heart to a place that helped me believe in myself and see my own strength and resilience.  Always a little behind in the struggle, learning things in my own time (I consider myself a late bloomer) and  now getting to put all of this together and attempt to impart it to my kids, in the best way I can, all without a National Championship, a CIF title or really much of anything but an all league mention from a league I guarantee you’ve never heard of. What I know because of that though, and what is so hard to teach in the moment to kids who know the taste of success from an early age, is that while winning feels so good, the lessons we learn in the downturns, our ability to bounce back and trust in our own good intention and process is what takes us the farthest in life. 

Society today is so often looking for the easy win, the answer that makes us feel good in the moment, but that chase for comfort leaves us unable to handle the unease of life that inevitably comes our way.  So often these days, when we see our kids struggle,  the answer seems to be "quick fix it, there has to be a way to avoid this uncomfortable feeling!" The more discomfort I have encountered as an adult has given me the ability to see so clearly that one of the biggest lessons to teach my kids is how to work through discomfort and disappointment on their own. It's not always easy to do and definitely doesn't feel good in the moment. My goal though, is to raise a champion in life, not just on the court, and those lessons don't always come with accolades and medals in the present. 

The real heart of a champion is battle tested and scarred from brutal losses.  When the work is put in, in the hours when no one is watching, when others are sleeping, when you’re diving on the floor, drawing blood, clawing and scrapping for every last ball, willing it not to hit the floor and you come up short, in the moment nothing hurts more.  But for me, sports have always been a metaphor for life.  I have learned more about how to handle the highs and lows of my life with lessons that I have learned on the court or in the pool.  As EE Cummings said:

“It takes courage to grow up and find out who you really are.” 

Sports has helped me to do that.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’m reflecting on them today as I watched my son experience the toughest sporting experience and defeat that he has ever had.  Here are my takeaways in a nutshell.  

  1. Sometimes you have to lose, to figure out how much you love to win.  I’ve heard many champions say that they hate losing more than they like winning.  Whatever the case may be for you, losing, in the moment is never fun, but every loss is an opportunity to grow and get better. Take what you learned from the loss and keep working.  
  2. Accepting defeat gracefully is not easy, but placing blame, second guessing or letting a loss define you places you squarely in victim mode, and in that place, losses linger and don’t have the opportunity to become lessons. If we are able to go back to the drawing board and find the takeaway lesson in the defeat, we don’t lose. Without acceptance there is no opportunity to grow.
  3. You can control your process but you can’t control the result.  Even with an outcome you didn’t want to face, you can sleep well at night if you have faith in your process.  There are many ways to win, work to know yourself and you can define your process. Once you’ve found it, it can change as you learn, but don’t let it go. 
  4. In being a good teammate, lessons are learned that make a good friend, parent, spouse, employee, boss. Loyalty, responsibility, passion, work ethic, make us valuable on a team, but even more valuable in life. The long road to success is paved with small detours and plenty of heartbreak, avoidance only pushes us away from our highest potential and truest destiny.  

My biggest takeaway from this volleyball vortex that I have been swirling in is that as brutal as it is to watch my son in pain, the thing he needs to hear from me most is how proud I am everyday, regardless of results, because I see passion, work ethic and his ability to see a picture of the world that is bigger than himself...and that is the real heart of a champion. 

Defining Strength

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to measure and pass judgment on my own strength, as if this subjective thing can be quantified, and I either pass the test or I don’t.  I’m seeing improvement in my thought process and confidence though because I consciously look for ways to make myself stronger and I realize that the more challenges life brings me, the more sure I become that I can handle far more than I thought I could. 

Part of my rising confidence in my own strength is because my definition for strength has changed.  For a long time, probably all of my adult life, I thought I was strong if I could accommodate and handle anything that people threw at me.  Join this, be here, plan that, call them, organize that, be ready in 20 mins to leave for a week… this kind of accommodating didn't leave me much time to figure out my own head and heart, to define what I wanted to accomplish in my life. When I look back on this time and the way I lived, I actually picture myself, standing on a staircase with someone tossing glass plates at me while I tried to catch and stack them neatly before the next one got tossed and I didn’t catch it and instead watched it shatter on the floor.  Living like this left my heart racing, my spirit tired and my confidence shot because, inevitably, I would take on more and more, until I hit a breaking point. When I did hit that point, I would have to drop everything and hit the reset button, which then caused me to feel like I was failing at everything and could never accomplish what I set out to do.  The self talk that came out of this pattern of living ended up killing my confidence in myself and my abilities to accomplish my goals.  My voice of self doubt can be so loud and convincing, I don’t have to give it much to work with and it can stop me in my tracks. 

Today, I define strength not by how much I can hold, but by how much I decide to carry.  That choice is up to me and I know now that I don’t have to take everything in. I have a choice as to what I decide to accept from others, from situations in my day and the blessings and challenges life presents me.  I challenge myself to slow down and stay present because this is how I have a clear head to evaluate what situations are mine to handle and what needs to roll on by.  Changing this pattern isn’t easy and sometimes make things look like they are falling off my plate compared to how I used to operate. I did things at other peoples pace for so long out of a sense of obligation and desire to keep peace, the way I operate these days looks strange to them too. So in a way, I’m not only retraining myself, I’m retraining people in my life in how they respond to my new way of thinking and reacting. My learning extends to them as well though because the road doesn't just go one way.  Letting the people around me be who they are, take in what they choose from me and not judge them for it gives me and those I love lots of freedom in our relationships.  It gets uncomfortable sometimes, but more struggles are lasting just moments and strength is emerging in sustained action and peace of mind so I know I’m on the right track.  The challenge today is to choose wisely and use both the highs and lows that I decide to accept to fortify the path ahead while I enjoy every step along this beautiful journey.

To my oldest...on her 17th birthday

 

 

As wonderful as sleepy, soft, cuddly newborns are and as hysterical and challenging as the toddler experience was, my favorite moments have come farther along on this parenting road.  Today, my oldest turns 17.  There are 3 more behind her that are 15, 12 and 10 so I have a distance still to travel on this journey, (that really never ends) but it still seems impossible to me that I have a child this age.  I don’t feel old enough, I look at her and remember so clearly being 17 that it brings tears to my eyes.  When she describes her experiences to me, a friend letting her down, a first date, I can feel them because they still feel so fresh in my own mind and heart. I’m grateful that I have such a good memory. I am mindful that we have a mother daughter relationship, she isn’t my friend yet…one day I am confident she will be. And although she teaches me things everyday, today I collected the 17 thoughts that I hope she will take with her on her journey.

  1. know that you have been unconditionally loved from the day you were born, through our faith and from my heart.  Nothing you can do will change that. 
  2. know that you are unique, there is no reason to conform to anything that doesn’t feel true to who you are.
  3. never forget what you learn through life experiences, but always forgive. it’s the only way to live freely.  
  4. your road to success isn’t measured in medals, scholarships or report cards but in the process you engage to make each day a little better for yourself and those whose paths you cross.  (You are winning on this one for sure already.) 
  5. there are few problems that can’t be fixed by a long solo drive, windows down with the right music playing really loud.
  6. let the lyrics of Zac Brown’s Remedy and Roots and Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind take hold in your heart and even through the twists and turns, things will turn out alright. 
  7. listen to your voice first, it is strong, wise and trained in the right ways. Consult only a trusted few in times of trouble so that your voice is not drown out by others opinions. 
  8. to whom much is given much is expected.  never stop counting your blessings and being grateful for the many gifts God has given you in this life. 
  9. always, always, always look for the silver lining.  it’s there, some times not as shimmery as others, but no matter what can make you smile through the tears. 
  10. love the little things and seek them out,  they make up the biggest parts of your day.  a sunrise, a bike ride, a swim, none of these cost a dime and bring so much joy. 
  11. your heart and mind are trainable. train them to love, seek optimism and altruism. 
  12. let your motivation be intrinsic, not extrinsic.  there is no limit to what you can manifest from inside your heart and there will always be a time when the outside encouragement cannot be heard even when you are on the right path.  
  13. pay attention to what you attract, it can help reveal your purpose in life and guide you on your journey. 
  14. sometimes all you need is a new day.
  15. nothing will work unless you do.
  16. in seeking advice or good role models, look for people who rise to the pinnacle of their craft and pay attention to their process. How we do the small things is how we do the big things. 
  17. slow down and make decisions with intention. it limits anxiety, regret and always shows you the choice that is true to your heart. 

Happy 17th Birthday Lauren! You are amazing and so loved. 

Own Your Energy

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we all realized the power we each have to do good, to make choices to challenge each other to be the best versions of ourselves and see what results.  In the past, I could get myself so excited about human potential and then so quickly be let down when that potential wasn't realized.  The truth is though, everyone grows at their own pace and in their own way, not the way I would always say it should be done.  Accepting that people have the same freedom to make their own choices and live their lives as they (not I) see fit, leads to a lot more freedom and happiness for me.  In the past, when people, particularly those I loved, didn’t make choices the way I wanted them to, I got upset and tried to convince them that my way was right.  That action plan takes a lot of energy and slows me down in my own process of fulfilling my own goals and living an independent life. It also gave other people so much power over the energy in my day.  Some days, people brought me great things that revved me up, like a child with straight A’s and some days those same people brought me heavy problems, like sickness or relationship problems.   I would take these things on, even though they were not mine, rolling them around over and over in my head and diminishing my potential to efficiently focus on my own life and what was actually within my scope of choices. 

 

Today, I make it a point to focus on a live and let live mentality that leads me away from needing to pass judgement and rather focus on my own creative path that I work on intentionally every day.  It leads me to create connections with people who have different ways of seeing the world, but similar ways of communicating their vision.  In the end, the best relationships are not about being like minded, but authentic in their communication and discovery of their differences. There is infinite room for growth, connection and intimacy in relationships like these, not the case when everyone is just trying to conform or operating out of a sense of obligation.  Judgement happens, its a natural part of being human, but both how we communicate it (or don’t!) and take it when it comes at us is a choice that I am getting better at making.  My actions today are the ones that matter, my confidence in taking action on my path is what I am building.  Join me, I’m excited to see where it goes from here. 

Seeking and Shining

Writing brings so much clarity to life circumstances that seem so overwhelming before putting them down on paper, virtual or otherwise.   I started The Optimists Journal at a time when I was seeking connection with like minds, to know that there were people out there like me, who were interested in deeper meaning, not just making a list and checking the boxes, but figuring out what makes us all tick and connecting all of this human potential to make a better world.  But there was something so foreign to me about global sharing, and worse, global attention seeking, that I have continually struggled with the blog concept from inception. I am not an attention seeker and honestly one of my worst fears is being seen as boastful, better than or like I have it all figured out…because I don’t, not by a long shot. My daily discovery though is that life’s journey is so fulfilling when I am transparent, real and vulnerable. In approaching my relationships this way, as scary as it is, the freedom and beauty that is unleashed makes conquering my fear worth every deep breath that it takes to get there.  I have lived with the fear of vulnerability my entire life. It's based on fear of failure, confrontation and judgement and also my nature of being a straight up people pleaser for most of my life. This (maybe not so unique) combination of personality traits has made me spend thegreater part of my life purposely trying to stay small and unnoticeable, surrounding myself with people with bigger, louder personalities than me and mastering the art of exiting a room as quickly as possible. I pushed other people around me forward, helping them on each of their journeys from behind the scenes and I was perfectly happy about it. I still don’t regret having lived this way for 40 years because I learned some very valuable lessons. I learned how to listen without responding or judging, I learned to watch for patterns that expose the universal truths in the circumstances that we encounter and that connect us as human beings, and most recently I learned, while going through separation and divorce, that when you expose a struggle to the world, you find connection not condemnation. 

Today, I am grateful that I have learned these things but there are so many more lessons that present themselves everyday, challenging me to master them. The trick seems to be staying present so that I don’t miss them as they come my way.  I’ve started practicing this on a daily basis and have realized once you are on the journey to knowing yourself, there are practical steps like yoga, books, podcasts, and healthy lifestyle choices that keep you on the journey of being a life long learner.  There is always room for growth and improvement in this beautiful life.  There has been a shift in my thinking and here I am sharing my writing.  Today I thank God that the voice that He put inside me is turning out not to be as weak as I had once allowed myself to believe. 

Over the last almost 20 years, I have had the joy, challenge and privilege of loving and parenting 4 amazing kids, the youngest of whom is on the autism spectrum.  I have encountered the near drowning of that same mystical little boy, felt the pain of watching loved ones with addictions fight major battles, and experienced the break up of my family through divorce, a word that still feels bitter in my mouth. And yet, as major and course altering as all of these things have been, they have taught me that adversity provides the building blocks of of a beautiful life if you respond properly. Contrary to how I thought I would handle the bumps and brusies, I learned slowly to lift my gaze to the beauty, not the tragedy of any situation and in this I began to rise and attract like minded people doing life in the most beautiful, conscious way. People who are embracing challenge and turning it into human capacity, exploring their own limits and always seeking to become better at the game of life. As a lot of smart people have said before me, its not what happens to you, its how you handle it. I’ve learned that I can smile through just about anything, but even more importantly, I have learned that my capacity to sustain, to connect and endure life's hardships, still filled with optimism and gratitude, is far stronger than I ever believed. 

So herein lies the bigger message of the Optimists Journal: Our connection is found in our broken stories, not our perfect ones.  We are the storytellers of our lives and I’m just learning how to tell mine.  I invite you to share yours too, its where all the best connections in life are made.