Dreaming for the Future

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If you were to ask me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have confidently stood up and shared with you a glimpse of my future – I would someday become the President of the United States. If you were to ask my older brother the same question about my future, he would have quickly insisted there was no way I could do this because I was a girl. My parents never let him have the last word and left no room for confusion while explaining we could be whatever we aspired to be. In other words, they encouraged dreaming.

I recently attended the first TEDx Greensboro event, one of the many Tedx programs hosted around the world to share ideas, foster learning and inspire communities through a series of speakers. The particular focus of this event was dreams, with topics ranging from the future of aviation to the building of community through the act of turning strangers into neighbors.

tedx_briggsOne of the speakers, Dr. Cyndi Briggs, shared her personal and professional thoughts about dreaming through introduction of the Imagination Installation Project, a social capital movement that harnesses the collective power of community. As one of the organizers of the grassroots effort, she invited all attendees at the event to participate by finishing a statement beginning with “Imagine when…..” to tap into imaginations and initiate dreaming. The cards included each contributor’s name and were then posted on a wall for all to view throughout the day. The results were fascinating, thought provoking and interesting.

Even more interesting, though, was the nervousness and lack of confidence I felt (but didn’t expect to) seconds before mustering up enough courage to write down my own initial response on one of the cards. According to Cyndi, I was not unlike many of the other adults she’s witnessed participating in the exercise. In her presentation she explained that dreaming is a major part of childhood, but somewhere along the road adulthood we lose confidence to share ideas and future aspirations. Sad, but true.

Every morning I ask my  two year-old daughter what she dreamed about the night prior. I can usually count on a response including one of the following: doggies, Dora the Explorer or sunshine. She’s at a fun age with a budding imagination. Most days, she informs me that Dora and her friends are at our house and joining us at the dinner table, using plastic containers to hold their invisible food. I often drink invisible coffee out of toy buckets for her enjoyment and act surprised the seventeenth time she delivers a plastic farm animal to me as a new piece of “mail”. She’s just beginning to scrape the surface of her imagination and dreaming, while I am at an age it is no longer encouraged by society.

While I no longer believe I am headed to the White House, I am now a mother of two young daughters who will need me to encourage them to dream as they age, just as my parents have into adulthood. But just as important will be the reminders I share with them, pointing to the positive events, relationships and conversations in their life that they might not have dreamed of. These moments, along with their dreams, will shape their future and help make possible what once seemed impossible; simply by imagining when.

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Why we should live more like Gumby

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A few years ago, I received invaluable advice from a respected business leader: when in life you are presented with the opportunity to stretch yourself, take advantage of it. In other words, she was saying live like Gumby and embrace vulnerable situations.

After hearing these words, I began noticing something; these opportunities appear for all of us, and more than we recognize. Nearly every day, we are faced with decisions – personal, professional; large, small; easy and difficult. Those that seem more difficult are that way because they are unfamiliar, and therefore, will force us to experience something new.

Have you ever noticed it seems easier to take on a task or enter a new situation once you’ve already had a similar experience? That’s not a coincidence.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has studied the topic of vulnerability for more than 10 years. Her work has been featured on national television, major publications and in multiple TED talks.

 

She says when people are vulnerable, they are willing to let go of who they thought they should be to be who they are and fully embrace vulnerability, believing it is what makes them beautiful.

I think she’s on to something.

When thinking about her definition and my own vulnerability, a few recent experiences immediately come to mind.

  • Signing up for a co-ed kickball team, not knowing there was such a thing and without knowing anyone playing, only months after moving to a new city. Did I mention sign-up was at a bar in a college town on a night my husband worked? Or that I realized on my way there that I didn’t know what the team captain (or anyone else for that matter) looked like? Yes, that awkward woman standing near the pinball machine scoping out the packed establishment with baby in tow was yours truly.
  • Meeting someone for coffee for the first time and not knowing what they look like. Asking other seemingly lost customers if they too are looking for their coffee date until the fourth person finally says yes.
  • Taking our two-year-old daughter to her first friend birthday party for a classmate at a local kid play zone, only to realize we were relying on her memory to help us navigate bouncy houses, slides and tunnels to find the little girl.

We all have the opportunity to place ourselves in vulnerable situations, to spark uncomfortable feelings and potentially embarrassing moments. However, instead of taking the plunge or enjoying the splash of a new experience, we continue repeating only those experiences we know and then wonder why we feel bored.

Now that I’ve embraced these situations, I want to have a few words with what used to be feelings of vulnerability. Sign me up for another kickball team. Schedule a meeting over coffee with a stranger. Invite my daughter to a birthday party at the local kid zone. Been there, done that.

The next time you have a chance to move your muscles and gain new experiences, give it a try. You don’t have to turn green; just wiggle your arms and get ready to stretch.

Unconventional ‘Spring Cleaning’

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Spring is in full force – the sun is peaking through the clouds, pollen is flying through the air and traditional spring cleaning has begun. For me this year, the season of spring is also bringing a desire to participate in an unconventional twist to spring cleaning, de-cluttering all aspects of my life and bring with it a renewed focus.

I recently overheard a woman talking about her two-year-old son and his experience during Christmas this past year. She was sharing how, when married to her former husband, her then mother-in-law would “go crazy” during the holiday season and purchase nearly everything in the store. As a result, her ex-husband cringed each year as the seemingly jolly season would approach. His childhood experience, filled with an overabundance of tangible items left him feeling a void in more ways than one. This Grinch-like attitude was following him into adulthood and leaving a similar impression on his toddler, who, by instruction, was not allowed more than one toy for Christmas.

In a separate visit, I listened in as two men began talking about their upcoming mother’s birthday. She was turning 90 years old. One of the men shared his wife’s stress about what to purchase as a gift, saying “she probably already has everything.” After a short recollection of the previous year, the brothers decided they would purchase a generator for their mother, as she had lost power five times in the past year.

In both of these conversations, it seems, there was more emphasis placed on the actual gift rather than the act of giving, causing unnecessary stress and frustration.

After hearing these stories, I began a self-reflection and audit of my own life’s “stuff” — tangible and intangible. At a time when many are cleaning closets and making room for more purchases, I am joining the crowd. But, this year, rather than adding clothes or shoes, I am hoping  to de-clutter life by making small, subtle changes to my every day routine. A few examples include:

  • Walking with my dogs in the evening instead of Facebook scrolling;
  • Sitting outside in the sun with a magazine instead of inside on the couch;
  • Hosting impromptu get-together’s with new friends rather than wishing I had elaborate dinner plans;
  • Sending already read books to a good friend a few states away in exchange for her already read pieces of work;
  • And, most importantly, making time for long conversations with my good friends and family who matter most.

So far, the plan is moving along nicely, and I am feeling less “cluttered”. One day at a time.

What about you? Are you spring cleaning this year – traditionally or unconventionally? And if not yet, don’t worry, there’s still time.

10 Awesome Things – Coffee Shop Edition

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You might have heard the old cliché “stop and smell the roses”.

No?

How about “appreciate the small things in life”? Or, “enjoy every day as if it’s your last”?

They’re all sharing the same message: live a fulfilled life – every day, appreciating every moment.

I recently learned of 1000 Awesome Things, a daily blog pointing out the common joys in life we all share. Among them: getting grass stains, fat baseball players, illegal naps, sleeping in new bed sheets, snow days, high fiving babies.
After reading, smiling and relating to the list I began to wonder: what makes these moments so awesome? How is it we can all be in different stages of life, work in various professions, live in different parts of the world, and yet still have these common threads of enjoyment?

This led me to research and find out more about the 1000 Awesome Things project – how it got started, who was behind it and the impact it’s had. As it turns out, Neil Pasricha started the personal blog in 2008 after experiencing a number of unfortunate life events in a short period of time, amid an economic downturn. The blog was created in an effort to help him consciously recognize and appreciate the small joys in life rather than focusing on the negative.

Fast forward to 2012 and the blog now has over 43 million views, inspired a TED Talk presentation and resulted in the publication of three bestselling books.

As I learned more about this project and its origin, I began to think about how coffee shops follow a similar theme, gathering individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds to enjoy a simple, yet satisfying treat – coffee. So, I decided to make my own list and share what makes this meeting place so awesome.

1. Abnormally loud laughs – this happens when the coffee grinder stops suddenly and the rest of the customers are greeted with a chuckle from the back corner of the building
2. A barista who knows your name and, sometimes, even your drink order
3. Coffee shop friends – others who frequent the same places at the same time you do, creating a friendship by default
4. A decaffeinated customer – usually found slouched in a leather chair, head back, mouth wide open and enjoying a few minutes of shut eye
5. Stocky men ordering skinny lattes
6. The only seat left near an outlet
7. Coffee served in mugs
8. Chalkboard menus
9. Display cases
10. Free Wi-fi

Awesome.

Motherhood – a cup of coffee all on its own

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Today’s post is from my own personal cup of coffee — motherhood. Too often as a new mom, I am given a very crucial piece of advice: “Enjoy every moment. They grow up too fast.” My recent guest post on Kelly Westover’s blog  shares my perspective and reflection on life as a new(ish) mom. Enjoy!

guest post :: learning to enjoy the here and now of motherhood

Everything but the Kitchen

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I walked up to the big, intimidating brown door, carrying a pan of warm apple crisp dessert as its sticky juices leaked out the sides onto my hands. Christmas music played loudly behind me; young children laughing and skating circles on a small ice rink under bright lights and the moon.

As I approached the building, I noticed something. The window wrapping the front of the door was shattered. The glass was broken, but not enough to cause an opening. 

Gulp. 

There was a part of me wanting to turn around, get back in my car and drive safely home. But, I signed up for this and knew it would be an eye-opening experience. I was right.

After reaching the front door, I peered through the window. A young woman made eye contact and walked over to open the door for me. I smiled, introduced  myself and nervously asked to be directed where I might set down my leaking dish. An older gentleman walked down a hallway towards us and kindly showed me the way. But, moments later I learned I would need to first walk through a large gym before getting to the kitchen.

One big room, 25 mattresses; just as you see in the movies. Every mattress was accompanied by a notebook piece of paper torn from a tablet and taped above each pillow, labeled with a corresponding number. Women of all ages – young, old, crippled, healthy – sat on the mattresses, walked around the room, sang to each other or simply sat at one of the long tables set up nearby.

Bed Time...

As I weaved my way through the mattresses lined up on the tiled floor, I noticed some of the women gathered in a corner of the room. Piquing my interest, I stared long enough to see what they were doing. A volunteer sat in a chair as the women took turns having their fingernails painted.

“You look beautiful,” the volunteer said after finishing painting for one of the women.

I made my way to the kitchen, helped set up a buffet-style table of food and grabbed a cup of coffee.

One of the women quickly ran up to me, eager to hand me a brown paper bag.

“Would you like to read this?” she said, holding up a local newspaper with a square photo of her pictured in black and white on the front page. “One of the stories is about me and the path I’m on to make a better life.”

“Yes, I would love to take a look,” I said, smiling.

“There’s something else in the bag that’s a bit more personal, if you’d like to see,” she said.

Hesitant, I opened the bag and reached in to pick up a yellow piece of fabric.

“Would you like me to take it out of the bag?” I asked, unsure if the item was too personal for the rest in the room to see.

She nodded her head yes.

I picked up and unfolded the item, which I quickly recognized as an extra-large macaroni and cheese colored t-shirt covered in words and images, hand written with a black permanent marker. I fumbled the shirt a bit, so she snatched it out of my hand and held it up for me to see more clearly. The front of the shirt read “We are a family and we still love you”.

I nodded.

Tshirt #1 - Complete

She rotated the shirt, showing me the backside. My stomach dropped as I saw four little faces drawn on the fabric, and above the image, the words “If you love us, why do you make us black and blue?”.

I nodded again, unsure how to respond to a message so clear, yet so disturbingly sad.

She told me she made the t-shirt in therapy as a way to help her cope with life and start on the right path. As she placed the t-shirt back into the bag, a tall authoritative woman walked into the large room and signaled for everyone to gather in the middle of the room.

Without speaking, all of the women and volunteers (including myself) gathered between the mattresses and the tables and held hands. The woman who seemed to have authority began saying a prayer.

“Thank you Lord for bringing us together to a warm place tonight. Please bless this food and show us your grace through fellowship and the meeting of new friends. In God’s name we pray, Amen.”

How cool, I thought.

I, along with four other volunteers, took our position behind the long table with food. The women lined up single file on the other side of the table — plates in hand and manner in tact. We served our homemade chicken pot pie, garden salad and warm apple crisp and they thanked us for each serving.

“This smells so good,” one woman said.

“A home cooked meal is just what I need right now,” another said.

The women ate their meals while sharing fellowship. The dishes were empty, all food gone. I grabbed another cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables.

What can I possibly say to these women? I’ve never been homeless. And, while I’ve had extensive training and experience working with women involved in domestic violence, I’ve fortunately never had to experience it myself.

“How was the food?” I asked, feeling a little out of place.

All of the women at the table smiled and shook their heads as if approving of the meal.

And then it hit me – I was no different from these women. I am human and so are they. Our experiences should not define our being, who we are or who we hope to be someday.

“How was your day?” I asked the woman sitting next to me.

“Difficult,” she answered, attempting to ignore me.

“Well, it’s good to know you have a full stomach of good food.”

“Well yes, but I’d like my own kitchen and be able to cook for myself again. It’s hard being homeless. It’s heavy on your heart and your mind.”

I didn’t have a response and sat silent for a moment.

“Where are you all from?” I asked, seeking conversation.

One woman grew up in Ohio and another in South Carolina. I shared with these women, while now in North Carolina that I too was an “outsider”. I had recently moved to the state from Michigan less than one year ago with my husband and 15 month-old daughter.

“They were interested to hear more about my little girl and share with me stories about their own children.

“Guess how many children I have,” one of them said. I responded with a confused look and asking, “how many?”.

“Ten,” she answered, lowering her head as if it hurt to talk about them.

“I have four kids,” said the other woman – the one who had shared her personal item with me earlier in the evening.

“But…I haven’t seen them since 1997,” she said. “They are what keeps me going each day. I know I will see them again, but it’s about taking life one step at a time and I’m focusing on that.”

I instantly felt sadness and looked over at the woman next to me who had just shared she is a mother of ten. Tears fell from her eyes as she looked up.

“Thank you for sharing your story,” she said.

“You’re welcome; it’s a way for me to help myself, too. I am amazed when anything I do or say actually means something to another person.”

How true. And while I’m not sure if anything I said that night made a difference to those women, I left with an appreciation for my family, a warm home and for my very own kitchen –  used to make sticky apple crisp for new friends on a Friday night.

Have a Little Faith

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By now you’ve probably already started playing the tune of “Have a Little Faith” by John Hiatt in your head, if not humming out loud. Good.

This classic song, coupled with Mitch Albom’s book and new movie by the same title, serves as a good reminder of letting go of what we cannot control. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about putting all fears aside. Stepping out of comfort zones. Taking leaps in a new direction. And, just trusting — ourselves and others.

Too often the word “faith” gets associated with religion or belief. While I practice both of these things, I’m learning doing so is only scratching the surface of the true definition of the word. In his book Albom writes “”‘faith is about doing.  You are how you act, not just how you believe.”‘

Touché, my friend.  

Is “faith” — whatever the definition — hard to have? You better believe it. But, faith comes in many forms.

A little girl recently sat near her mother at a coffee shop and was visibly upset. Not upset in the way of throwing a child-like temper tantrum. This fit of expression seemed to have more substance than that. She sat with her mother and older brother in a small coffee shop, located inside a popular grocery store, running her tiny fingers through her unbrushed hair as if trying to avoid the topic of conversation.

The mother and her children were not ordering coffee or truffles. Instead, they bought a loaf of bread in the grocery store and were sharing the snack while waiting for the bank to open on the same side of the store.

“Mommy, is she in heaven now?” she said.

My ears perked up.

“Yes, hunny she has gone to doggy heaven,” her mother answered quietly.

My heart sank. Having been in the shoes of that little girl earlier in my life, I felt her pain. I didn’t know her dog and I didn’t know their story. But, I’m not sure I needed to. (I imagine their story is similar to this one of another little girl coping with the loss of a pet)

The clock struck nine ‘o clock in the morning. The mom and her two children stood up, pushed in their chairs and put the twist tie on the loaf of bread before starting to leave.

“Don’t forget the bread,” the boy said.

“Someone else needs it more than we do,” she said.

Faith.

As the holidays draw near, we are reminded of traditional religion and routine. But, not necessarily of traditional faith.

Following a life-changing move this summer, I will spend Christmas without my family for the first time this year. My husband will be working, and until about two weeks ago, my plan was to watch Christmas movies and listen to Kenny G’s Holiday CD with my 15 month-old daughter in our pajamas.

My daughter and I have received three invitations from families in our new city after just meeting. At first, I felt like they were offering because they felt they had to. Or, it was the “right thing to do”. But after one kind woman extended an invitation an hour after meeting her, I realized they are offering because they want to and might truly enjoy our company.

If this would have happened last year, I probably would have politely declined the offers and stayed home at the risk of feeling uncomfortable. This year, my daughter and I will spend time baking cookies to share with our new friends and celebrate Christmas in a new way. Not uncomfortable,  just different.

I challenge you to step out of your box this season and trust a complete stranger. Have a little faith.

And, watch this video. It’s sure to raise your spirits this holiday season.

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