Developing a Thicker Skin

With anything you choose to do in this world, there are always gonna be people who disagree. But I’ve had a lot more supporters than critics.” – Halima Aden

In my last blog post, I mentioned the idea of needing to develop a thicker skin, but I want to expand on this subject.

Our local arboretum is going to host an new exhibit of five 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures starting in April. Most people are excited about the new exhibit, but others have fussed that the arboretum should be about plants and trees, not sculptures. Others say we should leave up the old exhibit of large trolls, which would double the quantity of large sculptures on site. This strikes me as amusing, because the arboretum can’t win with everyone, even though they are trying to do something good. There are always detractors. This also happened when the previous exhibit of trolls went up. People complained that the trolls were too far apart: “Too much walking!” Others said there weren’t enough signs or even that there were too many mosquitoes. Now individuals complain that the trolls are coming down.

Troll at Morton Arboretum – 2019 photo

This reminds me of when I used to visit my Dad at a nursing home years ago. Sometimes I’d join in with him when the residents were playing Bingo. One lady would shout “Faster! Call the numbers faster.” And another person would shout, “Slow down!” My Dad and I would laugh. The person calling the numbers (which is a good thing to do) could have taken this mild criticism personally. No matter what she did, someone complained.

Isn’t that true throughout our lives? We can’t please everyone. I am in a book club that reads mysteries, and often our opinions of the books vary greatly. Someone might love a book that I hate, and vice versa. We and our work will not be to everyone’s liking.

I mentioned the arboretum trolls. One problem nowadays is a different sort of troll, those on social media. Some people apparently enjoy being harsh to others on the internet. And that can make us afraid to speak out. Sometimes I don’t speak out because I’m afraid of criticism. But after practicing this a few times, I have developed a thicker skin. One day, I tweeted a public official asking what legacy they wanted to leave behind. At first, that tweet got more people laughing at me than “likes.” And for once, I didn’t care. I have the right to express my opinion. So do those who respond to me.

The problem is not so much with giving each other feedback. Feedback can be good and can help us grow. Feedback for a writer, for instance, can help us improve our work. In my writers group, I benefit greatly from the constructive criticism I receive on the stories I contribute to anthologies. We write three drafts, with three people critiquing each draft, as well as an editor. I used to think I couldn’t write fiction, but constructive criticism has empowered me to learn that skill.

The problem is when “feedback” is too harsh. Several years ago, I was upset by a harsh comment on an essay I’d written. That one comment echoed in my head, rather than the many compliments I’ve received for my writing. I find the courage to keep writing when I focus on my purpose in life and the reasons I write. Or I think about the people who do like my writing. You, my blog readers, have been very supportive. Have you received criticism that felt harsh? How did you deal with it?

We can’t let criticism hold us back, even if it feels harsh. It is just someone’s opinion, and not everyone will like us or our work. Or perhaps we misinterpreted what was meant. If we use our talents or try to improve the world, we will face criticism. Every leader or innovator does. We may be afraid to speak out, but in the long run, isn’t the risk better than being silent? We can be afraid to do anything that subjects us to criticism, but the alternative is to hide our talents and to make no effort to improve the world. If we want our world to change, we have to change ourselves, and that may mean speaking up.

Developing a thicker skin doesn’t mean we should accept disrespect or abuse from others. If someone triggers you frequently, it is self-care to keep your distance. But sometimes the way our words are received depends partly on how we deliver them. Do we address our concerns to the right people? Do we speak out too much, to the point that no one is listening? Do we speak in a civil manner? Do we treat others with the respect we want them to give us?

Volunteer at Morton Arboretum – photo from mortonarb.org

Maybe speaking out isn’t your way to make an impact. Maybe you do volunteer work or take care of someone or help in another way. That’s great. You’re “putting yourself out there.” And that can take a thick skin, too. Sometimes volunteers and caregivers receive little in the way of thanks, or they are taken for granted. That doesn’t mean they should stop doing good.

We recently began the season of Lent, an appropriate time to reflect on our lives and consider what changes we want to make. Sometimes making those changes means developing a tougher skin.

Note: This article from Psychology Today has suggestions on how to develop a thicker skin.

Do you try to improve our world? Would you like to develop a thicker skin? In what area?

Posted in Challenges, Making a Difference, Proactive, Talent | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Hope for a New Year

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” – Edith Lovejoy Pierce

There are many ways to set intentions for a new year. Some people write resolutions. Some visualize the year ahead, maybe creating a vision board. Some pick a guiding word for the year. I choose guiding words and also write resolutions.

Yesterday, I listened to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Episode 304. Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth Craft reviewed their “20 for 2020” lists, which included 20 things they had wanted to do in 2020. As Elizabeth says, “Covid definitely blew up my list.” Gretchen recommends we “cut ourselves some slack” and give ourselves credit for what we did do. They are both creating “21 for 2021” lists. I agree with them that it is worthwhile to look back on our intentions for last year, even if we didn’t meet our expectations, before we set intentions for 2021.

I’m sure most people will be happy to see 2020 behind us. I chose two guiding words for 2020: tranquility and hygge. I may not have achieved tranquility in this difficult year, but I sought it throughout the year. Hygge, as you may know, is a Danish word that Oxford Languages defines as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” I definitely had a hygge year. I’ve spent time being comfortable at home, and I enjoy a walk out in nature daily. I wear jeans and fleece jackets all day. In the evenings, my husband and I relax in the family room. I wear crocheted slippers and wrap myself in a hand-knitted afghan while working puzzles, reading, or watching TV.

It’ll be awhile until we all get back to ordinary life and can go places without masks. I fear this winter may be the hardest part of the pandemic for many of us. We still need to avoid people, daylight is scant, and it’s cold where many of us live. We are weary of the pandemic. But let’s keep staying safe and keep those around us safe. There are reasons for hope. Let’s hope the pandemic situation will improve in 2021, maybe as the weather gets warmer and more people get vaccinated.

But will 2021 be better in other ways? In large part, that is up to us. Will we try to understand viewpoints that are different from ours? Have our tough times given us empathy for others going through tough times, like those who have lost jobs or loved ones, or anyone whose life is a struggle? I hope our difficult 2020 will spur us on in 2021 to use our talents to make the world a better place, which is part of the Women Making Strides mission.

I will still seek tranquility and hygge in 2021, but they won’t be driving forces. I am already thinking about what I want to get done before the pandemic ends. When medical authorities say it is safe to be with friends and relatives, I will want to make up for lost time, socializing and going out to restaurants and shows. I will want to travel with my husband. But most of all, in 2021, I want to focus on my goals. Focus on writing, focus on fitness. I have a lot of interests, and I am easily distracted. I can’t succeed at writing if I spend too much time reading emails, surfing the Internet, checking Facebook, and reading books. These are all good activities, if done in moderation. As we writers say, I need to “sit butt in chair and write.”

That may sound easy, but it takes courage to be a writer. When you write for publication, you may get harsh comments during the critiquing process and even after your work is published. Sometimes the comments aren’t meant to be hurtful, but that is how a sensitive writer (like me) perceives them. I want to develop a thicker skin and not let criticism stop me from writing. I need courage to sit down and write, to let others critique my work, and to send my words into the world for people to read. So my guiding words for 2021 are “Focus With Courage.” Do you have a guiding word or phrase for 2021?

Not everyone sees 2020 as having been a tough year. I’ve heard some women describe their 2020 with only positive words. Whether your 2020 was rough or not, I wish you a better 2021. I wish you a Happy New Year.

How do you feel as 2020 ends and a new year begins? Will you set intentions for 2021? If so, what method will you use?

Posted in Discipline, Empowerment, Goals, Holidays, Intentional Living, Motivation, personal leadership | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Doing by Your Own Choice

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others.” Alice Koller

November was National Novel Writing Month, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work on my novel. I had strong emotions at the time and wasn’t sleeping well. I fretted about the pandemic and the U.S. election, and I was excited about an upcoming family event. I realized I needed to get back to journaling. Journaling helps me to process strong emotions and gain clarity. It mitigates some of my anxiety caused by a stressful 2020. So I participated in NaNoWriMo as a “rebel”, meaning I still aimed to write 50,000 words, but I would be journaling rather than working on a novel. That is what I needed to do.

Thought Catalog thoughtcatalog, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

As I immersed myself in the writing, it was clear I had a lot to process. When you are doing that much journaling, you are digging deep, and November became what I’ll call a Journaling Intensive. I began each day by writing about the things that were bothering me or that were catching my attention. I also made up prompts to answer such as, “How do I want to show up today?” “What are my intentions for today?” “How am I feeling . . . really?”

The words poured out of me as I wrote about the pandemic, U.S. politics, and issues I’ve had with people. It was therapeutic.

Here are some of the outcomes from my journaling:

  • Every day I wrote down what I needed to do that day and got it done after writing. Being focused kept me from feeling overwhelmed.
  • I joined online write-ins sponsored by my writers group. Most people were writing fiction, but still, we were all writing.
  • I realized that I find it easier to write nonfiction than fiction. So why am I always straining to write a mystery? Yes, I want to write a mystery, but maybe I can first write a nonfiction e-book.
  • None of us is perfect. Give myself the grace to allow myself to make mistakes.
  • Don’t be critical of myself or of others. What I judge about others is usually true of me as well.
  • The things I admire about others are often true of me as well. I had never thought about how I’m like the people I admire. Journaling about that took a few days because I admire a lot of people. It boosted my self-esteem to see that I have similar traits.
  • I often wrote affirmations. Writing them down can be powerful.
  • I processed my feelings and ideas about the holidays.
  • I don’t enjoy most forms of meditation, but journaling is a meditative practice that I do enjoy.
  • Many things happened this year that were out of my control. But I was surprised to realize how much is in my control: I can ignore the news for a couple of days and increase my self-care. I can send a message directly to the politicians involved. I can wear a mask regardless of what others are doing and decline invitations I’m not comfortable with. I can fill my well with positive podcasts, videos, and books. I can improve my mood by going for a walk. I can embrace comfort and simple pleasures.
  • I sort of knew I’m not responsible for other people’s happiness, but now I really understand that.
  • I’m trying to live and enjoy the good moments and stop being anxious over trivialities.
  • I’ve learned to be assertive and not feel committed to things that aren’t serving me. Life is too short to do that. I journaled about a class I was taking and a group I was in and decided to leave them both.
  • I thought about the many things I’m grateful for. For instance, my daughter Katie and her sweetheart Steven got married early in November. Due to the pandemic, there were only ten people at the wedding, which was held outdoors. I’m happy we were able to attend their small but beautiful wedding, and I am happy for them. It was the highlight of the year for our family.

I don’t think of myself as a self-starter, and I was surprised when my husband commented that I’m a self-starter for writing 50,000 words in November. That is the biggest benefit I got from doing the Journaling Intensive: I view myself differently now. It is empowering to believe I am a self-starter and that I can succeed at another big project.

Now lest you think I’ve got everything together, in December, I have been in an “escape” mode. I am reading holiday magazines and cozy Christmas mysteries, doing jigsaw puzzles, and baking cookies. After the journaling intensive, I needed some time to just “be.” National news, the dangerous pandemic, and thinking we won’t have a family Christmas gathering anyway have made me feel unmotivated.

I’d been annoyed with myself for being in this escape mode, but a couple of friends reminded me it’s OK. We’ve been through a lot this past year, and it’ll be awhile before we get back to any sort of normal. There will be history books written about this time. So if you’re seeking comfort too, don’t be hard on yourself. Sometimes escaping is what we need to do. It’s only a problem if we’re escaping real life all the time or not meeting our responsibilities. When we’re in escape mode, we can ask ourselves, “Why am I seeking comfort? What else do I need right now?” That is being intentional.

Do what’s right for you. What do you need? Do you need to dig deep and process your thoughts and feelings? Or do you need some escape time, to limit the time you spend watching the news and instead to seek out comfort and relaxation? Do you want to pray more? Whatever you need, accept yourself and treat yourself with compassion.

What do YOU need to do for yourself as we move into winter and a new year?

Posted in Challenges, Comfort, Intentional Living, journaling, Self-compassion | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Strengthened by Our Challenges

We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

So, how are you? I hope you’ve adjusted to the difficult times we’re living in and that you are taking care of yourself.

I keep seeing jokes about how we’re just waiting for 2020 to end, so we can move on. We can’t control the coronavirus, and we can’t control national news. Almost everyone who understands what’s going on has had anxiety and depression. We like to be in charge of our lives, and we don’t know what will happen next.

Difficult times can be a time of tremendous growth, but not necessarily. That largely depends on us. We can come out of this bitter, resentful, and fearful. Or we can come out of it stronger, happier, and able to face challenges.

Part of it, I think, is our attitudes. Of course we reacted with shock and grief to the many twists and turns that have happened this year. But have we continued to feel sorry for ourselves, to see ourselves as victims? Or do we realize that we are responsible for how we react to life, even unexpected happenings like a worldwide pandemic and frequent drama?

Recently I was feeling particularly anxious, so I challenged myself to address it, rather than let it simmer. I journaled about ways to cope when I’m feeling anxious or a little depressed. Here are my ideas (I’ve used all of them.):

* Take a walk in nature.

* Some of my stress is coming from within me. I pressure myself to cross items off my do list, but the truth is, there is little that I have to do. I am learning to think about what I want to do, rather than what I have to do. This mindset has relieved a lot of my stress.

* Let something go.

* Or, buckle down and get something done.

* Journal and reflect on what’s happening and how I feel about it.

* Get at the root of the problem. What am I really stressed about right now? Feel the feelings for a bit, then let them go.

* Pray. I had gotten away from prayer when I needed it the most.

* Or read scripture. I’m a Christian, and I found comfort recently in meditating on Matthew 6:25 – 31, a passage that tells us not to worry. It begins, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

* Take time off from social media and even from the news. I did this for three days and for the first time in ages, I slept soundly for two nights in a row.

* Seek out fun. That can be doing something creative, like doing a puzzle or pasting pictures in my art journal.

* Physical exercise. Stretching even for five minutes can change my energy.

* Say “I am tranquil and joyful” several times.

* Listen to upbeat music.

* Escape in a good book like a mystery novel.

* Seek comfort. Drink that cup of tea outside. Watch comforting shows and videos.

* Reach out for support from a close friend or counselor. There is no shame in this. We are living through extraordinary times. What is the alternative? Bottling up our feelings can keep us depressed.

The trying times we’re facing can strengthen us down the road. After all, we are overcoming huge challenges. We are living in the time of a worldwide pandemic and partisan politics. Many irritants that used to upset us now seem trivial.

How might we not just cope, but grow during this pandemic? For most of us, our lives have slowed down. We can take this opportunity to reflect on our experiences. We can rethink our intentions, values, and goals. Have any of these changed for you? When you think about your values, are you living the life you want?

This can be a time of growth if we take steps to strengthen our body, mind, and spirit. Someday, even baby steps will give a big result. Everyone who has changed their lives has taken baby steps.

These are some of my recent steps for self-growth:

* I’ve been taking an online Bible study class.

* I took six weeks of online group coaching.

* Do something that feels almost normal. I was missing gatherings with friends, like dinners with our gourmet group. Recently, we had a virtual dinner. The hosts sent out easy, do-ahead recipes. Then we gathered on Zoom for drinks and cocktails followed by dinner and dessert. Chatting with friends while eating dinner felt satisfying, almost like being together in person.

* I have been walking two miles a day and running occasionally.

* I try to appreciate the blessings in my life.

One of my highest values in the past two years has been joie de vivre. I wrote about that here. Even during a pandemic, we can find joy of life.

Recently I went out to seek joie de vivre. I went to a small forest preserve where there are two lakes. I walked around the lakes, looking for a spot where I could relax and reflect. I didn’t find the spot until just before ending my two-mile walk. It was a beautiful, secluded spot under a bridge by a river. I grabbed a chair from my car and sat there, listening to the water gurgle. I wrote affirmations that “I’m living with joie de vivre.” It was a respite that I can only describe as delightful. And I would not have found this spot if I hadn’t been looking for it. We have to seek our values, like joie de vivre, in order to find them.

How we want to be after this moment in history is up to us. We can come out of it bitter, or we can come out of it better. If we take steps aligned with our intentions and values, this can be an opportunity to grow.

How do you cope with anxiety or depression? Who do you want to be when the challenges we’re facing are behind us? What baby steps might you take for your body, mind, and spirit?

Posted in Attitude, Body, mind, spirit, Challenges, Intentional Living, personal leadership, Proactive, self-care, Stress | Tagged , | 4 Comments

More Joy in the World

My hope is that you will harness your education, your creativity and your valor, your voice, your vote — reflecting on all that you’ve witnessed and hungered for, all that you know to be true — and use it to create more equity, more justice and more joy in the world. Oprah Winfrey

We are halfway through 2020, a good time to reflect on how the year is going. I doubt that anyone would say the year is turning out as they expected. It has been nothing like what I expected.

african-american-woman-in-face-mask-on-city-street-4177882

Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

Back in January, I had chosen the word “Tranquility” as my guiding word for 2020. So far, I don’t feel even close to tranquil. Recently, I reached out to my life coach, Rachell, because I’ve been struggling with anxiety and felt stuck. I wanted to write a blog post about the death of George Floyd but couldn’t get started. Prayer hadn’t help me to move forward, except to nudge me to call Rachell, who I hadn’t had a session with since January.

The killing of George Floyd was a rude awakening for me. In discussing it with my coach, I saw that part of my reluctance to write about it was due to the many negative and inflammatory comments I see on social media. If I wrote something, would people react against me? I’ve seen people get defensive and angry when others tried to educate them on racial issues. People might unfollow my blog. And what if, in my ignorance, I said something incorrectly and caused offense without meaning to?

Rachell encouraged me to think about why I did want to write the post. I realized I’d feel worse if I kept silent. My purpose is to create a life-giving world, and writing is one of my talents. I need to speak out as part of my effort to be a Woman Making Strides—to be someone who uses her God-given talents to better the world, even if people disagree with me. When I thought about the blog post in those terms, it felt exciting, rather than a dreaded chore. I hope this post will spark some thoughts or conversation. Maybe we can all try to learn more about racism.

In the last few minutes of his life, George Floyd repeatedly said, “Please, please I can’t breathe.” This was a man, calling for his mama as his life was drained from him. The police officer kept his knee pressed against George’s neck for eight minutes—even after he became unresponsive. We would not tolerate an animal being treated like that. George Floyd was a person, a human being that God created. And this was not an isolated incident.

I am not saying all or even most police officers are racist and brutal. By far, they are not, and many risk their lives to keep us safe. But there are racist people in law enforcement as well as scattered throughout our population. I am old enough to remember the race protests and riots in the late 60s. That’s what was most eye-opening about this for me. I realized we have made little or no progress in eliminating racism since the 1960s. Too many of us have kept silent, not trying to understand our part in it. Unfortunately, this allows racism to continue.

I live in a primarily white world and don’t often think about what it’s like to be a minority, what it’s like to be born into poverty with few opportunities, what it’s like to face discrimination on a daily basis. That is part of my white privilege, and I am working to gain more knowledge about systemic racism and how I can help to combat it. I hope everyone makes an effort to do the same.

This recent unrest has occurred while we also face a global pandemic. That also has made 2020 different than I expected. I’ve been acting like my life is on hold, but I’m realizing I need to find a new normal for now. I can’t keep waiting for the pandemic to go away or for a vaccine to be available. I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. I am not going to pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist, go to parties, or refuse to wear a mask. Rather, I need to learn how to live and enjoy life while taking safety precautions for the sake of those around me and for myself.

Part of my “new normal” may include getting back to my ministry of being church librarian. The library is not open, so this might be a good time for me to go there and catch up. Nature is so soothing for me that I could enjoy it more often besides my daily walks and gardening. I can sit outside and read, pray, or check emails. I have also recently started spending a few minutes a day on my mystery novel. That is only a baby step, but baby steps are far better than nothing. I am trying to see writing as a pleasure and to be more lighthearted, rather than feeling pressured and anxious. That also seems like a good way to live life, even life in these troubled times.

photo of our outdoor concert from Ken

One of the things I miss the most during this pandemic is going to outdoor concerts. In the past, my husband Ken and I went to concerts twice a week all summer long. Some of those concerts are now being live streamed. So Ken and I take a laptop to the backyard, plug in an Ethernet cable, and add a speaker. We sit on lawn chairs and drink a glass of wine. I forget my worries, forget my do list, and enjoy the music. It almost feels like we are at the concert, and it helps me to be in the present.

What about you? How are you doing? We are dealing with a global pandemic, racial unrest, and divisive politics. If you’re not functioning at full capacity, that’s OK. But this time in history is still our life. Let’s make the best of it.

How can you create more joy in your life during these troubled times? How can you create more joy in the world for people who could use support?

Posted in Challenges, Inspiration, Integrity, Making a Difference, Proactive, Stress | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Lessons learned From Living Through a Pandemic

Life has got all those twists and turns. You’ve got to hold on tight and off you go.” Nicole Kidman

When I wrote the previous blog post, we were at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Now we have been dealing with it for a while, with no end in sight. Some of us have lost a loved one. Some have lost their income and worry about paying bills. Some people are working but anxious, trying not to catch the virus. Others are lonely or sick.

None of us have dealt with anything like this. We can’t control what happens next and that makes us fearful. We are afraid to shop for groceries. We can’t hug our loved ones—now the way to show love is to stay away from people. At times we feel shock, anger, and depression. No matter how the pandemic is affecting you, be gentle with yourself. When we feel unsafe, stressed, and sad, we cannot be at our best.

Each of us is coping with this global crisis in different ways. Some people are doers, throwing themselves into projects. That has not been me. When the pandemic began, I felt like a zombie. One afternoon, I listened to a motivational speaker who I admire. She essentially said, “You need to keep going! Do, do, do!” I wasn’t feeling it.

I sat on the couch, feeling a little depressed. I wondered what was wrong with me? I had stopped training for a half-marathon that was scheduled for April 19 and rescheduled to June. The long training runs with other women had been canceled, and I think it won’t be safe to run the race in June. What about bathrooms and the crowded conditions at the start and end of the race?

But sitting there, my reasons for not running the race seemed like excuses. Why hadn’t I kept training so I could run the distance on my own? I could have used my own bathroom if I ran near my house. But I hadn’t been doing long runs, and it was too late to restart the training.

My husband asked if I wanted to go for a run, and we went to a forest preserve. A running friend, Amy, ran past from the other direction. Her cheery “Hey, Sue!” lifted my mood, and the good weather and pretty scenery helped as well.

At some point, we start to accept the pandemic and its impact on our lives. We start to think about what is in our control. How can we take better care of ourselves? How can we help others? What do we want our lives to be like when this is over? If we reflect on these questions and on lessons we’ve learned, this challenging time can make us stronger and lead to growth. I offer you my thoughts on what I’ve learned in the hope that you’ll reflect on your experiences also.

  • Good self-care is essential so we can cope better with the challenges caused by the pandemic. It also sets a good example for our loved ones.
  • I knew that life is short, but the pandemic has emphasized that. There is no guarantee that we and all our loved ones will get through this. It is a reminder to value each day and live accordingly.
  • Normal life was precious. Someday we’ll again go to concerts, parties, and restaurants. I miss traveling, seeing loved ones, and going to church. I miss my ministry as church librarian. I won’t take these things for granted again.
  • I’ve cut back on the amount of time I spend on social media. For awhile, I was constantly checking Facebook. Social media can be inflammatory, and I was often upset and caught up in dramas. Then a friend posted on her page, “Stop the fear. Stop the hate.” I realized she’s right, and I’m not engaging as much with drama.
  • Still, I’m grateful for modern technology. We can see each other using tools like Zoom.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I wasn’t functioning well when the pandemic began, but baby steps helped. One step was to write out a basic schedule each day.
  • I signed up for a “30 risks in 30 days” challenge. These steps helped me move forward. For example, with my daughter’s help, I arranged a “Ladies’ Night In” Zoom event. I also ran a virtual 5K race alone wearing a race bib.
  • I’ve posted the Women Making Strides mission by my computer where I can see it. It reminds me of how I want to be.
  • Because I want to be a woman making strides, I try to make healthy choices. I continue to run, but I read that after running long distances, our bodies get depleted and are susceptible to catching the coronavirus. I’m more confident now about my decision not to train for the half-marathon this year.
  • I’ve been running or walking every day, keeping to social distance guidelines. Being out in nature and having a change of scenery lifts my mood. Staying fit helps lung capacity and general health, which I hope would help me fight the virus if I catch it.
  • When it’s hardest to overcome resistance and run, that’s when I need it the most. So many times I didn’t want to run, but once I got going, I was glad I did.
  • One day I decided to have fun running four miles. I did intervals of five minutes running, one minute walking. I took a photo of a great egret by a creek, and I listened to good songs, singing along with my favorites. Before I knew it, I had run 5.5 miles. I can apply that lesson of making routine activities fun into other areas of my life.

great egret picture

  • On a similar note, I’ve been watching “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix. The contestants handle challenges in different ways. Some are stressed, others laugh and joke even when they are not doing well. Some let criticism bounce off them, others seem upset and defensive. The way we approach challenges and accept feedback can make a big difference in our lives. I’m often stressed in challenging situations, but I’d rather be able to put it in perspective and be lighthearted. I can work toward having that trait. A step to begin is to watch more funny and uplifting shows to keep my mood positive.
  • I struggle with anxiety, so I look for comfort. Fleece jackets, homemade treats, and a cup of tea are all soothing.
  • While I don’t understand how God could let this pandemic happen, I find comfort from attending church services online. I am inspired by the faith of the apostles and stories such as the conversion of St. Paul. We can turn to God in our distress and renew our faith.
  • Good food nourishes us, both food for our body and food for our mind and spirit. I’ve benefited from watching “The Lemonade Sessions: Tools to Support You in These Uncertain Times” by Pathways Seminars. Replays are at https://www.youtube.com/user/PathwaysSeminars.
  • In Illinois, we are sheltered in place until the end of May. But I think it won’t be safe to go back to our normal lives for a long time. How can we make the best of this new normal? Our daughter Mel, who is living with us for a few months, reminded us that May 5 is Cinco de Mayo. She suggested we eat Mexican food that night and drink Margaritas. We will keep trying to make the best of our situation, for example by relaxing around a crackling fire in our fire pit.

Take care of yourself and safeguard those around you. Let us know how you’re doing.

What have you experienced during the pandemic? What have you learned? How do you want your life to be different when the pandemic is over?

 

Posted in Bad days, Challenges, Comfort, Encouragement, Healthy living, Proactive, Running, self-care | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Time for a Pep Talk

You don’t need anyone else to empower you; you can empower yourself. Whether it’s a pep talk or putting on a good shade of lipstick, whatever you need to do, do it, but be yourself.” – Ayesha Curry

Last Saturday, I was running near a nature center midway through an 8-mile run. I had overcome resistance to get out running that day. Running eight miles by myself was a struggle, even though I was doing intervals of 5 minutes running, 1 minute walking. I tried giving myself a pep talk: “Only four more miles. I can do this.”

A man walking on the path said, “Where are you running? Are you training for a 3K? 5K?”

I said, “Actually, I’m training for a half-marathon.”

He answered, “Wow, you keep going! Keep running.”

This, for me, was a pep talk. The man did not need to encourage me, but he did. His words gave me the boost I needed to keep running. What about you? Do you need a pep talk? That is the intent of this post, to serve as a pep talk for you and me.

A pep talk can be more than words. During that run, a slim woman with a gray ponytail ran past in the other direction. She inspired me without saying a word, because I guessed she might be older than me, and she looked fit. Also at mile 7 of my run, the theme song from Rocky popped up in my MP-3 player. There was no way I’d take a walk break while that song was playing, and I played it twice. I’m a slow runner, but people said hello or waved, treating me with respect for being out there running. I also got a boost from seeing several deer at the end of my run.

picture of four deer for blog post

When I recently went for a physical, I mentioned that I have knee pain, half-expecting my doctor to say, “Stop running!” Instead, she suggested I work to strengthen the muscles around my knee and said I have arthritis—which is normal at my age. I felt rejuvenated by her affirmation that running is good for me even with the discomfort, at least for now.

In one of my early blog posts, “Reaching for More”, I described how running one block was difficult. Running 8 miles is significant for me, but I have a friend who recently ran 22 miles . . . and then ran 10 miles the next day. But it’s all relative. It’s much better to encourage each other, rather than to beat on someone or be jealous. We’re not competing with anyone else. We’re competing with ourselves and how we were last year or even yesterday.

Many of us have been cooped up this winter, and even with Spring approaching we should avoid going places due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). But it’s my understanding that we can continue to go outside and walk or run, as long as we keep distance from others. How about going out and running a 5K? If that’s too much, walk a 5K. If that’s too much, walk a mile. If that’s too much, walk a block. If that’s too much, open your window and get some fresh air. Start with where you’re at.

Of course I have struggles in life besides running. We all do. Currently I need a pep talk for dealing with the stressful news about the Coronavirus. As always, I encourage you to be proactive in taking care of yourself and those around you. This includes keeping your distance from people, especially from large groups. This site  has information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you don’t yet understand the significance of this virus and the reason for social distancing, please do some research.

In this blog post, we are talking on a personal level about dealing with this worldwide pandemic.  For me, the worst of it is not knowing what will happen. It is scary to see what’s happening in other countries that have had the virus and how easily it spreads. For instance, hospitals in Italy cannot treat everyone who needs treatment, even patients with other diseases than the virus. There are only so many ventilators and hospital rooms to go around.

Life is different now for all of us. Shelves are empty in many aisles of our favorite stores. Schools, libraries, park districts, and fitness centers are closed. Large gatherings, including church services are canceled. I agree with this decision, but it’s the first time in my life that Mass has been canceled. It does not feel like normal life, and we are only at the beginning of this.

I’ve had anxiety about this and other issues, and I’ve been back in counseling. I don’t mind telling you this, because I hope it encourages someone else who feels anxious (for any reason) to get help.

So far, this discussion of the Coronavirus and its impact on us isn’t much of a pep talk, but we can’t pretend the problem doesn’t exist. What can we do? We here at Women Making Strides try to address challenges in a proactive manner.

In the United States and elsewhere, if we do well at keeping social distance, we can keep the virus from spinning beyond our ability to cope with it. Let’s notice and appreciate those who have prepared for various events, such as sporting events, which were canceled. People have set aside their passions for the common good.

We have more time at home now due to the Coronavirus. We can cope by listening to music, reading, and watching uplifting or funny shows. We can put together jigsaw puzzles while putting together the pieces of our lives. We can look for ways to help others.

We are fortunate to live in an electronic age, and we can gather online, even attending online church services. We can keep in touch with loved ones by phone, video calls such as Skype, or email. This is a good time to slow down and reflect on our lives and any changes we want to make. It’s a good time to pray for ourselves, our loved ones, and for strangers. We can talk to God and put our concerns in His hands.

Let’s get through this and look forward with hope for that time when our lives return to normal. And let’s be grateful for our “normal” lives when they return.

What encouragement have you received recently? How can you give yourself a pep talk to empower yourself? How can you be proactive in addressing the Coronavirus?

Posted in Bad days, Challenges, God, Proactive, Running, self-care | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Thriving . . . Not Just Surviving: Rachell Kitchen

You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” – Brené Brown

Rachell Kitchen has faced significant trauma in her life, more than most people. She has not only survived the trauma, but she is thriving. I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Rachell, a Woman Making Strides who is also my life coach.

Rachell Kitchen photo by Pfeiffer Photography

Rachell Kitchen – photo by Pfeiffer Photography, Naperville, IL

Rachell lives in Aurora, Illinois, and has two grown children. She owns her own business, Level Up for Life Coach as a certified professional life and transition coach. She has been a coach for three years and is passionate about her work.

In recent years, Rachell has faced several traumatic life changes. A couple of years ago, both her Mom and her mother-in-law developed cancer. Rachell had a few breast cancer scares of her own. Her youngest child, Kyah, moved from Illinois to Ohio to California and then got married. Besides all this, Rachell faced betrayal that ended in divorce. And tragically, Rachell’s father was murdered during this time—beaten on the street by strangers.

As you can imagine, Rachell was a bit of a “hot mess”. “It was all traumatic, but the worst was sometimes feeling alone in it. Where I thought I ‘should be’ getting support, I wasn’t. But then I realized people would support me if I asked for what I needed.” Rachell gets teary-eyed when discussing the support she did receive. Her friend Chris accompanied her to Chicago for court cases for the murder trial regularly for 18 months and shielded her when the criminals’ relatives taunted her. “I am so grateful for Chris and other friends who supported me.”

She founded a meetup group (no longer active) called the West Suburban DIVAS. The purpose of the group was for women to come together for connection and support while enjoying activities and discussing self-improvement books. Leading the DIVAS helped her overcome perfectionism. One of the books that helped Rachell was Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The book led her to create a gratitude journal that changed her life as she learned to find things to be grateful for every day. That helped her focus on the good in people. On bad days, she picked up the gratitude journal and realized she did have abundance.

Rachell’s bad times led her to go on a path of self-discovery. She worked with a life coach, initially hoping to save her marriage. But the relationship that came out of that was a relationship with herself. Negativity from others had affected her self-worth, and she worked through this. Coaching helped her identify her own values and strengths.

This process helped Rachell to reinvent herself. There was a time when she was in victim-hood, feeling sorry for herself. Over time, she had an awakening. She realized the only person she could control was herself. That got her seeking out ways to be a better person. Through coaching, Rachell began to realize more of her own good qualities. She was a good listener and a person who empowered others. She also is a go-getter. These realizations about her strengths prompted Rachell to become a life coach herself. “I cashed in my IRA and enrolled in the best coaching school I could find.”

Rachell also realized, “You can have joy in the chaos.” The traumas she faced happened about the time she turned 50, and she wanted to celebrate that milestone birthday in a big way. Friends who were professional photographers offered to take pictures, so Rachell participated in a photo shoot. As it turns out, the photos have been helpful in her business.

Rachell in white dress

Image from Rachell’s photo shoot by Pfeiffer Photography, Naperville, IL

In her business, Rachell offers individual life coaching as well as group coaching, public speaking, and writing. A recent group coaching was a 5-week program called “Take Charge of Your Life: Rewire Your Brain for Confidence, Focus, & Taking Action.” People participated by video or audio conferencing. Rachell loves all aspects of her work, but especially individual coaching. “There’s nothing better than when I can witness someone feeling empowered. Their idea of who they are and what they’re capable of shifts. I’m humbled to have a little part of empowering them to see their own greatness. But it’s not about me. It’s about them shifting their limiting beliefs.”

She is proud to have created a 5-day summit called “Divorced and Thriving Summit” to help divorced women reinvent themselves. “Women need resources to deal with divorce. You can lose your friends, your social network, finances. It is overwhelming to not just start over, but to thrive.”

Most of Rachell’s clients are women, and she enjoys helping them deal with transition until they can do it on their own. Rachell says, “How can we live in alignment with our values? We get overwhelmed; we make so many decisions every day. It is powerful for women to step into that place where they’re more self-aware and in tune with their goals and to make decisions from that place. When we get in alignment with our values, we can change the world.” Improving ourselves can influence our children to lead better lives, and Rachell has seen this ripple effect in her own children.

Words matter to Rachell, and she is a contributing author for three books: Woman Thriving Fearlessly in Business, #Sisterhood Connection: A Year of Empowerment, and The One Thing Every Mom Needs to Know. She says, “It matters how we show up in the world. That’s what I’m passionate about. Don’t just survive . . . thrive!” But she does more than say words, she is living the words.

When not working on her business, Rachell loves to cook. She is currently writing a book about life lessons, which will include recipes. For example, after she moved Kyah into an apartment in Ohio for her first “real” job, Rachell was distraught and let herself cry for 20 minutes. But then she asked herself “How do I want to show up?” She decided “I want to lean in.” She decided to make herself something new to embrace her new life. So she made roasted eggplant and ate it on her best china.

Rachell's simple roasted eggplant with thyme

Rachell’s simple roasted eggplant with thyme

Running is another activity that helped Rachell get through her traumas. She has been running since 2013. At first, she ran to lose weight, but that has shifted to “I want to be in good health so I can be of service to other people.” For a time, she was part of a fun run club where she found friends with similar interests. Rachell’s first race was the Chicago Half Marathon, and now she has run 14 half marathons. You may remember that Rachell ran with me during my first half marathon, which I discussed here. Rachell’s goal is to run in every state in the U.S., and she has run in 11 states so far.

Rachell likes to run alone and be with her own thoughts. One day, early in the morning, she saw 15 to 20 deer at the local arboretum, and some came close. She says, “I felt the most connected with God during that time. Early in the morning, answers would come to me. Clarity would come. I was struggling with my faith at the time but realized that church and God and Spirit is in me. I became connected with my Lord and Savior on the trails.”

Rachell loves to run in winter

Rachell loves to run in winter

For self-care, Rachell continues to work with her own life coaches, still working on feeling whole and healthy. She says affirmations and does visualizations. She journals and meditates, sometimes sitting quietly and being alone in her head. She also gets manicures, pedicures, and facials. Rachell has learned to say No. “I try to do self-honoring acts, so when I’m tired, I rest.” She schedules Pajama Days where she wears cozy pajamas all day and stays home, relaxing and taking downtime.

I asked Rachell if she has any role models. “Oprah is one of my role models, and what I admire about her is her tenacity. She was fired from a network that said she wasn’t suited for television. She has struggled with her weight all her life. She’s not afraid to show vulnerability. She is that caring, nurturing soul. She holds space for people to discover what they need in that moment.” Rachell also admires the work of Brené Brown and has found the book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead to be helpful. The quote by Brené Brown that began this post is one of her favorite quotes.

I asked Rachell if she has any tips for us. She said, “For women especially, you want to unapologetically own your feelings. You want to powerfully ask for what you want and need. Set and hold boundaries that support you, what you care about most, and your goals.”

Finally, I asked Rachell, “What do you attribute your strength to? What stops you from feeling like “poor me”? She said part of it is her faith, part is how she is made. “I may sit and lick my wounds for a minute, but then I’m able to catapult into a higher levels of energy.” As Kyah pointed out to her, one of her biggest strengths is her capacity to love. “I use it in coaching, relationships, and networking. God wants the best for us and for us to use the gifts He’s given us and that is the undercurrent of what motivates me. We have an obligation to use our gifts and to be on our best path.”

What traumas have you experienced? How have you dealt with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted in Bad days, Body, mind, spirit, Challenges, Empowerment, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Leading Ourselves, personal leadership, Running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

It’s better to look ahead and prepare, than to look back and regret.” Jackie Joyner-Kersee

I’ve started a blog post on another topic, but this time of year, I feel compelled to write about the New Year. In this blog, we try to be proactive. A new year is a great time to assess our lives and whether we want to change direction.

It is worth taking time to reflect on the past year. If you’re like me, you succeeded in some areas, but not all. I looked over last year’s resolutions and was dismayed at how few I’d actually achieved. In looking at my resolutions, almost all I had to do was to replace 2019 by 2020, and they would work for this year. At least, that was my first impression.

I took another look and realized that I’d succeeded more than I thought. For instance, some of my goals were that I’d walk or run every day. I’d write every day. I’d pray every day. But how realistic was that? I did these things most days. In my resolutions for 2020, I will say “most days” rather than “every day.”

I said I’d write two mystery stories in 2019. Well, I didn’t. But I did write a short fiction story that will be included in an anthology. That is still something to celebrate. I did “take fun vacations” as I’d planned and lived with “joie de vivre,” my guiding phrase for the year. And I did nurture my creativity.

Photo from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New-Year_Resolutions_list.jpg

If you achieved all your goals in 2019, I applaud you. That’s something to celebrate. Setting and achieving goals is important. If you didn’t achieve your goals, remember that life is about more than goals. We can assess the past year in a positive light anyway. What can you celebrate about last year? What were your wins? Did you gain in self-compassion or compassion for others? Did you enjoy the year? Did you grow in some way? Those might not have been your goals, but they are worth celebrating.

We can also think about the past year in terms of the lessons we learned. We don’t need to be mean to ourselves or berate ourselves, but it is good to be honest. For instance, I did very little writing on the mystery novel I wanted to write. Maybe it’s time I reconsider this goal. Is it still a high priority for me? If it is, why aren’t I working on it?

I see that I had too much anxiety throughout the year, especially around the holidays. I don’t want that to happen this year. That is why I’ve chosen the guiding word “tranquility” for 2020. This idea can affect much of my life. I can use the word tranquility to guide me when making decisions. I can make my home and work environment more serene. Physical exercise can help me relax. Being outdoors in nature helps relieve my anxiety, so if weather permits, I can exercise outdoors. And I can become more tranquil by nurturing my relationship with God.

I hope you enjoy a happy and healthy New Year in 2020. If you have goals for the year ahead, writing them down is a good start towards making them happen.

Have you taken a kind, but honest look at your past year? Do you have goals or a guiding word for the year ahead?

Posted in Goals, Holidays, Intentional Living, Proactive | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

A Change of Seasons

When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me. Hopefulness? Gratitude? Openness? Whatever it is, it’s welcome.” – Kristin Armstrong

Over the summer, my daughter’s manager asked me to speak about this blog to their department. Even though the presentation was for a small group, I at first felt like screaming and running from the room. I’ve done some public speaking, but not recently, not regarding my blog, and not at my daughter’s workplace. I feel strongly about the mission for Women Making Strides, so I gathered my courage and prepared a talk on the topic “Pause and Reflect on Your Self-Care.”

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know its mission:

A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.”

You also have an idea what the talk was like. Like my blog posts, the talk included quotes by women and questions for the listeners to reflect on. A change of seasons is a good time to reflect. After my own reflection, I realized this presentation was the most significant event of my summer. I had to overcome fear to give the talk, and I worked hard on it. It was worth doing, although only five people attended. What was significant for you this summer?

Summer flew by for me but was filled with joie de vivre. My husband Ken and I went to several concerts and a polo match. We had guests from out of town, and we went into Chicago a couple of times. We went to a Worldwide Marriage Encounter convention and enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Ohio River.

The highlight of our summer was a vacation trip to England, Wales, and Scotland. Many of my favorite books and TV shows are set in these countries. We saw the play Mousetrap by Agatha Christie when we were in London, and we went to Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, where Downton Abbey was filmed. There was much variety on this trip, from castles to shows to watching a Scottish shepherd guide his sheep dogs by whistling. What were the high points of your summer?

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Eilean Donan castle – Scottish Highlands, photo by Ken Ekins
Ken and me in front of Blair Castle, Scotland

A couple of low points this summer consisted of me falling. The first time, I sprained my ankle when I stepped in a deep hole outside the convention center. It was a mild sprain, so six weeks later, I went running at our local arboretum. Suddenly I was flat on my face. I had fallen and landed hard on my front teeth on pavement. I had scrapes and bruises and damaged my glasses. What were the low points of your summer?

After these two falls, my initial instinct was to give up running. But after thinking about it, I decided to work on my balance and try to avoid distractions—both times I fell, I was carrying something.

I learned something else this summer at a WW (formerly Weight Watchers) meeting. A woman stated that her goal was to walk from her front door to her back door twice that week. I don’t know her history and I’m not judging, but I thought, “For me, that seems like a tiny step, although maybe it isn’t for her. What tiny step do I need to take?” I realized I needed to get back to running after my falls. I had been procrastinating because I feared falling again. Also, I needed to get back to tracking WW points. That day, I took these “tiny” steps. For both that woman and me, it was so much better to take those steps than to do nothing. And next week maybe we’ll both do a little more. What did you learn this summer? What tiny step do you need to take?

Looking ahead to autumn, I’d like to lose about five pounds before the holidays. I am looking forward to Northern Illinois University’s homecoming (This post explains why. ) Also I plan to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. What do you look forward to this Autumn?

You may have noticed it’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post. My most recent blog post was published on June 21, but I’ve been writing this blog for seven years. I took a break from writing this summer and reflected on whether I wanted to continue writing it.

But giving that presentation revived me and reminded me of the importance of the Women Making Strides mission. We women in particular often put our own needs last. But the world seems a bit crazy nowadays. People are lashing out at each other, sometimes in violent ways. I wonder if we all took better care of ourselves and lived by the Women Making Strides mission, might we be better able to deal with our “crazy” world? Might there be more people who would treat others with kindness rather than lashing out? This blog is my small effort to make the world a better place.

I ran out of business cards recently, and my daughter Katie, who is a graphic designer, freshened up the design for me. Placing the order online, I paused when saw the $42 fee. Was I really committed to writing the blog? I decided “Yes.”

And I signed up for life coaching again, because I want support for my efforts to be a Woman Making Strides and for my dream of finishing my mystery novel and getting it published. Life is short, and I don’t want to let my dreams slide. What are your dreams?

I’m also reaching out for your support. If you have suggestions for this blog or ideas for blog posts, please let me know. And if you like my posts, please share on social media, post a comment, or “like” them. Thank you.

Posted in Making a Difference, Proactive, self-care | Tagged , | 8 Comments