Nagging Little Things

Recently, I've been waking a lot in the middle of the night. Maybe it's the sound of my snoring husband and our giant farting dog at the bottom of the bed...who knows. Whatever it is, I'm awake and alone with my 57 problems.

57 problems? Get over yourself, Julie! 

Okay, so I don't mean big, scary problems, I'm talking about the nagging little things that are constantly bouncing around in my brain. If you look up 'problem' online this is how it is defined:
a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

My description of 'problem' clearly gives the location of the nagging things - in my brain and the online definition speaks to a need to deal with or overcome.  That disconnect is clearly a struggle for me. My problems are typically the same nagging things that just churn inside my head. ALL. THE. GOD. DAMN. TIME. which definitely highlights the need for me to deal with them.  So what are the problems and what am I not dealing with? Here goes:

  1. Leadership - I think we need to change the way we engage as community leaders. I want to create a training that focuses on leading with courage. What is Brené's people can prioritize my vision for this? How will I do it? What would the end goal be? How would I know it's making a difference? Who the hell am I to bring this type of training into our region?
  2. Parenting A Teenager - I wonder if other parents would like to have a space where they could bounce ideas off of other parents trying to give their kids tools to be resourceful and articulate when faced with the challenges. How would we avoid the freak out if unconventional and uncomfortable topics were brought up? Could our small town handle something like this? Would we be up for the ongoing work of starting uncomfortable conversations and be willing to listen to our children's point of view without dismissing it? What the fuck do I even know about parenting a teenager? 
  3. Politics - Can I openly support a person and not support their party. Can you be an influential community leader and still commit to compassion as a core value? How much civic engagement is enough? How do I get others involved beyond just election day? How do I practice self-care when there is so much to do to change how we govern our communities. What do I have to contribute to our political system - or am I just completely out of touch with 'reality'?
  4. Education - Do I walk away from the school board and the dysfunctional culture related to education in my district and just relax? Do I jump right in to the conversations related to the complexity of the public education system, the absolute need for clarity of roles and accountability at all levels? Will I have the energy for this if no one else shows up motivated to help? Is my community even aware of the severity of the problem? Who do I think I am to challenge a system that is currently a lighthouse in our community? Maybe I'm the problem?
  5. Blogging -  How often should I pull my ass out of bed and write about this stuff in the moment? Will I ever sleep longer than 3 hours again if I do that? Does this blog really help or is it just another way I spew my shit all over other people? Are my blog posts just in the way of real stuff people want on their Facebook feed? What kind of self-indulgent narcissist must I be to constantly put my problems out for the world to see? 
  6. Limiting Beliefs - I want to talk to other women about the lies we tell ourselves that how they hold us back. How should I do that? Should I start a book club or a supportive group that meets for coffee. Maybe it should be open to both genders? How the hell do I know how to facilitate something like that?]
So there's the list of my seemingly different problems --- with that one glaring consistency. The I Am Not Enough track playing on repeat in the background.

Looks like it's not the dog farts or the husband snores - it's the tiny voice that's trying to keep me comfortably in that safe place of no risk or vulnerability. That voice that wants me to avoid pain, struggle and living big. So I look back over time and relive the experiences when I was at my bravest and feeling the most alive I've ever felt. In those key moments, I told the nagging little thing bouncing around my brain something like this: Although I appreciate your protective tendencies, I will not be afraid to be who I am. I Am Enough. I can do hard things and I know that even when I fail -- and I will fail -- I will have done so Daring Greatly.

And then the bouncing stops. good night.


The Beginning of the Story...Story

One of the biggest realizations for me regarding the importance of sharing my story was a long time ago when I realized that my story mattered. It happened as most things happen in my life, I was at a MultiCultural Awareness training to learn about others and in turned I learned waaaay more about myself in the process. If there is one reason to embrace self-discovery through story & join me in The Figuring It Out tribe, it's the likelihood that you will completely blow your own mind like every 3 months from all of the learning. Seriously! Years ago, when I was an introductory member of the Figuring It Out Tribe, that mind-blowing was terrifying and unsettling. Which it turns out is totally normal - that's how learning feels. I didn't know that - most of us don't know that.

Sidebar: Most kids by the time they leave school do not know what learning feels like. We learned what it feels like to be taught or not be taught and that's very, very different.  Another blog for another time.

Anyway, I came from and married into a distinguished chapter of The Certain People tribe. The Certain People culture has the good fortune of rarely carrying the unsettled or terrifying burden. Instead they carry satisfaction, judgement, and anger with them. A self-inflicted mind screw isn't something Certain People are gonna mess with - they are doing just fine and have been just fine 50 years. And I'll be the first to say, they're not wrong. The Certain People culture is typical in southwest Wisconsin. And they are some of the hardest working people I know because they've proven successful by sheer will and determination most of the time. This tribe is full of people I love. People who have taken care of me when I couldn't take care of myself. The Certain People tribe is constructed of wonderful human beings. Some of them are my most treasured friends and family members.

That's why wandering away from them caused so much confusion and torment at first. It's a strange paradox because I wasn't going anywhere, but I couldn't take part in the day to day any longer. The satisfaction seemed to only come at the expense of others and the judgement and anger were just too heavy a load. The amount of work to resist change and innovation wasn't sustainable. I broke under that extreme pressure and turned toward a different path. I could not take one more moment of just being fine. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to figure something else out.

So here we are 10 years later. Happier, healthier and more energized than ever to find my way through my story and the stories of others -- and in turn blowing my own mind. And this decade of self-discovery has gotten much easier. I've found others from neighboring Figuring It Out chapters and we support each other.  We also embrace Certain People who are venturing away from their familiar territory because the pressure from within is too much. As they cross our borders unsettled and terrified, we let them know it will be okay. We help them navigate until they realize it's okay to love yourself and love people in a tribe you cannot reside in full time.  We are forthcoming about the constant tension between the Figuring It Out and The Certain People and share stories as a Figuring It Out living amongst the natives. Those experiences allow us to learn from one another so we can walk our way through it when we are alone in The Wilderness.


Things I'm Noodling On: Summary or Story

I've been noodling for a while on the lack of connection I feel when and after I've been in a family or large social gathering.  It's pretty normal for me to to spend an entire evening or day with people I know and love & leave feeling mentally exhausted. Mental exhaustion for me usually follows events or times when I've not contributed or connected with the people around me. And it's a situation that has made me consistency ask myself, "What the hell is wrong with me?" I wonder why I feel so unsatisfied and uninterested in the people I share space & time with? It's been a hard nut to crack.

I think I've noticed a pattern in the conversations that leave me drained and exhausted and they typically revolve around summarizing in one of these 4 categories:
  1. Other People: the unreasonable, those who have veered too far from established norms and the ones who make choices we wouldn't....and our passive aggressive bid of 'good luck with that' for them?
  2. Illness: shaking heads and drawn out sighs...and the silent pleasure of being the person with the most gory or intimate details.
  3. Civic Annoyances: frustrated recounts of high taxes, terrible teachers, old water lines...and then the unchallenged resignation that we are helpless victims so "complaining doesn't do any good anyway."
  4. Scary Things: the ever-growing number of untrustworthy organizations, technologies, works of art and schools of thought...and the evil people responsible who are all out to get us.
I think I'm figuring out why I leave people disconnected and unsatisfied; instead of sharing stories we are summarizing the daily drivel or discussing our interpretation of stories that aren't ours to share. I kinda started to think we lost the willingness to authentically share our stories, but now I beginning to wonder if we've just forgotten or never really learned how to genuinely share our stories. And I wonder if it's because it's vulnerable. Maybe summarizing is the misguided belief that we can connect with people and protect ourselves at the same time.

I've been learning for years that stories connect us and I want to move in and really connect with people. I want to listen to their stories and hear how events in someone's life lead to evolution of something. I want to contribute and to share our broken, boring and brutiful real lives as the only way to feel fully alive and truly connected.

What do you think?

I'm using these 2 definitions for summarize and story.
Summarize = v: give a brief statement of the main points of (something)
Story = n: an account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something


One Word Wednesday: Transformation

a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
"people who share their stories, directly contribute to my life's continuous transformation"

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” 
― BrenĂ© Brown


One Word Wednesday: Unexpected

not expected or regarded as likely to happen.
"snow falling on March 19th is unexpected"

"But life inevitably throws us curve balls, unexpected circumstances that remind us to expect the unexpected. I've come to understand these curve balls are the beautiful unfolding of both karma and current."  -Carre Otis


Embracing The Cracks - Beautifully Imperfect

So in case you haven't figured it out yet, I totally drank some of the Kool-aid that Brene Brown is peddling. Her book, Daring Greatly, has become my bible. It's the text book of Figuring Out My Life 101, which is a 0 credit class at ITMU (I'm Totally Messed Up) where I'm the only student and the professor. Which explains why I say 'dude' a lot (student) and why I'm a pompous prick much of the time (professor). I'm trying really hard to make what she calls Daring Greatly a practice in my life as a parent, leader and wholehearted person.

It's hard, though. It requires being vulnerable. And ridding your life of shame and fear. Today I listened to the part of her book (again) that she calls, Daring Greatly: Appreciating the Beauty of Cracks - "To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our crack or imperfections." 

The vulnerability of being imperfect has stifled me as a blogger. I think of something I want write about, but instead of Daring Greatly and doing it I let the gremlins in my mind go to work. "What do you know about that?" "You will probably spell some stuff wrong & use commas in all the wrong places, and people will see how stupid you are." "If people see that you're blogging and not out looking for work they will judge you & they probably should because this blog is nothing...go get a job!" "Seriously, another photo of the sunset or your dog...why even bother?"  

These gremlins have prevented more blog post from being published than I can even tell you about. Over and over again I let the fear of not being perfect prevent me from being...anything. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project contributed to Daring Greatly with a quote about her own battle with perfectionism: 
"I remind myself, Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (Cribbed from Voltaire) A twenty-minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don't do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of take-out Chinese food is better than the elegant diner that I never host." 
Like Gretchen, I'm constantly holding myself up to some fake bar of perfection and in turn have a lot of nothing to show for it. I have months of silent blogs, weeks of image less memory cards, and days of unopened books because I may not write, photograph or read perfect enough for it to matter. The loud mouth gremlins in my head made me forget that it all matters when it's coming from a place of love, gratitude and connection.

Today I wrote two imperfect gratitude notes, one imperfect blog post, and will make an imperfect dinner for my imperfect family. I did all of this with love, in the spirit of connection and with sincere gratitude for all the blessings in my imperfect life. I'm not even going to think about the commas.



After last week's emotional breakdown spiritual awakening, as Brene Brown calls it in her amazing Ted Talk, I laid low for a few days. I was feeling really exposed...self-imposed exposure -it's awesome and exhausting. I enjoyed the solitude of being home and able to process the events while walking with the dog and a relaxing snow day home with the kids. But after a few days I don't thrive in solitude. I'm a "people person." And not just in that job interview customer service sense of the term. I really love being with people. I thrive most in a community. I love the stories that come with people and their experiences. That's what I love about working at the hardware store and the leadership alliance. It's also what I love about Facebook and Twitter. These are places with their own unique communities - full of stories and people - full of life!

But being part of a community is not always easy. On a good day a community is like a meadow filled with a blend of prairie grasses and wildflowers all swaying harmoniously together in the gentle summer breeze, and on a bad day it's like a land field where one misstep blows up in your face and causes a domino effect. Unexpected explosions one after the other continue to happen with no real way of knowing when the destruction will stop. You just pray to make it out with your life credibility in tack. Because credibility is really all you have if you really want to contribute to your community. If you are part of a group where people can't believe or trust in you then you will not be very effective. 

I used to believe that authenticity was the most important thing when it came to being a successful community member, and I still believe that plays an important role, but I'm starting to wonder if I gave it too much emphasis. I'm starting to think that authenticity and civility are equally important. One can't really outweigh the other. 

I used to think that being blunt and direct about where I stood was kind of a noble thing to do. It's real, it's authentic, but I'm beginning to really doubt whether it's always kind, it's always true or it's always necessary. I kind of arrogantly believed that I could have an opinion about something, (or worse...someone) based on my experiences, and because I would say it to their face (if challenged) it was ok. I believed that being authentic it was the most productive way to be part of the community...probably because 'being real' comes fairly easy to me. I don't have the personality where I feel the need to make everyone happy, and I really don't mind being on the 'wrong' side. I'm typically pretty secure with that. But this authenticity, without civility, is basically just being a loud mouth! Like I said, it comes really easy for me! Probably a little too easy.

Lately I've considered (with the help of those who have been open and honest with me about my tone, body language or gossipy behavior) challenging myself to be more than just "the blunt one." I'm challenging myself to be the thoughtful one. Be a community member who uses directness and civility to be most effective. What I love about civility is that it's not niceness for niceness sake. It's not giving up your experiences or values to please anyone. Practicing civility doesn't mean you can't disagree, it means you assess other's opinions with the same value you assess your own. Practicing civility looks like this: 
Pay Attention. Be aware and attend to the world and the people around you.
Listen. Focus on others in order to better understand their points of view.
Be Inclusive. Welcome all groups of citizens working for the greater good of the community.
Don't Gossip. And don't accept when others choose to do so.
Show Respect. Honor other people and their opinions, especially in the midst of disagreement.
Be Agreeable. Look for opportunities to agree; don't contradict just to do so.
Apologize. Be sincere and repair damaged relationships.
Give Constructive Criticism. When disagreeing, stick to the issues and don't make a personal attack.
Take Responsibility. Don't shift responsibility and blame onto others; share disagreements publicly.
These principals allow for the unique tension that develops in a diverse and thriving community. A community where differences are embraced and valued. A place were we don't have to believe the same thing and we are not shunned or blamed or gossiped about when we have take a stance on something. Since that's the kind of community I want to be a part of, I guess I need to start behaving with authenticity & civility.