Going in the Opposite Direction…

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Whoa, it’s been two months since I posted!  Every time I return after a blogging hiatus, I say something like… “life has been full and busy lately,” which is once again true this time!  Between the kids adjusting to the academic rigors of The Cambridge School, regular busy season busyness at my office, plus the addition of regular travel for my new role at work, we’ve had a very full winter and early spring.

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Yesterday I took my second (and probably last!) train trip up to our Oxnard office.  This long day starts with catching the train from Solana Beach at 6:33 a.m., so I have to leave my house before 6:00 a.m. to get there.  If all goes well, I’d get back to my car in Solana Beach by 10:30 p.m.  The trip is about 4 hours up and 4 1/2 hours back.  Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train in Oxnard for the trip home!  The train came through the station right at 5:40 p.m., so I didn’t even question it.  Also, there’s only one track you can board in Oxnard, plus I find it very disorienting to figure out if the train is headed north or south!  These Amtrak trains travel in both directions without a clear “front”.  It’s very confusing!   It wasn’t until we were in Ventura and the conductor said, “Be sure you’re on the right train, we are headed northbound to San Luis Obispo” that I realized my error.

By the time I gathered my things, we were moving again.  So, I found the conductor and explained the situation.  He told me to get off in Santa Barbara and catch the 7:00 p.m. train south to San Diego.  He wrote me a little note to give the conductor of that train. I felt like a kid getting a note from a parent!  Poor little lost traveler.  Fortunately, it was nearing sunset and we were traveling along the coast.  The beauty of the view helped soften the blow that I’d added over 2 hours to my already long day of train travel.  Sigh.

When situations like this occur, I’m so grateful for the mindfulness practices and work I’ve done to accept the present moment and let go of my illusion of control.  This was an annoying mistake, but all-in-all, I was fine.  I had some extra time to talk to my boss, talk to my mom, read, and listen to the audio book of Pride and Prejudice.   I’m fortunate to have the option to work from home in my pajamas today, after getting about 5 hours of sleep last night.

The book I was wrapping up on the train is actually a psychology “primer” for therapists, written by Russ Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap.  It’s an introduction to using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”) with patients.  Obviously, I’m not going to be treating folks formally with ACT, but I figured what better way to learn something than to “teach” it?  Even if just academically.  It has deepened my understanding and appreciation of this amazing technique of mindfulness, acceptance and valued-focused living.

I’ve been thinking lately about how much our pain in struggle in life is caused by the gap between what we think life ought to be like and our current reality.  We’re so often angry, frustrated, sad or disappointed when our expectations aren’t met or the current moment isn’t aligning with our hopes and desires.

The fundamental, essential, most important lesson I’ve learned over the past several years has been acceptance.  Accepting my thoughts and feelings, but also the situations and circumstances of life, my own mistakes and failings and the frustration of other people’s behavior!  Not having to control my inner world has lead to not having to control the world around me.  It’s a tremendously freeing place to be.  My “struggle switch” still gets activated now and then, but I’m able to accept my thoughts and feelings much more easily these days.  Which is extremely helpful when you’re trapped on a train taking you the opposite direction that you want to be going!

… but not yet.

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When I started this blog several years ago, I called it Be Still and Know because of lessons I had recently started to learn. Stillness had not been a part of my life for many years. Presence was absent. I’d been missing the joy and peace of living in the moment as my thoughts absorbed all my attention. Over the past five years, I’ve learned many things that have enriched the initial awakening that started the summer of 2013. Learning mindfulness techniques and acceptance was just the beginning. Recognizing that I’d long lived with a fixed mindset was very important and impactful! Recently studying the Enneagram and realizing my perfectionist (Type 1) tendency has opened new avenues for exploration and growth.

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A couple years back, ideas for a book started percolating in my heart and mind. Particularly while out on runs, I’d come up with great ideas. Alas, it wasn’t convenient to jot them down while miles from home with nothing to write on! Life kept getting in the way of writing. I prayed for God to help guide my efforts.

Then, this year of change occurred. The kids switched schools. We remodeled our home and did major construction on the backyard. We traveled and I got promoted which involved a lot of transition at work. In short, life happened. Writing a book fell really far down the priority list. But, writing this today I don’t feel discouraged from my dream. Instead I hear a clear message from God: You’re not ready to write your book… yet.

Last week I had breakfast with the Head of School and Director of Advancement (and church family friend) at The Cambridge School. We had a delightful meal as we discussed classical Christian education and how our family has transitioned to the new school. I shared with them my struggle to embrace a growth mindset and release a fixed mindset. It’s very humbling to admit that I needed to start down this path of growth myself before I could nurture my children through their education. The Head of School wisely shared that, in teaching with a growth mindset, one of the main words they use is “yet”. As in, “you haven’t learned how to solve complex fractions, yet.” Or “you haven’t developed a strong organizational system, yet.” This simple word helps encourage students to keep working to learn and grow.

A consistent pattern in my life has been this persistent feeling that I need to have everything figured out. It’s a remnant of the fixed mindset and I’d venture to guess something that many Enneagram Type 1 personalities struggle with! It’s the antithesis of growth and acceptance. When life gets really full and busy (like it’s been the past 6-8 weeks!), this sense that I need to figure out everything that’s going to happen intensifies. In these moments, acceptance of my feelings and my limitations is key. When I finally slow down, let go of my persistent (and often unhelpful) thoughts, and remember that I am (and always will be!) growing then I can surrender to God’s will and be present in the moment.

This pattern will likely continue throughout my life because I’m human and sinful. Through God’s grace, I’m growing through each season of life. One day, there may be wisdom that I can share in book form. I would love to write something that’s helpful for others on this journey of life. But, that time is not here… yet.

 

 

The One About Sewing Four Dresses.

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Recently I renewed a prayer that helped me learn to trust God and be more present in the moment: “Lord, please keep me on this path of growth and help me learn the lessons you want me to know.” God is faithful and he’s been teaching me lessons at every turn the past couple weeks.

When I’m in a period of growth, I often recall the expression “growing pains” because usually there’s some pain or discomfort in the process. I’ve also recognized that a lot of self-awareness can be learned and growth opportunities found when you step back to ask yourself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?” Then, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, you’ll discover areas that need to be surrendered to God and hopefully improved in your life.

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I had this type of moment recently, while in the fabric store with my family. Sienna has been very excited about writing, producing, and performing a play with her friends. She wants to perform it in our newly renovated backyard, where the fit pit resembles a stage in her imagination. I’d been encouraging this idea, until she announced that she wanted to sew dresses for the four main characters. This sounded very labor intensive to me!

Some backstory: my mom is a talented sewer and she got Sienna a sewing machine and all the accessories one year for Christmas. Sienna loves sewing clothes for her dolls and being creative with making pillows and other small projects. She doesn’t follow a pattern, but she is happy with her creations.

Okay, back to Joann’s. We’re in the fabric store and finding little accessories for the play – headbands and fake flowers. I explained to Sienna that we didn’t have time to pick out all the patterns or have fabric cut that day, but we’d come back another time. Then, I tried to dissuade her a bit. “Love, I’m not sure we can make four dresses. I’m not a good sewer and won’t be able to help you very much.”

“I don’t need your help, Gaga taught me to sew,” she replied.

“Yes, but it’s going to take a lot of time and I don’t know that we have the skills between us to take on this project,” I continued.

This type of reasoning went back and forth between us until we got in line with our purchases. I knelt down to talk to Sienna and she stoically said, “It sure would be nice if I had a mom who supported me.”

Ouch.

I got angry and tensely replied, “I support you all the time.” Then I turned away.

That afternoon and into the next day, her words haunted me. Sure, there’s an element of manipulation that she was employing, but I started to ask myself: “Why did I behave that way? What was driving me?”   I called my mom and she said something very helpful: “Why don’t you buy the pattern and material for one dress and let her try to sew it? She’ll get to experience how challenging it is and then you can decide whether to make more?”

“I never would have thought of that, Mom. Of course, that makes perfect sense. In my mind, we’re either going to make four perfect dresses or we’re not going to try at all.” Hello there, fixed mindset!

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As the kids have begun this wonderful new school, that’s more rigorous and challenging than they’re used to, I’m finding my old fixed mindset popping up. I believe in having a growth mindset and allowing people the grace to learn and grow. But, when the rubber meets the road, I fall back into old patterns of perfectionism or avoidance.

During this very same time, I’ve begun casually studying the Enneagram. If you’re not familiar, the Enneagram is a model of nine personality types. The first test I took told me that I was Type 2, The Giver, but I had a distinct feeling that my true type is Type 1, the Perfectionist (or, most positively, the Reformer or the Improver). This experience at the fabric store caused me to dig into the information, including a couple podcasts on Enneagram Type 1s. Oh, man. All the comments hit so close to home! I could relate to so much of what other Type 1s said about their life experiences. We tend to have a sense of “how things should be” that is over emphasized. Our “attention-to-detail” is on steroids!

Returning to my comments about sewing the dress, I recognize that my need for the dresses to be made “right” is part of where Sienna and I disconnect. My artistic daughter doesn’t need the dress to be made “how it should be”. She’d happily throw a sash around the dress or cut a hemline in an asymmetrical design and call it done! I need things to be done “right”. It wasn’t Sienna’s frustration or disappointment that I was trying to spare, it was my own. With a fixed mindset, I would have hovered over her project, trying to “fix” and “help” while only succeeding at hurting my daughter and sending the message that she wasn’t capable.

I can write about a growth mindset and intellectually understand it, but man, it’s challenging to really embrace it in my daily life. I’m praying that God will help me use this Enneagram realization to recognize my tendencies and find new ways to grow. My children are such amazing teachers! I told Sienna that I appreciated her comment that she’d like a mom that supported her: “God knew I needed a daughter like you to help me grow.”

Cultivating Curiosity.

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I’ve been thinking of the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” lately. I recently read a book that I added to my Goodreads “To read” list nearly nine years ago! Apparently, I wasn’t ready to learn its lessons until now. The book is called Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. It’s written by Todd Kashdan, a psychologist who argues that (as the subtitle suggests) it’s not “happiness” that we should seek, but rather focus on cultivating our curiosity and inviting novelty into our lives, in order to find fulfillment.

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A couple years ago, I wrote this post about my discovery that curiosity and embracing the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen in life actually makes life more fun and interesting. I’ve recently been digging deeper into the idea of novelty. I realized the other day: there are many activities that I never consider doing. My life is fairly routine and I find myself struggling to even do familiar activities in a time or place that deviate from my routine. One night I thought, “I’ll write a blog post after the kids go to bed.” But, then it felt too odd, because I typically read in bed or watch TV with Dennis once the kids are asleep. Why couldn’t I decide to write instead?!

This insight from Curious? really hit home for me:

It is easy to stick with structure and order because routines make us feel safe and secure in an uncertain world. But, we can open our eyes to the fact that novelty and enticing things that can grab our attention are everywhere. We can change our habits, change the way we act, and change the way we see the world anytime, anyplace. Appreciate and search for more than what you already know, already assume, and already expect to happen. I am talking about a mindset of expecting there to be things you don’t know and realizing that this does not mean you are vulnerable or unintelligent because you can’t predict what is going to happen. Rather, it means there are opportunities for learning, discovering, and growing.

I have found this to be so true! Spontaneity is fun and exciting for this exact reason. When an idea suddenly occurs to me (or to one of my family members) and we decide to act on it – go to the pool, go for a hike, go out for dinner, etc. – there’s a surge of energy and good feeling as we embrace the moment. It can be something smaller too. Like, when one of my kids is frustrated or upset and I say or do something silly that cheers them up.  Being spontaneous in our responses requires that space between catalyst and response, where we can choose our reaction.  This means, we have to be present. Thinking “outside the box” and not just falling into the same patterns and reactions takes real intention.

When I learned about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), I loved how curiosity wove throughout the mindfulness practices. In ACT, the goal is to let go of unhelpful thoughts so you can experience the moment with openness and curiosity. When we accept what is, instead of trying to force thoughts and feelings to be under our control, we are able to be curious about this moment and what will happen next.

I’m in a book club at my office. We recently read Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD. Turns out, Dr. David’s book is based on the principles of ACT – what fun! It was really cool to see ACT broken down and presented in this very accessible way. She also describes the benefits of having a curious mindset: “When we decide to curiously explore the world inside us and outside, we can make other decisions more flexibly. We can intentionally breathe space into our reactions and make choices based on what matters to us and what we hope to be.”

Are there areas of your life that have become too routine? Are you stuck in thought patterns that aren’t helping you? How would things change if you were curious and sought out something novel and new in your experience?

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

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I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap of thinking every moment needs to be accomplishing a goal or achieving something. In this mindset, I have a litany of “shoulds” running through my mind: I should be intentional with my time. I should either work and be productive or relax and have fun.  I shouldn’t waste time. But, this line of thinking quickly causes me to strive for control.  I start planning excessively and rush from one activity to the next, never being fully present in any of them.

The kids and I got home about a half hour ago. Sienna spent the day at The Cambridge School Summer Academy and Mateo was at baseball camp. I’d promised Sienna we could look at Halloween costumes when we got home.  She has her heart set on being Anakin Skywalker and has been researching costumes for several days.  As we came in the house, I agreed that we could look at costumes first, but there were many things we needed to get done – homework and bathing being of most importance.

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I sat down at my computer, expecting the kids to start asking about the costumes. But, they didn’t. They went to Teo’s room and began collecting stuffed animals.  I didn’t know what they were doing but whenever they start playing something imaginative together, I never interrupt their flow.  So, what to do next?  My mind starting bouncing around to various ideas – should I get some more work done?  Sit and read for a few minutes?  Pick up around the house and start on the evening chores?  I ended up making a decision without making a decision.  I started reviewing and replying to several work emails.

The kids were playing in the living room, just a few feet away. I suddenly heard something fall to the ground.  Teo called out, “I’ll pick it up, Sienna!”  To which she replied, “Thank you, Teo.”  I smiled at their sweet, polite exchange as I turned around to see what they were doing.  They’d created an animal hospital, bandaging up their stuffed animals. (Note the animals’ bandages in the photos!) Each injury or medical condition had an involved back story.

Taking in the moment, I thought: “Stop, take this in. This is your life.”  These are the moments that I would have missed, or worse, would have stopped, when I lived inside my head; when my To Do list demanded all my attention.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. As the kids get ready to start a new school in the fall (more about that later!), I’ve been recognizing how much of their learning and growth happens at home.  This is where they learn how to treat other people, how to express their needs and wants, how to forgive, and how to receive grace.  Hearing Mateo’s offer to help, and Sienna’s loving appreciation, I was struck by how everyday moments between family members are so valuable.  These moments don’t have to be planned or structured, they just happen.  But, in those moments, we shape the culture of our family.  We shape the worldview of our children.

Now, this was a sweet moment, but there are just as many challenging ones in a family! When a child is frustrated about not getting what they want.  When a parent sets a limit that the child doesn’t like.  When we simply all have different ideas of what we want to do in that moment.  So much good comes from these moments of grace, growth, and learning.

I’m letting go of trying to figure out exactly what our afternoon and evening should entail. I’ll say a prayer that our family time would be blessed today.  Then, I’ll pay attention to whatever these moments have to teach me.

A Practice of Presence While Exploring Arizona

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Our family just returned from a delightful road trip vacation through Arizona!  By the time we left last Friday, I was beyond ready to vacate regular life, relax, and enjoy time with Dennis and our little ones.  Leading up to our departure, I’d been struggling to let go of my critical thoughts telling me how I wasn’t doing everything right.  Oh, that old fixed mindset rearing her ugly head!  So, I prayed… and prayed, asking God to help me embrace being present, accept each moment, and allow all of us grace to grow and learn.  God is always faithful!  I found myself completely present, focused on all the fun and new experiences rather than being distracted by my thoughts and plans.

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As I’ve been on this journey of growth the past several years, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I LOVE going to new places and letting the days unfold without planning ahead.  It’s just the best!  There’s something about being away from home (with all the responsibilities it contains) and in a new place (where I don’t know what to expect) that creates the perfect environment for me to just BE.  I absorb my surroundings.  I really see and hear my kids and husband.  I’m present in a way that can tend to allude me in the familiar places of home and work.

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We first headed to Tombstone, Arizona to experience the Old West!   Dennis is very interested in Wyatt Earp and has read a few biographies about his life and experiences in Tombstone.  Most of what I know is from the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer movie!  We checked in at Tombstone Monument Ranch on Friday evening, just in time for a steak and potatoes dinner, followed by cowboy music in the saloon.  The ranch is a replica of an Old West town, with each room built into the town.  We were in the Wyatt Earp Room!  Across the “street” was the Marshall’s office.  It was so cool!  The musicians played covers of lots of old country and western songs.  My heart soared as I watched Mateo’s face light up when they sang “La Bamba” – one of his favorites!

Our first breakfast was a classic “chuck wagon” meal down by the campfire.  Arizona Bill was our host, and he taught us a lot about the ranch.  He would feature in the rest of our trip too!  After breakfast, the kids begged to go swimming.  The pool was small and unfortunately had attracted a lot of hornets.  Sienna and Teo were afraid, so I got in the pool and started swimming laps to show them it was okay.   But, they were obviously wiser than their mother because, as I reached for the wall right in front of Dennis and the kids, I got stung in the index finger!  Oh man, it hurt!  I came out of the water yelling and then plucked the stinger out of my finger.  It stung me right in the bend of the knuckle.  It continued to swell for the next two days, until it was so swollen I couldn’t bend my finger.  But, other than being annoying, it really didn’t impact the trip, except for not being able to bowl at our hotel near the Grand Canyon!

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We visited Tombstone’s historic downtown, saw a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, toured the Courthouse, and generally soaked up all things Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Old West.  Back at the ranch Dennis got to shoot several different types of guns.  Arizona Bill was the instructor for Dennis and the three other guests that participated in the shooting.  He was such a throwback to the era of the Old West!  His commentary was insightful as he discussed border issues (it’s very close to Tombstone).  He also told endearing stories of his wife outshooting him after he had hundreds of hours of shooting training in the army.  Arizona Bill even gave marriage advice, telling us to always do things together, that’s the key to keeping your relationship strong.  We loved him!

We all tried archery, which was really fun!  Later we had a family horseback riding lesson.  Both kids were scared and Sienna opted out, but she loved the horses and kept asking to go visit them in their stable, so hopefully she’ll try another time.  I got to follow the lesson with a trial ride on my horse Pablo.  It was a great way to see the dessert landscape and have some alone time.  Pablo was a lazy walker so we dragged a bit behind the wrangler and other couple on the trial ride, but that was okay with me.

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After three days of enjoying ranch life, getting to know the other guests, and having all our meals provided for us, it was time to start the second leg of our trip.  We headed northwest toward the Grand Canyon!  The drive was pretty easy and we kept entertained with music – country, Broadway musicals, and some 90s pop.  I loved overhearing the imaginative stories that Sienna and Mateo made up.  Sienna has the liveliest imagination and she gets Teo involved in long stories.  This trip the themes were the west and horses (obviously) and Star Wars, because they both love it despite being afraid to actually watch the movies!  We don’t take any electronic devices on our road trips (except cell phones for texting, GPS, and music), which definitely helps them engage with one another and their imaginations.

Tuesday morning we headed into Grand Canyon National Park to view the canyon from the South Rim.  It was more tremendous than I was expecting!  You hear people joke that it’s “a big hole in the ground” which is true.  But, it’s so immense and beautiful.  We spent several hours walking the rim and talking dozens of pictures.  Every angle seemed new and photo worthy!  The kids were interested, but got much more engaged with the visit once we got Teo a souvenir: a ring-tailed cat stuffed animal that he named Ringo.  We expected the kids to start complaining about the hike back, but they got really involved in caring for Ringo and explaining the canyon to him, so they walked back happily.  It was the best timed souvenir ever!

272The rest of our vacation included a day trip to Flagstaff – such a cute mountain town.  We explored downtown, found a great little bookstore, had brunch and then headed back to our hotel to swim and read.  I got to read a bunch on this trip – my favorite!  Our hotel also featured a small bowling alley and arcade!  We concluded our day in the arcade for the last two nights and all enjoyed playing basketball, pinball, Mrs. Packman, and racecar driving.  Teo’s poor driving skills had me hysterically laughing!

So, we’re home now and I’m reflecting on this delightful vacation.  Going in, I thought that the Tombstone part of the trip was mostly for Dennis.  But, it was so enjoyable!  I loved the inclusiveness of the ranch, getting to meet new people, having all our meals prepared for us.  It felt like summer camp!  We definitely want to go back.  But, we’ll see… there are so many places to explore!

The Relationships that Help Me Grow

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Every once in awhile, I find myself reflecting on life and seeing the loving hand of God guiding my life and shaping my growth.  This week I had a couple experiences that helped me appreciate the relationships in my life, particularly the ones that challenge me to grow.

I am very fortunate to have a mentor at work.  She’s reads this blog regularly too, (“Hi Debby!).  Over the past few years, she has encouraged, pushed, and challenged me to be a better manager (and person, for that matter!) through regular feedback. She has walked side-by-side with me through several difficult work situations, always with the delicate balance of empathy and advice.  Beyond work, when I experienced acute anxiety in the summer of 2013, her office is where I retreated to cry and seek counsel.

As I grew, both professional and personally, I relied on her less and less for the daily management decisions I needed to make.  But, when the bigger issues arose, she was the first person I ran to for advice.  However, I wasn’t as moldable as I’d been previously.  Sometimes I bristled as her feedback, thinking that my track record must mean that I had figured something out.  But, even when I couldn’t immediately accept the gift of feedback she provided me, her training kicked in and I would reply, “Thank you for the feedback” and then go away to wrestle with it awhile.

GERBERASI realized this week that, when I struggle against accepting Debby’s feedback, it’s a very good indicator that I’ve slipped back into a fixed mindset.  When I feel the need to justify my actions and deflect blame, it’s a good sign that my struggle switch is flipped and I’m not owning my behavior.  Fortunately, Debby also gives me the grace to struggle with the feedback before accepting it.  In doing so, I’m able to humbly surrender and acknowledge that she has given me the gift of information to help me grow.

There’s such amazing peace that comes from accepting responsibility and recognizing when your thoughts and behavior in a given situation are causing you pain.  In another workplace relationship, I caused myself years of heartache by perceiving a coworker’s  actions as antagonistic and then acting out in response.  A few years ago, we both decided that we wanted to move forward with a different kind of relationship.  It wasn’t easy and there were several missteps as we tried to overcome years of distrust and build trust with one another.

This process of growth has brought me indescribable peace and hope.  This week, I went to lunch with this coworker for the first time!  We had a delightful conversation and she gave me a most treasured compliment.  She said that she truly feels heard and understood when she talks to me.   That moment was so special and provided such healing.

I have a reminder that pops up on my phone each day.  It helps me be mindful to stay in a growth mindset through acceptance: “How I perceive a situation dictates my emotional state, which dictates my behavior.”  Given my experience with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”), I think of my perception as the thoughts I fuse with about that situation.  So, if I tell myself that a piece of feedback is a challenge to my abilities or a threat, then I respond by defending myself.  Whereas, if I fuse with the thought that feedback is a gift to help me grow, then I can accept and learn more quickly.  Likewise, if I tell myself that another person is “out to get me” or has negative intentions toward me, then I’m likely to act aggressively based on that perception.  Whereas, if I assume positive intent and seek to understand another person’s actions, I can remain calm, learn, and grow from the experience.

There are times when I consider my employment options in life and wonder if something would be a better fit for me.  But, then weeks like this occur and I realize that God has put me in this particular vocation with these particular people in my life, for a reason.  Growing, learning, accepting, and understanding are happening to me every day.

I’m so grateful for the relationships that challenge me and help me grow.