Money, Grief, and Transitions

Years ago I met a young woman, a hairstylist in a high-end salon, who told me she had one credit card. Every few years, she paid it off and then maxed it out again. For example, the previous year she and her partner quit their jobs, bought tickets to Bali, and stayed for months. They used the magic credit card, and when it reached the limit, they returned home, secured jobs, and worked hard to pay it off. As soon as they made the last payment, they would begin planning and packing for their next no-frills adventure.

At the time it seemed a bit extreme to me. I saw it as quitting jobs and flying off to another continent to roam around for a few months, leaving behind some new friends, and returning with a lot of debt and a bag full of memories. I thought, why not save for the trip?

Then I realized, despite decades of saving for retirement, all I have to show is a paltry 401k that wouldn’t pay a monthly utility bill, let alone rent. It’s scary to me that even those funds are subject to the whims of Wall Street and politicians. Having lost my retirement savings more than once in stock market meltdowns (with bailouts ironically rewarding only the failed banks with showers of our collective tax dollars), I’m not the one to give financial advice.

But I am certain that financial burdens are inherently stressful. And I know sometimes the best plans just don’t work out. For example, if I had delayed my move by one year, I would have been debt-free and that would be far less stressful for me. But doing so would have negatively impacted my son, grandsons and others. Tough choices, for me.

In the end, the decision to move was the right thing for family. Like the stylist, I always knew my priorities. It doesn’t mean it was easy for me. For some reason, though, I convinced myself it would be easy. A strong, intelligent, hard-working woman can handle little things like major life changes, right?

After nearly a year with super low income, even with a roof over my head and food in the fridge, something felt Off. I felt a little raw, too emotional, and half-blamed the weather, the physical challenge of chasing two young children around, and the lack of financial resources.

I recently realized it wasn’t any of those dragging my spirits down.

I’ve been experiencing grief. The death of my dog kicked it off, and then it hit me like an anvil. I’ve been grieving for almost a year.

Why I didn’t notice it, I could explain away (busy-ness is great camouflage). But I see it now. And it makes sense.

I lost my way of life, my island home, my job working with people who were homeless (people I respected and, in most cases, deeply admired their strength and resilience). I walked away from work-related commitments that I took seriously and coworkers I loved. That I did so voluntarily and for a good purpose (to help other family members) didn’t take the edge off as much as I thought it might.

In his book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” Dr Gabor Mate points out that emotional pain fires up the brain in the same way physical pain does. Kicking myself while reflecting on my before- and after-lives exacerbated the pain. And I’ve done plenty of kicking in the name of Being Real.

Kicking myself for not wrapping up my work life well enough. Kicking myself for failing to be the Mary Poppins-like happy-go-lucky care provider for the grands that they deserve. For not having enough resources to assist my son more. For not having a part-time job (because my schedule remains so complex that my availability is currently limited to blocks of only a few hours now and then). For lacking the energy to do more than the basics. Even for not being able to afford things like the brand-name shoes I once took for granted that better support my feet.

Since that realization, I’ve taken more time to feel things. I’ve intentionally sat down and wrapped my attention around “negative” emotions like sadness and anger. Held them. Inspected them. Sat until they dissipated on their own.

And I asked myself what advice I would give someone I cared about in this situation.

Here’s what I would ask: (1) What have you been doing that feels healthy, healing and helpful for yourself? …and… (2) What would you like to do differently moving forward?

I’ve taken more helpful actions than I realized. Studying intuitive eating/HAES* and incorporating that framework (addressing eating, activity, rest, acceptance, and self-compassion). Expanding the tools I use, including mindfulness and sitting with difficult emotions. Reading about childhood development and learning ways to deal effectively with munchkin meltdowns and toddler dramas. Meditating most mornings and writing most days on projects. Going to the Y to engage in positive movement 3 times a week. Donating to nonprofit agencies. Enjoying free spaces and activities, like the public library and parks. Researching to understand how the culture in the USA got so far off the rails (focused on the upper-crust rather than we-the-people, and particularly ways people of color have been denied resources).

What I’d like to do more? To gratefully acknowledge all my advantages. To focus on an external priority area (climate change, voting laws, antiracism, intuitive eating/HAES). I’d like to continue time in the swimming pool but add more outdoor time and something that includes music. I’d like to increase my income and think that will be more likely when my youngest grandchild starts elementary school next fall. I’d like to continue to visit my son a few times a year but also arrange for him to visit me so I don’t do all the travel. I’d like to have more friends and an Encore Plan (for whatever comes next).

One of the lessons this recent journey has taught me is about flexibility. It hasn’t been an easy-peasy lesson and my life has not taken a path I would have imagined. Sometimes that’s scary and frustrating. That’s life. Sometimes everything appears gloriously open to change.

Another recent lesson relates to longing. I can think of a simple example. I’m here with family and missing my work life. But while I worked, I missed my family. I choose to accept that longing as a blessing. How fortunate to have had two good options that satisfied me, even when they may have been mutually exclusive.

Sometimes self-care requires we look back and acknowledge what we’ve accomplished. Even the “small” things can be big wins. Getting out of bed every day. Going to the doctor when ill. Connecting somehow with the outside world. Being there for plants, pets, friends, family, self, and/or all of those.

And sometimes self-care includes taking time to sit with uncomfortable emotions to acknowledge them. Or considering the possibilities in next steps to take us forward in this perfectly imperfect world.

*HAES=Health At Every Size

Share Your Hotness, Fight the BIC

Folks who have been paying attention know small groups of folks often make huge decisions that impact the health and well-being of most of the people living in the USA. The key decisions spread through the media and a nationwide network of “health care professionals” (most likely your family doctor and a whole cadre of folks in supportive roles) who provide life-altering advice based on information provided to them by trusted sources.

Among these trusted sources is the BMI (Body Mass Index), for example. Did you know most of the members of the small group who came up with the rules and categories (“overweight” and “obese,” for example) have affiliations with weight-loss organizations? As such, they have a lot to gain (oh-so-many more people at the doors seeking help), as happened a few years ago, by changing details and moving people from average/healthy ranges to overweight – with bumps up the spectrum.

The folks within the multi-billion dollar (estimates range from $60B to over $100B a year) Diet Industry, intentionally or not, work diligently to convince us that only the most slender are “healthy” while the majority of the bodies occupying space in the USA (the 67% who are fat) are costing taxpayers outrageous amounts of money. They encourage focus on fatties who refuse to do what everyone is told is easy: eat less, exercise more, lose pounds, and suck it up to magically keep the pounds off forever. Amen. In short, this keeps the majority of us feeling inadequate, ashamed, distracted and ignoring that in all of nature there exist ranges of sizes, shapes, markings, and hues/colors, though most creatures know intuitively how, when, and what to eat.

Enter now the heroic characters in the form of twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagosaki: professional women who refer to this diet culture as the “Bikini Industrial Complex (BIC)” in their new book, “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.” They point out we have options, including ignoring the marketing that tells us we all have a willowy fashion-model version of ourselves inside us waiting to be set free. Scientists have even found some genetic markers that explain size diversity, at least in part, and have me wondering why we aren’t kinder to one another and to ourselves. Is it, in the words of an old country song, “…everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on/Who they can feel better than at any time they please…”[i] or is it something else, like our own insecurities making us a little (or a lot) hard on ourselves and others?

In their book the Nagosaki sisters describe one extraordinary (to me!) way they practice self-compassion. I can see how this practice could balance those moments when we look in the mirror and don’t appreciate the reflection or someone provides feedback that does not lift us. Rather than self-deprecation, they suggest what I consider starting a revolution by letting go of the Inner Critic while grabbing the Inner-Fairy-Godmother.

It’s called the “New Hotness” game and the book states the intention is to “let go of body self-criticism and shift to self-kindness.”

It started with Amelia during a dress-shopping adventure when she found a garment that looked great on her. She texted Emily a selfie “with a caption paraphrasing Will Smith in Men in Black II: i am the new hotness.”

The term “new hotness” became their texting cue for looking fabulous without basing that on cultural beauty ideals. They found ways to share moments of New Hotness. How fun is that?! “Maybe you don’t look like you used to, or like you used to imagine you should, but how you look today is the new hotness. Even better than the old hotness.”

It truly is a revolutionary act in this age to name your own hotness terms.

What I really appreciate about this approach is that it’s not about loving your body (though it’s definitely fabulous if you do). It’s about facing the image in the mirror with compassion and accepting all the related baffling thoughts (the “yes I have good hair…but my ankles look swollen”), emotions (particularly the crushing shame we’re told to hold for our imperfect-and-awesome bodies at all ages, sizes, shapes, and shades), and desires (including those wants that we know may never manifest).

Read the book or at least a good book review![ii]

Here are some of my ideas:

Round belly replacing the 6-pack abs of yesteryear? New hotness!

Hair stylist ran amok and left you more surprised than pleased? Heads up: New Hotness!

Varicose veins from those years of stand-up jobs? New Hotness!

Gained back the weight you lost while trying the latest food plan/diet? Rock those curves: New Hotness!

Noticing doctors and police officers look like youngsters? Celebrate your experience, New Hotness!

Total stranger comments on the size of your ____ (butt, thighs, etc.)? Thanks for noticing New Hotness!

And two from the book because they’re simply well-said:

“Mastectomy following breast cancer? New hotness.”

“Amputation following combat injury? New hotness.”

“The point is, you define and redefine your body’s worth, on your own terms.”

And isn’t that the way it should be for all of us, every day?


[i] I remember this from “Jesus Was a Capricorn” by Kris Kristofferson

[ii]Visit one of my favorite websites (ted.com) and search for “new hotness” or click this link: https://ideas.ted.com/if-youre-unhappy-with-your-body-just-repeat-after-us-you-are-the-new-hotness/

15 Minutes to Spare?

To be honest, I tend to think in larger chunks of time than 15 minutes. I tell myself I can’t possibly engage in anything really useful, unless I make a significant time investment.

I will admit it. I was wrong about that.

Here are some of my favorite activities for days/times when I only have a few minutes:

  1. Play “Eye Found It!” – a Disney “hidden picture card game” that’s completely suitable for ages 3 and up. You do need 2 or more folks, good vision or a magnifying glass, and I suggest partnering with a 3 year old (my convenient in-house 3-year-old has eagle-eyes). The cards are beautifully illustrated (uh, Disney!) and all you do is search for items, like keys or a clock or a letter or a villain. Easy to learn, quick to play, helps with focus and attention to details, and it’s FUN!
  2. Learn a foreign language online! I grew up in a Portuguese-/Spanish-language speaking group of folks, but my great-grandparents were immigrants who didn’t want us learning foreign languages. In rebellion, I did study Spanish in school, and picked up some Portuguese accidentally along the way. On www.Udemy.com  there are several language courses that have super-short (3 minute!) daily lessons that build on one another. Udemy has sales on classes all the time, so for a $9.99 investment I’m picking up some Portuguese. For some FREE experiences with languages, try my favorite MOOC: www.edx.org where some awesome opportunities await!
  3. Work on foreign language skills during your commute! In Hawaii I fell in love with the Japanese language. Pimsleur offers less-expensive language courses on CD that teach practical words/phrases. Costco sometimes carries the language products along with many online retailers and at www.Pimsleur.com. I worked my way through the first set of Japanese CDs during my 5-minute commute to/from work last year. Now I can order basic things like beer or sake, comment on the weather, apologize, ask for directions, and say “I don’t understand.” It sounds silly, but on a recent flight a group of Japanese tourists sat in front of me and I understood some of what they were chatting about. I was so pleased! Woohoo!
  4. Turn off notifications on your email and only check it one to two or three times a day at scheduled times. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this saved me so much time! Just because someone sent you an email doesn’t mean you’re obligated to read and respond immediately. In fact, stopping what you’re doing to read an email derails your line of thought and studies show it can take 10 minutes to get back on focus. Chunking email reading to blocks of time (I try to keep it to 15 minutes, unless I hear from a friend) helps me focus on what’s important.
  5. Okay. I read a study showing even 5 to 10 minutes of walking – even pacing in a smaller space – can help us center our minds and even energize. I tried it, focused on the walking, taking 10 steps one direction and turning around, or walking in a square. At the end of the short “pacing-break” I did feel refreshed, so I’m going to try this again.
  6. Listen to music that’s special to you. To lift my spirits on challenging days, I put together a “Happy” playlist. Although it’s an hour long, I can randomly start the list at any point and listen to 1 or 2 or 5 songs (depending on the time available) and it lifts me from Grumpy-Granny to Happy-Granny. Honestly, I usually can’t resist getting up and dancing (when I’m alone or with toddlers who can appreciate my moves 😊). Music and dancing make most days seem better!
  7. When my youngest friends (furry or child-version) seem antsy, a trip to a nearby park lifts everyone’s spirits. Even when time is limited, there are a few parks along our typical commutes, so it’s easy to pull into a parking lot, hop out to admire the trees or swings, stretch our legs, and breathe. Setting a timer on my phone as a reminder for when we have to move on helps! This was one of my favorite energy hacks in Hawaii where it was easy to find a beach with an uplifting ocean view. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, even taking as little as 2 minutes in nature to admire surroundings has a positive impact.
  8. Visiting www.TED.com is free (WiFi is available free near most coffee houses, McDonald’s, and public libraries, among other locations), uplifting, and informational. Some of the video talks are 20 minutes long, but many are shorter than 15 minutes. Learning new things leaves me feeling my world just expanded.
  9. As a young child, I loved visiting the public library. It was 2 blocks from my childhood home, had air conditioning in the summer, and held so many adventures. The library has changed over the years, but it’s definitely worth visiting. My new local library is open 7 days a week, has a business center where budding entrepreneurs can use office equipment for up to 3 hours, has programs for toddlers through elders, and still has games, movies, and books available to check out! Ducking into the local library for 15 minutes is challenging – there’s so much to do, including rest in a comfy chair – but it’s time well spent.
  10. Take time to really savor some special food that you normally don’t eat. Elevate the occasion to a ceremony. There’s a single-source Vietnamese dark chocolate that I love but can’t afford too often, so when I buy it, I really take time for it (in 15 minutes I may finish a square or two, really focusing on the flavors). I let my body tell me when I’ve had Enough (I find I can’t eat dark chocolate in mass quantities and, having eaten really excellent chocolate, have zero desire to stuff cheap chocolate into my precious body).
  11. Check in with a friend and make a quick coffee-chat date. I still love Starbucks (sorry, haven’t found a local coffee house with coffee I find palatable) and I’ve found local fast food places with play areas suitable for toddlers, so I meet another granny for chitchat about once a week and/or a play-date with our preschool kiddos. We keep it to 15 minutes when we have other things to do, but often it’s far longer. You get to set the boundaries.
  12. Sit. Breathe. Say out loud what you’re grateful for. Glance around. There’s so much! Some of mine right now: The colors of the sky. The roses that bloom through the winter in my neighborhood. The sounds of birds calling to one another. The covered patio where I often write. The rain that has turned the local mountains from gold and brown to flashy shades from lime to emerald and forest green. The toddlers who encourage me to keep moving. The opportunities to learn new things. The places I want to visit. And the list goes on…and on.
  13. Grab a book or an article (online, in print, newspaper, magazine). Don’t grab the one you feel you SHOULD read. Grab one that’s light and airy and maybe a bit silly. Maybe there’s a half-naked adult on the front cover. Maybe it’s about cats or gargoyles or rescue dogs. Whatever lifts you and feels like a guilty pleasure, pick that one. And savor your 15 minutes in that other world.
  14. Whip up biscuits in 15 minutes then stick them in the oven and move on to another activity. Sketch a design for jewelry to make later. Play games on the phone or tablet. Snuggling. Swimming. The list could go on. And on.

By now I hope you’re already thinking of a dozen or more ordinary and extraordinary ways to invest short amounts of time… There’s really no end when we use our creative minds, is there?

Here’s to self-care in manageable little bits!

Please let me know your favorite ways to invest short amounts of time in self-caring activities!

Careers: Making a Life vs. Making a Living

Featured

Once upon a time, I worked as an employment counselor. As I work to restructure my life, I thought about employment counseling, the tools I used, and the people with whom I worked. Most of the people with whom I worked had fallen into unemployment. The reasons for their fall varied.

Many found themselves ambushed with a lay-off notice/being downsized (many had similar experiences to the lead character in the movie “Larry Crowne”). Others submitted retirement paperwork and discovered they’d lost their retirement savings or pension in a corporate sale (I’m reminded of the movie “Love Punch”). A few lost everything (in an accident, due to illness, or other catastrophe) (I’m thinking of “Henry Poole was Here”). A few job-hopped so much that as they aged and their charms became more dated, they were suddenly unable to recover. A few had opted for the fulltime mommy-track and when their spouse absconded with the family fortune, they came seeking the skills they needed to secure a job with a living wage…or two jobs at minimum wage.

One of the things I tried to do was encourage people to take the time to find a job that felt fulfilling to them, that gave them the sense they were doing something important and helping others. The counselors at the career center where I worked all encouraged clients to get on a career track that gave them a sense of making their life better, not just making a buck. We also advocated for living-wage jobs (jobs that paid enough to cover basic needs).

Granted, there are career surveys that have a lot of support from employment counselors. They line up the traits, character, and preferences of job-searchers with people in certain career fields. The more they match, the better it is assumed for the job seeker. However, when you consider that most workers (approximately 70% in surveys) state they are unhappy with their jobs, that route may not provide the best results.

One of the most in-depth (and time-consuming) options was presented in grad school as System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA). The newer version is described in the book The Power of Uniqueness: Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be by Arthur F Miller, Jr., with William Hendricks. The technique is time-consuming, but worth the effort and I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested enough to make the time investment. In a nutshell that I’m certain sells the technique short, it’s about identifying your areas of giftedness and things that motivate you to help you identify a career that inspires your best.

A short-cut option we often used in our time-limited culture of career counseling was to ask people to consider this: most people, between ages 9 and 12, come up with an idea of a career they feel strongly attracted to. This is after the notion of being a pop star, astronaut, or perhaps a race-car driver passes. It could be inspired by a person in that profession, a random idea, a movie or book.

When I was in that age-zone, I had an amazing teacher. She was not the popular teacher. (I had the popular teacher the following year. He was, at best, condescending and emotionally abusive to the non-athletes in the class, but wildly popular among the athletic children.) Mrs. Turner was fair. Never giddy. She challenged all students to do better, behave better, live better. And one homework assignment was to imagine our grown-up lives and to describe how we made a living, including providing an example of a work product. For example, an aspiring airline pilot would describe the job in a few paragraphs and might create a flight log.

I took it seriously. I know that because many years ago, as I helped my mom sift through old papers, I found that assignment. Condensed, and to the best of my memory, here’s what it said.

Because I loved children and didn’t feel they got the respect they deserve, I wanted to be a teacher during the day.

Evenings I would work as a writer for a television show because I felt stories had the power to change lives.

Summers I would travel, explore new places, gather stories, and document my explorations to encourage others to get out to take the roads they hadn’t and to see the world. I thought it the best way to get to really learn about, and possibly understand, other cultures.

Although it was a bit ambitious – finding time to sleep and grade papers would certainly have presented challenges – the things I wanted to do as a child reflected core values that haven’t changed much.

I still believe in the importance of supporting and encouraging children. In my life and work I’ve done that by working with foster family placements; helping homeless families secure safe permanent housing; supporting youth and low-income parents as a therapist, career counselor, or educator; volunteering for Special Olympics and as a Girl Scout troop leader; and other ways.

Exercising my creativity through writing, story-telling, and other activities continues to uplift and fascinate me. As a fund-raising professional, I told stories to encourage generosity and wrote proposals for funding from many different sources. I’ve written newspaper columns, technical manuals, newsletters for multiple nonprofit agencies or programs, and I write and read nearly every day.

My dad loved to find and explore roads he’d never traveled, and travel remains a joy for me. Though most of my journeys have been on the continental US or Hawaii, my road trips have taken me to every state in the continental US except Maine, I’ve seen some amazing places. I also had the privilege of working and living in Hawaii for 10 years.

So, from someone who worked in the field of employment/career counseling, I think we all could do better when it comes to finding careers and making time for our passions. One way to do that would be to look at what was important to you as a child, the core values those desires arose from, and think about ways to incorporate those values in your work, volunteer opportunities, or daily life.

It’s another part of healthy self-care.

A Surprise Visitor

Featured

Those days. It was one of Those Days. One of those rare stretches of time without a lot scheduled and when the grandsons had other activities that didn’t require my presence.

I remember the early morning because the heat wasn’t working in the locker room after my early-morning water aerobics class, and the fan blew in the 40-degree dawn air from outside. By the time I showered and shivered into clothes, I could only think of hot coffee, so headed for the nearby Starbucks.

Morning coffee: an indulgent luxury for no-rush-days when the aroma and the first sip receive their deserved savoring. The steaming almond-milk latte did not disappoint me, so I took my time. Checked a few errands off my To-Do list.

When I returned to a 60-degree house, I grabbed my Kindle full of books and carried my laptop to the sun-blasted patio where 65 degrees of direct sunshine warmed me.

Ah, the difference between a protected spot in the sunshine and a chilly desk chair inside…

Before I could open the laptop, I thought about my grandmother. She would have loved that brilliant day.

Grandma Isabel lived with us from the time I was 5 years old, and every morning she filled a mug with coffee, lightened with 2 spoons of sugar and a large dollop of evaporated milk, and carried it to the front porch. She sat there in an Adirondack chair for an hour or two. No gaming device or cell phone on her lap. No book or newspaper.

When my cheeky 6-year-old-self asked her how she could tolerate all that boring time doing Nothing, she informed me she wasn’t doing Nothing and was never bored. She described Noticing. She suggested observing the birds stretching their wings and singing to one another, the cars zipping or crawling by on the busier streets a half-block away, the plants dancing under the weight of insects skittering about, folks pulling into the nearby church parking lot, dew on the grass, children heading to school or parents dressed for work, the wind pushing treetops back and forth. Everywhere she looked, she saw Life, and all of it seemed Special.

Ten years later, after she passed away, I would sometimes sit in one of those chairs on the porch, just noticing things. It surprised me to learn how much of what happened around me I had missed.

But that day, a few short weeks ago, I sat outside, ignoring my electronics while I watched a flock of birds as they made figure-eights toward the southwest. A raven sitting on a nearby power line made shocked noises. Aircraft passed over at high altitudes, leaving their white trails in their wake.

Suddenly, a small group of smaller birds scattered amid a lot of squawking.

From the north, a hawk swooped in, landing about 20 feet away from me on the back fence. I’d read stories about coyotes and other small creatures, displaced by human expansion into what was once their territory, wandering into neighborhoods on this rocky side of Ventura County, but the hawk was an unanticipated visitor.

Standing with it’s brilliant rust-colored chest facing toward me, I never even thought to grab my phone to try to get a photo. Somehow, I knew my time with this large hunter would pass quickly. In my limited reality, the word Awesome came to mind to describe the event. The hawk, judging by the foliage behind him, stood about 18” high. He (I’m assuming, because of the striking color of his feathers), paused for a few seconds, hopped and spread its wings, dipping over the fence and out of sight.

It took a while for me to trudge through websites to find the Red Shouldered Hawk. I almost forgot the incident.

A few days ago, though, I heard a screeching cry from above and watched smaller birds scatter. I stopped everything to look around, hoping to see the visitor again. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Still, I appreciated the pause and the reminder to savor each moment.

Mentors and Angels: My Favorite 3-Year-Old

With the current year winding down and a new year full of possibilities looking us in the eye, I began to think about the many mentors and angels whose willingness to cross my path touched me in one way or another. I tend to think of these mentors in terms of enemies and frenemies as well as friends and family; in general, my angels have been angels in human skin. All have helped me learn and grow.

The mentor I’m thinking about this morning, as I look out at a winter sky the color of faded denim, is 3 years old. In the event you haven’t crossed paths with a 3-year-old recently, I’ll share a comment I heard from a young father recently. The usually chipper guy, who loves being a dad, commented “People told me to watch out for the Terrible Twos. My daughter’s 2s were wonderful. But the threes?! Holy hell. I’m not sure we’ll survive.”

I totally get it, and that’s why my 3-year-old mentor comes to mind. He has a big heart and is quite courageous, but his focus right now, as it should be, is individuality. It’s awesome and terrifying to behold, as he swings between clinging to the adults in his life one moment and screaming at those same bewildered folks to “put me down NOW.” Whenever possible, he fights for his rights, as he views them, whether that’s his “right” to take away his older brother’s newest toy, his “right” to determine his own nap- and bed-time, or his “right” to shove anyone who gets in his way for any reason.

To be clear, even the 3-year-old gets no slack when it comes to violence toward others, animals, or himself. We talk about anger and disappointment as big feelings that we learn to express in other ways. Together we seek ways to do so that aren’t harmful. Two of his current favorites are blowing raspberries and screaming I’m so angry with you repeatedly at the top of his surprisingly powerful lungs.

What I love about this amazing boy, my grandson, is that he lives with such passion. He doesn’t pull his punches or edit his words, so when I offer him options like you may sit at the table in the kitchen or on the patio to finish your lunch, he literally stomps his feet and may demand to eat on the floor in his bedroom or under the orange tree in the backyard or in the garage. When I repeat the options, the volume of his voice will increase as he repeats his demand.

After a minute or two, when I’ve reminded myself this isn’t a battle-of-wills or even a personal-attack, when I’ve explained calmly and repeatedly that he can select from sit at the kitchen table, sit at the patio table, or skip lunch, he picks an option. He appears quite offended that he has been forced to choose.

Then he sits down for lunch at the table, smiles, and the topic of conversation drifts a million miles away from the recent battle. He just lets it go.

No torment. No second-thoughts. After giving his all to the battle, he makes a decision, follows through, and whether or not the result is optimal, he has moved on.

Just like that.

This morning I observed him and the way he moved on and was amazed at his recovery speed. Yes, his decisions seem minor in comparison to some adult choices, but they’re huge to him. I’ve held on to toxic relationships, horrible rentals, godawful jobs, and when I let them go, wondered whether I’d given up too quickly.

This morning I remembered my Auntie Frances telling me in my early adulthood to let go of any fears related to making decisions. She seemed very sure of herself when she remarked “most are not fatal, although hesitation can be.” She suggested not taking the time to wipe the dust off my feet when leaving a bad situation. “Giving up?” I asked, “I thought my job was to persevere.” She said “I used to think that, but now I think our job is to lift the world and make it better. We can’t do that if we’re miserable.”

And when I thought it over:

  • All the big decisions I second-guessed and tortured myself about: good decisions.
  • All the self-doubt: absolute waste of time.

In the interest of excellent self-care in this time-limited life, I’m looking to my little mentor.

My suggestion: when something ends, strive to embody that grace that compels us to move forward instead of peeking in the rear-view mirror. Learn from the past, of course, but it seems to me we lift the world whenever we focus on the marvelous moments, one at a time, and we lift our own spirits as well.