I’ve been practicing various antidotes to perfectionism quite consciously for about three years now. That makes me – the real me, the innocently imperfect me – about three years old. I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m eating with my plastic miniature utensils, insisting that I’m a big girl now. But the real big girl in the house – the house of my mind, my body, and my soul – is Miss Perfectionist. She is the one who grew up inside my house, the house of me. She became the big one without my knowing it. She got all the praise, all the money, all the polite smiling conversations at cocktail parties, all the “wow”s and “ooh”s and “aah”s, all the framed diplomas and plaques on the wall. She was surrounded by people she kept at an arm’s length distance, so they wouldn’t touch anything close to her.
She thought she liked it that way. She thought she preferred it that way, because her attention could be focused on making her hair perfect, her face perfect, her nails perfect, her shoes perfect, her outfits perfect, anything that would attract the attention of perfection praisers, which seemed to be everywhere.
Miss Perfectionist was so busy doing the things she defined as perfection – which always involved something other than the way things were – that she ignored the real me, who by the way, happened to own the house the whole time. Continue reading →
“How you see determines what you see, and what you feel.” – Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with vision boards since the very beginning. My very first one was an assignment for the very first personal development workshop I attended. End of Day One, before we were to break for dinner, we had a few hours to make a board of what makes our heart come alive.
The second one I made was later that year with an ex-boyfriend on a retreat in Santa Cruz. It was my first beach weekend retreat since moving to California five years before. What had taken me so long?
I kept up with vision boards for some reason. Maybe it was my determination to see if they would really work for me in my life. I was a total skeptic in the beginning, going through the motions like a good student, but not truly expecting anything to happen.
After several years of practice, now I know that when I approach them from a certain place within me, vision boards can invite in some real magic into my life.
I haven’t yet written about the latest example of how a vision board changed my life, and since I’m leading a vision board workshop next week, this seems like a good time to really tell the story in completeness. Continue reading →
My friend Lydia Puhak, coach and creator of The Sensitive Idealist, recently interviewed me as part of her series on Self-Care. You can listen to our sweet conversation here.
Funny how sometimes the most important lessons we learn are the quiet, gradual processes that unfold out of necessity.
That would be the case with me and my learning about self-care.
Back in late 2010, I burst on to the scene with my “5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals”. I wrote a blog post, hosted a series of calls, then turned the material into an online course.
And then I left it at that.
I got “busy” with the work of living these principles in my own life. I came face-to-face with my own version of workaholism, and started on the path of recovery. I unplugged from the computer and went outside. A lot.
I got back in touch with a slower way of doing things – growing a garden, cooking meals instead of heating up trays of food, forming more real relationships in the real world.
The biggest (and smallest) change I’ve remained committed to during this entire almost-three-year period is how I start my day. Continue reading →
There was a time when I believed – when I was totally convinced – that I could not take a day off.
Maybe it was the example of my parents, whom I saw work tirelessly every single day, never letting go of the responsibilities of their jobs, and never taking a day off unless they were absolutely required to (and by that I mean, being so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital).
Or maybe it was medical school, where I learned by working alongside residents and fellows who would regularly show up to work sick, because they “couldn’t take a day off”. On one rotation, I recall the vascular surgery fellow being so rundown from flu-like symptoms that he had to dash out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink during a procedure he was performing. I watched wide-eyed and took everything in, my mind drawing the conclusion that “people with important jobs can never take a day off“.
I became determined to find work that would enable me to take a day off, and still be considered important.
The problem was, I really had no idea what was truly important to me. I had many concepts that had been implanted by messages from my family, from images in movies and advertisements, and from the culture in which I was living. “What’s important” was a moving target, a reaction to whatever “everyone else” appeared to be doing.
Meanwhile, in my heart I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world, to care about something genuinely, and to share my story somehow in this life.
But the only way I knew – based on what I had seen, learned, and been taught – was to put my head down and work.
I worked hard at everything I did. I didn’t take many days off. When I did, I remember feeling an odd combination of freedom and loss.
“Who am I without my email inbox full of requests and my voicemail full of messages?”
“Who am I when I am not answering to anyone else?”
“What would I choose to do if I had an entire day with no obligations, no one telling me where to be or what I had to do?”
Today I’m reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog – the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me.
Here it is:
Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?
When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed. Continue reading →
I was reading the website of a prominent life coach the other day, and was feeling myself getting seduced by the promise of change. For me, this feeling is a little tug in my chest, accompanied by a little voice that says, “You could be like her! Why don’t you just try harder? You could be successful like that! You can have everything you want in your life! Just try harder!”
I was getting pulled in by her clarity, and her certainty, and her artfully written course descriptions and “How I Work With You” page. I was dreaming of what my life would like if only I were “as on top of things as she was”. I was reading through her punchy blog posts, which boiled everything down into three simple categories, a numerical scale, and a “toolkit” for achieving the state of bliss that she has apparently created for herself.
In her “About” page, where she introduces herself and tells her story of why she became a coach, she talks about “having been there”. Having been broke, miserable, in a rocky marriage, and not living her best life. Continue reading →
Lately I have found that the best “medicine” I can give myself during the course of a day is to get out of my chair and go on a hike. I am fortunate to live within a few minutes’ drive of several open space preserves, so there are no excuses! Except the voices in my head saying that I “should” be “working”…a very narrowly defined version of working indeed.
I’ve found that every time I actually take the action of going on the hike – against the more prudent advice of the thoughts in my heads saying things like, “Breaks are for the weak“, and, “Working hard is the only way to survive in life” – I experience a burst of creative ideas and energetic opening, which makes me grateful for every breath and every step I can take. It’s not like “working out” at the gym, which I did for many years and with much gusto.
Recently I took a hike and recorded two videos – one before and one afterwards. I set an intention (or actually a “goal”) of practicing self-acknowledgment during the hike, since I had spent the better part of the day flogging myself to work harder, falling into the old thought pattern of, “It’s never enough.”
About halfway through the hike, I realized that in the effort and concentration of pursuing my goal of self-acknowledgment, I had not acknowledged anything that was going on in my immediate surroundings! I had not taken in the particular sights, sounds, and other physical sensations of being on a walk outdoors surrounded by open space and natural vistas. My head was down for most of the first half of the hike. But once I realized this halfway through, and opened myself to experience the present moment, I softened my gaze. I was not working so hard to be on this hike and accomplish rejuvenation as if it were another homework assignment by a teacher. I was shifting into receptivity and noticing everything gently, in real time. I started to look UP at the sky, notice the sounds of the birds, appreciate how the outline of the mountains against the sky, on this particular day, were barely visible because of the misty haze. I started to listen to the sound of my own footsteps on the trail, and how they provided a steady, soft rhythm over which the birds occasionally improvised their solos.
During the second half of my hike, there was a shift into musicality from what had started out mechanically.
This was my experience of coming into the present moment. You hear Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and other teachers talking about “being in the present moment”, but what is your own experience of it, in your own body?
I post this as a reminder that we may spend lots of time trying to learn something, or pay someone to teach us “how to” do something, or read blog after blog in search of the answer to the questions in our heart. I believe that learning and growth are the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth. However, keep in mind that the most important thing to do while learning is to notice yourself as you learn. By developing the ability to notice what is going on inside you, how you are applying the lessons specifically in your life, and honoring your experience as you respond to being taught, you are giving yourself the true gift of learning…and healing.
I encourage you to find the energy of openness and receptivity in your daily life through your own practice….maybe it’s a hike, or maybe it’s something else. Discover what restores YOU!
Video before the hike (where I set my intention):
Video after the hike (which felt like two different hikes based on a mind shift halfway through):
Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don’t need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis.
But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life “should” be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven’t touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable. Continue reading →
Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them?
For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words “love” and “compassion”. They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me.
“I love you” was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn’t exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families.
For most of my life, “love” was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. “If we didn’t love you and care about you, we wouldn’t bother to nag you so much,” they’d say in defense of themselves. Continue reading →