These are trying times, especially for those of us who are literally isolated and scared. Getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can be enlightening and healing. I believe if we do this together, as a community, we can heal.
So, for each of the next 30 days, I am going to share a writing prompt here with my answer. I will also be sharing the daily prompt on my social channels. I would love you to share your answer to the day’s prompt in the comments. I also encourage you to share prompts of your own with me and with your circles of friends, loved ones, and colleagues. Together, we can generate a lot of wisdom and support for each other.
My biggest win in the last year was retiring from my 20-year career in higher education as a full-time marketing director. I had been working toward what I call my “prefer-ment” (as in I prefer to do something else professionally) for about five years. During those five years, I got trained as a coach and earned my credential from the International Coaching Federation. I have been a full-time coach for three months, and am learning to work through the self-doubt and imposter experience that inevitably come with a major life transition.
Day 30. What have you learned about yourself in the last 30 days that will move you forward?
April 22, 2020 – I have learned that putting myself out there by answering these questions has not always been easy. Sometimes I have not had the energy or the interest to think about a particular question, or I have been perhaps afraid to share what I judged as a less than profound answers. But it has been rewarding to hear from people who participated in this Write to Heal experiment that this process was thought-provoking and inspiring. Most importantly, I have learned that showing up as a coach through my writing as well as in my one-on-one conversations with clients, has indeed been healing for me. A big thanks to everyone who participated!
Day 29. What is the nicest thing you can say to yourself?
April 21, 2020 – It used to be hard for me to say something nice to myself. I thought that I needed to be hard on myself in order to be a better version of myself. But I have realized over time that I am always the best version of myself that I can be at any given point in time. And when I fail in some way to be kind or patient or anything else I aspire to be more of, I need to acknowledge that without recrimination. Beating up on myself makes me smaller, less likely to reach for my “better angels,” which, in turn, makes it harder for me to grow. So the nicest thing I can say to myself is “You are doing the best you can.”
Day 28. What are your greatest strengths? How do these show up in your life and work?
April 19, 2020 – I have taken the Gallup’s CliftonStrengths and the Via Character Strengths assessments, so I have a clear picture of my strengths. As a coach, I take a strengths-based approach to helping my clients recognize their gifts for making the change they seek. And I believe in walking the talk. According to both assessments, a few of my greatest strengths are love of learning and connection. In my life, I spend a great deal of time following my curiosity to read, take classes and practice new skills, as well as keeping my connections strong while also helping others connect more deeply with each other. In my work, I offer strengths assessments to my clients and work with them to discover how they can best leverage their strengths to show up in the world in ways that are aligned with their core values and goals.
Day 27. What moves you to tears or gives you goosebumps?
April 18, 2020 – Kindness moves me to tears. We are living in a time of ranking and critical assessments. Can anyone make a decision about what restaurant to choose without Yelp? Will you buy a product from Amazon without reading reviews? How many of us have seen the conversations on NextDoor or Facebook or Twitter that revolve around one group calling another out for their stupidity or depravity? In our virtual communities anyway, we live in a perpetual state of judgment, self-righteousness, and criticism. So when I see someone treat someone else with kindness (online or in person), it moves me to tears. It takes a tremendous amount of vulnerability and courage to say or do something nice for no other reason than to spread joy. We need more of this, especially now when doubling down on fear seems to make so much sense.
Day 26. Describe the last time you tried something new that you loved?
April 17, 2020 – It has been my intention to expand the relationship work I do with individual clients to partners and groups. I have recently been given the opportunity to coach a couple. I wasn’t sure that the skills I have honed from my two years of coaching individuals would translate with a couple. But my approach to trying something new is to jump in and swim. I have been pleasantly surprised that the process is very similar and I have loved that I get to experience in real time how the work my clients are doing together is transforming their relationship.
Day 25. What do you spend too much time doing? What could you do differently?
April 16, 2020 – I spend too much time cruising my social channels. I know from many conversations I’ve had with clients and friends over the last couple of months that this is a common issue. I usually get on Facebook or LinkedIn in order to respond to comments or to catch up with what is going on in the coaching field. But once I get on one of these channels I tend to go down the rabbit hole and realize that I have not tended to the items I had prioritized at the beginning of the day. Instead of beating myself up for this or trying to eradicate my social surfing, I can add checking my social channels to my priorities and clearly identify my goals and the time I will spend. Being honest about what I want to accomplish and being intentional about why can help me manage my time better.
Day 24. What are you working toward that you could use help with?
April 14, 2020 – I am working every day toward being a better coach. This requires a lot of help from many different sources: people who would like to be coached; courses, workshops and seminars on coaching; opportunities to learn “on the job.” In all cases it is on me to find these resources and to be open to what I learn. So far, I am have been blessed with an abundance of help. And for that I am grateful.
Day 23. What is most important to you?
April 13, 2020 – I have a tendency to look forward, always seeking new information and new ways to apply what I am learning to build my career and advance my family’s aspirations. This is a good thing, but it can have its downside. I sometimes forget that what is most important is to honor the day I am in. Especially in this time of lockdowns and uncertainty, I try to find refuge in planning my “next move.” What will be my next class, my next marketing tactic, my next certification, my next home project, etc? But when I stop for a minute and let myself reflect on the here and now, I realize that a good day (one filled with joy and exercise and good conversation) is what is most important to me. Carpe Diem!
Day 22. If __ weren’t a problem for me, I would _______.
April 12, 2020 – If I could relax more into my imperfections, I would accomplish more. It is said that success comes from failure. But, let’s face it, who likes to fail? I don’t mind failing at something that affects only me–not learning something or not completing a task I set for myself, for instance. But, I can’t stand to fail other people. I know this about myself and am on a journey to understand what I gain from putting my needs at the bottom of my list of priorities in order to live up to this impossible standard. I am starting to understand that serving others bolsters my own sense of well-being. This is a wonderful thing to understand about myself and has led me to pursue coaching full-time. The flip side of this, however, leaves me incapable of forgiving myself for missing the mark anytime I fail to meet expectations. I am aware that I am not perfect, intellectually–of course! But I have miles to go before I sleep, comfortable in the knowledge that perfection is not only unattainable, but unnecessary.
Day 21. Describe what being organized looks like to you.
April 11, 2020 – Being organized looks to me like responsibility for the promises I have made to others. I am super organized around work-related commitments: deadlines, project milestones, appointments. I have honed a system over the last 20 years that has served me well when it comes to work commitments. I have sticky notes, folders on my computer, calendars for my different gigs, and a hard copy planner where I can make notes and keep track of how well I had organized my day. I so dearly love a system. I am also very organized in my role as CFO for my family. I pay the bills online, keep a separate budget, and put important payment dates on my calendar. Yes, for the astrology enthusiasts out there, I am a Capricorn.
But honestly when it comes to organizing my own priorities–those that no one else is counting on-not so much. Organization for me is a survival mechanism. If I don’t let something slip for someone else, that’s a good day. As I enter the new rhythm of freelancer/coach, I embark upon the difficult journey of getting comfortable with letting my old system spring a few leaks so that I can create a new system that accommodates my growth. Time to move beyond survival.
Day 20. If money were no object, what would you do instead of “working”?
April 10, 2020 – I would be doing pretty much what I am doing now. I love to coach and to make art and to talk with my family and friends. I am fortunate that I am living my ikigai, my reason for being. In Japanese ikigai roughly translates as “to live” (ikiru) with “the realization of what one hopes for” (kai). It’s the space at the intersection of what one loves, what one is good at, what the world needs, and what one can make a living doing. I know how lucky I am to be in this sacred space, and I know that many people have the potential to move toward their ikigai, as well, with intention and practice.
Day 19. Who or what are you most grateful for?
April 9, 2020 – I am grateful for many people in my life, but I want to celebrate my husband here. Mark and I have been married for nearly 28 years. He has been my best friend for over 30 years. We have gone through a lot with each other, but I reflect on what an open-minded and supportive friend he has been to me despite some seriously rough patches. He always has my back. He even admires me, which is kind of amazing. He inspires me to be more patient and kind and lot less judgmental. We share two spectacular adult children. In fact, he is the only other person who gets how blown away I am by the beauty and depth of our son and daughter. Mark is my forever, and I could not be more grateful for that.
Day 18. What is your favorite place in the whole world? Why?
April 8, 2020 – I love being home with my family, but after that, Point Reyes National Seashore is the only other place in the world where I feel completely whole and connected to everything. Since I was six years old, I have traveled to Point Reyes maybe a hundred times. My parents would take us out to North Beach to make sand candles in the winter. As an adult, I have taken my children and husband to McClure’s Beach, North Beach, and any other number of spots in this national treasure of a park. The smell and sound of the ocean, the color of the water, the horizon, the wildflowers, and voles, the cold pebbly sand, the crash of waves on the cliffs, the sunny days in the fall and the foggy days in the summer–all of it fills me with peace. It feels like home.
Day 17. What are the top five lessons you have learned from your life experiences?
April 7, 2020 – Life is just one long series of lessons, but here are my top five:
- I have learned that honesty really is the best policy, but that authenticity requires one to be vulnerable and empathetic.
- I have learned that life is short and that fear and regret diminish the joy we can experience in the everyday pleasures of a life well-lived.
- I have learned that the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of the good. Perfection doesn’t exist and it would be boring.
- I have learned that I have the capacity to manage and shape change in my life and to embrace the suck when necessary. My circumstances don’t define me or my value.
- I have learned that relationships are everything. Just as the roots of Redwoods in a grove connect all of the individual giants to the other, my energy connects me to my “grove” of humans in ways that are fortifying and fulfilling.
Day 16. What was the last great book you read or movie you saw and what did you learn from it?
April 6, 2020 – I am almost finished with a tremendous novel I received for Christmas: The Overstory by Richard Powers. It is a tour de force of great narrative structure, beautiful sentences, and an underlying philosophy that challenges the reader to consider herself a member of the family of living creatures on Earth. Roberts writes eloquently about the life (and yes, intelligence) of trees and the people who are fighting for their survival. The first third of the book is a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes about people and their interactions with trees. The rest of the novel brings them together in unexpected ways that allows Roberts to tackle science, environmental justice, time and history, academic research, Capitalism, and the legal system, just to name a few of the topics he tackles. It is simply awe-inspiring.
It has made me realize how much I take trees for granted. I am lucky enough to have lived in Northern California all my life. I love trees and I know intellectually that some trees are thousands of years old, but until I read this book, I really didn’t think much about my responsibility to trees and to Gaia, as a whole. I’m grateful to have come across this Pulitzer Prize winning book.
Day 15. What is your body telling you about your pace?
April 5, 2020 – I have found that being at home has led me to spend a lot more time at my computer. I am staring at the screen longer, eating more, and walking around less. This has led to some weight gain, strained eyes and shoulders, even headaches. It is interesting to think about this from the perspective of “pace.” My physical pace has slowed, but my output on the computer has increased, so it’s clear that I need to think about finding a balance between sitting and moving that will not only help my body feel better, but will free my mind, as well.
Day 14. Create a job description that is a perfect fit for who you are.
April 4, 2020 – Professional Coach: Seeking a professional empath, who has the ability to listen with genuine curiosity and without judgment. Desire to help people reach their full potential. Willing to learn on the job and comfortable with not knowing the answers. Training in evidence-based interventions. Lucky for me this IS my job!
Day 13. What would you most like to learn? How would this change your life?
April 3, 2020 – I would like to learn how to write, workshop, cast, direct and produce a play. I have been working on a memoir (more off than on I am loathe to admit) for a couple of years. I believe my story could work well as a play–really a series of vignettes, poems, even performance art all stitched together. Being able to accomplish this would change my life in some pretty incredible ways. I have spent my adulthood thinking about how much I enjoyed acting in my teens and early 20s, and so getting back into the theatre would be a dream fulfillment. I also really believe that my story could help others look at their lives differently and in ways that could be healing, and that would make me incredibly happy.
Day 12. What motivates you to get up in the morning?
April 2, 2020 – I always have something on my to do list. For some this might seem burdensome, but I am motivated by having something I would like to accomplish. I also love that my husband almost always wakes before I do and he has the coffee on. I am most excited to get up in the morning if I have a creative project to tackle–this can range from trying a new recipe to gardening to collage to working on my book.
Day 11. What would your ideal day be 10 years from today? What can you do now to move in that direction?
April 1, 2020 – My ideal day 10 years from now would have me hosting a get together in my backyard. My children and niece and nephew would be there with their children, eating barbecue, listening to music, and sharing stories. I will be unworried about money or my family’s health and very content.
I am moving toward this vision every day by taking care of my and my family’s health; by continuing to grow as a coach and build up my practice; and by keeping my focus on being grateful for what I have in the present moment.
Day 10. What obstacles are you facing right now? How have you overcome similar obstacles in the past?
March 31, 2020 – In the midst of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, the obstacles are many. Many of us find it difficult to be separated from our friends, co-workers and family. We might even miss going to the office (gasp!). But when an obstacle appears in our path, we have the power to go around it, take another path or just jump over it.
It seems to me that the biggest obstacles in situations we can’t control are our fixed perspectives. Anytime I have been unable to imagine a different scenario in the face of injustice or physical limitations, I have felt small and powerless. But if we approach obstacles with open minds and hearts, we might find that we have the power to reframe our approach. For instance, during this unprecedented time, many of us have the ability to connect with others via technology. We can also see this time as an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, to give ourselves permission to dream and imagine all the “what ifs” we suppress during normal times.
It is also important to acknowledge that many people in our communities do not have the ability to shelter in place (many don’t have a permanent shelter) or Zoom with their friends. It can be healing for those of us who can sidestep the obstacles of hunger, shelter, and good mental health to do what we can to help those who could use a hand. I am so inspired by the mask makers; volunteers at schools, Meals on Wheels; the coaches; and so many others who are putting their bodies, minds, and hearts on the line for their fellow humans. Makes me think, there really aren’t many obstacles we can’t overcome together.
Day 9. What are your biggest wins over the last year? What difference have they made in your life?
March 30, 2020 – My biggest win in the last year was retiring from my 20-year career in higher education as a full-time marketing director. I had been working toward what I call my “prefer-ment” (as in I prefer to do something else professionally) for about five years. During those five years, I got trained as a coach and earned my credential from the International Coaching Federation. I have been a full-time coach for three months, and am learning to work through the self-doubt and imposter experience that inevitably come with a major life transition.
The difference in my life is remarkable. I am more available to my family and friends. I am spending much more of my time learning new skills and coaching more people. And for the first time in my life, I feel free to see what the next day will bring without being too attached to the outcome.
Day 8. Are you living your life or the life someone else defined for you?
March 29, 2020 – When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what to do next. No one in my family had gone to college, so this was not an expectation, nor were my parents prepared to help me financially. During high school my passion was acting, so I had a vague notion that I would move to LA and become an actress. But reality set in when my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, but several of my friends were moving to the city (I lived in a very rural community) to go to college. I knew my parents expected me to move out and get a job, so I did. I moved in with a friend, got a part-time job and enrolled in community college. But I was really confused, sad and unable to imagine a future that made sense to me. I took acting and journalism classes, even becoming a section editor at my college’s newspaper, but I was miserable and rudderless. I cut classes so often that eventually I dropped out and began working full-time.
It took me three years to decide that I really needed to go to college. At 21, I began working on on my undergraduate degree at Sac State. I remember standing in front of the theatre, a venue where I had actually performed as a high school student, and told myself it was not a practical choice to be a theatre major. And that was it. In one crystal clear moment, I made a choice that was not based on my passion or my talent, but on the voices in my head–mainly my parents’ voices–that told me I needed to choose a life path that was viable, that was mainstream.
Eventually I landed on English as a major, not a choice my parents had much more faith in than theatre, but I was paying (a.k.a. borrowing) my own way and didn’t much care what my parents thought. I felt free to make my own choices. I loved college and my major so much that I decided to get a Master’s degree. Then I kind of slid into jobs that led to a nearly 30-year career in communications and marketing.
About five years ago, I took stock. I realized marketing was not my life’s passion. For the first time, I found the courage to stop and ask myself what I really wanted to do for a living. I started with what makes me happy coupled with what I identified as my greatest strengths. I landed on pursuing a career as a coach. For the first time in my life, I can say I am fully living the life I want. And my mom couldn’t be more proud of me. I know if my dad were alive, he would be, too.
Day 7. What gives you joy? How can you make enough time for things that simply make you happy?
March 28, 2020 – Where to begin? I’ll start with my circle of family and friends. My husband and two adult children are certainly a source of joy. I talk about deep, philosophical issues almost every day with my husband. Our daily talks put me into a state of flow where I am learning, making interesting connections among ideas, and grounding myself for whatever may come my way. My kids make me laugh every single day. Together, we refer to ourselves as the Justice League.
I have the deep privilege to be one among a fabulous network of coaches. To count among my closest friends some of the wisest, kindest and comforting people in the world is a constant source of joy. My handful of besties (you know who you are!) who aren’t coaches always have my back, make me feel like a superwoman, and never fail to offer honest advice.
I get a lot of joy out of nature, too. I love to hike, plant things, run in the waves of the ocean (especially at Pt. Reyes National Seashore). I love my kitties, chips and salsa, coffee, and so many movies, books and songs I can’t even count.
Joy is a frequent companion. And on those rare occasions when she decides to take a vacation, I know she will be back soon.
Day 6. What activities (or people) drain your energy? Why and what can you do about it?
March 27, 2020 – I rarely think about myself as susceptible to being drained of energy by outside forces, but I can honestly say that attending meetings that are intended more for those who are hosting them than for the participants can be quite exhausting. Far too often, when I was working full-time, I would find myself in meetings whose main purpose was to disseminate information rather than facilitate discussion and meaning making. I would often struggle to surrender to these situations and to have compassion for the people who felt the need to pull together groups of people so that they could check off an item on their admittedly very long list of “to dos.”
I have also had bosses who were prone to fear, which led to a lack of trust, micromanaging, and lashing out. It took me many years to find a way to conserve my energy under the onslaught of negativity I was often subjected to. But, by practicing compassion and trying to feel (not just intellectually understand) that their behavior toward me was not personal, I was able to notice what was happening, to realistically assess to what extent I could respond in a way that did not exacerbate their fear, and to be as calming and reassuring as possible.
Ultimately, I know that I am responsible for my energy. When I feel drained by an external force, I try to allow myself to feel what I am feeling without judgment and then reenergize myself with self-care, laughter, and good friends.
Day 5. What are your favorite songs? Why?
March 26, 2020 – I love so many songs I came up with a playlist! Here is my Happy, Groovy Spotify playlist (songs that never fail to make me happy, even if the song itself isn’t happy). Find what makes you happy and spend sometime there.
Day 4. What are your best qualities?
There a lot of ways to explore your best qualities and to think about how to apply them to live the life you want. You might want to start with a values assessment. You can also explore your strengths in great detail. Take the free survey at VIA.
Day 3. What are you most proud of?
March 24, 2020 – I’m proud of my ability to keep learning and powering through the negative self-talk that comes up when I am afraid of trying something new. Pride is not something that comes easily to me, or to most of us. We are hard-wired to pay more attention to the things about ourselves that we are not proud of. It takes practice to acknowledge when we have done something we can be proud of. External, measurable accomplishments are easiest: a good grade, an award, even an “atta-girl” from someone we admire.
It is worth cultivating an inner dialogue that acknowledges, even more importantly celebrates, our “achievements” that seem to come naturally (like making someone sad laugh or comforting a child with a skinned knee). And we are especially reticent to celebrate the good things we do in the face of all the times we have failed in the same context. As a mom, I can easily recount the times I failed to be the parent I aspire to be. But I have learned to also recall the times I have succeeded spectacularly at this role. Most of these are also really subtle and immeasurable, but worthy of my pride.
Of course, no one really loves a braggart. Humility is key, but pride need not be about gloating. Pride is most powerful when it is a gift we make to ourselves. When we can find a balance between acknowledging what we would like to improve and what we are proud of, we can be our best selves.
Day 2. What advice would you give to your younger self?
“You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather.”Pema Chodron
March 23, 2020 – One of the advantages of growing older is perspective. My younger self (I’m going to put this at 21, so my much younger self!) was lost, really just lost. She thought that she was unlovable, not very smart, and really didn’t know what to do with herself. She felt she was the weather, not the sky. At 21, she thought this was her lot in life. She was floating with no direction and no particular joy.
Now I realize that this “floating” is something I do once in a while, especially when I am about to make a big leap or transition in my life. I realize now it’s part of my creative process, and I have so much more self-compassion and trust in the process. It’s still hard, but I have the advantage of KNOWING it is temporary and necessary.
So I would tell my younger self that she is beautiful, lovable, and very smart–or more importantly, resilient, creative, intuitive, influential, and inspirational. I would tell her to surrender to the floating sensation. I would say to her, “It what makes you ‘you,’ Donna. It’s all good.”
*Shout out to Sam Lamott, host of the Hello Humans podcast for the inspiration for this one. Check it out where you get your podcasts!
Day 1: What makes you lose track of time?
March 22, 2020 – I am fortunate that I engage in a lot of activities where I feel so “in the zone” that hours can pass without notice: writing, walking and hiking, reading a great book, scrapbooking, cooking, gardening, even cleaning the house. And maybe that’s the trick: not noticing.
In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (2008), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
My almost daily experience of flow comes during my morning talk with my husband. We share a propensity to rise early (-ish) and the freedom to spend a hour or more just exploring ideas, leisurely talking about the news, our challenges, what we are reading, what our kids are up to, and hundreds of other topics we have landed on.
A friend once told me that this kind of experience is a form of “walking hypnosis,” being so focused on an activity that we forget to notice time passing. Boredom, impatience, and even fear all take a back seat to flow.
I realize I am lucky to have so many flow experiences. But I also know what it’s like to spend too much time (sadly often at work) watching the clock. We are hyper-focused on how much we don’t want to be “spending” our time at a meeting or writing performance appraisals or serving customers who are rude or ….Fill in the blank. Spending time this way can be downright painful.
I believe finding ways to be in “flow” is a superpower we all have the ability to develop. Find something that challenges you to develop a skill that you would like to strengthen. Finding that balance and the motivation to ignore the clock can be liberating.
*Shout out to the What’s Your Word card deck (by myintent.org) for this prompt.