One moment, built on many tiny other moments…

Over the past two months, I have been working with coach Mara Glatzel in her In Full Bloom course, and while there have been lots of breath-catching, heart-racing moments, I am marinating in one in particular… one that has been building over the course of a few months (years?) and that, today, sort of exploded.

selfOver on Instagram this morning, I posted my #365feministselfie with the following caption:

There is a bit of sass required when you make the choice to break some rules, play by your heart’s rules, and choose a new way. Because others’ rules for this game are not my way. I choose to do This with grace, love, and persistence. Because 80-90 hours a week, brankrupting my self care (and self worth), and following old standards for what makes the work “worth” something? Not my story. Not my path.

For a long time, my self worth has been tied to the work I do – especially as a student. One of the gifts of working at Starbucks (especially after the debacle when I moved) was the ability to begin separating myself from work – to see my worth outside of work. And yet, I continued to overbook, overextend, overschedule myself. If you’ve been around V+R for much time, you know that these aren’t new topics. It’s been a battle I’ve been fighting for what feels like a really long time.

Rewind a few months, when I was taking Permission Granted with Mara, back in May. During one of the conversations, she asked what it would happen if we broke the rules… whatever rules we happen to have for ourselves that keep us stuck. My response was “Anarachy, chaos.” And I could not see past that. Scary stuff.

Today, though? Today, I’m quietly choosing my own way, that I can do this PhD thing differently. That I can make my own rules and get through this on my own terms… because I’m starting to see the cost – already – if I choose to do it the way everyone else seems to think is the Right Way.

What I have to keep reminding myself is that I have a choice in this. And what keeps coming up is wondering how do I want to *end* the program? Do I want to be burnt out and unable to effectively do my work? And the anarchy and chaos that following down another’s “This is how this should be done” path, filled with rules of what makes one’s scholarship and efforst “worthy” of the degree at the end.

From this sassy vantage point, it’s a different question – it’s trying to take a bigger picture, one of sustainability and one of honoring my own humanity and what I personally need to thrive [it’s recognizing – after 33 years – that matters]. So, in many ways, this “breaking of rules” and this declaration is simply one more moment in a collection of moments… because I can declare all I want. But, how do I make good on that? How do I continue to show up in a way that honors thriving and wellness AND scholarship and productivity?

Because I know this isn’t about saying this is a better way, simply that this is a better way for me, and that I need [and want] to show up in ways that are not burnt-out, frustrated, and cranky… I’ve been living there too long.

 

Finding a way to center: The labyrinth has a resting place

books

 

When your course work meets your soul work and gives meaning to your heart work.

I’m in the midst of finals… finals meaning one final paper and a final presentation left. The final paper is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of what would be my masters thesis (if I had to take that class… I don’t, since I’ll be transitioning into the PhD, but if I were, it would be). It’s looking at how my path has led me to this program, in this moment, and what my previous hats, roles, and experiences have taught me and how will they help me become a better counselor?

The assignment is laid out as a list of questions in the syllabus. We’re to write an 8-12 page paper, working to integrate the answers, our experiences, and some of the career theory that we’ve been learning about this semester. Because, on the one hand, this seems so big, I’ve been putting it off. On the other hand, because I really am curious to see where it will go (and I’m working on that whole procrastination thing), I’ve been working on answering the questions, at least haphazardly, typing in responses to the questions and not thinking about a structure.

Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralAs I was typing answers to the last few questions this evening (hitting the six page mark and knowing there is a lot to flesh out in the paper), I realized that there has been a larger purpose to some of the challenges. That there is a larger purpose to what has seemed like really strange things.

I’m reminded of a conversation I would often have with one of my best friends when I lived in Madison. I would bemoan the fact that I wasn’t doing what I had spent so much time in school training for – I felt like a failure. She reminded me that paths were not often straight, and that there was value in not taking the “normal” route to get where people thought I should go. She is living testament to that; it’s one of the many reasons I’m glad she’s a part of my life.

And I realize that the image mantra I’ve had of the labyrinth for the past ten years is pretty accurate. That it’s twisty, winding, and yet, I am finding center. That, on some level, I have had to trust a process that I’m still learning to engage with. I hate that there is no safety net in this process, just the moving forward that’s required, like on a bicycle. To keep balanced, you have to move. There is no standing still.

In the midst of wanting to stop having to dig so deep, I asked Sarah “Can’t I just be shallow?” She told me I could. For a brief second, I considered it. And realized, no, I can’t. I can’t short change myself (or my current and future clients).

I can’t change that this work is part of the process. But I do have a choice of doing it.

I can acknowledge that it is hard.
I can acknowledge that there are specific reasons I am doing it.
I can acknowledge that, if those things still make sense to me, I keep walking.

If I keep walking, then…

I can acknowledge that I have a choice – to live and work with authenticity or stop doing this digging.
I can acknowledge there is a choice to doing this work, and that I make the choice to do it to the best of my ability.
I can acknowledge the self-care and gentleness that are often required, and allow for them.

Are there parts of your life where you need to remind yourself the why? What might you need to acknowledge today on this current journey?

I would love to hear from you.

“Let’s be alone together”: On community building, vulnerability, and growing edges

Subject line from Alone Together by Fall Out Boy

I have a confession to make.

Nearly a year ago, I sat with one of the professors in my program and told her, “I’m thinking of leaving the program.” I felt unhappy, disconnected, and seriously questioning if I was getting what I needed to from where I was. The only reason I stayed through the remainder of the semester was because I was working with a classmate in statistics and didn’t want to leave her high and dry. Plus, I was enjoying the class and really was appreciative of the professor.

When I met with this professor, I was up front that I wasn’t sure that this program was for me, highlighting how disconnected I felt with everyone in the department. Wile I appreciated being able to only come onto campus once a week, I also didn’t get to connect with students. I felt conflicted between working full time and being a student full time. (Caveat: I recognize that many of my colleagues and many people do that – I had a really hard terms doing that, feeling pulled in ways that didn’t allow me to give my all in anything that I did.)

She and I talked about what some of my choices might be. Rather than telling me to stick it out, she asked what I wanted, what would help my experience. Connection. Everything in me was screaming for more connection: with classmates, professors, the department as a whole.

In one year’s time, everything has changed. I interview next week to potentially join the PhD program and I just came from lunch with a classmate. I have one-on-one conversations with people, and I feel that it’s beneficial and good for us both.

What changed?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that. And, especially after the conversation I had today over lunch, one word to describe a large chunk of this change is vulnerability. When I became willing (and able) to be more than a student, I was able to begin building a small community here. While my classmates and I don’t agree with each other on everything, and sometimes, I feel really frustrated by my interactions, I also know that having some people I can say, “Let’s have lunch and talk about this” has really helped me feel more connected.

Brené Brown talks about this as part of vulnerability and shame resilience, ways to be able to be open and honest with people, and still feel connected. That that connection allows us the strength to continue to practice and peel away more of the layers of protection we’ve built up around ourselves.

We’ve built those walls for good reasons… What becomes important to learn is why they are there and is it possible – with some people – to share pieces of ourselves? In what ways can we begin to connect authentically?

This connects with storytelling… It’s part of what I’ve been thinking and leaning into…

Thinking about writing, purpose, and storytelling

I’ve been having some wonderful conversation – here and elsewhere – about the issues in the last post. And it’s gotten me thinking about how I view and how I deep-in-my-belly understand and live storytelling.

It’s still percolating, and I have a potential academic journal article submission I’m working on today, so for today, let’s all raise a toast to our communities, our support, our story, and a willingness to dive deep, where it gets murky and where we don’t always have the answers.

It’s terrifying, beautiful space. Thank you for being here with me.

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No parachute: Vulnerability, protection, and staying open

As has been the case for most of the country (and world, I’m sure), this has been a heart-tenderizing week. As I’m writing this, I feel like I’ve been in a fight. Part of me just want to curl up and sleep. Somehow, that seems like the ideal plan.

But, I’ve been trying to stay open, to find ways to not shut down or lash out. Too many times in my life, I’ve seen how destructive both of those can be.

This is hard work.

Earlier this week, wrung out from too little sleep and too much caffeine and sugar, I’m sitting in a class where I am being challenged. Challenged in the “Please don’t talk about who you are, because I can’t handle it” kind of way. I’m sitting in my chair, feeling my chest tighten up, writing really small notes to myself in my notebook (not wanting anyone to be able to read them, but needing to write down my own process), and fighting to not burst out into tears or walk out.

Both would have been fine in this class. But I kept thinking, “What if this were a client, who I am trying to build a therapeutic relationship with. What is keeping me from truly hearing them?” During the break, someone checked in with me, to see how I was doing. I consciously realized what I was trying to do and was encouraged to speak up about my process, if I wanted to.

Ultimately, I chose not to, right away, because I wanted to explore more of what was going on with me, what I was truly thinking, and to stay with the discomfort a little bit. Because that’s where the growth is – for all parties.

I don’t have the answers. I still don’t. I just know that when our professor asked us to imagine where the walls were being built, I didn’t immediately see walls. I saw myself, curled around my heart, wanting so badly to protect myself.

What do I need to say to protect myself, but also be open? Is there a chance that you can’t have it both ways? Is this what vulnerability looks like?

Perhaps there’s a reason the following quote’s been on my mind a lot recently.

“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.” – Chogyam Trungpa

Writing identity (or lack thereof)

I’ve been wrestling (maybe not the right word, but let’s go with it) with my identity as a writer.

I know, weird, right?

I spend time putting words on paper, I push the Publish button a few times a week, I write paper and reflections for school. And yet, there’s a part of me that still struggles with the label of Writer. “Hello, my name is Stephanie and I’m a writer.” Doesn’t really flow off my tongue as easily as, say, “I’m Stephanie and I’m a student.” Or, “I’m Stephanie and I am the proud mama of four guinea pigs.” And yet, writing has been a part of my life for much longer than either of those two things. (Although school does give it a run for its money.) I more often say things like, I practice writing, I like to write, or I write. But to attribute writing as a descriptor to who I am? It happens less frequently than I sometimes like to admit, given how important writing is.

journals
This was taken in 2008. You can believe more have been added since then.

So, what is it about the title of writer? What does being a writer mean? I mean, when I mention that I write (or try to embrace writer), everyone’s first question, “What do you write?” Ummm… that’s never been an easy one to answer, as I haven’t published anything (except blog posts), what I write isn’t neatly categorical, and as I mentioned a while back ago to a writer friend, fiction’s not my strong suit. I was having this conversation with M. Fenn yesterday after our writing date and even with her, a really good friend of mine who’s been reading along with my crazy adventures since mid-2005 and with whom I’ve been having weekly writing dates for awhile, it’s interesting to think about.

What does it “take” to be a writer? Does a writer have to publish? Does a writer have to have a by-line? Does someone need to want to get her/his stuff out there to be a writer?

What stories am I telling myself about what it means to be a writer?

As is often the case, I have no answers, but asking the questions feels really powerful.

How about you? Are there labels you don’t actively claim? What stories do you tell yourself about them?

And, if you’re a writer, do you claim the label? Why or why not? If you do, what was the turning point for you?

Declare yourself storyteller: September class schedule and information

It’s here! It’s August 1!

(Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to see the exciting giveaway contest!)

Over the past five days, I’ve explored my process of learning and owning my writing practice. I started the series as a way to give my potential students a chance to see where I’m coming from, why I am putting it all on the line to teach this practice. I’ve shared about my introduction to this practice, my deepening of my foundation, further walks on the path, and my first attempt at teaching this practice. I ended the series with where I am today. I’ve changed my About Me page, and added a few buttons along the top of the blog: Storytellers., FAQ about Classes, and Current Class Offerings. (The content of the latter will always be announced via blog post, too! September’s classes is shown below.)

After fourteen years of practicing and falling in love with writing practice, I believe this is one way that we can build community and share our whole, vibrant, broken, brilliant selves. I believe it because I’ve seen it. I believe it because I’ve experienced it. So, I have one question for you:

Are you ready to declare yourself storyteller?

September Class Offerings

Disclaimers: Due to the potentiality for mature content, I must request all participants be over 18 years of age. If you are under 18, and interested in this practice, please contact me at visible.and.real at gmail dot com. Also, these classes do promote self-exploration and curiosity, but are not meant to be a replacement for professional mental health guidance. I am not a licensed counselor and will not be acting in that capacity in class.

Since September is my inaugural month, I am offering this session of classes at half price! During this session, the course will run for four weeks. I am also offering courses five days a week, at a variety of times. The classes will be using the same prompt, so choose dates/times based on your schedule. If these times do not work for you, please let me know. The next session dates and times are still being planned. During this four week session, I will be asking for feedback on the course. Your participation will help guide the course’s future.

Classes are taught via conference/web call. You do not have to be located in Baltimore, but you do have to be present during the two hour block of time. The classes will be taught in real time, just via distance.

If you have further questions, feel free to check out the FAQ page, leave a comment, or email me at visible.and.real at gmail dot com.

I am offering courses on the following dates and times:

PLEASE NOTE: The button to register for class is below the class meeting dates. Registration will end either when the class is filled (7 people) or 24 hours before the first class session.

Mondays
9:00 – 11:00 AM (Eastern time)
$80 USD $40 USD
Course meets September 10, 17, 24, and October 1

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Tuesdays
7:00-9:00 PM (Eastern time)
$80 USD $40 USD
Course meets September 11, 18, 25, and October 2

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Fridays
1:00-3:00 PM (Eastern time)
$80 USD $40 USD
Course meets September 14, 21, 28, and October 5

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Saturdays
7:00-9:00 AM (Eastern time)
$80 USD $40 USD
Course meets September 15, 22, 29, and October 6

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Sundays
2:00-4:00 PM (Eastern time)
$80 USD $40 USD
Course meets September 16, 23, 30, and October 7

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Financial policy: If you are interested in taking classes, but feel limited by the cost, please contact me at visible.and.real at gmail dot com. I believe strongly in this practice and don’t want that to keep you from it.

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Exciting giveaway contest! Between Wednesday, August 1 and Saturday, August 4 at 11:59PM EST, you’ll have the chance to enter your name in a total of FIVE times to win registration into one of the September classes! (For those who may not want to attend the class, but know someone who might – the class can be passed on to someone else!) There are two ways to enter your name:

  • Post a comment here with your favourite inspirational quote. (Limit one per person.)
  • Share this link with via your Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ account. Then come back here and comment that you shared! (Limit one per day, up to four total. Yes! You can share it each day for a unique entry. Please comment each time it’s shared to ensure you get your entry!)

Comments to this entry will close Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 11:59PM, EST. Winner will be chosen randomly via drawing out of a hat. My partner will do the actual physical drawing out of the hat.

As of 12:15AM EST on Sunday, August 5, the comments are now closed.

The winner will be announced on Monday, August 6 via blog post. I look forward to reading your quotes!