You've Got to Have Faith

The 2016 election cycle was a call to action for me. In a personal context, it challenged me to really look at the choices I've made over the past several years. And, in the same way that I believe we as an American people need to come together and embrace our whole communities, I have been challenging myself to do that internally. 

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At 25, I left the Mormon church. I had fallen in love with a woman and I realized that my experience of loving her was not sinful. It was, however, impossible for my faith community to accept and support me in that relationship. My close friends were actually quite loving and did their best to be supportive friends while also being true to the tenets of their faith. They showed a combination of compassion and integrity. These qualities originally drew towards them as friends. We drifted apart for many years, our lives being so different, and busy.  We had young children and were starting careers and finishing school. It was more sensible to retreat to yearly letters and, with the rise of the internet, the occasional facebook post

I became an activist and eventually worked as the director of two separate LGBT centers for a total of 12 years. And, until November 2016, I kept a wall in my heart between the faith of my youth and the world in which I live today. However, a facebook post full of rage and blame at conservative religious people, broke me open. I realized that by keeping the details of my path conveniently under-wraps, I was also failing to represent the power of openness and the ability of people to change and grow. 

I learned to be a social justice advocate. I was a Christian because I believed the message of Christian love and acceptance. And I was a Mormon because I strongly believed in the sacredness of personal choice. So the seeds of social justice activism were within my choice of faith communities. I still had to grow beyond my reflex judgments to find a truth that I could embrace. It is my former faith that made me a good director and activist. I learned to put my community first, to do my part without fanfare. I was able to trust that others would do their part and together we would make a difference for many. It is my former faith, my knowledge of my own confused and stumbling path, the reminder of compassion and the awareness that we are all unknowing in some way, that made me a good leader. 

I didn't talk about my prior faith as anything more than a party trick. I didn't highlight my conservative roots. Doing so also means, I left the power of the changes I made in the shadows. My growth into an advocate was a part of my conviction and my faith. I may no longer be Mormon. The life I live today would not be possibly if I hadn't been Mormon in my past. 

The More Star Systems Will Slip Through Your Fingers

The Last Jedi released in theaters this week and of course I attended the modern equivalent of a midnight screening. The question of chaos versus control, which I see as a cornerstone of the Jedi/Sith conflict, is one I face daily. I contemplate it from a philosophical perspective and I suffer it in action from a "my life is a constant struggle against entropy" perspective.  

I recently read an article on traffic anarchy  in Amsterdam. They found removing traffic lights created a more pleasant, safer, driving experience in one intersection. City officials spent about 8 months working with different departments and groups to pave the way for turning off the lights at this problematic intersection. Nervously, they flipped the switch. Interviews and reports show an increase in positive interactions between cyclists and drivers after the switch. 60% of the interviewed cyclists felt the traffic situation had improved with the lights off. 

I'm not a full on fan of anarchy. Inspired partially by self-interest, I expect a totally lawless society might not be one in which I would thrive. And yet, there is something to decreasing the amount of control we seek to exert on one another. The traffic experiment shows how following a process and thinking out of the box can improve what seems to be an impossible situation- without compromising either safety or efficiency. 

I won't spoil the Last Jedi for you, and it does continue to bring up this conversation of chaos versus control. The allure of control is undeniable. Control promises safety, efficiency, a better future, with no senseless loss of life or unnecessary pain, a clean house. And control's ability to deliver is limited to special circumstances. Ultimately I expect we need a Jedi/Sith mash-up to create a better world, rather than bouncing between extremes. 

Surprise Yourself

My friend bought me a Dream Journal for my birthday last year. I eagerly opened it and began the process of building my dream life. The first section walks through questions about what you want in your future.  I get that, if I want to work towards my dreams, I must identify them. I dutifully began to answer the questions in each section, mapping out my life and vision methodically through their process. Until, I got to a question I couldn't answer. I didn't have any idea. And it seemed counter productive to put something down simply to fill in the blank. Not how I want to live my life. Or dream my dreams.

At first, I accepted my inability to give an answer, "It will come to me." I decided, and put the journal down. A few days went by and I was no closer to an answer to the question. I began to feel stressed. How could I move forward without knowing where I wanted to go? I put the journal down again. A few days later, I had a therapy session scheduled. And I brought the journal. I work with an amazing person, Lisa Apel, who has guided me through the death of my ex-husband & moving my dementia afflicted mother across the country. Surely she could give me insight into the answer.

I showed her the journal and shared my challenge. I had begun to feel a sense of urgency around it. I wanted to start the work process. Still stuck in the planning portion of the journal was holding me back. As I explained the stumbling block and my lack of knowing the answer to one of the dream questions, she listened patiently. When I finished, she said, "Well you don't have to have every question answered to start moving forward in one area." 

What? *blink* I looked blankly at her as years of "be prepared" collided with her simple statement. "You mean, it's my life and my dreams. I can do what I know now. I don't have to know everything I will ever want to do or be in this moment to be able to start on my path?" Saying it out loud highlighted how ridiculous it was. I began to smile and I chuckled with the release of pressure and tension I had created around the act of creating my dreams. She smiled and nodded, "Yes. It is your life."

 

That Moment of Delight

Earlier this year I started acting on my dreams and goals in a more methodical fashion. I found a writing group and started attending with my son in May. I had put together a list of anthologies to start collecting rejection slips from, as all committed writers have a large rejection slip/email collection. I found this journal 6 days before the deadline and decided to dive in. Ali, my partner and amazing editor, committed her editing skills to the cause. When I saw the suggested edits tick over 100 for my 2 page essay, I knew she was taking my request very seriously. I pressed send on my submission an hour before the deadline. My first rejection slip request was complete.

Except ...

They accepted it. 2 am a slightly insomniac me casually flipped through her email and saw they had written. It was an amazing moment to have created something for a purpose and have it chosen for that purpose. A few weeks ago, I received the announcement the journal was in publication and would ship in mid-November

Paradoxically I feel unable to put words to this experience. It is an inspiring experience to work on something meaningful to me and see it bear fruit. As we close out 2017, I begin to ponder what I will invite into my world in 2018. 

Life's Side Mirrors

Cars have side mirrors because we evolved with eyes only going in one direction. Most of us who drive would agree our mirrors perform an important safety function. Life's side mirrors are a little more difficult to adjust. 

Life moves fast. I get overwhelmed by how much there is to know and learn. The gaps in what I know are evident. This doesn't even touch on the things I don't know that I don't know. As an educated and experienced person, I feel the pressure to "know" things or "do it right".  After close to 2 decades of social justice activism, I also know how unforgiving I have seen my communities be towards people who make errors. I watch in perplexed astonishment when folks rally to condemn imperfection.

In the world of social media and modern reflex reactions, it is hard to step forward and speak. Here are some guidelines I have in my own work to put myself out there. 

1. I promise to listen to people who have different experiences. 

2. I promise to grow and change. This means what I say or think today is limited by what I have experienced and know, right now. 

3. I don't promise to get it right. Or to agree with people based on generalized political ideology. Or to support you doing things I disagree with even if I agree with your politics.  

4. I will risk myself and my world in the service of my principles and values.

5. I will seek the wisdom and guidance of those who have gone before me.

6. I will seek out my own teaching on the lessons we are learning as a culture about race, ability, gender, economic justice, and more, and not ask people to explain their lives to me in addition to the work they are doing to live their lives.  

7. I promise to take responsibility for my words and actions. I expect I will sometimes be tired and do what it is easy. I might say something out of reflex.  I will make mistakes. I will address them honestly and directly. I will take responsiblity for my impact. I will work to do better. 

8. I won't waste my time in arguments with people that are going nowhere. I will leave those battles and conversations to people better equipped and focus myself on the work I can do.

Dream. Do. Repeat.

Do you have a dream for your life or your business? Do you have a plan to achieve it? If not, then you have already made things harder for yourself. A goal without a plan is a wish. Who grants wishes? Fairy godmothers. How many fairy godmothers have you met this month?

I have heard people express planning as ineffective and too much work. It is seductive to get caught up in the day-to-day needs of the business and life. Planning on its own isn't a solution. A good plan takes into account the current situation and the long term goals.

I recently spent 2 days working with a client on their long term goals and plans. What I love about working with my clients on their plans is the puzzle piece of finding the balance between the needs of now and the work to get to the dream results. Watching them execute the work and see the results is one of the most satisfying things I do. 

If you are a small business looking to get out from under a feeling of overwhelm, contact me. You will be surprised by how easy it can be. 

 

 

 

picture of puzzle

A good plan can open a seemingly impossible puzzle box

Also, it is really fun

Actionable Gamification

Gamification is a somewhat new business term that is that is about improving business practices. It is part of the Human Centered Design school of thought (I promise that is my last jargon-y word for this post!). 

Human Centered Design focuses on helping the corporate world remember that people work in their offices and factories and people buy their products and use their services. Features and function are important elements in a business and if you can't engage and motivate people, you won't succeed.

Gamification is one approach that is rapidly gaining influence as an effective way to implement Human Centered Design concepts. Yu-Kai Chou is a forerunner in developing usable concepts to create and implement gamified designs. 

This short video that I made is a brief overview of what he talked about at 2017 SxSW in his Actionable Gamification session. 

Remembering

 Me and my grandfather in 1978 at their home. 

Me and my grandfather in 1978 at their home. 

I miss my grandparents, they were home to me in ways very few things can be. When my grandmother passed away, it ended something for our larger family. We have never really come together again the way we were when my grandparents were alive. They drew us home to them, like geese in winter, to gather and celebrate and disagree and love. 

Family stories suggest my grandfather could be a harsh and demanding father at times. Towering over 6 feet tall, with a military background, he was as able to inspire fear as he was love in his children. I don't relate to the stories of the disciplinarian as much. He died when I was 9 and the safest place in the world I can remember or imagine is with my grandfather. I was his youngest grandchild, the proverbial apple of his eye. 10 years younger than my next oldest cousin -- well next oldest acknowledged cousin-- he doted on me.  What are the things I remember about him? He smelled of old spice and pipe tobacco. He cooked the most interesting things and always had fresh applesauce for me when I was visiting. He called my cousin Matthew and I the applesauce twins because we both loved it so much. 

When I was 17 my grandmother started dying. It was a long process. She had always been very independent in nature and our family honored that by taking shifts for months to care for her, so she could avoid the “old ladies home” as she called it.  My mother would come home from work on Friday evenings and we would drive for 2 hours from our home in Connecticut to northern Rhode Island where grandma lived. My memories of those trips exist mostly as still photography in my brain. We had made this journey for years to celebrate annual holiday traditions with the extended family. This weekly journey affixed these roadside staples into the context of my grandmother's death. The cemetery with its New England style headstones covered in moss and snow and fallen leaves. The trees that lined the road and made for breathtaking landscapes as we rose and fell with the mini-mountains of the east. I saw them, stop animation style, change by the week from lushly green to brilliantly colored, to barren and then snow covered. 

My grandparents lived on Naragansett Bay in Rhode Island when I was growing up. My earliest memories are of playing in their garden, swimming in their pool, and large family dinners with laughter and games. The days of my grandmother’s death were socially subdued gatherings uncomfortably similar to those happy times. Mom and I would get there late on a Friday night to find my cousin or aunt with grandma. Most of the time they would be reading by the woodstove or quietly sitting with grandma. It was a strange experience to enter the house that was filled with laughter and joy in my heart and feel the heavy anticipation of death.

As one of the more solidly religious people in my family, it was often left to me, at 17, to explain the concept of heaven and god to my dying grandmother. I would go to my grandmother’s bed in a strangely confessional style. and take her spotted, wrinkled hand between mine while she sought reassurance in my conviction. When she begged me to tell her that god could forgive her for her sins. I told her god was love and could forgive anything. I didn’t know then how cruel people could be. How hard it was to believe in a loving god when our daily lives are so frequently filled with random acts of cruelty or, even worse, indifference. My belief was rooted in my innocence and hope. And she held it tightly to her. This became my weekly routine, when the older family members couldn’t bear to watch this strong matriarchal figure doubt and fear for her soul, uncertain in their own faith.

She left us in the spring, close to her birthday, while my mother was recovering from surgery. I asked my best friend to come with me to the funeral, making the drive without my mother for the first and only time in my life. I left for college and have returned only a handful of times since then.

This weekend we went to visit my mom in Rhode Island and drove her over to the old house. I look at the exterior and I paint the interior with a collage of memories from my childhood. I want to go inside and I know that I won't find what I am looking for behind the now yellow exterior.