The End of a Seven-Year-Long Chapter (The Beginning of a New One)

purpose

Photo Credit: Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs (Bigstock)

Something happened to me last summer, and it is still happening.

In June, a friend sent me an article about hockey written by two financial gurus. They explained that there is a traditional strategy in hockey called “pulling the goalie.” According to tradition, if your team is down by one goal with one minute left in the game, the coach will “pull the goalie,” sending the goalie on offense in the hope of scoring a tying goal, while risking the chance of being scored on with an open net.

These financial gurus decided to run a statistical analysis of this tradition.

Based upon existing data, they concluded that, on average, it actually takes somewhere between five or six minutes of game time for a team to score a goal with their goalie on offense. The tipping point, where the reward of pulling the goalie is offset by the risk of being scored upon with an open net, was around five minutes and forty seconds remaining in the game.

In other words, every hockey coach pulls the goalie way too late.

The bigger problem, though, is that even in the face of this empirical data, no coach will ever pull their goalie with almost six minutes to go in a game and down by one. Because if their team was scored upon at that point, the fans would be calling for their firing and the front office would probably do it. It is not socially acceptable to pull the goalie that early in the game, so no one does it.

The question, my friend asked me, was, “Where do you need to pull the goalie in your life right now—even if it feels risky, even if it upsets people—before it is too late?”

Today, I ask you the same question: where do you need to pull the goalie right now, before it is too late? Is it getting an evaluation for your child who is struggling in school? Is it getting counseling for your child who is struggling inside? Is it getting your own help before the shame becomes all-consuming? Is it asking your spouse to go to marital therapy? Is it being vulnerable before the intimacy fades for good? Is it starting the book you’ve always wanted to write, or the business you’ve always wanted to run? Is it remembering how to play, before those distant memories of childlikeness fade even further?

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…Before We Begin Again

The following is an excerpt—the last chapter, actually—of The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living, the year-long companion guide to my book Loveable

new year's resolution

Photo Credit: Orla (Bigstock)

Several years ago, we took down the Christmas tree. Again.

The year before, the ritual had been depressing to me. Not because the holiday season was over, but because we’d done it before. Many times. It felt like, somehow, after a year of striving and scrambling and doing and accomplishing, we were right back where we started. Square one. We hadn’t progressed; we’d returned.

It turns out, life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. If you can’t accept that, it can be pretty depressing. At least, that’s what an African immigrant told me. Right before he fired me.

At the time, I had been completing my post-doctoral residency—moving forward and rushing ahead—and he had just arrived in the States to continue his own education. In the course of the initial interview, I asked him where he hoped to be in five years. He looked confused. I asked him why.

He told me.

In the United States, he said, we expect progress all the time. We’re always trying to get somewhere else. We think life is a straight line. But where he came from in Africa, they were farmers. Seasons mattered. And the seasons came and went and returned again. They knew life was a circle. Everything comes and goes and returns again. Everything. Our sadness. Our joy. The things we love and the things we don’t. I only saw him once. He never came back.

Now, I know why.

I couldn’t help him, because I was in denial about how life really works. I couldn’t accept life is about circularity and rhythm and returning. I couldn’t accept that all of existence is in orbit, everything from massive planets to microscopic cells are moving in a circle. I couldn’t accept that, as Stephen King says, life is a wheel, and it always returns to where it started.

Why do we forget this?

Because we suffer from the dis-ease of the straight line. We’ve been taught to believe life is only meaningful if we’re getting from here to there—doing a lot, becoming more important, accruing more stuff, feeling safer, and increasing our comfort. Even the good work of redeeming the world can become its own straight line, as we single-handedly try to move the world from Point A to Point B. We pretend life is what it’s not. We need to get real about how this whole thing works.

We need to bend our lives back into the circle they already are.

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The Conclusion to the Loveable Podcast [Loveable 054]

“We’ve been taught to believe life is only meaningful if we’re getting from here to there—doing a lot, becoming more important, accruing more stuff, feeling safer, and increasing our comfort. Even the good work of redeeming the world can become its own straight line, as we single-handedly try to move the world from Point A to Point B. We pretend life is what it’s not. We need to get real about how this whole thing works. We need to bend our lives back into the circle they already are.”

loveable podcast episode 54

Here we are at the end of The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living. In this final episode, we do more than just sum up the content of this podcast so far; we add one final, invaluable insight to your journey of growth and transformation. And here it is: seeing life as a straight-line is a disease that will keep you ashamed and sick, and experiencing life and growth as a circle is essential to transformation and healing…

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Week 52: Reflecting Upon the Unfolding of Your Truest Self [Loveable 053]

“Your true self folded in upon itself never ceases to be your truest you. Your soul is bigger and more beautiful and more mysterious than you can possible imagine. It has been folded in upon itself by people and by experience and by life. But it need not remain that way.”

One of the most common questions I receive as a therapist is, how will I know if I’m getting better? This is an important question to answer because the answer gives us direction, it gives us hope, and eventually it gives us something to celebrate. That’s the question we answer in Episode 53 of The Loveable Podcast…

loveable podcast episode 53

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Healing and wholing are the same thing.
  • The greatest problem in our hearts is not disease; it is disunity.
  • Your true self is a like a piece of paper folded in on itself by life and by shame; the good news is, it can be unfolded.
  • Grace does not delight in us despite who we are, but because of who we are.
  • A sign that your true self is healing and expanding is that your pain becomes a part of what makes you unique, not a part of what makes you bad.
  • A purpose-driven life is one rooted in the ego and fueled by ambition; a purpose-centered life is one rooted in the soul and fueled by passion.
  • You probably don’t belong to people who want you to be smaller than you actually are.
  • You’re not here to be great; you’re here to be yourself.
  • Experiencing everyone else as worthy is the surest sign that you’ve truly embraced your own worthiness.

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The Most Wonderfully Painful Time of the Year

Several years ago, when my son Quinn was in kindergarten, he opened a present on Christmas morning, and he was not happy with what he saw. He set it aside, looked up at me, and declared, “We’re gonna need a receipt for that one.”

suffering

Photo Credit: kuchina (Bigstock)

I made a mental note to start working on gratitude with him as soon as the wrapping paper was all picked up. Yet, at the same time, I heard in his words the ordinary wish of the masses of humanity: we are given this gift called life and, oftentimes, as we unwrap it, there are parts of it we would like to return.

Usually, we want a receipt for the painful parts.

For instance, several months ago, I dropped Quinn off for his first day of fifth grade. The long line of cars was moving slowly, so I had time to watch him walk onto the playground. He stood there, alone, nervously rubbing the straps of his backpack, scanning the crowd for just one friendly face. He turned in circles and searched in vain. My stomach clenched. As a psychologist, I know kids need moments like this to build resilience—to learn they can survive it—but the father in me was about to pull over and get out anyway. Then, the line sped up and I was forced to move on, leaving my son lonely and looking. I knew he’d eventually find his friends—moments of loneliness always precede moments of belonging, that’s just the way it is—but eventually wasn’t good enough for me.

I wanted to skip over the painful part…

Click here to read the rest of this post at CT, where it is a featured Christmas article…

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Week 51: How All This Passion, Pain, and Courage Add Up to Joy [Loveable 052]

“Fear about the future becomes bravery in the present becomes joy in hindsight. Joy is knowing you can be scared and still ride through life. Joy is being terrified and trusting you’ll survive it. Joy is believing in yourself enough to believe you are brave.”

Joy and happiness are not the same thing. In fact, they may be opposites, and the difference between them could make all the difference in your life. In Episode 52 of The Loveable Podcast, we focus on how practicing your passions may not add up to happiness but will almost certainly add up to joy. Because happiness is about things going your way, whereas joy is about trusting you can handle life, no matter how things go…

loveable podcast episode 52

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Both positive and negative feedback can disrupt the practicing of our passions, because they inflate or wound our ego, rooting us there, rather than in our souls, where all authenticity and creativity originate.
  • Perfectionism is a highly evolved defense against criticism.
  • We fear vulnerability will mean we get wounded; usually, it means we get joyful,
  • Bravery is going one step farther than you think you can.
  • Courage isn’t going forward without trepidation; courage is going forward with determination, even when we are terrified.
  • You don’t need to become brave, you need to realize you have already been brave.
  • Vulnerability and bravery are practiced every day in ordinary life.
  • To encourage our kids to be brave, don’t teach them about bravery, help them remember times they’ve already been brave.
  • Sometimes fear is a boundary we need to push through; other times fear is telling us we need to set a boundary in our life.
  • We stay afraid instead of brave because we never attend to what happened to the things we feared, we just move on to fearing the next thing. Pay attention. You’re brave.

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The Best Reason to Do Scary Things

facing your fears

Photo Credit: Matthew Carroll (Bigstock)

I used to hide on the floor of the car.

When I was seven, and our family crossed the vast Mississippi river on the big bridges around St. Louis, I’d become so terrified that I would huddle on the floor of the car until we had reached the other side. Long bridges over water terrify me. I had recurring nightmares about them as a child. I have no idea where this fear came from; it has been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t have any other fears like it.

And I don’t need them; this one is stubborn enough.

A quarter of a century after I huddled on the floor of an old Buick over the wide Mississippi, I drove my young family from Illinois to Maryland, where my wife’s family lived at the time. My bridge fears were mostly forgotten. Suddenly, however, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was looming ahead of us, arching into the sky like an Evil Knievel stunt for the ordinary motorist, and I had my first panic attack. I drove us across the bridge that day, but it happened again on our way home. And then it happened again and again and again.

Every time we traveled to Maryland.

Several years after that first panic attack, I was telling my therapist about it, and his reaction was the grace I needed at the time, as a recovering perfectionist. “Kelly,” he said, “maybe you don’t need to be the best at everything. Why don’t you let your wife drive the bridge?” So, for the last few years, every time we cross the Bay Bridge, we pull over at the last gas station before the bridge, my wife and I switch seats, and my kids tease me as we cross the bay.

Which is fine—after all, at some point, every kid needs to learn their old man is human.

So, the plan had worked perfectly over the years.

Until last month.

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Week 50: The Courage to Fail [Loveable 051]

“Courage is ignoring the jeers and feeling the fears. Courage is returning to the edge of our comfort zone and choosing the place where our fear dwells, because we are worthy of another chance at life. Regardless of what the critics say.”

People who experience success aren’t better at being successful; they are better at failing. They don’t misinterpret failures as a sign that they should be doing something else. They don’t listen to the people who tell them their failures define them. They get back up and try again, believing their passion is truer than their setbacks. In other words, success doesn’t always feel great; more often than not, it feels like failure that didn’t stop us.

In Episode 51 of The Loveable Podcast, we will turn your definitions of success and courage upside down, and cultivate the courage to fail by listening to the right people.

loveable podcast episode 51

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • A job is not a passion. A job is a place to practice your passion, or a place you are leaving for a new place where you can practice your passion more consistently.
  • Everyone is making it up as they go. Don’t worry about needing to know the outcome before you get started. The outcome unfolds as you act bravely.
  • The mindset necessary for beginning to practice our passions: “Learn to be a rookie and love it.”
  • Fear makes you quiet; defy it by telling someone you trust about it.
  • Stubborn is another word for courageous.
  • You don’t have to be over your fear to practice your passion; you have to be sick of it.
  • Whenever we pursue a passion that is an authentic expression of our true self, we will also experience misfortune, disappointment, and pain. Hardship is not necessarily a sign you should stop.
  • We are defined not by the criticism we receive but by the courage we live.
  • Failures don’t have to be conclusions; they can be course corrections.
  • Impostor syndrome would evaporate if we could all admit we’re learning and making mistakes as we go.
  • Practice say nothing at all. Defending oneself and justifying oneself are just distractions from the work of pursuing our passions.

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Let’s Be Grateful for What We Cannot See

gratitude

Photo Credit: kaban (Bigstock)

This blog space was birthed out of gratitude.

In 2011, I was in the midst of a reckoning with my anger, fear, and shame. I was drowning in a deep, deep sense of scarcity: my fear of never having enough and never being enough. Somewhere in the midst of that reckoning, that drowning, a friend handed out a bunch of free copies of a book about gratitude. In a world full of supposed life preservers, I decided to reach for it, in the hope it would keep me afloat.

It did.

For several months, I engaged in the daily practice of gratitude, writing down everything that I noticed around me and within me for which I was grateful. The dancing of sunlight through treetops on the dining room table. The sound of my kids’ laughter in the other room. The taste of a single raisin. The still-quiet place of peace at the center of my soul. By the end of 2011, I wasn’t just staying afloat.

I was beginning to glimpse the shoreline.

Suddenly, I knew goodness was abundant, both around me and within me. I resonated with the words of David Steindl-Rast, who wrote, “We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.”

Even when we are in pain, goodness and abundance continue to exist. It’s possible to feel the sorrow while seeing the beauty. Such double-sight can sustain you in the hardest of times, and it can inspire you in the best of times.

By the beginning of 2012 I knew that, regardless of how badly people might react to my writing, goodness and beauty and abundance would still exist within me and around me. So, gratitude in me gave rise to courage in me gave rise to writing in me. And on January 6, 2012, I published my first blog post. I’ve been practicing gratitude ever since, but an email I recently received from a reader has inspired me to change my gratitude practice.

Now, instead of being grateful for what I can see, I focus on being grateful for what I cannot see, as well.

She told me she’d been reading my blog since the beginning and had never reached out before, but she was grateful for the words I’d shared over the years, and she wanted to let me know. I told her I was grateful for her. Though I’d never known she existed—and though I haven’t been able put a face or a name to the vast majority of my readers over the last seven years—I’ve been grateful for every single reader since that January day in 2012, including the ones I’ve never heard from.

Thank you.

If Seth Godin is right and art isn’t art until it has been shared, you’ve made it possible for me to make art. You’ve given my words a place to belong. At times, when I thought the sanity I was finally experiencing might just be crazy, your enduring presence has assured me that I’m not going nuts. You’ve made the cold, dark, frustrating mornings at the keyboard worth every moment of it. You’ve given publishers a reason to believe in me. You’ve given me, by virtue of your very existence and faithfulness, hope for humanity. Because of you, that hope will never go away.

Gratitude for that which we cannot see may be the most enduring gratitude of all.

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Week 49: What to Do When Our Feelings Are Lying to Us [Loveable 050]

“Life is a gift in terrifying disguise, and we are here to open it, until we find the still-quiet place in the center of it, where fear no longer decides.”

In Episode 50 of The Loveable Podcast, we talk about fear. It is an important emotion. It causes us to buckle our seatbelts, run out of burning buildings, and grab our pepper spray when we hear footsteps behind us in a dark parking lot. But in the modern world, our fear has gone rogue. We now get afraid not just about life-threatening situations, but also about life-changing situations. We are afraid not just of dangers, but of opportunities. It’s time to quit letting fear make our decisions for us…

loveable podcast episode 50

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Practicing our passion is not a leap, it’s a step-by-step process, with each step preparing us for the next one.
  • To add just a little beauty to the world is reason enough to practice your passion.
  • Our passion only requires an audience of one, and sometimes, for a little while, that audience might even be ourselves.
  • If you pay attention to the world instead of the news, you discover that reality is more inspiring than it is terrifying.
  • Our fear may not go away, but it should be a passenger in our lives, not the driver.
  • Welcome your fear, listen to it, become familiar with it, then discern whether or not you will continue to listen to it.
  • If you practice your passion in order to be successful, you will accidentally feed your shame.
  • Sometimes fear isn’t telling you to avoid something; it’s telling you that doing it is going to feel vulnerable, but you should do it anyway.
  • The voice of your self-encouragement tries to convince you there is no reason to be afraid; the voice of grace tells you that there are good reasons to be afraid but you will be able to handle it.
  • Sometimes, fear is telling a half-truth. Be slow. Discern. Listen to the true half. Then quit listening.
  • Sometimes you will let fear decide. That’s okay. Learn from it. Choose differently next time.
  • If you have strong faith you might have more fear, because you will live boldly and bravely in ways that challenge you anew.

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