On growth and risk

Take calculated risks quote via Carol's Country Sunshine on FacebookI’ve been thinking a lot about growth and risk and the connection between the two lately.  In my experience, being a responsible adult lends itself to playing it safe. Stick to what I know so I know what I’ll get. But what happens when what I know doesn’t feel like enough?

Going outside of what I know is risky. However, is there a point at which staying within my safety bubble becomes risky, too? Are the only two options in life to grow or to shrink? Does stasis really exist?

This growth and risk question can be applied to a lot of areas of life. For instance, church and faith. Mike and I have belonged to the same parish for more than 26 years. It’s the church we attended when we got married. It’s the church where our children were baptized, where we made some really good friends. But it’s different now. Many of our friends have left the parish. We no longer have kids in the school so we don’t know as many people. And instead of an important part of my life, a vibrant community, church feels like a building.

The way I see it, we have three choices. Stay, going to Mass on Sundays and not much more. But the status quo leaves me feeling unfulfilled. The second choice is to leave, find a new parish. That’s risky, for sure, and it doesn’t feel right, at least not right now. The third choice is to stay and make an effort to be more involved, to get to know those people we don’t know at all. That feels risky, too, but it also feels more like something that will lead to the kind of growth I’m looking for.

Work is another area where I’m really feeling the connection between growth and risk. I love the people I work with. I love the people I work for. I don’t really love the work that I’m doing, in part because I’ve been doing it for almost 14 years. But this job is safe. I know what the expectations are. I know what the salary and benefits are. I know that my bosses are terrific at encouraging work-life balance. All that is safe…is it enough?

I’m two semesters into the risk I decided to take that might lead me to career growth — pursuing a master’s degree in an area unrelated to my bachelor’s degree. But when I think about leaving the safety of the job I have, I get 27 different kinds of nervous. That’s ok. I don’t have to make that decision right now. What I have to do right now is stay the course on this commitment I’ve made to get a master’s in healthcare management. There is growth in that, too.

Even my choices within this master’s program offer a risk/growth opportunity. I have to complete an internship in the fall. I could likely do my internship at Joy’s House, an amazing adult day center that is near to my heart and where I serve on the board. But I know Joy’s House, so I’m pushing myself to accept the challenge of putting myself into unfamiliar territory; I’m hoping to do my internship with a hospice organization. I believe that’s where I’m being called to grow.

That’s a big risk. I think I want to work with families as they near the end of a loved one’s life, but I don’t have any experience with that. What if I’m wrong? What if I hate it? What if I’m terrible at it? You know what, there is growth in being wrong, too.

I heard a quote recently: “Fortune favors the bold.” It resonated with me. Safe just doesn’t feel safe anymore.


What I learned from logging out of Facebook for Lent


I decided to log out of Facebook for Lent in an attempt to quiet my mind and be better able to focus on other things. I learned a few things in the process…

1. Progress, not perfection. I stayed entirely off Facebook for about one out of the six weeks of Lent. Then I let myself slide back in just to stay in touch with a small, private Catholic Moms group and our private family group. I was able to keep up with that for about three weeks. Then I started doing some scrolling, but not commenting. And in the final week or two of Lent, I began commenting on people’s posts here and there. So was it a perfect sacrifice? No. But I think it was a useful exercise.

2. Take the humble road. One thing that I was committed to during my time away (or lessened) was not making any original posts myself. OK, there was one exception — a request for prayers for my husband’s current job search. But other than that, I did not start any conversations. That was a deliberate decision on my part and one that I made out of a desire to practice humility. If you don’t post anything, there’s nothing to check to see how many likes or comments your post has garnered.

3. I can fill my time with anything. I have never in my life scrolled the news feed on Linked IN or the curated articles on Google like I did over the past six weeks. I learned that it’s not Facebook that can highjack my night; it’s my own unwillingness to set boundaries and stick to them.

4. I am not a very visual person. In lieu of posting on Facebook, I found myself posting to Instagram. The problem with that is that Instagram is an image-based platform. I have a word-based brain. Limiting myself to Instagram forced me to think differently about how I wanted to convey what I wanted to say. That was a learning experience.

5. Online relationships can be very real. Part of the reason I slipped back into at least the scrolling of Facebook is that I missed people — people I might not often (or ever) see in real life, but people who are important to me nonetheless. For me, Facebook fills — in part — a need for connection.

6. Facebook serves up plenty of drama and angst. This is likely no surprise to anyone, but backing out for a while did provide an opportunity for a refresh. Even when I was scrolling, but not responding or posting, I had the ability to just scroll on by and not be weighed down by whatever drama was bouncing around my newsfeed.

7. News travels fast…on Facebook. At least in my little corner of the world, Facebook is the hub of communication. I find updates from Robbie’s bowling league there, and nowhere else. Friends who have happy or sad news to share do so on Facebook in an effort to be efficient. Photos and stories of my nieces and nephews find there way to our private Facebook group when they might not be shared otherwise.

8. It’s on me to cultivate more direct communication. This stems from #6. I love being able to check in and find out what is happening in the lives of people I know and love. But I also learned over the past six weeks that I should be more intentional about making contact with people I care about outside of Facebook.

Am I glad that I chose a Facebook fast for this year’s Lent? I am. Will I spend less time on Facebook now after all that I’ve discovered? The jury is still out on that one. Will I give up Facebook for Lent again? Hmmm…I guess I have a while to figure that out.


I’ve made a big mistake

It’s Lent, the season during which Christians prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus by choosing to fast from something or, in more recent years, adding a spiritual practice to their days. I’ve tried to elevate my Lenten sacrifice from the giving up of chocolate that was my default in my younger years. This year, I chose to give up Facebook and Twitter for the duration of Lent. And I’m feeling like it was a BIG. MISTAKE.

My motivation was a recognition that I was spending an inordinate amount of time on the two social media sites, that all the time spent on those sites was drawing me into judgement, snarkiness and sometimes anger over things that really weren’t mine to be angry about, and that I was seeking approval from the people who responded to my posts — “do they like me?”.

All of those seem like good reasons to take a social media hiatus, and I still believe they are. However, what I didn’t really count on is how much I would miss the connection with the people who’ve become regulars in my little internet bubble. As crazy as it sounds, there are some people who I only interact with on social media who I absolutely consider friends. This Lenten sacrifice of mine has cut me off from those people.

I also didn’t consider how much I use social media as a crowd sourcing platform for life’s common questions, like “how much should it cost to replace a car’s back windshield” or “what’s the best way to cook a rump roast?” And to answer the obvious question, yes, of course I could Google those things, but it’s so much nicer to hear from friend or two or 17.

Despite the fact that I am pretty sure that I made a big mistake giving up Facebook and Twitter, I’m not giving up giving up. I think there are things I can — and need to — learn and do. I want to get back in touch with my own thoughts and feelings outside of the influence of whether or not other people agree. I’m feeling drawn to creativity, which I’ve let be squelched by mindless scrolling through newsfeeds.

There’s a big world out there and I’m hoping to find it again. And when I do, boy will that make a great story to tell on Facebook.


A good laugh

Today I was challenged to write about a moment experienced through the perspective of my body. I decided to write about a good laugh.

A good laugh starts in my lungs with an inhale and then a stuttered, vocal exhale. My mouth turns up and my eyes narrow. Soon, I feel my stomach tighten as the breaths — inhale, exhale, get faster and deeper. My eyes fill with tears and my cheeks stretch toward my ears. My body begins to fold over as water streams down my face. I straighten up, trying to breathe, anxious for the oxygen, but not wanting the moment to pass.

It was an interesting exercise, to think about what my body does during something as simple as a laugh. Think about it. What moment would you describe, using only the experience of your body?

Do you know how you feel?

Last week a co-worker said to me, “You must be really stressed.”

Her comment took me by surprise. “Why?,” I asked.

“Because you’ve been talking to yourself a lot. You do that when you’re stressed.”

I stopped to think for a minute and she was right. I was feeling stressed. But I was so hyper-focused on the tasks of the week — including getting two kids ready to head out to college and one set for his first day of high school, I hadn’t taken any time to consider how I was feeling about it. All I knew was I had a to-do list a mile long (two of them, in fact — one at work and one at home) and I was chiefly concerned with ticking off  the boxes.

Since then, I’ve been trying to pay attention to how I’m feeling about situations and experiences. Those feelings have included:

Frustration — on several occasions, including when I’d spent more than an hour building a webpage at work, only to have the computer spontaneously shut down, causing me to lose an hour’s worth of work.

Exhaustion — moving two kids into college in two days will do that to you.

Conflict (Confliction? I’m not sure that’s a word) — As a lifelong Catholic, I’m feeling conflicted about my religion given several recent stories in the news.

Sadness — the first time I pulled up to our house and it did not look like a used car lot because there were only two cars there, not the four that had been parked out front all summer

Gratitude — For several things, a flexible work environment, the ability to provide our kids with education, a body that can move (mostly) freely

Exasperation — I love my daughter Annie but by the time she went to school, we were both very ready.

Fear — when my son Charlie told me he is going to his first college party and working with my other son to get himself organized for high school

As I look over this list, I’m surprised to see that happiness and joy didn’t make the list. Surely, I’ve felt both of those things in the past week. I’ve had periods of my life where happiness and joy went on long sabbaticals. This is not one of those times. I think I need to pay more attention to when those make an appearance and be grateful for them.

Are you aware of your feelings as you are having them? Or do you just march through your days ticking off the boxes?

What am I doing anyway?

I went to lunch with a friend this week and she asked me about my career trajectory. I had to think about it because I’m not sure if I’ve ever really been forward thinking about what I do to earn a living.

When I was preparing to graduate from college, what I wanted was a job. Something to pay the bills and to have something to show for the 4 years and thousands of dollars I’d spent as an undergraduate. A few years into that first job, I began looking for a new challenge. I made what I think was a career move — earning more money in a job that was related to both my degree and my previous job. But in hindsight, I was really just biding time until I could fall into my vocation — being a mom.

After Annie was born, I returned to work for a few months, and then decided to stay home and do some freelance writing, earning a fraction of what I’d been making. It was a choice I happily made and I was glad to have a skill that would allow me to have flexibility and the ability to still contribute to our family income. Today I would say that I had a career has a freelance writer.

When the kids were 8, 6, and 2, I returned to traditional work part-time. Thirteen years later, I’m still working in that job, full-time now. And I’m starting to contemplate what’s next. In all likelihood, barring the winning of a large lottery jackpot, I have about 25 years left to work. What is my career trajectory?

And the answer is, I don’t really know. I’m making a few stabs at investigating that question. I’ve enrolled in a master’s program — Master of Science in Healthcare Management. Before getting my current job, all of my experience was in healthcare, and I enjoyed it. I have an interest in adult day services and in hospice care, but I don’t want to provide clinical care.

I recently took an intensive class in fundraising, with the idea that I might be able to parlay 25 years of communications experience into development work. I think I could be good at it, maybe raising money for healthcare entities, but I don’t actually have experience doing that. Would someone actually give me a chance to try?

Then there’s the fact that I really enjoy working in higher education. I like the pace of the work. I like being where learning is encouraged.

So what is my career trajectory? I feel like I’m just throwing things against the wall to see what will stick. I think of the people who I worked with at my second job — communicators like me who built careers, some in freelance work, some in the pharmaceutical industry where we met. I think of the mentors I’ve had along the way and I wonder if they all deliberately built their careers or if it’s just what stuck for them?

Somedays the question of “what am I doing, anyway” is daunting and makes me feel inadequate. Other days that same question is an invitation and I feel kind of lucky to get to explore the answer.

What is your career? Are you there because of a deliberate path you set out on? Or are you where you are because of a happy accident? What is next for you?

Parenting a high schooler 3.0

When I published my first blog post 10 years ago, I didn’t have a high schooler. My kids were ages 11, 8, and 4. Now, at the writing of this first post of the reboot of my blogging enterprise, I’m preparing to send my youngest to high school in just two short months. And we (my husband Mike and I) are learning all over again.

Our oldest set out for a public charter high school, which was new territory for us. But she was (and still is) independent and capable. She was firmly entrenched in theatre and made friends through that easily. She was a determined student and didn’t cause much worry. When it came time for her brother to go to high school, he chose a Catholic high school — definitely more in my wheelhouse. He is an athlete, so his high school years were filled with conditioning and practices and games. He was a reluctant student, which caused us a lot of angst in his freshman year, but when he put his mind to it (and found he couldn’t play if he didn’t make the grades), he did fine.

Now, it’s our “baby’s” turn to go to high school and I think it’s fair to say that we (Robbie and I) are both kind of terrified at the prospect. Of all three of our kids, Robbie works hardest at school. It doesn’t come easily to him and his years of elementary and middle school were filled with plenty of personalized academic support. He wants to do well and where effort figures into the bulk of the grade, he does. But he learns differently. And he thinks differently. And he approaches life differently. And we are learning how to parent him differently.

The first difference we came upon was when Robbie said he didn’t want to play sports in high school. After four years all-in to high school athletic scene, I wondered “how exactly do you parent a kid who doesn’t want to play sports?” He played CYO sports for most of the years he was able and while not a stellar athlete, he is decent. His hard-working nature serves him well on the field and the court.

“How about you choose a team to work out with for the summer,” I suggested. “That way you can meet people and make friends before school starts.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, but I’ll admit that I was also hoping to “trick” him into deciding to play. But here we are, a month into summer soccer training and he is ready to hang up the cleats.

“Well maybe, you want to give tennis a try?”


“Mr. N. thinks you could be pretty good at football.”

No. I just want to concentrate on school.

How can I argue with that? Plus, I know that he would be overwhelmed with the prospect of practicing or competing five to six days a week. My baby is my homebody. But what does high school look like when you don’t have a dedicated sport or interest (as Annie had theatre)? I guess we are about to find out.

If I’m honest with myself, I know this is about fear. My fear that he won’t fit in, that he won’t have friends. I’m also afraid that I am giving up too easily. Kids need us to push them out of their comfort zones, right?

This part of parenting I know well…discovering when to push and when to back off. Allowing our kids to make their own decisions (with some guidance, of course) and being there to support and re-direct them should those decisions come with unexpected or unwanted consequences.

High school 3.0. Ready or not, here we come.