One of the participants in Charlie and Edie Seashore’s course at the Cape Cod Institute last week spoke of a particularly entrenched dynamic in her life and concluded with a sigh, "It is what it is."
"Or is it?" Edie replied, to much laughter.
It was a reminder of how easily we fall back into seeing our circumstances in habitual ways that don't serve us well.
I didn't realize just how much I needed it until the course ended and the very next day the full weight of summer descended upon me—tourist gridlock in the grocery store, a calendar complicated by trying to juggle family visits and client sessions, my own competing desires to get things done and still have enough time and energy left over to enjoy summer.
My husband and I own a canoe, but for years the only action we took re canoeing was to talk about how we ought to take it out on one of the marshes or kettle ponds before the summer ended.
But we’d got rid of the car with the roof racks and it always seemed like too much trouble to have to figure on a new way to strap the thing on top, so there it sat, season after season, on sawhorses beside the garage.
This year, however, as the tourists began to arrive, I found myself looking at their kayaks with envy, so I told my husband it was time we went canoeing again.
He went to work, cleaning years of accumulated dirt off the fiberglass shell and fixing a broken thwart, while I rummaged in the attic and located the paddles, the life jackets and the dry bag.
At a local outdoor store we found a carrying kit suitable for hauling a canoe short distances and we bought it and drove straight home and loaded Sacagawea onto the car and took her to Salt Pond.
It was the beginning of rush hour, and the Green Line train was almost full, forcing us to stand. As soon as we boarded I grabbed the bar on the back of the seat nearest me and adjusted my stance to absorb the jerk which I knew would follow as soon as we started.
I noticed a man sitting in the aisle seat a few rows back, and two things about him immediately grabbed my attention. One, he was sitting with his back ramrod straight, and two, he was ex-military, wearing a black corduroy baseball cap embroidered in red and yellow letters that said "Marine Veteran" and a badge that read "Vietnam Veteran" above the pocket of his denim jacket.
His self-assurance was fascinating, yet I also found his eyes-front posture intimidating because of the oversize aviator sunglasses that hid half of his handsome face, making it impossible to read his expression. I aimed my gaze over his head and out the window and wondered what he'd experienced in that war that was more humiliating to those who fought in it than any other in America's history, and how it had shaped him.
I usually begin thinking about a column a few weeks before I sit down to write it, but the month of January flew by so quickly and the approach of the deadline for this month threw me into a panic.
How could I possibly attend to the client work on my calendar, prepare for a strategic planning summit a week from now, and write a newsletter?
The more I stared at the calendar, trying to find open space, the more inaccessible a topic seemed. I not only couldn’t think of anything to write about—I also couldn’t remember anything I’d written in the eight years I’ve been producing this newsletter!
Long ago, I vowed never to write another column about resumes, but something a client said to me a few weeks after being laid off by the Fortune 200 company where she had worked for over fifteen years changed my mind.
"I don’t want anymore black hole resumes," she said emphatically.
For her to be able to speak with such clarity, even while recovering from the shock of being let go, was a cause for celebration. It was a huge step forward because in taking it she was rejecting the idea of another job in favor of work, as a consultant, free agent, business owner.
Every event or conversation that upsets or displeases us is made up of two components: what actually happens in real time, and what our head does with it afterwards. We have little or no control over many of the difficult things which occur in our lives, but we can change our response to them.
A good starting point in keeping our minds from spinning out of control is to learn how to "drop the shock and awe." We do this by making a choice not to be surprised—once again—by behavior that we know from past experience is consistent with a particular person.
Because we already know what to expect, we can eliminate, or at least shorten, the time we spend trying to build a case for why we find another person's thinking, words or actions unacceptable.
I’ve been aware for some time now that what causes my clients the most pain in their professional lives is not the weight of their responsibilities, the heavier workload due to the economic downturn.
What leads to frustration, sometimes despair, are those difficult or even hostile exchanges with specific people in the work environment, often the boss. These interactions play out in predictable patterns which one of my clients recently described in great detail.
The scene was all-too-familiar: her boss kept calling her again and again, each time with a new demand, neither asking nor caring how the interruption would affect what she was currently working on, expecting her to be able to shift gears immediately, insisting that everything was urgent. It was making her numb.
I regularly work with clients who have creative goals—making pottery, writing poetry, actually using the sketch pad they've purchased or been given as a gift. Sometimes these aspirations come up almost apologetically: "Of course, it's not practical and I have so little time, but what I'd really like to be doing is—"
Frequently they come to light in an exercise where clients write stories about experiences in their lives which gave them a deep sense of personal satisfaction, e.g., this description of a drawing class written by a woman who manages construction projects: “I loved how I felt when I was doing these drawings. There was a connection between my soul and the paper.”
Occasionally, the need to put hands to clay or pen to paper has become so important to a client that the failure to be able to do it become the focal point of our discussion. This is always exciting to me because it is an unconscious recognition of the link between the artistic urge and transforming a work life.
In my clients' frustration I hear the struggle to claim the creative space which is essential to a genuine transition. The challenge for them (and for me) is to actuate these seemingly non-productive, impractical pursuits to serve the longer term goal of professional fulfillment.
People who vacation on Cape Cod would probably find it strange that someone who lives here would leave in July.
Nor would they be likely to see the connection between their arrival and my need to get away.
Initially our annual mid-summer escape was motivated by the desire to leave our tourists behind and become tourists ourselves.
We have come, however, like many others, to love the meandering coastline of Maine, with its rugged coves, smooth-as-glass inlets, and sailboat-dotted harbors.
This year we made it the last stop, a place to pause to take in the beauty of the natural world before turning our backs on the sea and facing the five-and-a-half hours of highway ahead of us.
Some places never disappoint, and when you know this, it adds to the joyful anticipation of returning.
Growing a lawn, as opposed to isolated clumps of grass, is a problem on a sand bar, which is a good description of outer Cape Cod, where I live.
After years of trying without success, this Spring my husband announced that he was giving up, and he was going to put down mulch because he was sick of mowing dirt.
I have a strong preference for the natural look, so I balked at the idea of covering what little green we have with brown—or worse yet, red—mulch.
We compromised on ground cover and shrubs in the front, but what to do on side of the house remained unsettled until I had a wild idea in the middle of the night—we could build a labyrinth.
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol for wholeness. It combines the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path representing a journey to one’s own center and back again into the world.