I am a gardener. I am about 10 years into nurturing a butterfly garden — this is a place I spend my time. The gardening itself is a joy, and it provides balance from the amount of my life I spend indoors, in meetings and in front of a computer. And there’s something else — my garden is a metaphor factory. When I am out digging in the dirt I often see a metaphor for my life. There’s no effort involved other than getting out into the garden and doing what needs doing. It’s more that all of a sudden there is a lesson for me to see.
And so it was one day this year, as spring was heading into summer.
I had been working in my front garden, doing what needed doing, when I sat down to rest in an Adirondack chair. As with all Adirondack chairs, I was encouraged to lean back, relax, and gaze up. I found myself gazing into a red oak tree at the edge of the patio. The oak had developed its deep green leaves for the season and was also still growing new leaves. Right in my field of vision there was this new growth — a shoot of garish lime green, tinged with a deep red, that stuck out from the rest of the tree with its staid green leaves. That bright green growth, with dark red tingeing its edges, captivated my attention. I couldn’t pull my eyes away, though it was not a harmonious sight. Decidedly un-harmonious.
As I sat looking at the tree with its glaring new growth, I saw the lesson for my life: as I seek and pursue new areas that are calling to me, new arenas for stretching and growing, they will not match my life, will not match me. There will be a lack of harmony for a while, as this new element gets integrated into my days, before ultimately making for a better life.
The first example I have of this struggle was when my husband and I got rid of our TV in February 2002. This was something I had been curious to try, something that was calling to me to experiment with, so out the TV went.
I remember the first weekend with no TV. I’ve never had the experience of coming off a drug to which I am addicted until I got rid of the TV. That first weekend I felt like I was detoxing from a drug: awkward, unsettled, a tad bit embarrassed. And yet, all these years later, that one change has lasted and has led to others that have had enormous impact on my life. I couldn’t see it at the time, but getting rid of the TV started me on an important journey to discovering what I believe, what I think, and to reduce unwanted influences from my life. I had to own that I was able to be influenced by ads and images and the lure of distraction. This change started me on a path to being a more conscious consumer of media. And that new growth did not match my life. Until it did.
I then recalled my first whole-food-based cleanse in 2007. The first week I walked around angry, saying, “Everything tastes like dirt.” As I was coming off of processed foods, I probably was tasting dirt — food that was grown in the dirt, instead of in a manufacturing facility somewhere. It made me angry, uncomfortable, and afraid. But I was growing and learning, and getting healthier. That growth did not match my life. Until it did.
I still struggle with food, all these years later. But that first experience of cleaning up my eating gave me understanding of foods’ impact on my health, energy, and life.
Then I thought of the start up I am working on with a number of amazing people. We believe in what we are doing — our customers tell us all the time that we are helping them. What we are introducing to the world is new growth. We are part of the new era of the Knowledge Economy, the post-social world of the Collaborative Economy. We are telling senior IT professionals that the best way to learn something is to connect with people who have done what they are trying to do. Our technology and service makes that happen. We are offering new growth to an industry and a profession that needs it. IT needs information at a different speed with more authenticity, and that growth doesn’t yet match the way millions of these very smart people do their work.
I know that as we persevere toward our goal of helping these people, the growth we are offering will begin to match and become part of how more people work. I look forward to that.
I am a born seeker: of God, of new experiences, of who I was made to be. It’s a challenging path, often interesting, and so much a part of who I am that I will remain true to the seeker in me. My magic garden metaphor factory helped me see that new growth, on a red oak tree, on a rose bush, and on me, doesn’t match, is not harmonious, won’t fit. Until it does. So I will keep on pushing the edges and dealing with the discomfort that is a harbinger of better days ahead.
I wish you the same exciting and rewarding journey.
From my “What I Learned About Life and God While Playing in the Garden” series.
You’re going to get stepped on. Don’t let it stop you from blooming.
I have a butterfly garden in my backyard. I’ve been working on it for over a decade now and it’s a source of great fun and joy in my life. I have three dogs that are also a source of great fun and joy in my life, and they, like me, like to play in the butterfly garden. Their playing doesn’t always coincide with how I’d like things to go out in my garden – they like to dig, they like to play chase around the sometimes delicate plants, and my Vizsla, Jane, likes to chase lizards. She is a great lizard hunter. Here’s Jane, the great lizard hunter:
I enjoy watching the dogs play in the garden, and get a lot of laughs from watching their antics. They get to play and I get to play and I get to enjoy watching them play (I get the best deal of all.)
I learn lessons about Life in my garden, they are there if I can be open to see them. I have a nectar plant called a green-eyed daisy that grows tall and blooms beautiful, yellow, daisy-like flowers that the bees and butterflies love. When spring comes, new shoots start to shoot up, straight up. This year, one day when new shoots had started to grow, I went out to the garden and saw one of those precious shoots sticking out horizontally rather than vertically. Earlier that day there had been some particularly good lizard hunting going on, as well as a game of chase between my Vizsla and my Chihuahua (lots of lessons to be learned in that unlikely pairing.) I was sad to see this new stalk had been hurt and happy that it didn’t appear to dead, severed or permanently impaired. Just stepped on in a moment, without intent, with only play. And now headed in a new direction. So I decided to let it grow and see how it would do. I am happy to report it is doing just fine:
We all get stepped on, most often inadvertently and without any negative intent, just like happened in my garden. Something said that hurts our feelings, something not said that we wish would have been, words come by that hurt us. Like this flower, let it hurt for the brief moment that it needs to, then let it go, go about your business of growing and blooming. Don’t let it stop you from blooming. Come to think of it, don’t let anything stop you from blooming.
Words to Live By.
I have a birthday tradition where every year around my birthday I write The Sara Manifesto. These are the words I want to live by, I want to practice, I want to be. Some elements last from year to year, for example, “I will be true to myself,” has made the list for a few years now. It is an exercise I go through so that I consciously and deliberately know what my Life is about at this moment in time. And it’s an interesting exercise to look back over the years, because I get glimpses into my journey at certain moments in time, moments in this hero’s journey. Some years the manifesto is a challenge because I have so much I am thinking about or practicing or studying. Some years it sorts itself out quickly. 2014’s manifesto was one of those.
Here is the Sara Manifesto for 2014:
- I will be true to myself.
- My criterion for achievement will be: did I have courage?
- Criterion is a standard on which a judgment may be made.
- I am interested in experiencing Life, not managing it.
- What other people think of me is none of my concern.
- There is an inverse relationship between:
- Kindness and hurry;
- Kindness and stress;
- Kindness and busy.
- When speaking, I will first ask:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
- Stop struggling and open myself up to what Life hands me.
- Throw out all those plans and sink myself in the here and now.
- I Know when I am at-my-center and when I am off-my-center. When I am off-center I will simply feel off and act to get back to center.
- That answer is always within because God is within.
- I will hold eternity and time simultaneously. And Live accordingly.
- I will die to the world and come to birth from within.
- Whether this works out or doesn’t, I am free.
I write my manifesto because it helps me live in a way that is deliberate, keeping in mind filters for decision making. I notice that being alive today in America (which is nothing more or less than my experience), there are societal norms that I did not establish but that affect me, unrelenting messages to consume things I don’t want or need, and pressure to conform to ideas that are not my own. Therefore, I write my manifesto as a birthday present to myself and then go about the practice of practice, which is the practice of life.
Try it. You have nothing to lose but the loss of your way.
As July comes to a close, I wanted to write about declaring independence because it has been on my mind this month. I noticed a lot of people taking vacations around July 4th, this country’s independence day. Myself included. And that got me to start thinking about declaring independence – what am I feeling compelled to declare independence from in my life?
For my company, Wisegate, here is what our declaration of independence looks like:
Wisegate is declaring independence from:
• Ivory towers everywhere
• Limitations imposed by old ways of doing important things
• Bad company cultures
• Meetings with no purpose
• Metrics & Reports with no purpose
• Working with jerks
I wrote my own declaration of independence, too. First a backstory: at my house we have a tradition that when my husband is playing a gig (he’s a musician) and I go to bed before he gets home (which is almost every time) I leave him a love/welcome home note so he feels warmly welcomed home even though I am sound asleep. On July 3rd he had a gig and my note to him was my declaration of independence. Here it is:
The more I read it, the more I smile – it is right on! I didn’t ponder this unduly – it flew out of my pen. As to the “fear” on the list (twice) – that is about declaring independence from being halted by fear. Fear itself is a normal human emotion. It seems to me that if I am not feeling fear on a regular basis, I am likely not reaching toward my potential, my next version of Sara. So to feel fear is fine, that’s just part of being alive. To be halted by fear because I feel uncomfortable or am trying something I have never done before (which is often) is not what I want in my life. OK, that’s the only one that requires some explaining. Everything else stands on it’s own.
So what about you? What do you need to declare independence from in your life? How about at your company or in your work? Write it down, have some fun with it, and then live it.
Ask yourself this question. Write down the answer that pops into your head. Do not filter or question what comes to your mind. Ready?
Who are you jealous of?
Jealousy isn’t a fun emotion, I would put it in the Top Ten list of most-difficult-to-feel emotions. In this case it has something to teach us. Who you are jealous of can be a pointer to where you want to head next.
Every human being has talents and gifts to offer while they are here; if those gifts aren’t discovered and put to use, they’re lost forever, and the history of the world is changed.
Now, if your answer had to do with money or fame, go back and inquire again. You probably aren’t there yet. Here’s how you will know if you hit the mark: as you ponder the person that came to mind, you will notice yourself feeling uncomfortable or puzzled. Stick with it. That discomfort is a sign that you are onto something.
I am embarrassed to write this, but when I inquired of myself who I was jealous of, the first answer I got was Ghandi. Yeah, I know. Ghandi! (Groan.) I didn’t know much about him, so why Ghandi? Right from the start I felt uncomfortable with my answer and decided to experiment with it and see what I learned.
So, I read some books on his life, I re-watched that movie, I read a book he wrote on the Bhagavad Gita. And the more I dove in, the more uncomfortable I felt. Until I got to this quote he is known to have said: “If you think you can separate faith and politics, you don’t understand faith.” That brought to mind my own version of this quote: “If you think you can leave your faith at the door of your business, you don’t understand faith.” That, in a nutshell, is one reason I have launched and am running a start up – to build a company based on what I believe and living it, even at the risk of being misunderstood. I’m not done understanding why Ghandi showed up as an answer to this question, but early exploring has proven enlightening. His life was a living experiment of his faith, he lived surrendered to God, he experienced great peace and great joy. All of which inspire me, and nudge me to sara.next.
In this world that is so focused on degrees, letters that follow our names (M.D., MBA, JD, CISSP, EIEIO), titles and zip codes, no one tells us that the true work of a lifetime is uncovering who we really are and having the courage to be that.
When you ask yourself this jealousy question, it can inform you about a direction that in your soul you really want to take. It very likely won’t make rational sense, but it very, very likely will make gut level, or heart level, sense.
Try it out. Stick with it and inquire what it might mean about this next step of your life.
I’ve noticed that in certain situations, my instincts are exactly wrong. When they say one thing, the best possible answer is to pick the other choice.
Here’s what I mean. When I notice that I’m white-knuckle-gripping – trying to hold on and push toward an outcome that’s fixed in my head, my instincts tell me to keep my grip tight and don’t let go until I get what’s in my head. What I am finding is that when I spot the need to hold on, the best possible outcome is often to let go. The need to hold on tight is really just a sign that I am experiencing some emotion that’s uncomfortable.
Conversely, when my instincts tell me to let go – leave a situation, conversation or task in front of me – often the best possible outcome is to take a deep breath and hold on. The need to run is really just a sign that I am experiencing some emotion that’s uncomfortable.
Let me be real here with stories. I notice at work that when we face a challenge, I get an answer in my head and my instinct is to speak first in meetings (I’m the boss, by the way), and lead (a.k.a. push) the team in my direction. I have a talented team who brings amazing gifts and experiences to the Wisegate table – so why would I push to exclude their talents and creativity? When I notice myself wanting to push, wanting to speak first, I am practicing letting that go. Letting the experts around me be, well, expert.
At home this manifests when I have an expectation of how my day is going to go (or evening, or hour) and it doesn’t go the way that’s in my head. My instinct flares up and tells me to hold on to this imaginary vision in my head. When I can let go that what’s happening isn’t part of my plan (the dog tracked mud in, or the puppy needs attention in my hour of quiet reading time,) then I can usually see something spectacular unfold, albeit different than what was in my head. I am a lifelong white-knuckler, and this experiment is illuminating, freeing and provides some good chuckles (fully empathy included.)
On the hold-on-when-I-could-let-go front, I notice that when I am in a situation where there is some amount of confrontation, my instinct tells me to let go – get out of there quickly. When that happens, what I am experimenting with is holding on – staying through the discomfort. Without fail it passes like a cloud, and almost always progress has been made, air has been cleared, resolution has been made possible. I am a confrontation-avoider from way back, so I can go easy on myself here and treat myself with gentleness when I spot this happening.
Why is it that when our instincts say hold on, the answer is often let go? And when they say let go, the answer is hold on? Try it. It works.
In my last post I talked about the idea that at any moment in our lives one word can capture what we are most after, most seeking. I have gotten intriguing and meaningful responses and I wanted to share some of Your words.
From Stephani: “Growth” would definitely be my one word. Life is constantly throwing me experiences to grow from, and luckily, I’ve found no shortage of fascinating, intelligent people to help me with advice along the way. On the flip side, I love to watch other people grow. I’ve found that there’s nothing more satisfying than to see someone overcome a challenge that was daunting at first.
From Ryan: Spent a lot of time thinking about your one-word concept – I like things that are both simple and powerful at the same time. I went through the exercise of identifying my word – pretty tough I must say. I’ve concluded my word is “ownership”: taking ownership of the things/goals/emotions/moods in my life. Part of this ownership (and I mean REAL ownership) is what I’m choosing NOT to own, therefore, not letting it bog down my mind, time, and even affect my mood or level of stress. I’ve found that allowing things to get me down or monopolize my time that I’m not choosing to own creates an exponential amount of stress and discomfort. This is primarily because I don’t make time to focus on those few things I deeply want to own – and thus accomplish and/or change.
From Randall: “Surprise” is my one word. I strive to surprise people with going the extra mile for them (unfortunately it seems this is becoming a lost art). I love to be surprised by how people interact with me (keeps me from creating generalizations about people and to recognize each individual’s uniqueness). And I love surprises in life (we only go around once, I don’t do it in a rut.)
From Ron: I decided I have two words for now…..”change” and “investigation”. I figure I could not affect change without investigation!
From Cameron: “Passion,” – an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something. For life. For my wife. For my kiddos. For work. For running. For community. For Strong Start.
From Christa: Purpose. I am working each day to Prioritize with Purpose, which means reviewing actions, opportunities, and priorities and relating them back to my core values and personal brand as a wife, mother, entrepreneur and sales professional.
From Jevon: The word that immediately came to mind for me was “listen.”
I found Your words inspiring and intriguing. It reminds me how much we all have in common AND how unique we each are.
Great words, everyone!