Underpromising: Is that Settling?

A few years ago, I took a course with the Wisdom of the Whole Academy to be a Life Coach. I remember in the early part of the program, they were explaining some of the basic tenets of coaching. When it came to the client setting goals, the guidance was to ‘underpromise,’ to pick the one goal they were most interested in reaching and then  commit to one small action step to take in the week following the session.

When they first explained it, I thought I must not be hearing them correctly. My expectation was that a client would commit to a significant step. This didn’t sit well with me. I thought it sounded like ‘settling,’ doing a mediocre job when weren’t we supposed to be reaching and challenging ourselves?

I learned that the rationale was if it was a small step, not too difficult, the client would achieve success and would be encouraged to continue with another small step until they obtained the goal. Choosing too big of a step often produced failure and discouragement.

Each of us had to partner with a fellow student and practice coaching one another. Over the weeks of my sessions, there was a theme in what my coach summarized and reflected from what I’d said: I often used the word overwhelmed. It seemed to occur when I was talking about my frustration with having multiple goals and not knowing where to start. I had an “Ah Ha!” that there were too many goals and that had been a theme throughout my life with my driven nature. No wonder I had a hard time with the concept of underpromising.

The summer after I finished the course and was certified as a Nurse Coach, I took my solo journey to an artist residency at Artcroft in central Kentucky. In return for the free residency, I’d provide the sweat equity of helping with the farm animals, garden, and provide a community service– like speaking and leading a writing workshop. In between those jobs, my project was to rewrite my memoir. But when I arrived, things were completely different.

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Instead of sharing the house with fellow artists, I would be there the two weeks by myself. The cows had been sold and there was no longer a garden. The library and Chamber of Commerce had no requests for workshops in mid-July, so other than meeting the staff as an ambassador for Artcroft, there were no expectations of me. “Just write,” the Artcroft director told me.

While I was disappointed at first, in the quiet farmhouse with only an upstairs window unit air conditioner, my feelings changed over the two weeks. The sparsely furnished house on a lone road on a hillside of Kentucky, became the perfect time and place to write with great focus. I could not put a load of clothes in the washer, or turn on the television, or even use wi-fi, because there were none of those.

I spent the early morning hours, sitting at the table writing with the door open to the cool air, a rabbit nibbling by the side yard. The quiet was occasionally broken by the sound of a car coming up the road or a cow mooing in the distance. I’d take a break and walk the hilly road that crossed the property and enjoy the lane lined with Queen Anne’s lace and lavender chickory blooms. I took garden clippers and gloves and cut pieces of the bountiful thistle to make a simple arrangement for my kitchen table.

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While I would head out for the latter part of the day to the library to check email or to see a few of the area sites, the majority of my time was spent in that simple farmhouse doing just one thing: writing.

The one thing the director advised me to do. I didn’t have multiple goals, “Just write.” It’s the only time in my life when I’ve ever had two weeks focused on one thing.

Was that like what I’d learned about underpromising and with less we could ultimately achieve more?

I still have to remind myself of being kinder, gentler when it comes to goal setting. And when I find myself overwhelmed again, I remember that little house in Kentucky and the quiet lesson learned over that two weeks.

Less really is More.

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How About You?

Do you have a goal that would benefit from taking a smaller first step, of underpromising so that you will have success?

Is there an area of your life where less could be more?

 

Happy Cancerversary!

Cancerversary is a ‘milestone defined by you’ according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship #cancerversary.  That’s what June 22 is when I celebrate my survivorship from triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed in 2000. While my situation was cancer, your life-changing event may have been divorce, sobriety, or some other thing that irrevocably altered your life. Each of us has a unique journey and I hope that you can look back on the twists and turns in yours as I share those from mine.

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 I consider the eighteen years since my diagnosis and think about the path my life has taken.  I remember that as we approached 2000, there was a lot of Y2K hype that was focused on computer issues, and by some, was generalized to other areas. But as my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, later said, for our family it lived up to the hype.  In January of that year, my father-in-law, who’d already been homebound on a ventilator for almost ten years, was diagnosed with cancer that originated in his lungs and had spread to his bones. He died on March 28thon his 71stbirthday. Then on June 22cnd, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was followed by eight months of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation– lasting through the rest of 2000 to the end of February 2001.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast for writers that asked what your goals are for the next decade. Back in 2000, I wasn’t looking ahead to the next decade, but rather trying to get to the one-year mark, the two-year mark, and especially the five-year mark that was the big milestone with my subtype of breast cancer. Now, when I think of the decade that followed my diagnosis, it’s interesting that the story of those years is told in my memoir. At this eighteen year cancerversary, I’m preparing it for my editor.

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Our family when I’d just finished treatment and still had short hair

Those ten years include walking that cancer treatment path while navigating the toxic job at The Research Company. Ultimately, that included being fired from my job and the accompanying shame and anger that goes with it. God’s grace was evident as I took the steps to return to working as a school nurse at McDougle Middle. There I developed friendships that I continue to enjoy to this day. I was able to use my gifts and experiences from working as a psychiatric nurse to help students struggling with mental health issues. That trail led me to becoming a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid that resulted in being a co-leader with Cindy. She told me about a part-time job as a research nurse with UNC Outpatient Psychiatry– just enough work for my post-retirement from the schools last March.

That decade included going through the mid-life challenges of raising children, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with dementia, and trying to find my life when my nest emptied. Part of what I found was the extraordinary of taking yearly solo journeys, that became spiritual pilgrimages. In those ten years, I took seven journeys that included places like Jekyll Island, Georgia and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Accounts of all those journeys woven into my everyday life are all contained in my memoir, that I didn’t know I would write when I was diagnosed that June 22, 2000.

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First journey to Sedona became a template for 13 more

Beyond that decade, I’ve had eight more years that have continued to open up the world to me while pulling me into what is essential. My life has followed the course that is unique for me, as I continued with seven more journeys and entered my ‘senior years’ and now I’ve added the joy of being a grandmother.  How rich my life has been, how grateful I feel for God’s blessings and the way they have shown up through the people and places in my path.

I remember when I was reeling in the shock of my diagnosis, sitting in the waiting room for my appointment with the surgeon just days after the radiologist looked at that mammography film. Restless with anxiety, I listened as a woman talked to the receptionist.

“Yeah, it’s been eight years now since my surgery,” the woman told the receptionist.

“That’s great,” she responded. “You’re doing so well.”

She’s lived for eight years, I thought, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just by overhearing that conversation I felt hope, the first time I ever heard about someone’s cancerversaryand didn’t even know there was such a thing.

My hope for you this day, is that something that I’ve shared will bring you a wave of relief. I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I hope that you can look ahead, to what you want for the next decade– or the next year, or two years, or five years.

Your road will be unique– the way that is right for you. My prayer is that God will bless you as you take each step forward. As I say on Twitter #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back.

If your challenge is cancer, I invite you to read my recent invited post on the SHARE site entitled 5 Tips for Getting Through Cancer https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2018/06/breast-cancer-stories/

Blessings to you!

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How About You?

What is your _______versary? What was that pivotal event in your life?

How do you look back on the time since that event and the path your life has followed?

How can you celebrate your _________versary?

 

 

A Father’s Care

I’ve thought a lot about a father’s care over the past six weeks as I’ve watched my son, Brooks become a father. You can see the joy, the weight, the responsibility, the wonder of his new role as he tenderly cares for his baby boy. From the time Brooks knew they were going to be parents, I listened to how he considered decisions in light of what would be best for his family, what a child would need– a father’s protection and provision coming forth from within.

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My son caring for his son

My son learned about being a father from his Dad, my husband, David always a rock of support for his sons.  David didn’t run away from infant care, or terrible twos, or late-night fevers, or problems with getting the boys to complete their homework. He worked hard to provide for all of us so that we could have a good life.  And David had seen that same behavior in his father– hard working to support his wife and three sons.

Likewise, I saw how my Daddy cared for Mama and we three daughters.  He worked long hours on our farm and in other jobs to provide for us. He was the best to bring special treats like ice cream when we were sick and to complement us in our Easter outfits, when we played the piano, or baked him his favorite cake. I was devastated when we lost him to a heart attack when he was just 57. I was 22 and suddenly without the care of my father.

David and I married just eight months after my father died. I was grateful to David’s father, ‘DB’ for welcoming me as a daughter– one he’d never had. For the next 22 years, we were close and I depended on his fatherly support. I really missed that when 3 months after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and could have benefitted from his concern, knowing I had a father watching out for me. I certainly trusted in God my Father during that time, but it would have been nice to have that from an earthly father. I missed the practical way DB had of showing his love, his signature parting instruction to his sons to “check your oil,” the way he said I’m thinking about your safety on the road, without saying it directly. A father’s care that’s a tangible love with an extra twenty dollars pressed into your hand or groceries loaded into the back of your car.

I appreciate what feels like fatherly care– even when it hasn’t come from Daddy or DB. I’ve received that type of support from people in my path on my solo journeys. One of those experiences came the first time I camped.

In July of 2015, I took my first trip by train.  I boarded the Amtrak in Durham and rode to Penn Station in New York, stayed over the weekend with my son, Ross, then continued on to White River Junction, Vermont. There I stayed in a hostel room located in Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel. After a couple of nights, I rented a car and drove to the western side of Vermont to camp at Button Bay State Park on Lake Champlain. I’d stayed in a state park cabin before and hoped I could do that in Vermont.  But they only had a cabin available for one night.  If I wanted to stay for three as I’d planned, the second two nights would be in a lean-to.

I was a bit skeptical, never having camped in a lean-to and wondering how I’d be able to take enough gear– since I would only have my backpack and a small suitcase. Around the time I was planning my trip, I met a woman from that area and she assured me I’d be fine without a tent.

The State Park was on a beautiful point of land overlooking the lake.  If you walked down the road to the west you could see the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the distance.

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Button Bay State Park, Vermont

The first night when I stayed in the cabin, there was a  family from Massachusetts at the site next to mine.  They appeared to have a well-established camp site with tents like satellites around their cabin, bikes for the children, and a table for their Coleman stove and cooking supplies.

They watched from their campfire as I unloaded my backpack, suitcase, bedding, and bag of Vermont cheese and apples. Later, they came over and spoke, seeming curious that I was a woman traveling alone.  I told them how I’d made my reservations too late to get the cabin but for one night. They’d been coming for a week every summer since the father was a boy, maybe around forty years. The mother asked me where I would spend the other nights. I told her I’d move to the lean-to sites.

“You gotta tent?” the man asked me.

“No. Just bedding and a floor cushion. A woman I met from near here camps and said that should be adequate,” I said, trying to sound confident.

He looked at me, like he was studying my response, then said, “Those mosquitoes will eat you up. I’ve got one you can use.”

He went to the back of his van and pulled out the tent that he said he’d had since he was nine.  I thanked him and told him I’d return it the morning I left.

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My Lean-To with the stranger’s tent

I managed to rig the tent inside the lean-to using rocks to prop up the poles since I couldn’t anchor them with stakes in the ground.  I just did manage to crawl in and zip up the tent without everything collapsing in on me.  I heard a couple of mosquitoes buzzing and got them out before I fell to sleep reading by flashlight and listening to the groups nearby talking or singing around their campfires. It felt familiar to be camping again after all the years our sons had been in Boy Scouts.

The next morning when I went to the bathhouse, the counter was dotted with what looked to be hundreds of tiny mosquitoes.  I shook my head in amazement.  He was right, I thought, and was thankful for the stranger in my path. He’d made my stay at Button Bay pleasant and had reminded me of how wonderful it is to receive fatherly care.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain

https://www.vtstateparks.com/buttonbay.html

How About You?

What are the special memories you have of your father’s care?

What other people have provided that for you?  How have you provided that type of support to others?

 

Sad Stories along the Road

Not all the stories of the people in my path are humorous or entertaining; there are some that are heavy, racked with pain that is real and truly part of our human experience.  Over the last few days we’ve been alarmed and saddened by the tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and the knowledge that there were other suicides by lesser known people– all leaving a trail of unfathomable grief.

As a nurse working in mental health for fifteen years and school health for twenty, I’ve seen the devastation of death by one’s own hand. I was a trainer for Youth Mental Health First Aid because I wanted to help teachers, educational staff, and others in the community watch for those who showed signs of depression, signs they may be considering suicide.  In the sadness of these recent deaths, we’re reminded of the expanding need for mental health services in our pressure-filled society, and the importance of reaching out to one another in the truth about our struggles, instead of presenting that perfect social media picture of everything being okay.

Hopefully we realize the importance of being present to each person, staying in the moment and being able to stand with them in their pain.  I’m reminded of a chance meeting with a woman in my path during my solo journey back in April of 2013.

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

 I was spending a few days exploring Colorado Springs before the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference.  After a very scary, and ‘sickening’ trip up Pike’s Peak on the Cog Railway, I spent the next two days in bed with altitude sickness. Thankfully, I’d stayed in a Bed & Breakfast where the staff came to check on me.  The woman who owned the guesthouse, brought me medicine her son took when he visited, since he always had problems with the altitude. My last evening there, I heard a knock at the door.  I was just able to crawl out of bed, put on my robe, and open the door to one of the staff.  She handed me my bedtime chocolate and an extra towel.

“I hear you’ve been having some trouble with the altitude,” she said.  “When I moved here from Kansas, it took me almost 6 months to adjust.”

“Yeah, I thought I would be okay.  I’ve been in Colorado for days, even went up into Rocky Mountain National Park last weekend.  When the cog train reached 11,500 feet, that’s when I lost it, literally!”

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Inside the cog rail train going up Pike’s Peak

She asked me where I was from, calculating how much I was having to adapt.

“So you’re used to being in North Carolina.  You’d better get back to sea level!” she said and chuckled. “It’s beautiful in the South. I used to have a son that lived in Charleston.  Went there when he was nineteen.”

I was startled by her response.

“What do you mean by ‘used’ to have a son?” I asked.

“He moved across the country, trying to get his life together. We thought he was doing better,” she said, her face changing from the dark cloud that moved in. “But then we got the news that he took an overdose and killed himself.”

We stood there, her in the hall, me in the doorway, trying to take in her sad story.

“It’s been so hard. He was my stepson and I loved him,” she continued. “It’s killing my husband. I don’t think he’ll ever get over losing his boy.”

I told her I was the mother of two sons, and that I was so sorry for their loss. I couldn’t imagine the depth of that pain.

“Suicide is the hardest death, I think.  Such a senseless loss and leaves people behind with so many questions,” I said, wanting to support her, but like everyone, not quite sure what to say.

“Yeah, we knew he had problems. But we never thought he’d do that,” she continued. “It was like a horrible nightmare to go there afterwards for his belongings.”

We talked for a while longer, and eventually she led us back to the present, asking me about the remainder of my trip, interested in my writing conference. Our conversation ended with her wishing me to feel better and me telling her to take care of herself and her husband as they found the strength they needed.

Maybe I’d provided at least a moment of comfort for the grieving woman. She had ministered to me in my physical illness, providing cheer with her unexpected presence after I’d been so isolated. I hope she’d felt some relief to share her story since many times those dealing with a family member’s suicide may keep it to themselves.

My hope for the woman at my door as well as others who are either feeling sad in themselves or from the suicide of a loved one, is that they will get the professional help that’s needed to go beyond the sadness to a place of hope.  May we all support each other, being honest about how we struggle and finding comfort and strength to move forward hand-in-hand down the road that is life.

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Welcoming Guesthouse

 How about You?

(For this post, the Reflective Questions seem to be more personal. At this time, I am no longer a Mental Health Professional and therefore I’m not able to respond to comments that are of a clinical nature.  However, I do encourage my readers to consider these questions and take the needed action to get help for themselves or others.)

Have you ever experienced depression yourself or in someone else?  How were you able to express your feelings to someone else or to listen while they shared with you?

How can you be more honest with others about the things you struggle with?  What type of professional, family/friend, and/or community support might help?

RESOURCES:

National Suicide Hotline. (800) 273-8255

Website with information on depression and suicide prevention–

https://www.samhsa.gov/suicide-prevention

 

 

 

Daily Bread at Tibbett’s Point

It was June and I was celebrating being a 10-year Breast Cancer Survivor, a decade since I’d heard the words, “You have cancer.”  I wanted to take my summer journey to a special place, the seventh solo trip that had turned into yearly pilgrimages.  Thumbing through a resource book for hostels in the U.S., I found the perfect place, described as a location with the most beautiful sunsets: Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel. Located in Cape Vincent, New York, where the St. Lawrence River flowed into Lake Ontario, the hostel was in the former lighthouse keeper’s house.

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Looking at the map, when I drove from the Buffalo airport to Cape Vincent, I’d travel through the Genesee Valley, an area I’d first learned of through the writings of Henry Nouwen. He was a Catholic theologian and I liked his down-to-earth-way of writing about faith.  He’d stayed at the Abbey at Genesee, living and learning with the monks and wrote about it in the book, The Diary of Genesee.  I decided to take a side-trip off the NY Thruway and go to that same abbey– pick up a copy of the book and loaves of Monk’s Bread to take as a ‘pilgrim’s gift’ to the hostel.

The evening I arrived, I was amazed at my first glimpse of the sun setting over the St. Lawrence River, an orange orb sliding down the back side of the dark blue sky.  People were sitting in Adirondack chairs near the lighthouse, facing west and witnessing together the closing of another day.  I knocked on the office door and was greeted by Bea, the 83-year-old woman who was filling in for the current manager.

After she showed me around, Bea invited me to join her and two other women along with two college-age guests at the kitchen table.  The conversation flowed easily, with folks telling about experiences in different hostels– all solo travelers.

“This is what I love about hostels,” Bea said.  “Everyone sitting around the table like this, sharing all their adventures.”

Later, the two college-age guests left and Bea, Ruth– who was also in her eighties, and Coleen, sixty-three, who was Bea’s friend from down the road, continued talking, including me in their familiar conversation.  I unpacked my food, including the two loaves of Monk’s Bread.

“Here’s something I brought to share with everyone,” I said, and placed the loaves on the table.

Coleen pulled one over and read the ingredients.

“I love cinnamon bread. I don’t often buy it because it’s expensive and I live on a retiree’s income,” she said. “Think I’ll try some now.” She took a slice, bit into it, and smiled.

For the next five days, I made my home at the hostel.  At breakfast and dinner, I enjoyed getting to know Bea, Ruth, and Coleen.  I came to think of them as the ‘Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point’ as their personalities reminded me of the other Golden Girls on the old t.v. sitcom.

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(L to R) Bea, Coleen, Ruth, Me

During the day, I explored the area– writing in a Cape Vincent coffee shop, trekking over to Kingston, Canada, and taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. One evening when I returned from observing the sunset, Coleen and Ruth were sitting at the table. Bea was measuring flour into a bowl.

“Come join us, Connie,” Ruth said.  “We’re watching Bea work.”

“I’m making cookies with my Grandmother’s recipe,” Bea explained. “She never wasted anything.”

“You won’t believe how good they are,” Coleen said, “even with chicken fat.”

Chicken fat?” I asked, thinking I must have misheard.

Coleen smiled, “They really are good.”

We waited around the table, while Bea added sugar and a lot of pumpkin pie spice.  After a thorough mixing, she spooned the dough onto the cookie sheet. Waiting for them to bake, we talked about all we’d done that day and their company felt so familiar to me, like being at my aunt’s table. Ruth put the kettle on for tea.

While the cookies were still warm, Bea placed them on a plate and passed them to me.  The three women waited for my response.

The sweet, cinnamon-based, fall-flavored taste had no hint of chicken fat, that had been completely covered by the spice.

“You’re right. They are good,” I responded, feeling that sweet satisfaction of the warm carbohydrate treats, like what Bea had known from her Grandmother’s cookie jar.

Bea and the other Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point smiled and reached for their cookies.

Of all the places I’d stayed over the decade, I’d had more satisfying meals at that hostel table.  Whether it was eating breakfast with toast made from the Monk’s bread or evening cookies made with chicken fat, sharing food and friendship had been the heart of that kitchen.

Tibbett’s Point had been a great place to celebrate my 10th anniversary as a survivor.  How sweet it was to think of all the memories of special times I’d experienced since that day when my world was turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.

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How about you?

 What milestone in your life deserves a special celebration?

How would you like to celebrate?