“Happy-to-be-alive Guy on Aisle 5!”

One more trip to one more grocery store.

And one more errand on one more jam-packed day.

I was already far behind where I “should” be on today’s to-do list (which was rapidly becoming the “What-I-have-not-done-yet-today” list. You know the feeling, I expect).

So I hurried into the store, hoping to be in and out in three quick minutes, more or less.

A tall, thin man, perhaps about 90, a great big cowboy hat propped on the very top of his head, nearly blocked the first aisle I’d planned to sweep quickly through.

I stepped aside gently to let him safely pass.

As he rolled ever-so-slowly toward me and then continued to roll past, he said, energetically, “How ‘ya doing, Darlin’!?”

Startled, yet awakened to the moment, I burst out in a laugh.

Despite having my earphones in as I listened to a training podcast, I had to answer his “I’m HAPPY to be alive! How about you?” inquiry.

“FINE, thank you! And YOU?!” I replied, now with a big smile on my face.

“GREAT!” he called back as he rolled ever-so-slowly on.

A bit later when I was queued up at the checkout counter, a few shoppers behind him, the clerk dropped his change into Happy-to-be-Alive Guy’s outstretched hand.

“I think you for your service. And I REALLY mean it!” he said.

And just before he left, he turned to the man behind him and wished him a good day in an “And I REALLY mean it!” way.

We believed him, and carried on, a little more awake to our lives (at least for the moment), having crossed his path.

In some ways – except for the “Darlin!'” line – he reminded me a lot of my dad.

Dad, too, could make random people feel happy to be alive during a random trip to the grocery store.

It’s a skill.

To the people around them, it’s a gift.

Give yourself the gift of a Happy-to-Be-Alive moment sometime today, as well.


Look around.

Notice something right there, right then, that makes you appreciate that you did.

Enjoy that moment.

And then, when it’s time, begin again to move ahead, a bit more awake, a bit more refreshed.

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Acceptance: the hardest thing about change

Don't give up before the miracle happens


Sounds easy, right?

You sit and let things wash in, over, through you.

So it would seem.

But acceptance doesn’t work that way.

It’s a commitment to be with things you’d rather not see, and certainly don’t want to have stay.

Acceptance of a circumstance…a goal you didn’t meet, a dream that didn’t come to pass (and never may)…well, it doesn’t just fall into place.

Acceptance is tough, but that doesn’t mean you back away.

Acceptance is meeting life the way it is.

It’s the first, and sometimes the hardest, step in making change.

No matter how much you want things to get better, until you accept what you have to accept, you can almost bet things are going to stay the same.

So free yourself.

Make time and space for better things ahead.

You can start, and you must start, by accepting what is.

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“Pay attention!” Four ways your life may change if you do (or don’t)

Double heart shadows

“Pay attention!”

That’s not advice you want to get.

But sometime, somewhere, you’ve probably heard that.

“Pay attention!”

And you’ve probably given that advice, as well.

“Pay attention!”

It’s advice that’s typically dished out when someone believes you’re not fully engaged in a task that they see as important, while you, seemingly, do not.

Attention lapses often start with that powerful little piece of technology in your hand, your cell phone.

It’s an interruption just waiting to happen.

And it’s an ever-present “I’ll just take a quick break” machine of escape.

Combine that with all the other electronic tethers which can quickly rule your life, and quickly others’ priorities overtake your own.

Think that “simply” paying attention makes little difference to the quality of your life?

Here are four ways that paying attention can change your life:

1. It can prevent problems (and tragedies, too)

Consider drivers and their attention behind the wheel.

Accidents can be prevented if all drivers are attentive, and leave themselves time, and space, to react appropriately if something dangerous starts to occur.

If drivers sacrifice attention, it can take just a split second for an accident to occur.

Many drivers’ focus is anywhere but on the road.

A surprising number stare at their cell phone screens, reading a text, email or tweet, periodically glancing for a second at the road.

Traveling at 65 mph or more, they cover the length of a few football fields in the four to five seconds they ignore the road.

If you’re anywhere around them while they’re hypnotized by their cell phones, your safety may be in their hands, but it’s not on their minds, you can bet.

2. Things go faster and better if you’re fully attentive

They just do.

Imagine being a patient in surgery.

You expect your surgeon to pay attention, of course.

He or she and the surgery team will do far better work if they’re each fully attentive to what’s going on, with their own work, and that of the full team.

The same is true for you.

Being “right here, right now,” whatever you’re doing, reduces the waste of distractions, miscues and missteps that often happen when people are half-attentive…or worse.

Your work is far better, and far more rapidly completed when you’re paying full attention to what you’re there to do.

3. You can see or make the most of opportunities others might miss

If you’re paying attention, you can see opportunities others miss.

Sometimes they’re golden, career-building opportunities.

Other opportunities are as simple as finding the fastest line in a busy grocery store.

By paying attention, you can tap large and small opportunities before the distracted even wake up.

4. You’re present in your life, not just skimming the highlights now and then

Your life has blessings and challenges, as every life does.

Now, I can admit that it might have been nice to sleepwalk through a few of the tougher experiences I’ve faced in life so far.

But if I did, it might get to be a habit – avoiding, skipping over, flying past, and generally being absent from my life.

And if I did that, I would have missed out on some of the simplest yet most beautiful experiences and moments of life.

Many of those have been the sweet, simple, surprising moments it would have been so, SO easy to miss.

Typically, they were unexpected, spontaneous, fleeting.

A glance, a chance, a moment, a story, an idea, a memory, a laugh.

Pay attention.

Stay awake.

Be there for your life…the whole of it…not just the highlight reel at the end.

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You can learn to bloom where you’re planted

Bloom where you're planted

It’s not a matter of debate.

You, like everyone else, need the skills of transitioning well.

Transitions will happen in your life, guaranteed.

Sometimes they’re sought.

Sometimes they’re accepted.

And sometimes they’re fought, unwanted, unwarranted, unexpected.

Our children will be transitioning soon. In their case, it’s from college to creating their own lives more fully as adults.

That doesn’t mean, though, that even if these transitions were expected, our children will feel fully ready for the change when their turn to walk in the cap and gown is done.

Anne completes a master’s degree in nurse-midwifery at Vanderbilt in December. She’ll help women through the major change of welcoming their new babies into their lives.

Matt graduates in June, 2014 from UC Davis. A film studies major, he’ll make his way to a satisfying career, too. He may discover, in the process, as the rest of us in the family have, that the path to that satisfying career includes a few exploratory and path-clarifying stops.

Transitions in life may bring many changes: location and living quarters, job, relationships, family circumstances, finances, health, and more.

My husband and I know about health transitions, much more than we did a year ago.

In the process of dealing with Gary’s sudden need for back surgery and its aftermath in the summer of 2012, we missed the early signs of a burgeoning foot problem.

And, as we all know, whispered cues and clues of the need for change, unheeded, can start to scream at you.

We’re dealing with more dramatic circumstances now (think knee high boot for a year…and no driving for months). But dealing with it, we are.

My mantra through this second year of health transitions and helping my husband regain his full health is, “We’re working it!”

Skills of transition are, fundamentally, the skills of resilience.

They’re also, often, the skills of innovation.

Solutions are sometimes cobbled together in the moment, and even better solutions are created, with time, experimentation and experience.

Learn from my family’s transition experience, if you can.

You need to be able to land on your feet, when change happens, whether unwanted or sought.

And it’s better to learn to bloom where you’re planted, wherever you are.

With good transition skills and great resilience, you can deal with just about anything.

You can even take a heap of unwanted experiences, if that’s what you’ve got, and turn it into the fuel, foundation, and fertilizer for a garden that’s beautiful, perhaps even inspiring, and more.

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Persistence or resistance? You choose the way



It’s a good thing. Usually.

It gets you through tough and testing times when nothing else will.

Look to nature for inspiration when your persistence ebbs.

Grass, for example, doesn’t give up when the going gets tough. It grows and goes as long as the basics are covered: earth, water, sun.

Persistence also has a downside.

Resistance can be persistence misapplied.

It can be the denying of a wave of change – or growth – that’s coming your way. And it can be a futile attempt to turn back time.

You can respond to that wave of change in many ways.

You can “become one with it,” catching it, riding it, tapping and adapting well to the power the surge of change brings.

You can be bowled over, or even destroyed by it.

And you can choose to take a martial arts-like step out of the way, letting the wave land where and when it will as you assess what your best next step may be.

People, teams, companies, even countries can see themselves as persistent when, in fact, they’re in denial, resisting inevitable change.

They may refuse to adapt, no matter how weighty the signs that say, “Things are not the same as they were in the past, and they’re going to continue to change.”

Persistence misapplied is also growth denied.

Pause to check in with yourself. Is your persistence positively applied?

Take a good look at where it hurts in your work or life.

What hurts? Where? And what do you think is causing that pain?

It may not what you expect.

Or it may be something you don’t really don’t want to address.

Consider, however, the time, money and effort it takes now to avoid changing your ways.


Let resistance end.

Accept the growth and change that’s coming your way.

Ride the wave.

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Don’t just slog through – make a game of challenging times

Mine didn't look quite like the picture

There are times in life when the long, hard road to a goal or a milestone seems as if it will never end.

Growing up in Iowa, that goal at about this time of year was just getting through the long, cold, dark and snowy winter.

My mother’s response to the discouragement of that seemingly endless post-holiday winter stretch was to create milestones to work toward, and look forward to.

And because Mom was an excellent (EXCELLENT!) cook, many of those milestones were delicious.

February was a dessert-rich month. For example, each year we could look forward to all these homemade treats:

– Feb. 12: “Lincoln log” for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (a sponge cake roll filled with almond cream and frosted in chocolate)
– Feb. 14: Divinity hearts (cherry, mint, black walnut) dipped in chocolate for Valentine’s Day
– Feb. 22: Cherry pie for George Washington’s birthday

How do you break up a long, sloggy stretch of work or a project, making it more encouraging, and enjoyable?

Here are a ideas to try:

1. Find something to look forward to.

Anticipation can be half the fun of anything.

A good friend starts planning her next trip within days (or hours) after she returns from her last one.

It helps break up the endless stretch ahead of her stressful and, sometimes, unrewarding job.

2. Break a distant goal or milestone into short-term ones.

Each achievement, completed, spurs you on to reach the next one.

3. Invest the effort that makes reaching a milestone a real victory.

Don’t just mark the passage of time with the milestones you set. Create a collection of achievements.

Put some mind work, muscle and moxie into milestone-reaching, and each one will be more meaningful.

4. When you reach a milestone, pause…notice…enjoy it.

Often we get something done and instead of really noticing what we’ve done, we’re already thinking about the next thing on the to-do list.


Notice your achievement.

Celebrate in some appropriate way.

5. If you’re having a hard time moving forward, break your goals down into even smaller chunks of achievable action.

Two to five minutes of progress, if that’s all you can complete on a given goal and a given day, is still progress.

Moving forward in the best and most positive way is the point.

6. If you’re REALLY stymied or stuck, start moving ahead by imagining yourself doing the work.

Sometimes you can only start to move ahead if action is believable, and you see the accomplishment as achievable.

Notice, as you do this simple exercise, how glad you are when you imagine that the work is getting done, and when it is completed.

That, alone, may spur you over, around or through anything that’s holding you back now.

7. If there are things you really don’t want to do, notice that you feel that way, but move on.

Don’t waste your energy not wanting to do something.


Notice it and then move on.

Stewing, and hand-wringing just makes things worse.

Work is almost never as bad as you think it will be.

Get it done and then enjoy the fact that you have.

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What if you could master something you now fear?

Sweet and funny (hilarious) memories

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Nelson Mandela

How different could your life be if you conquered (or even mastered) something you now fear?

Our daughter, Anne, was the maid of honor at a dear friend’s wedding. Here she’s shown giving her speech at the reception.

Anne was nervous about that speech for days ahead of time.

Yet, with her speech well-written and well-practiced, she had the wedding reception crowd in the palm of her hand. Laughter and tears flowed freely as she told stories about her long-time friendship with the bride.

And while Anne would not say she conquered her fear of public speaking from just that one speech, she grew strength and confidence through it.

Facing fear, and moving toward and through it gives you courage.

It gives you confidence.

It helps you to be more prepared for the next challenge in your life.

How different could your life be if you mastered something you now fear?

Relish the thought.

Start now.

Give it a try.

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Risk action

Taking flight

Vital lives are about action. You can’t feel warmth unless you create it, can’t feel delight until you play, can’t know serendipity unless you risk.
Joan Erickson

Dreams are elusive things.

Ideas and inspiration are, as well.

The only way to draw your ideas into reality…and to experience their powerful potential, for real…is to take action on them, step by step.

Even a small step is a move forward.

Take it.

What dream, idea or inspiration are you going to act on next?

What is your first step?

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Have the courage to live YOUR dreams (not the ones someone wanted you to want)


“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
Carl Jung

Ahhh, dreams…the life-inspiring kind. They’re very, very powerful.

Just make sure the dreams you’re following…or trying to…are your own.

I’ll come back to that thought in a moment. I had a revelation on that count one recent Saturday morning.

My husband and I were at the veterinarian’s office, chatting with another couple as we waited for our dogs’ medical problems to be solved.

The woman looked familiar. We were trying to figure out what our prior common ground might be.

“I had a music school once…” she said, after another area of possible connection turned out not to be the one.

I paused at the music school suggestion, trying to figure out how to summarize my musical experience quickly.

“I’m well-intentioned, musically,” I said, “but that’s about it. And I’m an appreciative audience”

I paused again, recalling that I’d tried more than once to catch the music bug.

“I did take piano lessons. Reluctantly. I played that way, too,” I said.

“It was only because my mother said we would want to be able to get up at parties and play the piano for a crowd if they decided suddenly to have a singalong.”

Who was I at that age to know that she would be so wrong…for me? I’ve never ONCE wanted to be able to sit down at a piano and play as a crowd broke into song.

All I really remember about learning to play the piano is:

– Hours of tedious, uninspired and uninspiring practice

– Sitting in the piano teacher’s garage, filled with rows of petrified kids sitting on metal folding chairs, each waiting for our “turn” to take that long, lonely walk to the living room where we would perform for a crowd of highly expectant parents (a crowd that did not break into song).

As I told the woman this story and we laughed, I realized that the spontaneous piano playing dream might have been one my mother once held…for herself.

And not having fulfilled it, perhaps she tried to pass that dream along, hoping one of her kids would catch it, and carry it forward, the ability to join, or rouse a crowd in spontaneous, exuberant song.

That strong and…to her…desirable image of spontaneously playing the piano as a crowd broke into song had to start somewhere.

When I realized that passion Mom must have had for a dream unfulfilled, it made me sad for a moment. For Mom.

If I’m right, I have no idea why piano-playing was not part of her life.

Probably money for lessons, and a piano, were not available to her in the small Missouri town and time when she grew up.

All I know is that piano-playing was not for me.

(On the other hand, I caught the baking bug, big time. If that was your strategy, too, to pass that dream and those skills on to me, thank you, Mom! Seriously).

What about you?

Are you living your dreams?

Or have you given up on them?

It’s not too late, even if a Carnegie Hall piano-playing date (or a crowd breaking into song at a party) does not await you.

Whatever your dreams are, pick them up and give them a good, healthy run.

Photo credit: “Keys” by Misha Sukharev on Flickr

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Stuck? Maybe you’re suffering inspiration deficit

Looking for ideas for an article I was writing, I started to read The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed

Within moments, I was fully inspired, and ready to change the world.

I’m exaggerating, you understand…but only slightly.

Sometimes when we’re dragging our feet on our to-do list, or burdened by a big goal we wonder now why we set, it helps to refill our inspiration reserves.

Before we know it, we’re jet-pack propelled.

One thing I can count on when I need inspiration and motivation is to learn about excellence in any field.

I love stories about people who achieved great things, and learning how they did so.

How about you?

What do you do to refill or recharge when you’re facing an inspiration deficit?

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