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If you are not your work, what are you?

A few weeks ago I began a series about “making it work at work.”
In the first post, I wrote about a technique for finding your balance in the workplace: actually realizing that “you are not your work.”

Check this post out if you haven’t already. Your Not Your Work

Let’s back up.

Why would you be in need of this reminder in the first place?
Well, a lot of us work A LOT.
Even when we are not at work we fret about our work, we check emails, we answer calls.
We even dream about our work!
With technology and increased expectations and demands to get more done with less time and a smaller staff, we carry our work with us. And then the parents among us are never really away from the work of parenting. Combine parenting with a job and the result is competing priorities, almost all the time.

Sometimes it can feel like work is sitting right between our shoulder blades all day and into the night —a subtle pressure between the bones.

That’s a heavy weight. It can lead to no longer liking your job (if you liked it in the first place). It can grow into a sense of dread whenever you think about going to the office. You may find yourself teetering once the edge of burnout, which I will write about in future posts.

If you feel tired, overwhelmed and overloaded with work, you can begin to reduce the burden by reminding yourself – YOU ARE NOT YOUR WORK. (That’s pretty loud, I know.) This technique is critical to avoid becoming fed up with your work.

But if you already know you are not your work – then what are you?

Right now you might be saying,

“Really, Annie? What am I?”

I know this is a big existential question.
And yes, people have written about this for millennia.
And yes, when I ask myself this question I think,

“Whew – too big, too big!”

You don’t have to look at the question head on.
It’s OK to give it a sideways glance.
But it’s a question worth asking.
Who are you?

What are all the exquisite, powerful things that make you – YOU?

Think about your experiences, history, identity, heritage, choices.
Then think about what’s at the core: the solid uniqueness of you.

Here’s something you can do.

Try it in your head, in your journal, or even on a sticky note!
Say to yourself: “I am me. I am_____________.”
Fill in the blank at least 5 times with adjectives.
Be kind. The list could include things you are all
the time or just some of the time.

Here are a few of mine:

I am me. I am bright energy.
I am me. I am gentle.
I am me. I am generous.
I am me. I am small.
I am me. I am strong.

Now ask yourself:

“Besides my professional self, my parenting self, my care taking self, what do I love to do? What do I enjoy?”

Keep it sweet and simple. These do not have to be BIG ideas.

Here are a few of my answers:

I love to read, knit, cook, run, hike. I love to be with my friends, neighbors, and family. I love to be near water and in the green space behind our building. If you want to go deeper, you can think of a way you already nurture these other parts of yourself.

Take note.

Is there a way you can do something this week with your non-work self or your non-parent self?

Just one little thing. Give it 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

Maybe you already do these other things. You go for walks with friends, paint, write poetry, ride your bike. Shine a light on those things. Remember them at work and outside of work.
When work is looming, we need to remind ourselves that we DO have a life outside of work.
There may be beautiful parts of our lives and our lived experience already happening —we just need to notice and acknowledge them!

You are not your work.

You are so much more than your work.

You are YOU.

If you are feeling really DONE with your work and pushed beyond the limit, don’t worry.
You don’t have to stay forever.
In my next few posts, we’ll work on developing a strategy to help you make a bold switch.

In the meantime, here are a few more posts on finding balance in the workplace:

How to love the job you are in (or survive the job
you hate)

You are not your work
Invest in who you are – not what you do

Annie Von EssenIf you are not your work, what are you?
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You are not your work

In the next few weeks I will be writing about making things “work at work.” I will give you thoughts and tips for coping and thriving in an intense workplace. In these blogs, I will be thinking about my amazing clients who work for non-profits and for-profits. Both are high stress jobs. Most places people work are stressful environments nowadays.

The basic equation looks like this:

Less money to hire employees + more work to be done = fewer employees doing more.

A lot of what happens in an organization is not in our control. However, we do play a role in team dynamics, our work product, our outlook, and our own stress management. In this series I will focus on the things we can control.

When your work is really hard…

projects stacking up all around you…
demands to do more with less…
unhappy clients and customers…
a gossipy, complaining co-worker…
a boss that does not understand your workload…
…these are the days you feel like you need to put your head down and just plow through.

These are the days you are heading toward burnout. Too many of these days in a row and it may be really hard to find anything good about your work.

This is a critical time. It is when you need a BIG reminder that you are NOT your work.

Say it out loud. Get in your car after work and declare:

I AM NOT MY WORK!

Even if you do work that does real good in this world — like growing food or teaching children:

I AM NOT MY WORK!

Even if you are really good at your work — like delivering the best service to grumpy customers or perfectly stitching up someone’s wound:

I AM NOT MY WORK!

Even if your primary work is raising your own children. They are very close to your own identity, but your children are not you.

I AM NOT MY PARENTING!

So then what?

Well, when the work is really tough (or even when it is peachy) a great way to stay sane is to do things outside your work and your family — things that will remind you of your “you-ness”.
Put the work down and do something for yourself. Something that makes you feel like you.

What if you don’t know what that is?

Start by spending a little time alone. Perhaps write about things you enjoy. What makes you feel cozy and content? What restores and energizes you? You’ll start to see the best ways to get in touch with you.

Here are a few activities that will help you remember you are more than your work:

  • A walk or bike ride by yourself
  • Time out for coffee or tea (without work, electronic devices, or media)
  • Lunch alone, away from your desk
  • A few extra minutes in bed in the morning to say hi to yourself
  • A quick chat with yourself in the mirror
  • Writing about anything that is not your work
  • A creative project you can work on for few moments each day — something just for you. (Knit a few rows, work on your bike, cook something yummy.)

Why do this?

Because taking a little bit of time away from the work and reconnecting to yourself reminds you that you are not your work.

Then, when you are at work and stuff is hitting the fan you can think:

“I am going to do my best with this, but you know what? How I do this work right now is not all there is and not all of who I am.”

That sense of separation from the work will increase your ability to actually do the work.

Wild? I know.

Now take yourself for a walk.

Annie Von EssenYou are not your work
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Re-entry: Getting back to real life

Each New Year is full of opportunity. People breathe a sign of relief and say, “Thank goodness it’s the New Year!” At the same time we all talk about how quickly the last year went by. We feel a sense of excitement and anxiety as the year begins again.

When we come back to earth after the holidays, we must re-engage with our work. We also may be trying to re-establish a daily schedule or cut back on our sweets intake.
(Okay, I am trying to! AND I am trying to go for a few more walks…maybe even a run?)

The first weeks of a new year can deliver downtrodden feelings: “Oh well, here we go again.” Or: “Man, I am going to go back to this work?”  Or: “What am I doing with my life?”

But the beginning of a new year can also hold feelings of renewal and anticipation. We all have an opportunity to push the reset button. We may be thinking, “I can do this differently this time.”

I am finding it is important to pay attention to both of these tendencies in myself. Although I am deeply grateful for my daily work, it can be hard to go back after taking a break. At the same time, I am thankful for the reminder that we exist in cycles. I like that the end of each year brings a new year, just as every night holds the promise of a new day.

So how do we go back into the old work while holding on to a sense of the new?

I have two big thoughts and a quick checklist for you.

Give yourself more time

Re-entry takes more time than we allow ourselves — so does change. As you enter back into your routines, pay attention to your feelings. If you feel sluggish and find yourself asking, “Can I do this work again? This routine again?” and the answer is YES I can, then go slowly. Take it one step at a time.

Remember, even if the answer is YES you do not have to do things exactly the same way. (In later posts, I will revisit what to do when the answer is NO, I can’t keep doing this work.)

 

Choose something new, let go of something old

This re-entry period is a powerful time to clear out the old and usher in the new. Perhaps not in a full “New Year’s Resolution” sort of way (although if that works for you – go for it). No I am thinking about the big, big picture way of letting go of what no longer works well, and embracing new ways of being and doing.

Ask yourself what you want to change this year:
“How do I want to feel and act differently?  What do I want to let go of?
What do I want to embrace?”

This year I am letting go of other people’s expectations. (Okay, I am really going to work on this over time.)  And I am embracing the exquisite feeling of being cared for by people who love me.
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Now for the practical advice!

How do you get back into work and life in this New Year?

Review your calendar

Clean up that calendar! I mean it. Clear out the clutter. Delete. Delete. Delete. Then add something that is in line with what you want to embrace.

Mine: Deleting most of my weekend “to do’s” and adding time with my partner on Saturday mornings, JUST US. (See how I did that… my letting go and embracing pieces are all up in my calendar!)

Pick ONE — and only one — new habit or routine.

Got lots of ideas for the New Year? Awesome! Capture them. Right them down.
Now pick one, ONLY one that is super duper doable. Tell some people about it. Do that. Start there.

Mine: Longer meditation in the morning four times a week. This is already something I do – I’m just adding 5 minutes to my meditation time. Doable.

Figure out one thing you love in your working life.

What is one thing you love about your work? Even if work is grimy and tough right now, what is one twinkle in the midst of it?  Write that down. Make it a mantra. Take it to work with you. Remember it on Monday mornings.

Mine: My clients. Really! I love working with my clients.

Indulge

Find one sweet lovely thing you already do that feeds your spirit, and keep on doing it! Some good probably came from those holiday indulgences. If so, keep it up. (Maybe in moderation… maybe not).

Mine: Some serious sleeping in on the weekends. (Sorry for those of you with kiddos, you may have to pick something different).

Take a few moments right now and ask yourself:

What do I want to let go of this year?

What do I want to embrace?

Choose one or two things and get started. Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Take baby steps. You can do this.
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

P.S. If you love to dig into process and self-help books and want a new way to work toward living out your goals, check out The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. It’s a great tool for your New Year reset.

Psst… For the next few months, I will be writing about how to deal with a work environment you do not love — or at least one that is exhausting and trying at times.

Annie Von EssenRe-entry: Getting back to real life
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Find your center during the holidays

The holidays are here. If you’re like me — if you’re like many people — you’re feeling a combination of excitement and pressure, joy and sadness.

Right after Thanksgiving in the USA, everything around us explodes into green and red lights. There are so many ads, so many shopping deals. So many expectations, so many parties to go to. And so much year-end work to be done.

The holiday time can be sweet. We look forward to sharing food, laughter, and love with family and friends. We experience faith in something bigger — faith in each other.

But the holidays can also weigh us down.  Amid the rush and the twinkling lights, many of us can feel alone, disconnected and unsure.

For many people, this year’s holiday season is laden with sadness, anger, mistrust and disillusion. Recent events in Ferguson and New York — and across the United States — point directly at our long-standing divisions and the injustice that continues to reside in our midst.  The global crisis of Ebola points at our fragility and dependence on each other. Deep in my bones, I am feeling great sadness and anger and loss.

How then do we make it through the holidays? How can we manage not to droop under the grinding challenges at this year’s end?

Three practices are helping to buoy my spirits this month — and you may find them helpful, too:

  • Reflect on what this season mean to you
  • Pace yourself and take smaller bites
  • Do less and notice more

Reflect on what this season mean to you

Two major religious holidays are celebrated this time of year along with many spiritually and culturally significant days. Hanukkah and Christmas both fall in December. These holidays celebrate miracles and represent light being brought into the world.  The winter solstice — often the last big feast before the hard months — represents rebirth and the coming of a new year.

And it may be that these holidays are not yours and have no connection to your beliefs. Even so, you can find personal significance in the season — without the holidays. Ask yourself: what is the deeper meaning people are searching for this time of year? What deeper wish do you have?

Ask yourself: “What meaning do this season hold for me?”

For me, this season is a time to reconnect with dear ones. It’s also a time for reflection: I think about where I have been and where I am going. I reflect on love and how I want to show love to other human beings. I think about the ways I have been showing up and the ways I have not. It is a time to express openly the possibility of miracles while actively acknowledging the sadness, conflict, and injustice in the world around us.

Pace yourself and take smaller bites

This is helpful advice during a holiday meal!  It is also a good practice for the whole season. Taking baby steps and dividing tasks into smaller bites is a healthy way to handle life’s challenges. It’s a big part of what we talk about in my Room Next Door workshops.

Try focusing on one thing at a time. Break down the work, the chores, and the activities into bite-size pieces. Get very clear about the first doable piece of a task. Do that one thing. Then go on the next piece. Give yourself less work in a given amount of time.

Do less and notice more

Take a moment right now to figure out what can come off your plate. Can you change a deadline, eliminate some errands, or drop an expectation you have placed on yourself?  Say “No” once or twice — or even three times — this month. Some projects can wait. Choose the gatherings you’re attending wisely. If you try to do it all you won’t enjoy any of it.

Be mindful. Pay attention. When you’re in final stretch of a work project or preparation for a meal with friends, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and make everything slow motion (like in a movie).  What do you notice? Is it a connection between people, the click clack of computer keys, the smell of warm pie, a friend’s bright laugh, even a feeling of sorrow blurred around the edges?

When you slow down, you will be reminded why we need each other. We need each other’s support, love, and kindness. Hold onto this fact during December, because this is what the holidays are truly about.

What does this season mean to you?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenFind your center during the holidays
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One simple way to get unstuck

When you have a big problem and you are feeling stuck, I have a tool for getting unstuck — ask for help!

Over the last few weeks I have learned a lot about taking risks and creating something new.
My biggest learning has been that I cannot do it alone.

I am someone who loves to give help. It feels good to be of use and to support someone else. Just look at my work: it’s built on giving advice!

What I don’t like is asking for help.

When I ask for help, I feel vulnerable. I’m giving up control. I can’t dictate exactly what sort of help I’m going to get. I don’t get to choose how that help is going to be delivered.

If asking for help makes you feel uncomfortable, too, here’s where that feeling comes from:

When you ask for help, you are actually saying, “I cannot do this on my own. I need support.” The dominant U.S. culture teaches us that asking for help is weak. We’re taught that we should be able to do everything on our own — that being a successful human is an individual thing.

That teaching is a lie. We are all interconnected.

Any major change in our lives is done in community. Whether we’re raising a baby, launching a project or moving into a new home, we’re changing alongside of other human beings.

We need each other.

If you have a grand plan you want to implement, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by too much work or too much life — you need help. And that’s a good thing!

Asking for help opens up a new way of seeing a problem.
It allows the weight of the work to be shared.
It increases the energy going toward a solution.

When you ask for help, you are no longer alone. And when you are supported you will begin to see new ways forward.

You can reduce stress and increase your creative potential by asking for support.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when asking for help:

Pick the right folks for the job.

Who has the experience? Likes this kind of project? Can handle it? Who is someone you would like to have around, who would probably like to help you?

Decide what kind of help you need.

Figure out exactly what you need help with. What are you looking for (and not looking for)? What are your time frames?

Ask.

Make an explicit request – don’t beat around the bush. Make your request very specific and clear.

Be prepared for “No.”

Give folks a chance to get off the hook when you ask. If someone says they cannot help, don’t hold that against them. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you could not help.

Be clear and set boundaries.

Make sure your community knows what kind of support you need and what you do not need. Keep the ownership and responsibility for the task as yours.

Hire a professional.

If your own community cannot help OR it is going to put too much burden on them, hire a professional. This could be a therapist for processing an experience, a mover to help you transition to a new home, or a marketing specialist for promotions.

Say thank you.

Thank you goes a long way. Please say it! In person, via email, or by snail mail, let your helpers know you appreciate them.

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Questions for reflection:

What are you needing a little support for and who can you ask?
How can you say thank you to for support in the past?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenOne simple way to get unstuck
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Cake in the morning & other ways to handle change

In my last few posts I talked about preparing for a big change. How do you contend with change when you are in the midst of it? How do you steer when your boat is out to sea?
You probably feel a loss of control. I do. And not having control is one of my least favorite things.

If you’re experiencing a big change, a new set of emotions may come flooding in.
Some are feelings you’d like to avoid at all cost, like sadness, anxiety, panic, and anger. Others are more positive, like awe, exhilaration, or jubilation. Whether they’re scary or wonderful, all of these emotions can be overwhelming.

While riding these waves of emotions, you are being asked to do something different. That is what we don’t always like. Change requires us to practice new behaviors and create new habits. During change, we experience a loss of control. (We never have very much control – but change drives that point home.)

What can you do so you don’t lose it?

What do I mean by lose it?
For starters, how about eating lots of cake for breakfast? (Okay, I know that morning cake is not always a bad idea. But after my husband Rob left for graduate school and I found myself having cake for breakfast three days in a row… well, let’s just say it started to take its toll on my energy levels.)

When I say lose it I also mean: Not talking to your friends, eating too much, not eating enough, not sleeping, sleeping A LOT, watching tons of Ally McBeal reruns [insert your personal unhealthy TV obsession here] … anything that makes you feel bad about yourself at the end of the day.

How to keep your center in the midst of change:

Breathe deeply

Yes. Breathe. Annie, isn’t this always on your list? Yes. And for good reason. A few good breaths bring us back to ourselves. Breathing relaxes our shoulders. Softens the belly. Reminds us that we are made of air and matter. Reminds us that we are still here, still alive. This is your breath. This is your moment to be alive.

Hold lightly

The load you are carrying may be heavier right now. There is more to juggle, more to figure out. Try not to be hard on yourself when things aren’t working out perfectly. Try taking a few things off your plate. What is not necessary? Not mission critical? Maybe “necessary” has a new meaning. Now maybe some things that used to be necessary are no longer needed.

Take it down to the smallest piece

Simplify what you need to get done. When thinking about what needs to happen next, take it down to the smallest step possible. Give yourself only a few small to do’s at a time. When those are done, give yourself a few more.

For example: Today I will buy dolmas at the grocery store so I’ll have some sustenance in the house. Today I will get out of bed and stretch. Today I will call my mom. Today I will walk around the block. Today I will write that email to Juan.

Remember your anchors

Who are the people who are most important to you? What things in your life bring you joy and comfort? Big change is the time to get serious about what you care about the most, and let go of the rest. Really let it go. Cross it off your “feeling guilty, must-do” list. You could think of this desert-island style. Think of the three things, people, and values that will sustain you on your island. Who holds you steady? What holds you steady?

In the midst of my current life changes, what matters the most is being with the people who understand me and are invested in my wellbeing. What matters is taking care of myself, being kind to myself and working to be kind in my daily interactions with others.

Sleep

You know how much sleep your body needs. (And if you don’t, it is probably 7 to 8 hours per night.) If you are only hitting the 5-hour mark, do your best to get a little more sleep. Try setting an alarm when it is time to get ready for bed. (This is what Adrianna Huffington does.) If you’re sleeping too much, build a system for getting yourself out of bed. Try multiple alarms. Put lights and music on timers. Schedule morning appointments.

Strip it to the core

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again. When you are in the midst of big change, get rid of the extra crud. Strip away anything that’s weighing you down. Take it off, leave it behind. Deal with the day to day. Remember what matters to you. Take a deep breath.

Lean forward.
Watch for a few lessons along the way.

Make the change.
You’re ready to weather the storm.
You can do this.

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Question for reflection:

What are your anchors in the midst of change?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenCake in the morning & other ways to handle change
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One question to ask during change

Anticipating a change can be scary, but you can also have a sense of control. You can at least try and plan for what is to come. You can tell yourself, “I think this is going to happen and then I will do this”. Not that it will work out that way. But before things actually change—when you see the change a-comin’—you can at least receive comfort by pretending you have some control.

Then the change comes.
And you are in the thick of it.

You are no longer waiting for the boat to leave the shore. The boat is out in the water and the waves are getting bigger.

Two things happen once change has begun to occur.

You can release a bit of the fear of the unknown. You now know what the change is going to feel like because you are in it. Some of the landscape is coming into view. You are beginning to see things and experience things from the inside of the change.

The second thing that happens is the reality of the change sets in and now you have to deal with the new experiences, the new emotions. You can no longer plan for the inevitable. It is happening. You need to act. The question goes from “What will happen?” to “How am I going to get through this?”

Once change occurs, things do not become more certain. A whole new set of questions pours in:

Can I do this?
Is it always going to feel like this?
Is it going to change again?
What should I do next?
Am I going to make it through this?

In my next post I am going to talk through a few ways to stay grounded while change is happening.

For now I want to focus on one question we may not want to ask while we are in change. It is one of the most important questions we can ask during change. However, the way it is asked and when it is asked determines whether the question is helpful or actually hurtful.

The question is…

What is the learning – what is the possibility – in the midst of this change?

I know this is an annoying question. Actually it can be a horrible question in the midst of gut wrenching, unexpected changes. This question could be misconstrued as meaning that the change you are going through is good or has purpose simply because there is something to learn from it.

There are times you should not ask this. And no good friend should ask this either. See my note below about when not to ask this question.*

Here is the thing –
I do believe we can always learn something from change. I do believe that there is always possibility in the midst of life’s storms. I do not believe that this means things always happen for a reason or it is good when people go through painful trauma. Horrible things happen to people all the time and nobody deserves these things. They do not serve a higher purpose.

However, I do believe goodness shows up within change – even horrible change. And the lessons we need to learn often come in the midst of turmoil and upheaval. Even if these lessons are not visible until sometime later.

So when you are ready, when you have navigated the change, survived the hardest moments, when you have created breathing space….
Ask yourself, very gently….

What possibility is in here? What am I learning?
(Not what “should” I be learning… but what am I learning?)

If you ask gently enough the answer can be surprising.
Take notice.
What’s inside?
There may be a lesson, an invitation…

The learning may be really freakin’ hard. It may be something you would rather avoid. Change works that way.

If you figure out what is inside the journey—the lesson or blessing—you can engage.

And what if you are tired of learning?
Well, unfortunately learning is a part of our journey. It does not stop. If you want to be a more loving person, you are going to have to keep learning. Sigh.

Like change, there is always more learning. It just keeps happening.
If we turn away from the learning—just like turning away from change—we stop growing and feeling. This results in less love, less joy, and less light in our lives in the long run.

So take a deep breath, sigh if you must, and ask, “What is the lesson in this change?”

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*Note: You do not need ask yourself “What I am learning?” if you are in the midst of grief. If you are in the process of letting go of people or places or even ways of being, you need space to grieve. Yes, there probably will be hard or beautiful learning that comes from those experiences. But we need the space and time to grieve – not to find some false silver lining. In grief, give yourself time not questions.

Annie Von EssenOne question to ask during change
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How to move toward change (‘cause it’s coming either way)

In my last post, I wrote about a big change that’s happening in my life. I am not alone in this. Big changes are happening in the lives of many of my clients and friends. If you are anticipating or experiencing a big change—a move, a job change, the break-up of a relationship, a new baby—you may feel overwhelmed. You may even be frightened.

Big changes produce deep learning. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. However, if you move toward the change instead of running from it you are likely to deepen your learning and actually reduce your anxiety in the long run.

Here are some techniques you can use to move toward the big changes in our lives.

How to move toward change:

Be still for a moment

Often we avoid the inevitable by not staying in one place for too long. “If I just keep moving the change won’t catch me.” We get busy with a lot of other things, and avoid facing the change that is occurring or needs to occur. What we need to do instead is stop trying to escape.

Find a time to stop moving. Take 10 minutes to think about what is happening. Turn off the TV and constant media stream, and sit without distraction. You might take a short walk alone or with a friend. Or choose one or two people you care about and who care about you, and talk about what is happening. Be mindful of who you talk with. Ask them to not give you advice. Instead say that you need someone to listen and perhaps ask questions about your experience.

During this time of stillness and reflection, you may want to set some intentions for how you would like to respond to the change, how you would like to feel during the change and how you would like to respond when things do not go as planned. Keep these still, reflective times short. You do not need to overwhelm yourself and over-think what is happening.

Breathe

I always say this. I am saying it again. Pay attention to your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Again. Listen to your breath. Feel your breath. It is consistent. Your breath will be there with you through this whole change. It is your closest companion on this living journey. Feel it.

Exercise

Find a way to move your body. It will help your mind slow down a bit. Exercise will increase your capacity to handle the stress of the unknown as you embark on a new part of your life journey.

Find commonality

Seek out support from someone who has had, or is having, a similar experience. If you are facing a job or career change, the death of a loved one, the completion of a major life’s work, or a move, you are embarking on a shared human experience. You are not the first. You are not alone. Reach out. Find someone to talk to who has been there, or is there. Give them an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences, their resilience. You can support each other.  You do not have to take their particular advice. This can be a space for the sharing of experiences, not a problem-solving space.

Face the shadows

Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen? If that worst thing happens, what can I do?” Develop a plan (or two) for the biggest scariest fear. This is the art of flipping the light switch on in a dark room. Shed light. The shadows may not be what you think they are. And if the monsters in the shadows are scary, at least you know what you are dealing with.

Note: Facing the shadows—looking at our fears directly—is one of the hardest things for us to do. You may choose to explore this with a healer, or with someone you deeply trust.

In the coming weeks, I will write more about what to do once you are deep into the change. For now, may you find moments of quiet to prepare for the change that’s coming your way. And may you find people that you can talk to honestly about your experience.

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Question for reflection:

What is one step you can take to turn toward the change happening and prepare for it?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenHow to move toward change (‘cause it’s coming either way)
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Facing big change

I am going through a really big change right now. My husband is starting graduate school out of town and we will be commuting back and forth on the weekends. Sitting on the edge of change and the unknown, I can say I am nervous. I don’t really want to face the inevitable.

At the moments when I glance sideways at the coming change, I see only fearful shadows and whispering worries. So much could go so wrong. But at times, light blinks through the shadows and I can see all the good that is going to arise from this change. I am excited and expectant, too.

I am not the only one in my community going through major changes right now.

In my professional and personal life, I know dozens of people who are facing tremendous change. Relationships are beginning and ending, people are leaving jobs, starting new jobs, or are leaving the working world altogether. New babies are on the way. People are moving, beginning new schooling, or taking new career risks.

Some of these changes are chosen and deliberate. Some have been foisted on people. Some changes arise from blessings. For those people, gratitude is mixed with trepidation. Other changes come out of hardship—hardship piled on top of hardship—and bring on anxiety and even fear. Whether we choose it or not, change is hard work. Change always causes learning and growth, and this may be the hardest part. The learning and growth increase the more consciously we move toward the change.

I don’t like change. I would rather hunker down in my cozy, comfortable ways. Ironically, my work is all about change. I work alongside people who are carrying out massive community change, people who are changing their business, organizations, and lives.

Here is what my experience teaches me: Every time I have learned deeply or seen improvements in my life and in my community, it has come through people changing, me changing.

If the good stuff comes from the ending of things, the rethinking of things, the confronting of things, then I guess I need to move toward change. I may not embrace it joyfully at first. I will probably be scared, but I can still step toward it.

Working with people who are facing big changes—and being mindful about changes in my own life—has shown me that there are techniques we can use to move through life changes. In my next post, I’ll talk about some healthy, positive ways to move toward change.

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Question for reflection:

What is the one change occurring in your life right now that you may not even be thinking about?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenFacing big change
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A summer of family, food and jeepneys

I wanted to share news with you all from the last few months. I finally finished my move into a sweet, little office and art space. By day, it will be a place where I can support client projects and build out my next workshop. By night, it will be a place for my husband to steal away and work on his new poetry book. We are both thrilled at the thought of a space dedicated to fostering new work and supporting current projects.

PI_Food_letter

As I ease into my new office space here in Seattle, I also ease back in being the States after our family trip to the Philippines. As you may recall, my husband and I traveled to the Philippines in July. I must admit, during my time in the Philippines, I was spoiled by my new family – fed four or five well-rounded meals a day, entrusted with grand stories of family history and toured around cities and countryside full of coconut trees, jeepneys and trikes. My husband and I traversed three islands and a multitude of family homes. I spent the time learning about the tight loving bonds of family. I felt amazement as my own sense of family expanded in my chest. My traditional, American notions of a third cousin twice removed are a thing of the past. Now I consider everyone in both my own family as well as my chosen family a cousin, auntie or uncle. My new Filipino family taught me the art of bringing people into the fold, of making room for more.

As I transition back into work mode, while balancing the last full days of summer, I am remembering what is most important in this one life. For me, the most important thing are the loving bonds we create with each other. The hot meals shared around a table, the long car rides with family (chosen and blood), listening to someone else’s stories and desires. During my trip overseas I lived fully and presently. I am reminded of my desire to connect and make every moment a meaningful one with the people I surround myself with.

PI_Family_07_2014_ave_200pxThank you to my family in the Philippines for reminding me of what is important. As I enter the transition of another season I realign my fulcrum and place taking care of my relationships with my family and friends at the center. I am working to hold lightly the constant anxiety of working life so that there is always room and time for my loved ones.

May these last days of August and first days of September bring you continued reminders of what you hold most dear and the time to enjoy it. As we transition into autumn, what are you taking with you from summer? What reminders did you receive about what is most important? I invite you to share on my Facebook page. I would love to hear from you!

Best,
Annie

Annie Von EssenA summer of family, food and jeepneys
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