Be Present

Back in the thick of it.

Are you back in the thick of things?

This can be a hard time of year because we want to feel that fresh start. Yet here we are, still pushing through the same work and juggling all the same pieces of daily life.

It can also be a refreshing time of year. Some people can harness the new year’s energy and then launch into both new and old work with a renewed sense of passion.

If you are working on a project that feels like it just keeps going with no end in sight, then this note is for you. If you are feeling super excited about the year ahead, then consider this note an extra boost!

When you are pushing through work that never seems to end, here are a few things to remember. You have heard these things before. Many wise teachers and dear friends have said these words. But for you, now in the midst of January, I am going to say them again.

Look back at what you have accomplished

You have done many things in your life that are awesome and powerful.  You have already done things in your work that are HUGE accomplishments. I know you have. Right now remind yourself of the great things you have done. (I won’t judge if you brag a little.)

Trust yourself

Yes! You actually have the ability to keep going. You have the ability to do this work. You have everything within you that you need. That includes the ability to ask for help and innovate with other folks who would be great work with. You can do this.

Find ways to sustain yourself for the journey

If you are going on a very long road trip, it is a good idea to pack snacks and food. It is also a good idea to pull over and eat that food, get out of the car and look around, move your body a bit, get some sleep, and even ask someone else to drive for a while.  Think of your big project like a road trip. Eat, sleep, listen to good music, see the sights, have fabulous conversations – get out of the car sometimes! You will still get where you’re going. And you will enjoy the journey a lot more!

Nothing is forever

“This, too, will pass,” said Persian Sufi poets and lots of other wise people. And it’s true. Everything ends and begins again anew. This current project will be over, this challenging job will end, the kids will grow older. Hold this knowledge, at least just for a second. This moment right now is the moment you have to make the most of. A few moments and blinks later, things will be different.

You’ve got this! Keep going. Look back and congratulate yourself on what you have done. And don’t forget to take a few breaks along the way.

You can even tell me! Feel free to write me a note or post a comment below.

 

Do you want to commit to finding ways to have a calmer, more connected 2016?

My Room Next Door class begins on February 14th. Choose now to be less stressed next year. Get more info and purchase your seat here.

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015Back in the thick of it.
read more

What is sweet in your life right now?

There are a lot of expectations at this time of year. Expectations we place on ourselves, expectations of our loved ones, end of the year expectations of our co-workers. If you are religious, then this time of year can also bring expectations for your spiritual life. Some of these people and their expectations want the best for you: to have a merry time, to feel loved and connected, to experience delight. However, expectations can feel heavy.

For me this year, the expectation to participate in the holiday season and year-end rituals is commingled with the heaviness of my heart.

My heart feels heavy because of all the hate, lack of understanding, and murders that so many communities in our world are facing right now. And I do not want to ignore the complexity of the expectations for the holiday season and the sadness about what is happening to people in my country and in countries far away. So I am not going to. I am going to hold both.

This year as I shop or decorate the house, I am also feeling a mix of delight and sadness.

I am choosing carefully where to invest my time and energy. I am putting my energy into this time of thanksgiving. I am focusing on the upcoming holidays, which are most dear because that’s when I gather with my family. I am lucky to have them.

I work hard to not shut down my heart with the constant barrage of news focused on hate and suffering. I have one technique I am using this year to keep my heart open and remember the essence of this season. At least once a day I take time to remember what is sweet in my life, what I have given to others, and what gifts I have received.

You can do this every day, perhaps right before closing your eyes or as you take the first sip of coffee in the morning.

Close your eyes and ask:

What is sweet in my life right now?
What have I given to someone in my life?
What have I received from someone in my life?

As you answer each question, say thank you. This ritual does not have to be a big thing.

Here are my answers for right now:

What is sweet in my life?
Our home is warm and clean, with a sweet cat and caring neighbors.

What have I given to someone in my life?
I offer a careful listening ear and steadfast commitment to my partner.

What have I received from someone?
My dear friend trekked across the mountains in the snow, bringing her 10-month-old for a visit.

What is a sweetness in your life right now? Post in the comments or on Facebook.

 

Do you want to commit to finding ways to have a calmer, more connected 2016?

My Room Next Door class begins on February 14th. Choose now to be less stressed next year. Get more info and purchase your seat here.

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015What is sweet in your life right now?
read more

“I’m tired of it!” Now what? PART TWO

You’re doing your work. You’re involved in a project. You want to keep going… you need to keep going… you must keep going… but you’re TIRED OF IT!

What do you do now?

In my last post I suggested taking the time and space to think things through. I suggested asking yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now the right thing for me? Am I doing it the right way?”

Which answer did you hear?

Answer #1. “Stop doing the work because it is no longer good for you.”

Answer #2. “The work is good! Keep going and do things a different way.”

Answer #3. “This work is important and you need to do it! Keep going and don’t stop even if you are tired.”

Answer #4. “Wow, am I confused! I’m unclear about whether to keep going forward or change direction.”

 

Let’s take a look at each of those scenarios, because each one requires a different strategy.

Scenario #1. Stop doing the work.

Just for you, I have a series of posts about this! Check out my three-part series “When things aren’t working at work.”
 

Scenario #2. Keep going but do things a different way.

This scenario requires two strategies.

First and most important: Take good care of yourself while you’re still working. This means getting good sleep, taking breaks from work, and getting physical exercise. Start with a few little changes. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Take a walk during the workday. Stop eating lunch at your desk. Or start your day with five minutes of stretching.

Second: Reflect on the ways that you could do your work differently. Create space to reflect with trusted friends and coworkers. Ask yourself and your colleagues, “What if there was another way to do this work? What could we change?” Get curious and creative. Problem-solve with your team. Make a new plan and get help implementing it. Notice what works.
 

Scenario #3. This is the work that must be done and you know you must keep going.

This scenario requires a few additional strategies.

Just as in Scenario #2, practice self-care techniques while you’re still working. Get some sleep. Taking breaks. Move your body. (I’ll share a lot more about this in my next post.)

Then, do the work. Really tell yourself you can keep doing it. And do it.

Next, put a time limit on how long you will keep working with your head down before you check in and think about how it’s going. It is helpful to set up a check-in with someone. Tell a friend, a coach or a trusted co-worker, “I am working really hard on this. But in two weeks, if it’s just as hard and I’m not making progress, I’d like to check in with you and reflect on a different way to do the work.”

And most important, rally the troops. Get support doing the work. Ask co-workers and colleagues for more help. Delegate! And get connected with loved ones outside the work. They can provide a sounding board and an escape valve.
 

Scenario #4. You are confused about whether you should keep working or quit.

For now, do not stop doing the work. BUT slow down. Put in a little less effort and time. Make some breathing room. Back off the throttle as much as you can without losing momentum.

As in all the other scenarios, practice techniques that allow you to take good care of yourself while still working: get good sleep, take breaks, and move your body.

Then build in more time for reflection. Find time to get quiet. Take a walk to get coffee during the workday. Take a moment in the driveway before you go into the house. Gently ask yourself, “Do I want to keep doing this the same way?” Talk with only a few trusted confidantes about your struggle to understand whether you can “keep going.”

And be gentle. Give yourself time to figure out the direction you want to go. A new direction may come to you in a flash or it may dawn as slow awareness. Or you may just finish the work you are struggling with. And when you’re finished, your reflection time could lead you in a new direction.

Are you still craving a more techniques for revitalizing the work you are tired of? Stay tuned for a checklist that can help you keep going when exhaustion and frustration set in.

Annie Von Essen“I’m tired of it!” Now what? PART TWO
read more

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?
read more

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
read more

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
read more

Your Getaway Plan

I just got back from four days away in a little island house. A getaway with dear friends and their kiddos. It sounds delightful, right?

But here’s the thing: I was not looking forward to the break. The timing was not perfect. I had just returned from a week away facilitating at a conference. I felt I needed to plug back in right away and catch up on major client projects.

In spite of my anxiety, I headed out of town. And once I got to the island, it was clear: I needed this getaway. The time in the sunny beach house with loved ones was going to be downright beautiful.

We took walks on the beach and spent hours cooking (leaving the kitchen a gorgeous mess). We read books aloud. People reminisced over childhood days, told jokes and shared stories. We kayaked, napped, and sat in the sun.

A true getaway holds a gift.

You connect with the people you love, you connect with your sense of wonder. You remember what sun on relaxed shoulders feels like. It is a necessity.

Before I could embrace this trip and benefit from it, I needed to take a few simple actions.

Here’s how you can set yourself up for a stress-free getaway:

Give yourself permission to take time off

This is the hardest step for me. We all need breaks. We crave time outside of the workday to connect with those we love. Those times away give us the space to think, let go, and recalibrate. Time away helps us be better friends, family, lovers, and workers when we return. You deserve to rest and recharge your energy. Make sure to tell yourself, “I deserve this!”

Decide to set the work aside

It is difficult to put our work down and just “be.” Make an active decision not to work during your break—and do it before you leave. That way, if your to-do list starts nagging during your getaway, it will be easier to remind yourself, gently, that you are not working during this time.

Write down what you need to do when you return

If you’re worried about surprises that might be lurking on your desk when you get home, here’s my solution. A few days ahead of your getaway, make a short, simple to-do list. Write actionable tasks on your list. Check your calendar to make sure you are not missing anything. Reschedule things if you need to. Then leave the list for when you return.

Put the technology away

It’s hard for us to switch off when our devices are switched on! Those smart phones, tablets, and laptops are tied to our work, and they can drain our energy. Make a commitment to yourself to not check your email or your phone messages while you are away. (As an alternative, check in once daily, and then put the devices away.) Being “disconnected” may feel uncomfortable at first, but you will recharge your energy and your spirit better this way. You will find yourself less stressed and more present.

Identify your wants & needs

Before my getaway, I decided how I wanted to be with people during our time together. I thought about the kinds of interactions I wanted to have, how much time I wished to spend with others, and how much alone time I needed. I wrote down my intentions and kept the paper with me.

Start by asking yourself: “How do I want to interact with people? How do I want people to feel when they interact with me?  How do I want to feel when I am with people?” Jot down your answers, so you can refer to them if you need to.

Voice your intentions

What do you hope to gain from your time off? If your getaway involves other people—friends, family, spouse, or partner—let them know your intentions in advance. Talk openly about what you want and hope to have happen. When you set your intentions in community, it helps everyone support you.

Work, the grind, the important tasks, and the to-do lists will always be here.
The older I get the more clear that message is. We all need breaks!

Take some time off, even just for an afternoon.

You will do better work when you return. I promise.

[separator top=”40″ style=”dotted”]

Note:

If you are planning a little time away with family, please pay special attention to the last two points on my list: “Identify your needs” and “Voice your intentions.”  It is important to talk about your intentions with the people who can listen well and support you. This might not be everyone in your family (or even among your friends). If you worry that the people going on the trip might not support you, share your intentions with a supportive friend before you go. You could even agree to check in with that friend during the trip if you need the extra support.

Annie Von EssenYour Getaway Plan
read more

Invest in who you are — not what you do

So many of us have taken hold of the false belief that our job is our whole identity. Regardless of what you have been taught, your job is not what makes you a good person. It is not what makes you a successful human being.

What makes you who you are is how you are in all the moments: the work moments and the living moments. Within and beyond each individual moment is the truest truth about who you are. It is in all those moments that you can build up not only who you are, but also who you hope to be.

You are becoming truly, deeply you in every moment.

You are the moment just before the day begins. You are the moment when you greet yourself in the mirror and start each new day.

You are the way you chat with the barista, or interact with others on the bus ride home, or even how you walk down the sidewalk. You are the words of encouragement you say to yourself and to others, to help move into and through the day.

You are you in the way you do your best even in a job that sucks. How you treat your friends. How you greet the stranger. How you give to others in little ways. You are how you move your body when you dance.

You are how you love the littlest ones in your life, even when you are exhausted. You are the way you scoop them up and let them know they are good. You are how you show up for yourself and others in the hardest moments, and also how you show up for your beloveds in their joy-filled celebrations.

Who you are is more than your job, more than your paycheck, more than the people you serve, more the trade you do.

You are a bundle of moments, one after another, until there are no more moments.

Invest in who you are in this moment.

How can you show up for yourself in this moment?
For the person you love?
For your co-worker?
For a stranger?

Annie Von EssenInvest in who you are — not what you do
read more

What I learned from NYC subways

I was in New York City over the holidays. This year’s trip included illness, travel snafus, a lot of visiting and a lot of rushing. I was sick and not relaxed. I found my meditation and calm on the subway, of all places. Here is one of my subway thoughts.

There are a lot of human beings,
with a lot of different ways of talking and being, many languages, many families.

Alone not lonely.
Together still lonely.

Holding on, swaying, millions of stories on the move
All in stop motion for the ride

Very connected by one common experience
One common moment

Very few take notice

Daily we are offered
ways to slow down, connect, reach out,
ways to hear a new story, to meditate, to let go,
to honor each other with a glance, a smile or nod.

Don’t miss your subway opportunities.

Annie Von EssenWhat I learned from NYC subways
read more

Beauty in the undone

This time of year there is so much to do.
And there is a constant to do list, plus a set of goals and a plan constantly under revision in my head. The to do list amplifies and grows to monstrous proportions right before the end of the year.

I can be quite hard on myself when responding to my to do’s.
My little ego voice says, “I can’t believe you did not get that done”!

Today on a short jaunt in the cold, I talked myself into stopping by our garden plot. The little ego voice in my head has been nagging for months about putting the garden to bed properly for the winter.Taking care of the beds with sweet piles of compost and cut back plants. Alas, too many to do’s and it is now freezing outside. Nothing more to do.
What is done is done in the garden.

As I climbed the path to the garden, puffed up birds rustle in the half frozen leaves and a few bushy rats scurry by. When I reached the garden and began to survey the rotten zucchini and frost bitten succulents, a mossy green sparrow, white around her eyes, visits my garden. She scavenges, clearly undisturbed by my presence, she flies up close and sits down right next to my knee. I give her a good look and a smile. She pauses, tilts her bird head and looks me in the eye. Then she is off to the next crisp garden bed.

This little bird was enjoying my garden, finding something useful in the unkempt, winter dead.
My heart is set at ease again.

It isn’t all going to get done this year.

That is okay there is beauty to be found in the undone.

[separator top=”40″ style=”dotted”]

A quote for keeps

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

– Thomas Merton

Annie Von EssenBeauty in the undone
read more