Category: Personal Challenges & Moments of Growth

Life isn’t easy, sometimes you need a helmet, but at the end of the day you are better off for having put in the effort.

Finding Your Own Version of Normal

The more I spend time with other people, watching family interactions, or watching movies, I find that we all have our own definition of normal.

Family #1
where-credit-is-dueThis family knows that things are right on track when the oldest two kids are fighting with each other, the babies are crawling all over Mom and Dad hollers from the couch for everyone to settle down. The house is a general wreck because the baby’s toys are everywhere and Mom can never seem to get the kitchen fully in order. Dad has a “man cave” and when he gets home he retreats there for 20 min to pull himself together for the tornado that is home. Regardless of the chaos, you can feel the love (maybe not between the older two) and there is a lot of support for each other.

Family #2
family-room-lWhen you walk into their house everything is spotless, the house is well maintained and everything, while not new, is in its place. The children pick at each other when the adults aren’t around and make faces when Mom or Dad is in the room.  Mom and Dad never yell, they have a look that the kids know means trouble. It is quiet and orderly and instead of bear hugs and sloppy kisses, the children get a pat on the back and a soft kiss on the cheek. There is little to no physical contact but everyone still orients toward each other and there is a sense of safety.

Family 1 and 2 could not be more different, but neither way of interacting is wrong or better than the other. Each of our families have their own version of what normal is. We as individuals also have our own version of normal. Maybe you know your anxiety is normal when you have acid reflux as a symptom but when you start to feel tense in your chest and shoulders you know this is something serious.

By understanding what our usual is we are better able to notice when we have drifted off course and we are more likely to know what to do to fix it.

Where do things get weird for you? Is it in your family interactions? In you own stress levels? Is it your self-esteem?

Identify what the problem is likely to be. Then outline what your normal response is, the one that lets you know that this is your usual and you can handle it. Finally take note of whether or not you are drifting off course or if you are on target, if you are drifting see what needs to happen to bring yourself back to your version of normal.1


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Love Your Holiday: Prepare, Don’t Anticipate

Anticipation. This is the time of year for it. We are all excited for what is coming, we are adjusting our efforts and schedules to get things done so we can enjoy the payoff of the holidays. It is supposed to be fun and joyful – but is that what really happens? My guess is probably not. I highly doubt everything goes according to plan and that all of the stress ends up being worth it come January. You are left being stressed, broke, and maybe a bit disappointed. With all that anticipation, why didn’t things pan out the way you had hoped? What stopped your days from being merry and bright?

I think the A in Anxiety stands for anticipation. Anticipation is the feeling of strained excitement (can be negative or positive) that builds before an expected event or situation. When we set ourselves up to anticipate an event that we expect will be positive we are dropped to an all time low when it doesn’t met the Everest we were hoping for. On the other hand when we anticipate things will be stressful or bad (in-laws anyone?) we find that our anticipation is confirmed with a strained and stressful interaction.

If anticipation usually leads to a bad outcome with you feeling let down then how do we deal with that? How do we stop anticipating? The simple answer is “you don’t.” We are biologically wired to anticipate. There is something evolutionary in our make-up that helped us survive by anticipating so we were ready to protect ourselves, to seize opportunities, to act when called upon. So I hope that makes you feel a little bit better – we all do this.

The people who are successful at not letting their anticipation lead their experience have mastered to art of realistic thinking and maintaining a calm mind. So if you don’t want your anticipation leaving you feeling like you missed out on something, check in with the reality of the situation. What are the facts going into this event? What do you KNOW? When you have that sorted out, what are the likely outcomes based on history and your personal experience? Just try to take the rosy picture you have painted and stick it under some light. Examine the parts that may be a bit too rosy, too optimistic and make them more realistic.

Once you have your realistic picture, when you know what you are walking into, then trust yourself to handle it. Take peace in knowing that you are the best person to have in this situation and that you have done your homework on this. You’ve got this! Maybe it would be a more reassuring to see where you have more control for if things get hairy or uncomfortable. Do you need to drive separately so you can leave if you want? Maybe taking 15 min to make a phone call or check something would be just enough time to collect yourself.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy where we can spend time with those we love. That always comes with its own bells and whistles, but when we prepare ourselves for the season’s events instead of anticipating them we can actually enjoy them like we want to.1


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Mastering Hard Conversations (Instead of Running from Hard Truths)

I hate having tough conversations. I will avoid a person for hours until I am able to figure out how to bring up a new subject or distract them (or mostly myself) from whatever the issue was. We have to have hard conversations all the time and with people that are important. It wouldn’t be a hard conversation if you just had to tell some stranger that they were a jerk. No, hard conversations are hard because they matter. They matter to us and they can cart the course of a relationship depending on how successful or royally awful they are in the end.


Hard conversations mark turning points in our lives. This is the difference between being a mom and her little girl and being a mother and adult daughter. Two friends go into a hard conversation and come out as bros, or feeling like sisters, the friendship is now lasting and more important to both people. A couple goes into a hard conversation and they come out stronger than ever.

A hard conversation means that growth and change is happening and those things are never comfortable. The way we feel going into these moments can be agonizing. The anxiety that builds up in your body makes you feel sick, your stomach flips, you get a headache, you keep clenching your fists, you clench your jaw, you can’t see straight. The anxiety builds until you either break down and talk about what’s bothering you, or you talk yourself out of it.

We already know what happens when you have the courage to say what needs to be said. But when you don’t, when you decide that you would rather avoid the point all together then things can get ugly. Avoidance sends a message to yourself that your feelings are not important enough to do something about. You are writing yourself off and your self worth takes a hit because of that. Avoidance also doesn’t take care of the issue, whether we pin it on ourselves for being out of line or upset without a good reason does not matter. We are still left with a pile of tension in the room and someone is going to have to wade though that sooner or later.

Obviously the best course is to build our courage to talk about what is bothering us.  And that is hard. I literally walked in and out of a room 3 times before I could talk to my mom about something that had been bothering me for years. Whatever you need to do before talking it out. Power pose maybe? But at any rate, how do you have these conversations well?

Give yourself some space and think about what you are really upset about.
You are not really mad that Joe didn’t do the dishes last night, you are mad because you feel like he doesn’t value your time.

Outline what your feelings really are and identify their trigger.
The trigger was not doing the dishes and while you still want them to get done that is not the real problem. Your feelings of being invalidated are the real problem and dirty dishes are a raw spot for that vulnerable feeling.

Use “I” statements to explain your feelings.
Finger pointing and emotional hurricanes accomplish nothing. They feel good for about 2 min and then you feel terrible. Use the template at the end of the post to tell the other person how you feel, when you feel that way, and why you felt that way.

Give them some space to process what you said.
Often when we talk about what we are really feeling, not the obvious “I am pissed because you left the dishes dirty. Again,” but the more subtle and honest, “I feel like my time isn’t important to you,” the other person has no idea they have hurt us. They know we are mad or that we are acting “weird” but they don’t know the depth of our pain. Give them time to let that sink in and space to ask for clarification. The people that mean the most to use don’t want us to feel hurt.

Follow those steps and that will get you started with the tough conversation. After that it is all up to you. You got this! After the ball gets rolling, things usually take care of themselves and words flow like the need to flow.1


“I feel ________________, when you __________________, because _____________________.”

Ex: “I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes at the end of the day because it seems to me that the time I spend working isn’t worthwhile enough and that I must also do the dishes to contribute to the family.”


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Cultivating Happiness

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I have been hearing a lot about being thankful and noticing where we can have an attitude of gratitude instead of dwelling on the things that we wish were better. If you have been reading anything I have posted you know I am a big fan of being proactive and intentional. Can you tell what is coming? That’s right – we are about to get intentional with our happiness and gratitude.

Yesterday Erin wrote a great post on keeping a Gratitude journal. It is an awesome idea and if you haven’t read the post please check it out here. It will be time well spent! I want to take that idea of noticing good things in our lives and take it a step further. How would it be if we created opportunities for ourselves that we are thankful for or that made us happy?

happinessHere’s the challenge: If you have been thinking how nice it would be to get together with family, to call up an old friend, go for a hike, whatever it is – I want you to make an opportunity for yourself to do just that! This does not need to be something that takes a lot of time or money or effort. Does it get any easier than that? A phone call takes minutes and is free. Spending time with your family can be a lot of fun and with the holidays coming up you have the perfect moment to get folks together to do something a little out of the ordinary.

There will always be a million things that we want to do and a million and one reasons why we shouldn’t go and do them. Those reasons that are keeping us from the things that make us happy are keeping you from cultivating an experience of joy. When you take care of everything else on your list but the thing that would make you smile or just feel good then you are doing yourself a disservice. You are your most important investment and when you take the time to take care of you then the other things on your list the things you need to accomplish will be so much easier to knock out.

Now taking time to invest in ourselves and as Erin put it to “build our family timehappy” is a difficult thing to do in today’s culture. We constantly hear that we need to do things for us, we are number one, but then we get a mixed message that we should not be selfish or self-serving. We need to be humble and still do everything to stay on top. That is confusing and it wears a body out! We are getting mixed messages and it is darn near impossible to please both sides. Of course we want to be able to be there for others and do avoid that selfish label like the plague, but we also want to be happy and do good things for us.

So how is this challenge of creating opportunities for happiness different from the cultural messages we are slammed with every day? I would venture to say that by cultivating a lifestyle of happiness through small experiences of joy we are setting ourselves up to be able to pour out to others. We proactively build our happiness through small attitude and action shifts and when we do that we have more energy to be our best with the people around us. Happiness is contagious and when we are happy, through shifting our attention to an attitude of gratitude or creating opportunities for happiness, the people we come into contact with have a prime example of how to cultivate happiness in their own lives as well.1


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Risky Business: Some Risks Lead to Big Gains

risky businessMany of us have seen that iconic scene where Tom Cruise slides across the floor in Risky Business. It gives a pretty solid picture of taking advantage of the moment, doing something risky and legendary and worrying about the consequences later. Ferris Bueller did the same thing. If only I had been as skilled in faking sick 101.

Please don’t think I am commending these guys for breaking a lot of rules and doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. What I want to highlight is how the risks they took lead to once in a lifetime experiences and a years worth of interesting stories. Had they played it safe two things would have happened.

  1. We would have had to watch a really boring movie
  2. They would have missed out on those experiences that I would venture to say were impactful on their lives

We don’t need to do anything illegal or sneak around to take risks and have life-changing experiences. But we do need to get a little uncomfortable. If you are someone who plays it safe you probably always know what to expect, you can plan for it and life feels safe. Maybe you play it safe because you worry about what would happen if you deviated from the norm. You lack the support or confidence to step outside the box. And as a result you are comfortable, but maybe you are also predictable and left a little wanting. You know there is more to life than this – that you can be more and that you can do more. 

Taking the plunge, taking a risk can be one of the most terrifying things you do. But it also has the potential to be very rewarding, the possibilities for you double when you decide to get a little uncomfortable and take a risk.

What is your risk? Where do you see your life becoming stale? Where you are left comfortable and safe but without room to grow and become the more that you know you can be?

Risks are uncomfortable because risks lead to change which is the golden opportunity for growth and that doesn’t always feel good. Anybody heard of growing pains? It is an uncomfortable process but when you come out on the other side you are more than you were when you went in. If you choose the risks you will take with care and execute them with support you will have achieved something very exciting – you will have stepped out of your comfort zone successfully and the world will present more opportunities for you.  It’s all about the first step. Are you ready for some risky business?1


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Small Annoyances Can Lead to Big Pain

wellnessI have heard a lot about health care reform in the past few days. Well . . . past few years is more accurate I guess. But at any rate the message that I keep taking home is that health is important – we need to have the ability to take care of ourselves. That not only includes taking care of our bodies but also taking care of our minds so that we are better able to deal with the stresses that sometimes impact our physical health as well.

Wellness starts with prevention, you don’t really want to wait until you are in severe pain to look into getting help for something that could have been taken care of when it was a minor annoyance. The same goes for mental health. Do you have any small annoyances or small discomforts right now? Are you brushing them off?

It is so easy to take a small bother and tell ourselves that we just need to get over it, that it will pass, this is just a phase, this will be gone next week. Whatever we are saying there is a need we have that we are actively neglecting. Wishful thinking says that:

Things will get better on their own.

Wise thinking says:

I need to look into this and see what I can do to make myself feel better.

That is the beauty of this! You don’t have to sit and wait for a situation to take care of itself – these are your feelings and you can make yourself feel better!

  • Where can you do something now to make yourself feel better?
  • What steps do you need to take to accomplish this?
  • Who do you need to tell so you have support and guidance as you work through this small problem to keep it from becoming a big problem?

This is really self-advocacy. When we are stressed, sad, mad, annoyed, worried, afraid, or another emotion that is uncomfortable you don’t earn brownie points for sitting in that uncomfortable space and just dealing with it. That is how people bottle up their feelings and explode, making the whole thing much worse and much more painful. Haw can you work towards comfort and wellness and avoid larger pain?1


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Letting Our Dreams Grow

I once heard that our dreams and ideas for our future are like seedlings and that in order for them to grow it takes time, nurturing, but also a lot of positive praise and patience.  It also takes the right people to know about the seedlings, which sometimes can be a very select few.  There is nothing better than the person who mirrors our own excitement about our dreams and encourages us forward.  However, have you ever, in your excitement about your dream, your new best thing, told the absolute wrong person only to be disappointed by their reaction?  We all know them, the naysayer, the balker, the minimizer, the worry wart…they can be like the four-horseman-like quartet that destroy dreams from the outside in.  They are the ones that say, “Ha! That will never grow here!” or from the balker, “Why are you trying to grow something like that? THAT will never work” or the minimizer, “That thing is so small.  I grew that when I was like 5!” or the worry wart, “Are you sure that in growing this plant it is not going to destroy the very life that you have built??????” (That worry wart is probably a little on the dramatic side…we will call them Drama Queen Worry Wart).  

Now, those that have these reactions don’t always intend to stomp on your seedling of “now broken dreams” (now who is being dramatic), and often they have their own reaction based on their own fears, concerns, remorse, regret, etc. in their lives or concerns for yours.   I am also not at all suggesting that these people are this terrible source that come raining  an apocalyptic hail on your little tiny plant on purpose.  No.  Often those that we trust with our news are those closest to us, those whose opinions we value highest, which makes the disappointment so real.  Do you have a close family member who you love dearly, but you know that every time you tell them something you are excited about, you end up being hurt by their reaction?    Do you have a friend that is going to make your good news (that is in its early stages of growth) about them?  We all have those people in different points of our lives and we love them dearly, despite their flaws, as they love us dearly….despite our flaws.  They play an important role in our lives….even though one might consider exercising caution when flying to them with our new, great news!   Sometimes we feel that we have to tell someone right away or “first” because that is a “family rule” or “friendship rule” yet, we get blasted with negativity every time we tell them.  We need to recognize what dreams we want to let grow to a sustainable height, before we tell those people who are important in our lives that are not always the most supportive.  This is also is about knowing who those people are who will encourage our most fledgling seedlings, keep confidences; those who we can tell our “most developing” news to and they not think us off our rocker. 

Knowing the difference takes a lot of love, knowledge and acceptance of those people in our lives and who they are, and of ourselves, knowing who we are as well.   Sometimes we need to love the people in our lives enough to know that while they may be the best person to go to for some things, they are not the best to go to for others.  It is also about knowing what our own underlying intentions are in the telling of our news.  Sometimes we tell the people we know might be critical of our dreams, just so we don’t have to be the one to throw the dirt on our own dreams that we believe cannot be achieved.  That is knowing ourselves enough and loving ourselves enough to step back and say, “Why am I doing this when I know that they will be critical?”  It is loving ourselves enough to soothe ourselves through the anxiety of what-ifs, not be our own version of the apocalyptic horseman by destroying what we have created from the most intimate part of ourselves, push through and say, “Okay, I can do this and I deserve this.”  This is also where going to a good therapist can help you sort out your own patterns, and go through the rocky work of personal development and relational stress in your life.

 Here are a few things to consider when we have a new dream or some news we are just dying to tell a family member or friend:

1.)    Pattern: What has been their reaction to this type of news in the past? If you know that every time you tell them happy news they dump in negative, wait until your dream has become a little bigger and stronger before you talk to them.  Are they worriers that think of everything that could go wrong?  Wait until you have relieved your own worries and are confident enough to move forward to tell them.   

2.)    Intuition:  If there is a nagging voice telling you….maybe I shouldn’t tell this person right now….listen to it.  Chances are that is your intuition speaking up for a reason.  Wait for a time where your intuition and confidence gives you the go-ahead. 

3.)    Timing:  Is this the right time to tell them?  If your best friend just broke up with their girlfriend or boyfriend and they are a drippy heap on their couch….probably not the right time to tell them you just met the man or woman of your dreams. Exercise your own sensitivity.    Also, have you allowed enough time for your dream to develop and become strong before you tell them?  

4.)    Confidence in your creation: Are you confident enough in your dream that even if they do nay-say, balk, minimize or “catastrophize” it is going to roll off your back?  When are you going to know that the seedling is strong enough to withstand a negative reaction?

5.)    Honesty  Be honest with yourself.  Ask the question: Why do I want to tell them about this dream or good piece of news?  Is it just that I want to tell someone? Or is there a particular reaction that I am hoping from them (either negative or positive)? Sometimes these questions are very hard to answer honestly because what we want to believe about those that we love may bump up against the reality of what they can give us, which can be a difficult pill to swallow.  Evaluate the role that criticism plays in your life and recognize how you deal with “constructive criticism.”  It is one thing to hear constructive criticism and think, “Okay, haven’t thought of it that way” and move forward….another to spiral downward into shame and doubt of yourself and your dreams. 

If you love mnemonics, yes, those items above spell “PITCH,” an interesting word that can mean throwing something at someone, launching an idea, the angle which holds up a roof, or a black sticky substance like tar that some native Northwest legends tell us is used by a witchy woman to spread over the eyes of children who stray too far in the woods (ala Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel…apparently the woods were not the place to be).  Like this word’s many definitions, we often have a myriad of reactions that may come our way when divulging something truly important to us and it is important to exercise caution.   We want to make sure that, like the definition, we don’t throw our dreams out there too hastily, launch it to the wrong person, divulge before our dreams are stable, and definitely not trust it to someone who is going to wipe tar in our eyes in order to eat us for breakfast.  Trust those that are going to see the potential in what you are trying to create, encourage you forward and watch with you as your dreams grow stronger. 

Have you ever told someone about a new dream or good piece of news and it not go as planned?

What has been your experience with this?

Savor The Moment: Mindfulness In Your Daily Life

dessertWho doesn’t like dessert? If someone tells you they don’t like dessert don’t believe them. They are obviously gravely mistaken or severely ill. Dessert is awesome. Sometimes when I have dessert I take the time to really enjoy it, to savor it and the sweet boost to my day. That is sometimes – most of the time my taste buds freak out and I eat whatever it is really fast! It tastes so good and my brain is going in to overdrive. I cannot slow down and appreciate the moment.

If we are all truthful with ourselves we do this a lot with many different things – we get excited or overwhelmed with the anticipation and we move through the good moment at 100 mph. How many things do we miss out on because we zip though it? How many opportunities to make the good things truly memorable and lasting have we missed?

We don’t just gun it through the good things we have been looking forward to – we speed right through the uncomfortable things as well. Move through the situation or event as fast as humanly possible so we don’t have to marinate in the discomfort. What could we have gained by sitting in that space a little longer?

If you have ever gotten a massage you know that when working on a tight muscle or a knot it is uncomfortable when pressure is gradually and firmly applied and the discomfort builds until the tightness finally releases and then you feel so much better. If you had shied away from the discomfort then you wouldn’t get to experience the sweet relief that followed. Although it was uncomfortable, savoring that moment is worth it to get the pay off in the end.

This idea of savoring can be applied to work, kids, significant others, recreation, any moment of your day-to-day existence is worth noticing.

When you see yourself zipping through a moment catch yourself and see why it is you are speeding through. Are you escaping discomfort? Are you carried away because the moment is so good? Are you not being mindful of the moment?

When you are able to identify why you aren’t savoring then do some soul searching and decide if there is anything to be gained by slowing down a bit and savoring the moment.

Enjoy your time and your experiences. Even those that are more difficult to savor, often those have a sweet pay-off if we can hang in there. Your experience is worth your attention – so savor it!1


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Manage your Anxiety by Managing your Time

I find that when I encounter someone who is type A, or high strung, that they always seem to be on the go. There is always something to do or somewhere they need to be. Regardless as to how they use their time and how many things they knock off their to-do list there is always sometime more on there.

We have been talking a lot recently on how rework your priority list, examining habits to see how they serve you and contribute to your day to day functioning. I want to spend today looking a bit more specifically on time management. How are you using your time? Are the things you do on a daily basis serving you well, contributing to your day or are they nervous habits? Things you do because you are anxious or stressed out?


  • Look at your calendar, check out your day’s schedule and see how much you do each day.
  • On a scale of 1-10 rate how frantic you feel during the day – 1 being relaxed and 10 being VERY frantic.
  • List the accomplishments you have each day. What things did you get done today?
  • Compare how well your level of frantic matches your level of productivity.

Now please be realistic. If you feel very stressed or anxious (putting yourself at a 8 or higher) then it is completely appropriate for you to give yourself permission to cool off a bit and relax.

A level of activity between a 5-7 is fairly healthy when you are accomplishing a lot of things. When you are feeling like a 5 or 7 and you have a small list of little accomplishments then you might need to rethink how you are spending your time. Cut out some of the nervous habits and do something that will serve you better.

When you feel like you are below a 5 then you have reached a level of relaxation or calm that most people don’t reach on a regular basis.  Enjoy that! If this is you and you aren’t getting the things you need to get done accomplished then consider the benefit of not addressing your responsibilities. Maybe you really don’t need to get much done and you are able to relax. But that isn’t the case for most of us. If you are below a 5 and you are accomplishing all or most of your goals please share with us how you make that happen – that is a huge success!

This is all to help you do what you need to do everyday without feeling overwhelmed or worn out. In order to do that you need to start with a clear baseline picture of how you spend your time, what you can say you get done during your day, and how you feel at the end of it all.1


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Changing Your Ripple Effect

A good friend of mine lost someone this week. Max Gjerde. My friend and Max went to school together, Max was diagnosed with a rare from of soft-tissue cancer shortly after they both graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington KY. I never knew Max, but the impact he has had on those around him is a legacy that speaks mountains of the generosity and compassion that this man had for others.

After reading this article and briefly hearing from my friend about Max and what he was passionate about, I really feel like I need a priority check. In the last days of his life Max was concerned for others and was an encouragement to the people he came in contact with. He was really an inspiration.

rippleAnd that has me asking, what do I do to encourage and inspire others? Is that even a priority? It is so easy for all of us to get caught up in the hustle and bustle that we don’t pause and reconsider the ripple we are sending out in to the world and what consequences that will create.

Max wasn’t a ripple, he was a wave. The fact that I am even thinking about how I can be more compassionate, more encouraging – that is the consequence of his unwavering strength of spirit! But what do I do about it? What does anyone do when they are placed in front of a mirror and asked to reflect on how others see them and how they see others?

We have to decide. Are we comfortable with the way we impact others? Are we content with the knowledge that we could have a more positive impact if we adjusted our focus or put in a little more effort?

  • What is your legacy?
  • How do you impact and reach others?
  • What does your ripple effect look like?

Let today be a day of reflection. Take a look inward and see where you think you might want to move forward from here, how you might want to start reaching out.1

*If you are interested in reaching out to others in a way that would honor Max, please consider donating to his favorite charity 3 Little Birds 4 Life. You can make a donation in his name by clicking here.


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