We’re a little over a week into the 21-Day Challenge, so I figured it was time for an update.  Especially since I had a small breakthrough today!

This morning we met for our bi-weekly full team meeting, and I was anticipating some angst.  We’ll be implementing a new software system on Monday, and today’s meeting was dedicated to final questions and double-checks that everyone understands the system and is ready to go.

Except that I don’t think anyone, myself included, is really feeling ready for go-live day.

Instead of my usual morning routine of running late, printing a last-minute agenda, and walking into the meeting breathless as the clock flips to 9 a.m., I planned ahead to make sure I could arrive in the room early.  Having the place to myself, I sat down and did a short meditation focused on gratitude.

Simply put, it made a HUGE difference.  I slowed down just long enough that I felt calm and centered as team members started to arrive.  Even when I became frustrated during the meeting, I was able to stay (mostly) grounded in my focus on gratitude–gratitude for a team willing to do its best despite setbacks, gratitude for their sense of humor, gratitude for team members who stepped up to help train, etc.

I love that I even thought to make time to meditate in the first place, as prior to this challenge, it never would have crossed my mind.  I think it’s safe to say that I’m feeling less skeptical than I was a week ago–let’s call it more of an open-minded curiosity at what’s ahead.  I’ll keep you posted.

Every few weeks, a few colleagues and I meet for lunch with our boss to discuss a pre-determined topic related to leadership.  Yesterday we discussed the basics of positive psychology and the ways that making simple mindful changes in our daily lives can increase our happiness and, in return, increase our likelihood for success.

Our conversation was based on the TED Talk “The happy secret to better work” by Shawn Achor, which you can find here.

It’s only 12 minutes long and well worth the watch.

If you don’t have 12 minutes, here’s my greatly over-simplified summary… Research tells us that our external world accounts for only about 10% of our long-term happiness.  The other 90% is determined internally by the filters through which we see the world.  Similarly, long-term career success is predicted FAR more by internal factors over which we have control, like optimism, than by measures like IQ.  Achor posits that society’s model of “once I’m successful, I’ll be happy” is backwards, citing research that shows that happy brains are far more productive, creative, and “sharp” than neutral or negative brains.  Given this, he suggests that the happier we are, the more successful we’ll be. Very over-simplified, he calls this is the “happiness advantage.”

The goal, then, per Achor, is to create a  happier state for our brains NOW so we can reap the benefits that happiness provides.  He suggests 5 small changes we can make each day that will, over time, rewire our brain toward happiness.  They are:

  1.  Writing down 3 gratitudes each day
  2. Journaling each day about a positive experience from the day
  3. Exercising every day
  4. Setting aside time for meditation each day
  5. Performing one random (intentional) act of kindness each day

Sounds pretty simple.

During lunch, the boss challenged us to try the above for 21 days while recording our experiences to share with each other.

We start tomorrow.  I’ve created a color-coded chart in a portable journal where I can track my actions and record my thoughts (which, I expect, I will never use, in true ADHD fashion).

I’m curious, and I’m skeptical–but I’m on board to give it a shot.  Stay tuned.

A week ago I returned home from a trip to Iowa to visit family and spend time with my mom.  History has shown that, in between these trips, I mindlessly forget how vital it is for me to reconnect with my family there.  Trying to capture those feelings, I wrote the following on my flight home (on scraps of paper and the backs of boarding passes).
This time around, I think my heart will remember.

A Story About Me

This is the story of a journey taken for my heart and for my soul.
It’s a story about family–about my tribe.

This is a story about me.

This is a story about people who are always happy to see me, no matter the time passed or the distance between us. About people who’ve known me my whole life but who I’m, in many cases, just truly meeting forIowa family 2 the first time. People with whom I share blood or bond. People who come from the same earth as me. People who squeeze me tight and welcome my often too-tight squeezes. It’s about people who wrap my soul in their love and remind me iowa-baileythat, despite my visits being short and infrequent, I’ll always have a place. A place to return to—a place of safety and love.

It’s about the beauty in the everyday: Bailey stomping her feet to entice me to play, a mug left out for this late-riser, just enough coffee left in the pot to fill it.  About new houses that feel like home, and about the gentle but persistent flickering of lightning bugs as night falls.

Iowa sunset 2It’s a story about the iowa-sunsetsunsets made beautiful by God’s hand–and about those made exquisite by the unplanned car ride seeking the perfect photo, or by the feel of soft grass beneath me and the quiet murmur of conversation behind me.

It’s the sight of Grandma and Grandpa’s old farm house—so familiar, yet oddly distant, among trees grown strong and tall over time and pastures long ago consumed by nature’s wild.

Iowa eveningIt’s the bluest sky I’ve ever seen complemented by the most vibrant red flowers on the street.  It’s the smiles on faces near me—each person understanding, without words, the rarity of our almost purely perfect evening.

It’s the scent of the petunias as I breathe in the beauty around me.  It’s the familiar smell of locally-made bug spray and the remnants of burnt bottle rockets.  It’s the smell of summer in the Midwest that hangs heavily on the humid, still air.

This is the story about a magical bowl of peanut mnms that is always full no matter how many handfuls I eat.  It’s about the cold can of beer that shows up just as the previous one is emptied.

This is a story about memories.  About tire swings and an outhouse at the end of a spider-strewn gauntlet of grape vines.  About recalling the last time we got together.  It’s about moments spent reflecting on our love for people no longer physically with us. It’s about visiting the cemetery and knowing that, in actuality, those we’ve lost are never far away.

It’s about the joy on faces of old and young at the patriotic parade.  It’s aboutIowa Parade kindness shown by the youngest of strangers—and about showing kindness to the oldest.  Because it’s what we do.

It’s the feel of small town America on the 4th of July.  Where it’s ok to act like a kid again and where everyone’s sweet dog might as well be my own.  It’s about talking to anyone and everyone amid the safety of small town celebration.

It’s visits that I don’t initially feel like making, only to find that I’m lucky to have been invited along.  It’s realizing my connection to people I hardly know—and realizing how beautifully blessed they make me.

Iowa JanetIt’s a story about the sounds of “purt-near” and “katywhompus.”  The sound of beer cans opening, stories about “the law,” and learning the best way to get rid of old shoes.  It’s hearing Janet warn, “you better watch it, kid!”  It’s about getting an update on everyone in town as their golf carts whiz past.  It’s about the sound of music throughout the day.  The sound of catching up, and the sound of reminiscing.

This is a story about conversations that didn’t happen, too—about witnessing the difficult but powerful and graceful decision to move on without answers or closure.  It’s about finding a way to love people despite themselves, because sometimes that’s what being family means.

This is a story about ending up in places we never dreamed—and meeting there kindred spirits willing to share their world with us.  It’s exploring the widow watch and imagining others’ lives from days past.  It’s about ancient an washing machine and a giant dog named Newman who sits on furniture like the human he thinks he is.

Iowa beer

It’s about unexpected fits of silliness: photos with a menagerie of hats, beer cozies with perfect Iowa hatssayings, a little dog who almost climbed in my bag to go home with me, and a giant dog that needed an entire car just to get around.  It’s about laughing to the point of tears over drippy water balloons.  About washing the same spot on the kitchen floor over and over, and Iowa Big Dogabout Mom being called a brat.

It’s learning what it means Iowa Family 1when someone is “well-known” in town.  It’s discovering that the culprit for much of my quirkiness is “the Dutch!” and finding that “we’re making memories” applies to a wide variety of settings.

This is a story about experiencing life with my mom.  About bearing witness toIowa Me n Mom reunions with old friends and family and the story-telling that flows naturally from those reunions.  About hearing my mom’s laughter—not just in the moment, but also echoing through the stories of the days long before I arrived.  It’s about learning from her grace under pressure and her seemingly effortless patience and kindness to others.  About long walks and important talks.  About her understanding my needs and my unique way of moving through the world.  It’s about making precious memories with a best friend.

This is a story about a soul that’s been hurting.  About a soul that’s felt lost and alone for almost too long to bear.  It’s the story of a soul reawakened by the love of family who doesn’t care what she looks like or what she does, so long as she’s home for a visit.

This is a story about going home, but not to the kind of home where I store my belongings. Iowa family 3 It’s not going to the home where my parents reside.

Instead, this is a story about going home to a place where my soul can rest and just be for awhile.  Where my head finally goes quiet and lets my heart lead the way.

This is a story about one of my homes.
It’s a story about family.

This is my story about what it means to be loved.

Not that I intend to end the gratitude with the end of the month–far from it.

Nov. 22:  I’ll admit, there are days I don’t act very grateful for this crazy ball of fur.  In my heart, though, even on the bad days, I’m so grateful that Charley came racing into our lives almost a year ago.  She can be a terror, but she can also be the sweetest mutt you’ll ever meet.  She’s also a riot.  She LOVES playing fetch and carries a ball with her everywhere.  It’s hard to see, but if you look closely you can see that she dropped the ball IN the water here–just long enough to get a drink.

Nov 22 new week


Nov. 23:  There are no words to express my gratitude that I get to live in a world with sunsets like this.  I’m so glad I stopped long enough to take a few photos and to enjoy the colors changing this night as the sun sank below the horizon.  Breathtaking.

Nov 23


Nov. 24:  I’m so thankful for colleagues with big hearts.  One of my team members nominated me for this on-going award (that comes in this cool envelope with a few mini candy bars and a letter including what you were nominated for and by whom).  I know that most jobs, not just mine, can feel thankless–this is such a cool opportunity to remind each other that someone DOES notice and that we ARE making a difference.  I’ve “turned in” other people for this before, but this was my first time receiving one.  Super fun surprise!

Version 2


Nov. 25:  No photo today!  Days like this remind me that, for as much as I enjoy chronicling my daily life through my photos, I’m really grateful for days that are so busy and full of life that I don’t even think to take a photo.  This day I saw my parents for the first time in about 5 months–perfect chance for a photo, right?  Eh. Turns out that spending time laughing and catching up with them without ever thinking to pick up my phone was even better.


Nov. 26:  Thanksgiving Day.  There are so many things I could list here–some of them repeats from earlier in the month and some that I’ve only just begun to contemplate.  I started my day by going for a run to remind myself that my health is a blessing.  A blessing denied to many and that I take for granted far too often.

Nov 26


Nov. 27:  We ran into a snow storm driving back to our house this day.  I’m thankful that we all made it back safely and without incident.  Not everyone was so lucky that day.  With the amount of time Clint spends driving for work, I try to remember that I have much to be grateful for every time he returns home safely from a trip.

Nov 27


Nov. 28:  I’m so incredibly grateful for this woman–my mama.  Strong, smart, kind, beautiful, and patient.  If I turn into her as I age, I’ll be lucky.  We spent some good time together over the weekend, including time spent taking care of a friend’s cats.  I was reminded of my mom’s abundance of patience and her calm energy as she worked to befriend Myron, the cat in the photo.  He’s VERY skittish, but in just a few hours spread over three days, she not only convinced him that it was safe to come hang out with us, but that it was kind of nice to have his back scratched–by BOTH of us!  I know this probably doesn’t sound like reason to celebrate…  if you knew Myron, you’d understand. 🙂

Nov 28


Nov. 29:  I’m so incredibly grateful for this guy–my papa.  Funny, playful, hard-working, thoughtful, and full of love.  I don’t have to ponder turning into him as I age, as he and I share SO many pieces of our personalities that it’s almost scary sometimes.  This particular morning I woke up in a pretty terrible mood, but after coffee and breakfast and conversation with my dad, it was like my whole world had brightened.  I’m so thankful for the way he gets me and the way my brain works sometimes–and that he makes me giggle and gives great hugs, too.

Nov 29


Nov. 30:  My job has been a challenge at times over the last several months, but I’ve maintained through it all that I believe in the direction we’re headed and I fully trust that we’ve made a positive impact through the changes we’ve made.  My boss has been out of the country for a couple of weeks, and I asked him to bring me a post card for my collection.  He slid this under my door this morning.  I’m pretty damn lucky that I work for people who recognize that I’m working my tail off and who are willing to express THEIR gratitude, too.

In the end, that’s what this whole thing–this life thing–is all about.  Sharing our gratitude and love for and with each other.

Nov 30

Week 3!

Nov. 15:  Whenever my parents visit, my mom always writes us a note the morning that they leave.  I always leave it up until the next time they come to town.  Obviously it’s been awhile since they’ve visited, given the date on this note, but today I JUST noticed that she had added “love!” after the “things to fetch…” prompt on the paper.  I’m so incredibly grateful for my amazing parents–and for the sweet smiles they add to my life in both big and small ways.

Nov 15


Nov. 16:  I’m grateful for simple, easy-to-access means of calming and soothing myself after stressful days.  Coloring is one of my go-to activities for relaxation.  I’m grateful for people in my life who know this, too–like Kriste, who sent me this awesome book and the pencils to go with it.

Nov 16


Nov. 17:  I don’t love working late, but I’m grateful for the amazing views my office offers me.  Sunsets lately have been beautiful, and I’m happy that I get to experience them, even if it has to be while I’m working.  No matter how busy I feel, I make sure to take some time to enjoy the view if I’m still in my office when the sun sets.

Nov 17


Nov. 18:  I’m so grateful that I have the freedom to do cool things with my class!  On this day, a student group presented on the ways that contact with animals can contribute to stress management.  They had one of the campus reference librarians bring in her trained therapy dog, Mavis, for the “experiential” part of the presentation.  Mavis and I spent a little time together before class, and obviously she did her job to demonstrate the group’s points during the presentation!

Nov 18


Nov. 19:  I’ve posted about our peer advisors previously (and about how amazing they are)… This day, I was SO grateful for their collective sense of humor!  The boss was out of town, so I was in charge of their weekly meeting.  It was completely ridiculous and random and full of SO much laughter.  They totally crack me up.  I feel lucky to have them, with their positive attitudes and willingness to play and have fun, around the office each day.

Nov 19


Nov. 20:  Today in class the “art” group included the creation of this poster as part of their presentation.  They encouraged us to “stop and smell the roses” and asked us all to add our hand tracing and a list of things that make us happy or that we’re thankful for.  It was a fun reminder to stop and be thankful together–making me grateful for students who are willing to pause together in a thoughtful way.

Nov 20


Nov. 21:  I’m so thankful for these two sweet boys.  I love them both beyond words, and my heart still melts a little when I see them snuggled up and happily snoozing together.

Nov 21

purpose diagramWhoa.

Have you ever finished reading something and then slowly looked around just to make sure no one is watching you, composing your thoughts, right as you watch them unfold on the screen in front of you?

It just happened here, this quiet, day-before-Thanksgiving morning, as I was lazily perusing the interwebs in that gloriously aimless way that I only get to do over long weekends.  Authored by Mark Manson, you can find the link to the post I just read here.  Caution to intrepid clickers: prepare for a passion smack down! Read More

Week 2–So much to be thankful for!

Nov. 8:  There’s something special about home-baked treats for breakfast on weekends.  I’m grateful for lazy mornings, and I’m SUPER grateful for a husband who is an excellent chef and who is willing to spend part of his morning whipping up yummy treats!

Nov 8


Nov. 9:  We have new neighbors across the street, and they have an escape-artist puppy.  He got loose this night and ended up in our garage when I got home from work.  I was thankful that I was able to scoop him up out of the dark and eventually get him back to his family–but I was also pretty darn happy that I got to spend some time with such a sweet little guy (needle teeth, puppy breath, and all).  Let’s be honest–I’m grateful for a world with puppies.

Nov 9


Nov. 10:  I’m thankful for grown-up puppies that bring so much humor to our lives, too.  Chaco got to play weather-dog for the first time this season, and he reported that it was indeed snowing.

Nov 10


Nov. 11:  At the risk of dog photo overload, I was so incredibly grateful this night that Chaco was ok.  He vomited multiple times the day before, and, given that he’s old-man dog, I was really, really worried about him (ahem, as I spent hours cleaning stains out of the carpet–I spared you the yuck of that photo).  By the time I took this photo he was acting like himself again, and for now all is well.

Nov 11


Nov. 12:  This day an unexpected thank you note from a student showed up in my work mailbox.  The day before she had come in just needing someone to talk to, and we spent more than an hour sharing stories about friends, change, stress, and other typical college-life topics.  She’s awesome, so it was really fun to connect with her.  Apparently she felt the same way, and she went out of her way to write me a note to say so.  It’s such a blessing to have the opportunity to work with students like her–students who are willing to share their stories, their backgrounds, their highs, and their lows.  I learn from each of them, and, when I’m lucky (like with this one), my heart gets a little hug too.

Nov 12


Nov. 13:  This is a photo from the new book Impossible to Know by one of my favorite author-artist-storytellers, Brian Andreas (link here… and I cannot stress enough how very much I think everyone should check him out).  I’d had it for five days but finally made time to sit down with it this day.  I love his work for many reasons, but maybe most importantly because so often his work expresses what I’m feeling when I can’t seem to do so on my own.  Such gratitude for his willingness to share his heart through his work.

Nov 13


Nov. 14:  Our little town loves parades, and this day was the infamous Storybook Cavalcade Parade–an event about which I’d heard a lot of strange things but that I’d never actually witnessed.  I went this year with some pretty awesome friends and co-workers, and it was a hoot.  A strange, half-fascinating, half-terrifying hoot, but a hoot all the same.  I’m grateful for friends who are willing to go on silly adventures with a girl wearing a yeti hat!

Nov 14

For over 5 years now, I’ve participated in a daily photo blog.  Each day, each group member posts a photo that represents their day.  I love it as a non-traditional way of journaling, and I love the friends it’s brought to my life.

A couple of years ago, at the suggestion of a fellow photographer, I dedicated my November photos to portraying things for which I was thankful.  I LOVED how it led me to focus on gratitude, so each November since, I’ve continued the tradition.

Since I don’t share that photo blog address widely, I’m going to post each week’s photos here, too.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there’s always room for more more gratitude.  Here’s week 1:

Nov. 1:  First, I’m grateful that a friend inadvertently convinced me to sit outside for a bit this afternoon to enjoy the beautiful weather.  I’m grateful for dear friends like Kriste who love me unconditionally, and I’m grateful for technology that makes it feel like we’re not quite so far apart!

Nov 1


Nov. 2:  I’m grateful for the time change because I get to get out of bed in the mornings without it being totally dark outside.  Sunlight makes it SO much easier for me to get up and moving.

Nov 2


Nov. 3:  I’m grateful that my job allows me the chance to play and be goofy sometimes.  I won’t try to explain this one–knowing that we got a good laugh out of it is what’s most important.

Nov 3


Nov. 4:  This represents a moment I couldn’t photograph.  This morning, the first snow flakes of the year fell while I was teaching.  When I pointed them out to my class, I discovered that one of my students had never seen snow before.  She was like a little kid–ready to bounce out of her seat with excitement.  I made a quick decision, looked at her, and said, “You have 1 minute and 30 seconds–go!”  She flew out the door and was back, breathless, grinning, and speckled with snow flakes in less than two minutes.  I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to allow time for those spontaneous moments of fun while I’m teaching.  It’s a product of my teaching style and my students’ ability to be respectful and flexible, and I love it.  Totally worth the short interruption to make someone’s day (not to mention that her smile made my day, too).

Nov 4


Nov. 5:  This semester we have a new group of peer mentor advisors assisting my professional team.  This day they organized an open house event for students needing help with registration and scheduling.  About 85 students showed up, which is awesome.  I’m so grateful to have such creative, dedicated, fun students on board as part of our team!

Nov 5


Nov. 6:  I’m so grateful for all of the little sweet things Clint does each day.  This day, he left for work before I was even out of bed.  Chaco was being a total bed-hog, and while I was half awake, he quietly told Chaco to move over and then shoved him over so I could stretch out.  He made sure I was snuggled back under the blanket before giving me a smooch and telling me he was heading out.  He makes my heart glow.

Nov 6


Nov. 7:  This morning Heather and I went for a walk–we just wanted some time to catch up, which we definitely got, but the fresh air and the opportunity to move were really good for both of us, too.  I’m so grateful for the special friendship we’ve developed–there’s nothing quite like knowing that someone really gets me and loves me for my ups and downs, not despite them.

Nov 7


This weekend, I stumbled across an infographic titled “17 Counterintuitive Things the Most Successful People Do.”  I didn’t agree with all of it, but the following jumped out at me:


“Seek Out Rejection.”  Huh.

I’m not convinced we can become fully desensitized to the fear of rejection, but there’s definite wisdom here. Humans are wired to avoid the pain that accompanies rejection. We instinctively run from it. Hide from it. And, when it inevitably happens, we quietly tuck it away in hopes that no one will notice–and with hopes that maybe we can forget about it, too.

Seeking out rejection sounds a bit a lot like playing with fire to me. Sounds like openly inviting the commentary that the haters and the doubters are dying to provide. Sounds like an adventure requiring the type of courage that usually takes me days to muster up.

However, I’m willing to consider that, perhaps, if we hear the doubters’ voices enough, we’re more able to let their negative chorus become nothing more than background noise.  Without their constant chatter, maybe what once felt scary and risky becomes adventure and opportunity instead.

If less fear means more willingness to take risks, then it also means more opportunity for big payoff.

…or for more rejection, of course.

Ah!  But if we’ve shrunk that fear, that’s a far less cringe-worthy, shame-inducing possibility, isn’t it?


What do you think? Can we desensitize ourselves to rejection? How do YOU move on from rejection?

You can check out the full infographic, created by Roda Marketing, by clicking here .  It’s worth the look!

By nature, I’m a fixer.  I like puzzles, and I like problem-solving.  It’s a great skill for putting out fires at work and helping disgruntled students, but no matter how hard I deny it, my fix-it strategy just does not cut it in my personal, relational, emotional, psychological world.

(please tell me I’m not alone in this?)

My brain is a constant whir of “fix it!”  I hear the whirring, and I hear its message:  If I could just figure out what’s bothering me, I could fix it.  If I could just find the reason I’m sad, I could fix it.  If I could just understand the underlying cause to student complaints, I could fix it.  Right?

Wrong.  So incredibly wrong.    Read More