Free Spirit

Oct2012 297

I have been called a “free spirit” many times.  Sometimes, it is meant to be complimentary.  Regardless of intention, I always choose to take it as a matter of fact.  All spirits are free.  I often wonder why people use that particular term—‘free spirit’.  To say ‘free spirit’ implies there may be other kinds of spirits and one can differentiate between them.  What would those spirits be?  -Bound spirits?  -Captive spirits? -Restricted spirits?  If one does not consider themselves to be a free spirit, what kind of spirit do they consider themselves to be?  Aren’t all spirits free?  -Free to choose the life we wish to experience or, at least, how we experience it?  We may choose different paths and different attitudes and therein lies the freedom—the freedom to choose.  What spirit is not free to choose?  I often choose to be open-minded, curious, optimistic and compassionate.  Sometimes, I choose to be judgmental, grumpy, pessimistic and downright ornery.  Others may choose a different set of values and different forms of expression.  Whatever the choice, it is a choice and it is an individual choice.


Richard Bach sums it up nicely in Jonathan Livingston Seagull:

Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it himself if he’d spend a little time practicing?  Why should that be so hard?”


We are all Free Spirits.  Whatever politics, religion, identity, thought, action or reaction you may choose or not choose, it is your choice to make…or not make.  -And I celebrate our Free Spirits!

With that, my free spirit chooses to have a cookie.

Life Cycles

My Bike - Hermes

My Bike – Hermes

For the past six months, I have commuted to and from and work on my bike.  I have never thought of myself as a cyclist and I am by no means an expert on all-things-cycling.  As I reflect on my cycling experiences over the last few months, I noticed there are a lot of life lessons I’ve picked up through biking.

When the wind is at your back, life is easy!  With winds regularly gusting at 15-20 mph, I speed along like a bullet powered by the force of the wind.  In these conditions, cycling feels almost effortless and it is an exhilarating experience!  …Until I have to turn around.  Riding into a 15-20 mph headwind is a completely different experience.  It is like hitting a brick wall or trying to bike underwater.  Everything seems to take so much effort and I move so s   l   o   w   l   y.  When I first experienced riding in high winds, I was surprised by the difference and, over time, I’ve learned a few things about riding with and against the wind—things I think also apply to life.

When I am riding along with the wind at my back, I don’t actually feel the wind.  It just feels like the ride is easier than usual.  I can crank the gears all the way up and still feel very little resistance as I pedal along.  Riding with high tailwinds makes it easy for me to begin to overestimate my own strength while under-appreciating and taking for granted the wind at my back powering me along.  Off the bike, I have experienced the same principle in my life.  While I celebrate my accomplishments and own my successes, I also know I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those individuals who have supported me along the way.  I have not accomplished anything in my life without the support of others.  –Those individuals who have pushed me and encouraged me along.  As I look back on my life and the things I have accomplished, I notice the bigger the accomplishment the more support I had behind me. It reminds me to be grateful and humble.  Speeding along with the wind at one’s back is exhilarating and helps get you where are travelling to faster but, sometimes, we have to turn around and face the wind.

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Margaret_Hamilton_Judy_Garland_1939There have been times over the last few months when I was peddling furiously into a strong headwind yet I felt as if I was actually being pushed backwards.  Whereas a high tailwind allows me to crank my gears all the way up, biking into a 15-20 mph headwind forces me to crank the gears all the way down—as in ridiculously low gears—and I still barely move. Each time this happens, I cannot help but think of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz riding the bike in the tornado (I’ll get you my pretty…and your little dog too!). It can be exasperating to think I am working so hard and only inching along.  –And, quite frankly, sometimes I even have an irrational irritability with the wind for making my ride so difficult!  Do you ever feel that way as you go through your days?  -That you are working so hard and not really getting anywhere and everything is against you, and IT IS JUST NOT FAIR?!  It is tempting to get sucked into this type of thinking and it is tempting to quit. 

I almost gave into this temptation several times but I made a decision to stick with my bike commute even when I knew I was going to ride into high winds.  I made the decision to stick with it because I looked at as an opportunity to build strength and stamina.  I also realized the wind was not intentionally making my life hard; it was just doing what wind does and it was nothing personal.  Every time I pull up to the bike rack after an especially challenging ride, I feel like doing a victory dance like Rocky when he ran up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my fists raised in victory over my head.  Yeah!  In your FACE, Wind!  I remember that feeling when I am inching along with sand and grit hitting my face (great exfoliation for your skin) and it helps me get through the hard times.  It’s the same way in life.  Think of all the times you stuck with something even when it was grueling and hard and you just wanted to give up but YOU DID NOT GIVE UP.  Eventually, you made it and it was so worth it because you did Rockyit!

Here’s the interesting thing—when I finish a hard ride I feel much more satisfaction than when I finish an easy ride.  I enjoy the rides with the wind at my back but I don’t have the same sense of accomplishment.  I am grateful for the times I have a strong tailwind pushing me along and it allows me to crank up the gears, pick up the speed, and enjoy the scenery but it does not push me to grow.  So, I take each ride’s gifts as they are presented.  When things in my life are easy-going and I have full support for the direction I am heading, I use the opportunity to take the gears up and go full throttle.  I’m able to go even farther and faster because I built up the strength and stamina from times when I was challenged and my commitment was tested and forged.  I am grateful for the support and the challenges, the easy times and the tough times.  Mostly, I’m grateful for the opportunity to ride at all.

Enjoy the ride!

(P.S. A tough bike ride deserves a cookie.)



To introduce this post’s topic, I have copied an excerpt from a chat conversation between my husband, Jeff, and me.  We were discussing my youngest son, Phoenix, and his reluctance to take a shot at the basket while playing with his basketball team.  Preceding the excerpt from our conversation below, we were discussing how Phoenix would eventually work up to taking his first shot and how my husband identified with taking time to come into something. I then made a remark about how it must be a genetic thing.

One more thing you should know before reading the following chat, my family lovingly teases me about what they refer to as my “phases”.  Over the years, I have picked up many different interests and hobbies.  I taught myself sewing, canning food, gardening, the use of aromatherapy and essential oils, countless exercise fads, reading tarot cards, etc.  There is a pattern to my “phases”.  Something piques my interest and I dig into it, learning everything I can.  I master it or at least learn it to a point of my satisfaction and then I move on to something else.  –A new phase.


Yeah, we are late bloomers


You’re perfect


So are you. I meant we as in you and me, btw


Interesting, I have not thought of myself as a late bloomer

I thought of it as a time-delayed response HA! -or slow motion




I suppose you’re right though


Think about it…you are just now starting to get an idea of what you want to do with your life


Yeah, I get it.

Of course, you could also think of it as a Phased Plan


And “phased” plan is exactly right, hahaha…get it

Because you have phases






I retract my statement

It is done. Retracted. Never Happened.

Of course, that may be a good blog topic…you know, my latest PHASE


Yes it did! I have saved this conversation.




Yeah well, your phases are getting more and more narrowed down and focused…so it’s good


I’m glad you approve


I just observe


and I take it you are the Subject Matter Expert?


I’m trying…getting better all the time


It is a little uncanny


You are my favorite thing in the whole world. I study you all the time.


Awwww, thanks honey. ❤

Here is what I took away from this chat.  First, my husband is an infinitely patient and loving man and I am, once again, reminded of how lucky I am.  Second, I need to reevaluate what I think of as a “late bloomer”.  Finally, I may be a “late bloomer”.

Up until this conversation with my husband, I had never thought of myself as a late bloomer.  –Not even close.  While there is nothing wrong with being a late bloomer, it was something for other people.  When the topic would come up, I would nod sagely and say wise, profound things like, “We are exactly where we need to be as our journey brings us to different waypoints at different times”. -Which sounds cool…for other people.  You know, those other people who ARE late bloomers.  –Not for me.  I thought of myself as an early bloomer or a frequent bloomer, or even a multi-bloomer.  I have blooms all over the place.  (Have you ever noticed when you say or type a word over and over again, it sounds/looks funny?  Bloomer…bloomer…bloomer…) I’ve accomplished all kinds of things and I have received all kinds of recognition from all kinds of different people and organizations.  I was definitely, most certainly NOT a late bloomer!

Until my husband, who is much smarter than me, called me out.

-And, BAM!  It hit me.  Whoa, I MAY be a late bloomer.  WHOA.  While the conversation back and forth between my husband and I may seem cute and light, it was a huge light bulb moment for me.  As in, needle screeching off the record, time stopping, unplugging from The Matrix, everything become crystal clear moment. “How’s your life paradigm?”, you ask.  -Shifted, thank you very much.

In an instant all the awkwardness and feeling like I never really fit in made sense.  Even when I have been surrounded by friends and loved ones, people who have supported me, and even when I have received great accolades for things I have done, I never quite felt like I fit in.  –Because I didn’t.  I did not fit into my own skin.  –My own way of being.  I was reaching up and out to take in new experiences and ideas to help me grow.  -All the endless searching and trying on new things and ideas but never feeling comfortable in settling into or on one thing finally made sense.  I was sending out roots, tapping into rich resources and feeding my growth.  I am just beginning to bloom (bloomer…bloomer…bloomer).

This does not negate everything I have accomplished.  -Quite the contrary!  It finally brings all my experiences into a cohesive picture that makes more sense to me.  Each experience, each “phase” was a crucial part of who I am and who I am becoming.   As Scott Barry Kaufman says in his article, Confessions of a Late Bloomer,

Achievements that require complex abilities like creativity or leadership, which comprise many different traits and thus the alignment of many different genes, are years in the making. As Simonton points out, there is only one way of becoming an early bloomer, but there are an infinite number of ways of being a late bloomer. The more complex a trait, the more ways a person can become a late bloomer for that trait.

The Statue of David by Michelangelo

The Statue of David by Michelangelo

You may have come across Michelangelo’s response when he was asked how he carved the magnificent statue of David from one solid piece of marble.  He replied that he simply chipped away everything that was not David.  What is even more poignant about this story is the marble used for the Statue of David had been deemed unworthy and unusable.  Two other artists had attempted to complete the statue using the same block of marble and determined it to be of too poor quality and too massive to work with.  As a result, it sat in the elements for more than 20 years.  Once Michelangelo started to sculpt the marble, it took him three more years to complete.  As a result, we have a masterpiece we continue to admire as one of history’s finest pieces of sculpture.   The Statue of David in all of its timeless and enduring beauty did not happen overnight; it took time.

Michelangelo is considered one of the High Renaissance artists.  The High Renaissance (circa 1490-1527) represents the pinnacle of Italian renaissance arts.  This time period gave us the works of masters such as Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci.  The renaissance was a ‘rebirth’ of learning and it was energized by a wide focus including an intellectual pursuit and appreciation of politics, the arts and science.  Hence, when we wish to describe a person with a wide range of interests and talents we may call him/her a “Renaissance Man/Woman”.   What does this have to with late bloomers?  Margaret Lobenstine wrote a wonderful book, The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, describing how people who some may consider to be late bloomers may actually be Renaissance Souls.


If I were to envision the Renaissance approach to life, the traditional career metaphors of a highway to follow or a mountain to climb wouldn’t come to mind. The Renaissance approach to life looks more like a tree branching out in myriad directions, some branches overlapping, some intertwining, and some just finding their own merry ways to the sunlight.

-And we’re back to blooming (bloomer…bloomer…bloomer).  This concept resonates with me because I think many of us have a wide range of interests and/or are still exploring interests.  Many of us meander and explore, weaving back and forth across paths.  There are very few straight lines.

While I admire those individuals who have known since they were two years old what they wanted to do with their life, most people I talk to are still trying to figure that out in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond.  So, perhaps there is too much social pressure on picking just one interest and specializing?  It is crazy to think of how much pressure we put on ourselves and our children to pick a lifelong career at 16 years-old!  I’m 38 and I’m still trying to figure it out!

I like the idea of my life as one big adventure exploring different ideas and interests and constantly making new discoveries.  I will also continue to honor and support the same for those around me.  I appreciate author, journalist and speaker, Malcolm Gladwell’s comments in his article, Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?

Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.

So, whether you consider yourself or someone you love a late bloomer or a Renaissance Soul, I invite you to celebrate the wondrous journey that is life (bloomer…bloomer…bloomer)!

Vulnerability: Hearing Voices


“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

~Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

When you set out to make a connection with someone or do something new, do you hear voices?

I hear voices and I bet you do too. Before you call the local authorities, allow me to explain. When I decided to create a blog and share my personal journey and try to inspire others along the way, I started hearing voices—not a new phenomenon. The background chatter and running commentary sound something like this:

“This will be AMAZING!”

“What could you possibly have to say that has not been said before?”

“They’re all going to laugh at you.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Your grammar is atrocious and your writing style is tedious.”

“You’re full of crap.”

“That’s a nice idea but it will be a lot of work and people can be mean. -How about a cookie instead?”

So, I delete everything I just wrote and take my fingers off the keyboard. Then, I go have a cookie.

Does this sound familiar? When you set out to do, create, say or be something new, do you hear the doom and gloom narrator? Do you hear the voices of self-doubt and/or people in your life who you imagine will condemn, criticize or belittle your efforts? How many opportunities to build relationships have been missed? How many beautiful creations have died inside us because they were stifled before they even had a chance? How many of us choke on our truth because our hearts are caught in our throats?

What do we gain through trying to protect ourselves from vulnerability? What do we lose through trying to protect ourselves? -And just what are we trying to protect ourselves from? What would life be like if we gave a voice to our vulnerability? Imagine your life if you were able to speak and live from your heart. I am not referring to emotional reactions; I am referring to the concept of responding from a place of truth—the raw, pure, and authentic truth of who you are. As Brene’ Brown asserts, what if we all had the courage to show up and let ourselves be seen?

When we try to protect ourselves from vulnerability, we are trying to protect ourselves from hurt, rejection, and failure. We choose to be numb rather than risk any kind of pain. Unfortunately, we cannot selectively numb ourselves. Through not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we anesthetize ourselves to all of life’s sensations. To be numb to pain is also to be numb to joy. To block out the discomfort of life’s barbs and arrows is to also block out life’s embraces and caresses. While we may be able to avoid life’s uncomfortable moments, we will also miss out on life’s most rewarding opportunities.

Invulnerability diminishes our capacity for connection. To truly connect with others we have to open ourselves up and let ourselves be seen. As with anesthesia and its encompassing numbing effects, we cannot select what we open ourselves up to. When we exist in a state of openness, we are open to life’s ecstasies and agonies. The scholar and novelist, C.S. Lewis, voiced this sentiment in his book The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Please click here to see Gavin Aung Than’s beautiful illustration of these words.

Vulnerability not only allows us to connect with others it allows us to connect with ourselves. Think of all the times you held yourself back from self-expression because you were afraid of what others would think or what they would say. One of my favorite comedians is Jim Gaffigan because he not only acknowledges the type of raw vulnerability most of us feel, he embraces it and highlights it as part of his act . He gives a voice to his vulnerability and in doing so harnesses the power of vulnerability. The audience responds so well to him because they recognize the same challenges reflected in their own lives. His voice resonates with our experiences because most of us are plagued with those same kinds of voices. So, to hear him openly acknowledge and even use it as a means to connect with and entertain his audience is inspiring. Allowing ourselves to exist from a state of vulnerability allows us to express ourselves from a place of authenticity. When you express yourself through words, art, or actions, and allow yourself to be vulnerable, you come from a place of truth. –And truth always resonates.

One final note on vulnerability—although allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is what allows us to connect with others, it does not guarantee we will connect with others. Sometimes, we just don’t click with others. It does not mean one person or the other is wrong or bad. It just means you are not compatible or, perhaps, you are at different places along your respective journeys. There may be times when you go out on a limb and open yourself up to someone and do everything in your power to make that connection yet it still does not go well, or, even worse, they respond in a very negative way. Should this happen, you may find encouragement in Brene’ Brown’s words: “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer”.

With that, my friends, I wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day and all the best along your journey! -And now, I’m going to enjoy a cookie.  XOXOXO

Check out Brene’ Brown’s inspiring TedTalk: The Power of Vulnerability

Personal Transformation through Bravery, Strength and Courage

Blue Morphos

Have you ever noticed when you give advice or try to inspire someone you are often really talking to yourself?  Last week, I gave a speech on how to make it through and help others make it through profound personal transformation.  I believe personal transformation empowers us to change and save the world.  I also know it is extremely challenging.  In these times of instant gratification and a pill for every woe, something as time and energy intensive as true personal transformation may seem hopeless.

As Gandhi said, if we want to change the world, we have to be the change.  So, here is what I told myself and what I’m telling myself now.   It is important to acknowledge the victories you have already achieved.  Personal transformation is not a one-time good deal.  For most of us, the opportunities arise many times in our lives.  I chose to transform myself from a victim of childhood abuse to an empowered advocate for children’s rights and to break the cycle of violence within my own family.  I chose to transform myself from someone without purpose and direction to someone who has found and embraced her purpose in life and is working to help others accomplish the same.

-And it has been HARD.

I have noticed when things become difficult, it is helpful to have some kind of mascot or symbol to look to for encouragement.  If I were to ask you what creature best symbolizes the bravery, strength, and courage it takes to achieve personal transformation, what would you say?  Some may say the lion, ‘mighty king of the jungle, or the wolf–‘lord of the forests’, or the shark–‘master of the sea’, or even the eagle–‘ruler of the sky’.  If you were to ask me what creature best symbolizes the bravery, strength and courage it takes to make it through radical personal transformation, I would say the butterfly.

The butterfly’s story is not the sweet and gentle story you may remember hearing from your school days.  It’s a difficult, arduous and, at times, traumatic  journey.  It follows what Joseph Campbell, noted mythologist, lecturer and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, called the hero’s journey.  First, there is the call to change when the caterpillar knows, despite what it may wish otherwise, that it must change. -And this takes great bravery.  Then, there is the actual change which means the complete dissolution of its former self and transformation into something new. -And this requires tremendous strength.  Finally, the time comes for the butterfly to emerge from its cocoon and come back into the world with its gifts. -And this requires deep courage.

As I’m sure you all remember learning in school, a butterfly begins its life as a caterpillar. It spends this initial part of its life eating and growing. Some caterpillars grow so much that they shed their skin six times! This is also how we begin our lives. We learn how to exist in our environments, taking in new experiences and growing. We don’t question what is going on inside of us because we are focused on learning and absorbing what is going on outside of us. We’re growing but we are not transforming. We simply exist. –And this is okay because we are learning how the world works. That is part of our survival—knowing our place in the world and how it all fits together. But one day…one day it is just not enough. One day, we want something more. Just as the caterpillar feels the call to change, we sense it too. We may not understand why, but we know in our gut that there is something more. –That we are something more. We may not know the how or the what of it, but we cannot deny the call once we have felt it. It can be a scary and frightening thing. Just as the caterpillar was once content with eating and growing, we had comfortable lives that we knew and understood, and now…now there is something calling us to give up that life and change. This call to the unknown is terrifying because, as Buckminster Fuller, inventor and futurist said, “there is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” We cannot even begin to imagine what is in store for us, yet we cannot ignore the call—the call to transform and this takes great bravery. Embracing the call to change, to truly transform, to face our fears and do the thing that must be done takes a brave heart.  True transformation also takes incredible strength.

Maya Angelou, author and poet, said, “We delight in the beauty of a butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  Returning again to your school days, do you remember your imaginings of the cute little caterpillar getting sleepy and wrapping itself in a comfy cocoon to take a little nap? -And then it woke up—and voila’!  It’s now happily flitting about flower to flower! Friends, I hate to burst your bubble but this is not even remotely close to what happens when a butterfly begins its transformation.  Once the butterfly heeds the call to change and wraps itself in its cocoon, it completely dissolves.  That’s right, folks: caterpillar  soup.  If you were to cut open a cocoon, and please don’t, before the butterfly has finished it’s transformation, an oozy liquid  would gush out.  You see, there are these cells—imaginal cells—that begin to arise when the caterpillar dissolves.  These cells are important because these are the cells that hold the key to the caterpillar soup transforming into a butterfly.  But, it’s not an easy transformation and it takes a lot of strength.  You see, as the imaginal cells work to transform the caterpillar soup into a butterfly, the remaining caterpillar cells fight the imaginal cells.  The caterpillar, the old way of being, fights off the change over and over again.  But the imaginal cells just keep coming back, regenerating until finally they have enough numbers to achieve a tipping point and overcome the resistance so the transformation may begin.  Think of the times in your life when you have attempted to bring about personal transformation.  Although your will was there and your intentions were clear, it was still hard.  You heard the call and tried to heed it  but the forces of habit and inertia required great strength to overcome.  You may also have fought to overcome self-doubt, anxiety, low self-confidence and low self-esteem.  Sometimes, it must have felt like you took two steps forward only to take one step back but that is okay!  -Because one step forward and two steps back is still ONE STEP FORWARD.  This type of change is not for the weak of heart, it requires force of will and strength of intention.  Yet, even when we have made the change, the trials are still not over because then we must have the courage to go back into the world.        

Again, I invite you to return to our childhood imaginings of a happy little butterfly emerging from its cocoon and joyfully flitting flower to flower in the warm sunshine.  –And again, I must shatter this illusion because it does not happen like that.  When the butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it is still fragile.  Its wings are wet and it is weak and tired.  It is very vulnerable.  So, the butterfly takes time to allow its wings to dry.  It gently begins moving its wings to warm up.  It allows itself to adjust to its change and prepares a new life.  Think of the times you have radically changed something in your life.  A time when you mustered all your bravery and your strength and you  made a significant change.  You may have been so excited to share it with the world that you rushed out to announce the news and show the change only to have it criticized, belittled or condemned.  How did you feel?  How did it impact you?  Perhaps, something you were so happy about and so proud of then seemed small, trivial or silly–insignificant.  I encourage you to allow time for yourself and others to settle into a new way of being.  Allowing ourselves and others the time and space to embrace a new way of being is what gives us the courage to take our new and diverse gifts out into the world—to brave the gusts and the storms, the critics and the naysayers.  Change is not for the cowardly; it takes deep courage to share our gifts with the world and the world desperately needs our individual gifts.  As the proverb says, “just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”  We transform the world when we transform ourselves.

We all have the capacity to continue growing and changing.  As you go through life, I hope you sometimes think of and are inspired by the butterfly’s story.  I am not referring to the sweet and romanticized story you hear in kindergarten about cute, fuzzy caterpillars taking a nap and waking up as carefree  butterflies.  Instead, remember the real story of profound transformation through bravery, strength and courage.  When the call to transform arises, be brave.  Lean into the unknown and have faith.  When your whole world is turned upside down, be strong and remember no true and lasting change is easy. As Stephanie Pace Marshall, noted author and educator said, “adding wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies; it creates awkward, dysfunctional caterpillars.  Butterflies are created through transformation.”  Finally, when you have made the change, give yourself the gift of time and space to become firm in the change so you may have the courage to share your gift with the world.  Be Brave.  Stay Strong.  Have Courage.  We can transform the world through transforming ourselves.  We are all heroes and we will save the world.