Our family of four humans and three animals returned to the USA in August after four years in Zurich, Switzerland. Repatriating to my home country has been more complex than I imagined. In truth, I didn’t imagine any complexity. I’m American, how hard can it be? So, when we learned my husband’s job was relocating to the USA, I leaned in with my “up for anything” approach to life. Though, the definition of ‘up for anything’ has changed considerably with age…bungee jumping and canyoning have been taken off the bucket list.
Being adventurous is obviously fun and exciting. And, uncomfortable. That’s the paradox of change – it’s both difficult and exhilarating. Being in situations that are new deepens empathy – it’s a fact. My foreigner status allows me to connect to how hard it must be for others. I also feel gratitude because my situation as an expat on my husband’s work visa was much easier than the Ukrainian refugees I met in Switzerland.
Many of my expat friends with more countries and years under their belt forewarned me that the transition home is tough. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. With a twelve-hour flight, my old life is gone and it feels abrupt and surreal. All the routines, cultural norms, and ways of life – that were so different four years ago – that I adapted to and thrived in disappeared almost instantly.
I didn’t drive a lot in Switzerland. I often walked to the grocery store. My kids took public transportation to school and sport. Of course, I am aware that parents are their children’s chauffeurs in much of the USA. I was one myself just four years ago. But, I grew to love taking public transportation over driving.
The variety of food and the size of grocery stores in the US is overwhelming. I have now taken to ordering groceries online because it’s easier for me to sift through the items that way rather than walk up and down the aisles. There’s an entire aisle dedicated to hard seltzer with alcohol. I haven’t even heard of hard seltzer alcohol. I’ll save going to Costco for 2024 because if I do go, I think I’ll faint.
Ordering anything online in Switzerland was rare; there’s no Amazon.ch. And, I liked it. I quickly realized we didn’t need all that stuff, most were just impulse buys that could be easily solved by a workaround or going without. Our household belongings are currently in a container somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, and with school starting for our boys, I’ve ordered from Amazon almost every other day. While it’s easy and time-saving, it doesn’t feel like me.
There are a lot of pros and cons to living in both countries. My discomfort isn’t a tally about which country is better. It’s more the sense of loss for the life I adapted to and grew to love. A cardinal rule of expat life is not to expect your host country to be the same as the country you left. In our four years in Switzerland, we met people who would flame out. They just couldn’t adapt to the change and would leave. I don’t expect the USA to be like Switzerland – but I do miss my old life.
In the field of change management, where the rubber meets the road is when people have to actually “DO” the work differently. That’s where change efforts live or die. If I go to work on Monday and how I start my day is different, the tools I used before are now gone and I’m supposed to use new tools, tools that I’m not that familiar with or my team is new, WOW, that’s hard. Ever switched from a PC to a Mac? My “personal workflow” has changed and I’m feeling the loss.
A little voice in my head asks periodically, “Why can’t you just be grateful you lived in Europe for four years?” Well, little voice, pipe down, I am. Gratitude isn’t a bypass for the hard bits in life. In fact, being able to feel gratitude when things are rough – no matter how relative – is the true gift of gratitude.
Every challenge forces us to discover a new path. I’m on a new path and it’s an opportunity to be more compassionate to myself and others. And, ultimately, increase my humanity. Besides, it won’t be long until I’m ready for the next adventure!
It’s that time of year. To reflect on the year behind us and to set our intentions for the upcoming year. Reflecting upon what we have learned makes us deeper, and richer, and expands our consciousness. This is all part of our growth as humans and as American novelist William S. Burroughs said, “When you stop growing you start dying”.
It is true. We are in constant cycles of death and rebirth in our lives. Think about your relationship with your work – it’s constantly evolving. Changes are always occurring with different problems to solve, applying our skills in different ways, developing new skills, or interpersonal relationships that stretch us. Our relationships with our loved ones are constantly evolving, too. As we have all experienced, there is always ample opportunity to improve communication! Ways that have worked before – no longer do and we must find new ways.
I like to begin every year by creating a theme or intention my year will be about and then reflecting on that word at the end of the year. I look at my journal and ask, “Did my year match the theme?” Often the answer is “Nope”! It is a good reminder that there is so much in this life that is out of our hands and that we truly have no control over it.
My theme for 2022 was “Connection”. Yet, upon reflection, it was quite an emotionally lonely year for me. 2022 had me dealing with some core aspects of my life that needed change and they were overdue for a change, so some aspects actually needed to die. I realized though all the loneliness, I found a deeper connection to myself. So, it truly was a year of connection, but definitely not in the way that I had envisioned. While the loneliness was very difficult at times, I’m much stronger and committed to myself and my happiness.
Here are three questions that I am using this year, including my annual theme question.
I have never regretted the time I have taken to reflect upon my life. These exercises have made enriched my life and so I encourage you all to go somewhere quiet and take time to wrap up 2022. You deserve it.
“For all that has been, I thank you.” For all that is to come, Yes!”Dag Hammarskjold
I hope this post finds everyone rested and well after summer. For my friends in the Southern Hemisphere – spring is coming!
I am writing to give you an update. Four years ago this month, I launched Live Your Jam with a mission to help more people lead fulfilling lives. I am still as passionate about the mission today as I was in 2018. I was inspired to help more people — not just those in organizations. My plan was to scale Live Your Jam by holding workshops, and selling content, and services to have a broader impact. For four years, I didn’t sell any services or hold any workshops. That’s quite a track record. Clearly, not my Jam!
In the past three years, I’ve slowed the pace of my work and personal life – mostly due to our family’s move to Europe. The change has allowed me to experiment with what fulfills me and also become more mindful of how I spend my time.
I now work part-time in my consulting and coaching practice. The “extra” time I have is spent in nature, writing, and cooking. These restorative outlets feed my soul and give me more energy and focus, which has improved the quality of my work in helping leaders and their teams.
The integration of working less with other creative pursuits has been profoundly insightful. My ego has tried to sabotage my fulfillment with zingers like, “Are you living up to your potential?” or “Are you playing life ‘small’?” Luckily, I know that the thoughts in my head – are just thoughts and my mind’s attempt to keep me away from my whole Self. To be fair, I do think that there are times when we need to challenge ourselves and step into our full potential – as well as times when we keep ourselves small out of fear. In my case, I am happy with this change for now. So, I continue to notice these self-sabotaging thoughts and then let them go.
This leads me to share that my Live Your Jam website will be a home for my writing. I’m going to give myself permission to write whatever I want. In the past, I have written with the intention to provide people with tools and actionable steps – things that have worked for me or I have learned via my amazing clients. Because I’m so passionate about living a life where we each use our unique gifts – it’s safe to say Jam themes will remain dominant. I will send out digests of my writing periodically through this email list for you to peruse or not! Feel free to stay on the list if the change sounds appealing or you can unsubscribe at any time.
Fulfillment is a personal journey that is ironically found in each moment. I wish you all many moments of Jam.
Blessings and light,
We returned this week to Switzerland from five weeks in the USA. Our summer was focused on family and practical matters. My mother-in-law passed away in the spring at the age of 89. She lived a full life and passed peacefully in her favorite chair. We are happy for her.
My husband is an only child so the responsibility and honor of her funeral and clearing out her home fell to him. He rose to both occasions beautifully. The funeral was a loving event. It was wonderful for our two boys to hear stories about their Grandmother from others – enlarging their perspective of who she was as a person outside of her role as Grandma.
Clearing out her home of 50-plus years was both challenging and sweet. The challenge was the sheer volume of things collected; some forgotten, some cherished over a lifetime. There were dumpsters involved, countless trips to Goodwill, boxes and boxes! of book donations to the local library, and saving or shipping sentimental items to other family members. The sweetness was found in treasures like old passports – Pat was a world traveler and had visited more than 20 countries long before I met her. Our teenage sons enjoyed the different currencies she collected from her travels – many no longer in circulation.
I was able to break away to fly across the country to visit my 93-year-old mother who was staying with one of my brothers and his sweet family. My time with them was grounding and fulfilling. Living in another country with a different language and distinct culture often feels like I inhabit two different worlds. The experience has sharpened my ability to be present because I realize that time with people I deeply love is rare.
Air travel with a dog is full of complexity but given the length of our trip, we took our dog, Chester. If there was an award for the most well-behaved and optimistic traveler – Chester is a shoo-in. There are a lot of humans who could learn from Chester. He traversed the two continents with ease – 6,800 miles/11,000 kilometers one way. His presence on this trip provided a sense of stability that we all craved amidst the chaos of boxes, piles of organizing belongings, and the dwindling seating and sleeping choices due to furniture donations. He also gave our boys a sense of duty. There are coyotes on the small island my mother-in-law lived. And, Chester’s size while perfect for flight travel is also perfect coyote prey. Our boys kept a watchful eye on him during walks and in Pat’s beautiful backyard that abuts the forest.
Our two ginger cats remained in Switzerland under the care of a kind and gentle Ukrainian refugee. It was a win/win for all of us. Five weeks is a long time even for independent indoor/outdoor cats to be without their people. We have been home five days now and the cats have barely gone outside. Instead, they prefer to sit next to any one of us and soak up the touch and love they dearly missed. As I write, a feline is laying on my arm unencumbered by the up and down movement of my typing. He’s just happy to be with me. I feel profound love and empathy for our cats. I recognize the fragility and preciousness of their dependence on us and our connection to them.
As I headed out to the grocery store to re-stock the refrigerator after the 25-hour door-to-door journey. I kept the meal plan simple – a salad. At self-checkout, I realized I forgot to get a cucumber. Tired, I decided not to go back to the produce section on the other side of the store. I paid for my groceries, took three steps toward the exit, and glanced at the self-checkout station next to mine. There sat a lone cucumber! I immediately laughed out loud! I looked around to make sure it didn’t belong to anyone, paid for it, and said a sincere prayer of thanks.
I am blessed to return to a place and life that I love. I am humbled that I also am able to leave it for long periods to connect to people I love. I also see the Universe’s amazing sense of humor to bring us cucumbers just when we need them most.
When we moved to Switzerland from the USA three years ago, I changed from working full-time to part-time to help our family make the transition to a new country.
I help people for a living and am fortunate that my work is my life purpose. Even with a deep connection to my work, I really enjoy working part-time. For the time being, I’ve decided to keep it that way. I don’t have the stress that I had before being a working mom. Working less allows me to be more present for my family and myself.
So, what does the thinking mind do when life is calm and happy? It conjures problems. To prove my point, I recently said to my close friend Alexa, “Maybe I should work more because Rob (my husband) has most of the financial burden. If I worked more, I could share that responsibility.” Alexa spat out her tea. (This is exactly what a good friend should do when you say something ridiculous.)
Alexa replied, “Who will share your burden of groceries, cooking, feeding and care of animals, kids’ schedules, laundry, social director…. shall I go on?” It’s true. My husband’s career is very demanding and hasn’t allowed for the flexibility mine has. I am the engineer of our family’s Operating System: Coder-In-Chief, responsible for all upgrades and bug fixes.
There is a fundamental belief in our society that says, WE ARE WHAT WE EARN. This question is not foreign to stay-at-home parents, teachers, nurses, healthcare workers, and countless other roles in society that are critical but not well-compensated.
When I was working full-time in the USA, I had a firm belief that domestic contributions in a household were as important as financial contributions. My belief was tested as my financial contribution diminished. We’ve all had that happen. We hold an opinion or belief about something and then we have a direct experience (new data) that informs our opinion or belief and with it brings a new perspective.
I always allow time over the Christmas holidays to reflect on the past year and set intentions and goals for the year ahead. 2021 was a tough year for many – myself included.
I have been procrastinating on this year’s reflection practice. Like an awkward conversation I don’t want to revisit or a painful memory that is still too tender to process, I prefer to jump into 2022 without looking back. Yet, I know as blissful as avoidance can be – integration of “what is” is a better teacher for “what is” to come.
Here are a few of my hardwon insights from 2021.
How did I arrive at the insights I shared above? There are many ways to practice reflection. We can answer specific reflection questions, or use different lenses or perspectives from which to reflect on a situation.
Depending on the year, I mix it up. For example, since 2021 was challenging, I wanted to look at the lessons learned. I took the biggest challenges in 2021 and then asked a follow-up question, “How did I overcome these challenges?” And, from there, I derived insights. Also, since the global pandemic is still ongoing – here is a link to questions that look through the lens of the pandemic.
Reflection Questions for 2021
You can also set your intentions for the year. Intentions are more overarching than goals and are focused on your inner relationship with yourself. Identifying your intentions can help you live your life with meaning and purpose.
Intention Questions for 2022
With love, light, and a little help,
We all get stuck in life; it happens. Knowing when you are stuck and how to get unstuck is key to leading a fulfilling life.
If you ask someone today what they want out of life, the majority will tell you that they want to eat at a restaurant again! Joking aside, they will say they want to be happy. If you dig deeper into what they mean, they’ll tell you that they want to feel good and be at ease.
Sometimes, we aren’t at ease, and feeling good is elusive. Our work or relationship once-thriving can become unsatisfying. Over time, if dissatisfaction persists, we can feel stuck.
Being stuck can be tricky. To help navigate, here are three common ways we get stuck and remedies for each:
Self-created stuck is what Buddhists call suffering. Suffering is part of life. A loved one dies and we hurt deeply. The pain of them being gone is real. This type of suffering is part of the human condition. I’m not talking about that kind of suffering; I’m talking about the kind we create ourselves.
The good news is that Self-created suffering is avoidable. It is the mind’s way of not accepting what is. For example, when you deny or don’t accept that something is painful, you create suffering. Or when you expect something to be different than what it is — you create suffering. Let’s look at an easy example. You are in a work meeting and your idea for solving a problem falls flat with your colleagues. You are invested in being right — you feel disrespected and angry that your solution was overlooked. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, you tell yourself it was no big deal. Oh, it doesn’t stop here! You then begin to spend time thinking about how your colleagues’ solutions were terrible! You also create a narrative about how no one listens to you and all the extroverts at the meeting suck up all the time. It’s like a mind map of negative thinking to cover up accepting what happened! This is needless suffering.
Your Inner Purpose is to Awaken It’s As Simple As ThatEckhart Tolle
Accepting and acknowledging your uncomfortable feelings is crucial. So many times, we brush away uncomfortable truths only to inadvertently give them more power over us and steal our peace of mind.
Instead of becoming the central actor in your own self-created narratives. Use your observing mind to watch your thinking mind and immediately create distance between the narrative and your true Self. You’ll notice that you are not your thoughts and often, the scenarios you have created keep you from peace.
This is another flavor of Self-created Stuck. Because it’s so potent, it deserves its own distinction. I have my own powerful personal experience with Comparison Stuck. Years ago, I attended a conference in my field of Organizational Psychology. The field is broad and this particular conference focused on an area that I don’t have a lot of experience in or obviously, proven skill!
For two days after the conference, I felt anxious. I was feeling low and began questioning my competence as a consultant. Luckily, on day three, I had an insight that if I had not attended this conference, I would not be so miserable. Not that I shouldn’t have attended the conference, but literally, that I allowed it to change me. My consulting ability hadn’t changed in those three days. But, how I was thinking about myself did. I was comparing myself to others who specialized in an area that was not a keen interest of mine. I was creating my own suffering. There’s a saying in yoga, “Stay on your own mat, in your own practice.” This means that everything outside of your mat has nothing to do with you, so don’t give it your energy.
Stay on your own mat! Don’t look at the person next to you doing the handstand or super-flexible twisty pose.When you compare, you surrender your peace of mind and what makes you unique. Just focus on your own skills, passion, and personal goals.
If your health, relationship, business, job gets stuck, it becomes a pressure point. These key areas are part of your identity, so it’s understandable you can suffer when they falter.
Everyone has real challenges in life that require them to face adversity, make changes, and sometimes surrender to the illusion of control. For example, your relationships are constantly evolving, and sometimes, you resist the evolution or your partner does — and you feel stuck. Your career or job may have periods where you feel static or uninspired. And, if the block persists you can suffer.
A key starting point for any “stuckness” is curiosity. Being stuck can feel confusing and frustrating. And, often in your haste to release the pressure, you can make some bad decisions. These are what mid-life crises are all about. People become stuck, feel pressure to change something and they change their external environment; not their internal one. Resist the temptation to push on any rock, pull any lever. Be curious about what is going on with you.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”Viktor Frankl
Calmly and curiously delve into that stuck point. Sometimes, the way will be difficult. You are not alone! Take care of yourself and invest in a therapist, coach, or support group. Read books that inspire you or advance your understanding of your situation.
At the beginning of this piece, I said that knowing when you are stuck and how to get unstuck is key to leading a fulfilling life.
Do not succumb to the resistance that can accompany hard-won growth. Life is dynamic and ever-flowing and sometimes, you get stuck. But, the tools you learn to get back into flow — as well as what you learn about yourself — are truly invaluable.
I began writing this very post on Sunday, January 3rd. I was filled with hopeful energy as I am every new year. For the last twenty-five years, I have used simple traditions for my personal development to review what has transpired over the last 365 days and to be intentional about the year ahead.
Traditions like a new year journal combined with a thoughtful read of the previous years’ entries. It never ceases to amaze me that seemingly separate events, when viewed in broad perspective, are inextricably linked.
I also use reflection questions to view the year from different perspectives. This year, I created a new set of reflection questions that are tailored to the extraordinary circumstances we faced in 2020. I give my year’s names or themes that are symbolic of my intentions for the year. I do the same when reviewing the year, too. It’s a simple plan vs. actual exercise that keeps me honest.
The variance in what most of us planned or intended for 2020, and what actually happened — was like a chasm. And, it was no surprise that as I began to review my personal experience of 2020, it mirrored the external environment.
And for many of us, the more we clung to those old structures and old ways — the more difficult it was to navigate 2020’s many trials.
The world saw the devastating video of George Floyd take his last breath pleading for his life as it was mercilessly taken from him by a police officer. America is a country of structural racism. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is largely reserved for white people through the intentional suppression of people of color. Our dominant two-party political system is a zero-sum game. Dualistic thinking of either/or, left/right, right/wrong, personal attacks, and lack of respect is the norm, not the exception. The constant news cycle that Americans ingest daily is owned by capitalistic corporations with profit first agendas. COVID-19 preyed upon America’s poor, old and disenfranchised while our precarious and enigmatic health care system teetered. SO MUCH PAIN AND SORROW
The courage and dedication of the healthcare and essential workers who tirelessly worked for all of us; even the fools who eschewed masks. The seeds of listening and learning of white and privileged Americans as they were outraged and moved to become involved in social justice change for their fellow black Americans. The respite in air pollution and carbon emissions due to less air and car travel. The agility of small business owners who pivoted to serve their communities and employees. For the lucky ones, to work from home and have more family time. A break in the mindless busyness Americans have become addicted to. Record Voter turnout. A newly elected administration that reflects America’s core strength – our diversity. New ways of working and creating. And, all the furry-friends who relished being with their humans around the clock. SO MUCH GRATITUDE.
An attack on US democracy at the prompting of the sitting President. The final act of our incendiary President’s refusal to accept losing a fair and free election. While it is true, our democracy had regressed before 45 took office, he was the accelerant-in-chief. What has emerged to date is a disturbing reality and, we clearly haven’t hit bottom yet. Many of those old structures while wobbly are still standing. Some structures need to be abolished and demolished. Some need to be remade, reimagined, or reconfigured. There is so much work to be done.
Today is a day in the US that we honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. MLK is such an inspiring leader, teacher, and healer. It was hard for me to feel despair today as I have since January 6th, when reading again what MLK sacrificed for equality for all in the US. He lived and died for his core values. It was this realization that snapped me back to action.
In order to live your values, you need to first define them. Your values are your foundation as a person, guiding your actions and your decisions. I have included a Values Finders Tool to help you identify your values, as they can change as we age. It’s a great exercise to do alone or with loved ones. Included in the Values Finder tool is an action plan to get you started.
We all need to be selective about the media and information we ingest. We need to use our talents and gifts to make the world a better place. We need to put our values into action just like MLK.
“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.MLK
2020 was a year like no other. The typical set of Personal Reflection Questions I created years ago to conduct a yearly review, simply won’t do. COVID-19 was a game-changer. And, before we leave it in our dust, it’s important to reflect on how we navigated a year steeped in extremes and unprecedented change.
Here are a set of pandemic-specific personal reflection questions for 2020.
Once you have had time to review 2020, then you can move into goal-setting. I recommend reading this inspiring article about people who have built better habits to help them achieve their goals. The article is written by James Clear who is a goal-setting guru.
I had the pleasure of hearing Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher, and author, share a Buddhist parable about worrying.
Three monks go for a walk—one wise, old monk and two younger disciples. The older monk points at a large boulder and asks his disciples, “Is that boulder heavy?” The younger monks reply, “Of course, that boulder is heavy!”
“Indeed, that boulder is heavy” says the old monk, “but, only if you pick it up.”
The boulder is a metaphor for worries. Big, heavy, hard to lift, and even harder yet to carry. Still, we bend down to pick up the boulder and lug it around with us all day. To worry is exhausting.
Our brains are wired for threats, so it’s no wonder we are prone to worry. The early thinking mind originally focused on survival still needs a job in today’s modern world. So, it relentlessly searches for problems to solve. Most of which pose no real danger. Yet, now in our sixth month of a pandemic and a lot of unrest in the world, many of us are in worry over-drive.
To stop worrying is difficult, but not impossible. There are some practical steps we can take to allay worry.
Identify actions that are IN YOUR CONTROL. Let’s say the worry is that you’ll lose your job during the current economic downturn. What can you do?
Do not pick up that BOULDER! Kornfield suggests that after you take action on what is reasonably within your control, you can give the worry away to a higher power: Buddha, God, Universe, or some symbol of love and peace to hold for you. You write the worry down on a slip of paper and place it on a home-made altar to hold — symbolically releasing you of the burden.
Then, go about your life….
You took action within your control, but the worry resurfaces again in your mind. So, what next? There is only one way to move from worry to peace.
Let’s say you are worried about an older loved one falling ill with COVID-19. Your mind thinks through a litany of scenarios — your loved one is exposed, gets COVID, hospitalized, etc. The worst-case scenarios are vivid, but you can choose presence over worry. Here’s how:
The more you practice the skill, the better at it you will become. If you are interested in learning more about presence go to this post.
The practice of bringing the attention back to the present moment is called mindfulness. Once you start to practice mindfulness, just begin to notice how you feel in those mindful moments versus the moments where you let your mind focus on worry. (Hint: The present moment feels more expansive and peaceful.)
I hope these two strategies help. To recap on how to let go of worry:
Here are some of my favorite quotes about worry!
If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.”Dalai Lama XIV
Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.Eckhart Tolle
The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.Eckhart Tolle
The meeting of two eternities, the past and the future… is precisely the present moment.Henry David Thoreau
Living in the present moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.Oprah Winfrey
Don’t pick up that boulder! Choose the present moment and enjoy all the extra energy you’ll have when you make the conscious choice not to worry!
Love and light,