Peace by Piece Blog
|Posted on April 2, 2018 at 10:30 PM||comments (0)|
If you know me, you know my weakness is salty not sweet. Cheese fries. Specifically, cheese fries from Portillo's. Something about those crinkly, crispy fries, loaded with salt and that cup of cheese comforted me for years.
I came across this picture dated March 2013. I was in New Orleans (hello food city) and had just come off of what was probably the most stressful period in my career. I had worked for an individual that at best could be described as a tyrant. Think hostile work environment, therapists, employment attorneys, newspapers, unions, human resource meetings...all on top of my actual job that I did day in and day out. Two years of this type of work environment and many cheese fries and pounds later, I decided to leave. This trip to New Orleans came just after I made the decision to leave and was offered another job. Can you think of a better place to celebrate the end of a horrible era like New Orleans? Yeah, me either.
Stress is a silent killer. Sure, when you look at this picture, you can see a noticeable difference in weight. That's not what I see. I see pain, stress, and despair behind those sunglasses. If you know me, you know I don't like to do a lot of "Transformation Tuesday" photos like this. I could care less what I weighed. Heck, I liked that top I was wearing on the left, my hair looked good, and I was rocking the shades. But, I was STRESSED and that is the reason for the weight. Cheese fries you say? Yes, there were plenty of those. But, the method of coping with stress that I did best was EAT. Oh and I shopped. Naturally, because none of my clothes fit me so off to the mall I went (see previous blog post about my shopping and financial issues).
Stress is a part of life. Not all stress is bad. Eustress is a type of stress that can be beneficial for the person experiencing it. The stress of a new home, for example, is exciting but can still cause stress. Our stress response is very individualized. Much of what we perceive as stress is just that, our perception. I had a lot of "things" cause me stress that might not have impacted someone else nearly the same way. That's what makes us unique. But, when you talk to almost anybody you work with or live near, they experience stress. It might show up in their weight, their sedentary lifestyle, their lack of engagement in life, their short-tempered response to others, or in other physical ways like lack of sleep, cardiovascular disease or Type 2 Diabetes.
Whether my stress was "good" or "bad" stress, I only perceived it as bad and I had no healthy outlets for managing it. In addition to eating, I spent money like it was flowing from my faucet. I did not exercise, I dwelled in negativity, I ruminated in the "what ifs" and wasted time worrying about the past and the future. I never lived in the present. Eventually, I found ways to manage my stress in the form of self-care: yoga, breath work, meditation, mindfulness, financial wellness, eating well, managing my time by living more in the present, living an authentic life, and practicing self-love.
When I look at this picture, I don't see the weight difference between the two photos. On the left, I see a smiling 43 year old masking mental and physical pain who didn't care for herself and who let stress get the best of her. On the right, I see a smiling 47 year old living life on her terms, still dealing with stress, but without the cheese fries and a whole lot of deep breathing and self-care.
April is Stress Awareness Month. I always offer a free consultation to new clients, so reach out if you'd like to chat more about your stress. For tips and information on how to unwind and relax, visit the Federal Occupational Health site at https://foh.psc.gov/calendar/stress.html.
|Posted on January 14, 2018 at 3:45 PM||comments (0)|
I dwell in possibility. It’s where I live. DAILY. It’s what drove me to take a career risk 18 months ago. The promise of a life that I could redesign from scratch. A new year is a good time to dwell in possibility. But, what happens when that “newness” has worn off, challenges arise, and as I like to say, “Life Happens?” That’s when you not only dwell in possibility, you become a permanent resident. You move in, set up long term shop, and don’t budge from possibility even if the “roof” caves in. Without the mindset of what can be possible in your life, the promise of something different, new, and better, you’re likely to dwell in fear, despair, and hopelessness.
Recenlty, I thought about where I got the mindset to dwell in possibility and then it hit me! My dad, of course. At age 19, he left his country, his family, everything he knew behind for the POSSIBILITY of a better life in the United States of America. With no money, no job, no knowledge of language, culture or customs he dwelled in possibility. The possibility of a better life, despite his fear and the unknown. So, you see it’s in my DNA. But, what if it’s not in your DNA? Can you learn to dwell in possibility? Absolutely. You might rent for a while. You know, try it on for size. See how it feels, maybe get a “roommate” for some support. You will realize that you can become a person that sees hope instead of despair, dreams instead of fears. It’s called mindset. It takes work and strategy but the brain can adapt.
One of the biggest factors in learning to change your mindset is not only you but the company you keep. Your environment is a key factor in your success and your ability to change and sustain that change. In my wellness coaching work, one of the first things I ask my clients to reflect upon is how their environment either helps or hinders their ability to change. It may sound silly because can you really change your environment if the person in your environment that is a hinder is say, your husband? Well, maybe not. But, you can learn to how to not let your enviromnent hinder you. Instead, enlist the help of others in your environment who you think can help you achieve your goals.
Personally, I have lived in the promise of “What could happen?” most of my life. What could happen if…I had more confidence in myself, if I started saying no more, if I didn’t do what was expected of me, if I changed my mindset from ‘not me’ to ‘yes, that’s me.’ In 2015, I posed the question to myself, “What could happen if….I started a new career?” The practical side of me spoke first…too much of a financial and personal risk. The side of me that dwells in possibility said, “The life you can create by starting over seems pretty cool and full of promise. You can set your own hours, make your own schedule, travel when you want to, meet new people, be exposed to a new industry and learn new things, and finally get a puppy!” That dwelling in possibility mindset sounded a whole lot more fun than my fear mindset. Let me digress for a moment to talk about my puppy. Oh my puppy, Preston. I am in love! Getting a dog has been on my bucket list for a while but the time never seemed right. I had the financial means to afford a puppy but was gone for 10-12 hours a day from home. Now, with less financial means but more time and flexibility, a puppy seemed possible. You know what? It was not only possible, it happened. It’s a beautiful thing to dwell in possibility.
For a long time, I dwelled in the possibility of marriage and having my own children. At 47, that hasn’t happened. So, what happens when you wish and hope and dream of that promise and possibility and it doesn’t happen? Do you go back to fear, hopelessness and despair? NO. You readjust. Just like you might renovate or redecorate parts of your house, you do the same for your life. Trust me, I had a different picture of what my life would look like at 47. It wasn’t being single, with no kids, living in the suburbs and starting over professionally. I face judgement, skepticism, and get asked a lot of questions about my life. It happens. I don’t let it bother me anymore because no one has the right to pass judgment on my life and more important, I don’t allow anyone’s judgment to bother me. My “house” has been redecorated quite a few times in my life and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. If that bothers some, that’s their fear not mine.
My advice to you, as someone who has been through a lot of change and coaches people for a living on how to successfully make changes, dwell in possibility. Live there. Hunker down. Get a roommate or two, you’ll need them when the “roof” caves in and “Life Happens.” Whatever you do, don’t leave. I promise you, it will be worth it.
Dweller and Permanent Resident of Possibility
The result of possibility and promise
|Posted on September 7, 2017 at 9:10 AM||comments (0)|
Finding Inner Peace is a Journey, not a Destination.
When I decided in June 2015 to leave my career and start over, my desire for a peaceful, authentic life with low stress was so strong, I almost resigned on the spot when the “lightbulb" hit me about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Luckily, my older and wiser sister asked, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” God bless her. She’s always so tactful and treads lightly when a controversial family topic comes up. Then there’s me. I’ll just tell you straight up, “That’s stupid” or “You are f’in crazy.” Gotta love tactful, logical people who are not guided by emotion. I wonder what that's like? Ok, I digress. Her logical question snapped me into reality. Of course I didn’t think leaving my well paying and secure job that instant was the right thing to do. I knew I needed time to plan for this big change and to save like I’ve never saved before (see previous blog post about my mad financial skills).
You see, the urgency to leave my job at that moment was because I thought once I left my stressful and unsatisfying role as a high school assistant principal, peace would magically enter into my life and all my stress would disappear. Reality? Once I drove out of the parking lot of Downers Grove South, I wasn’t instantly at peace. However, the record time I made from the parking lot to the restaurant and had celebratory drinks was quite impressive if I do say so myself. For the most part, my stress level is way down and I am more at peace with myself than ever before. But, it’s not all rainbows and puppies (side note: I am getting a new puppy soon).
There are a lot of benefits to the life I've chosen. But there's always a flipside to everything. Below are some of the benefits of being my own boss and the pros and cons of my entrepreneurial journey to peace.
1. I can take off work whenever I want.
PROS - No more requests to take vacation being denied or not allowed because it falls before or after a school a holiday. Or, because I have to be in attendance at the football game, prom, play, etc. Or, because someone in power decides I can’t just because. Being my own boss is an amazing gift when it comes to taking time off on my terms. No limits or restrictions. The first time this privilege really meant something to me was the day I attended the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (still feels GREAT to say that) parade and rally in Chicago. This is a ONCE IN A LIFETIME event (108 years in the making to be exact) and I was able to be there because no one could tell me that I couldn't go. BOOM. If I never made another penny after that glorious day in November 2016, my life would be complete (living in shoe, but complete). There have been a number of other occasions where opportunities presented themselves to me and I was able to go, just like that. In fact, as I sit here waiting for my plane back to Chicago, I am finishing up an impromptu vacation in September (couldn’t do that for the last 20 years). The flexibility and ability to set my own hours is empowering. Life is short, why not go to the Cubs parade? I like that every day is different. My routine is NOT having a routine. I love that.
CONS: When I don’t work, I don’t earn an income. I feel guilty about taking time away because I SHOULD be working to pay the bills. No paid time off for vacation or for illness is a new concept for me. For some people, this concept may be normal but, for me it has been an adjustment financially. Also, I’m always thinking about work. I’m also always doing work. There’s not one day, even on vacation, that I’m not working. I even met with the resort manager to pitch a yoga retreat package idea. If you own your own business, you know what I’m talking about. The wheels are constantly spinning. The good thing is that I like my work so it’s not all bad. Still, my mind is hard to shut down even when I’m on vacation.
2. I don’t have to deal with office politics.
PROS - This should speak for itself. I remember naively starting in education 20 years ago thinking office politics would not be an issue (I had just left a short career in finance). Boy was I wrong! The higher up the food chain I got, the more politics I encountered. The work place is no different for women in education than in other industries. Once I entered administration, the “good old boys club” was alive and well. Now, I had some amazing male colleagues I still call dear friends to this day. But, the amount of BS I dealt with as a female administrator was more than I expected and could tolerate (I’m no pushover; see previous blog post about salary freeze). I don’t do BS. Period. Not in my personal life and most definitely not in the workplace. Being a solopreneur means I don’t have to deal with office politics, at all. It’s a beautiful thing.
CONS - Yes, there is a con to this. What could it be you ask? Isolation. I’m a very social creature and not having the camaraderie of office mates and colleagues is challenging for me. There are days upon days that I am working at home on planning, designing, advertising, etc. and hours will go by before I see a human. Now, every day is different, as I said before, so the isolation is never permanent. Still, it can be a lonely existence when you work from home at times, office politics aside.
3. I don't have to wear makeup, style my hair, or wear dress clothes every day.
PROS - Duh, isn’t this self-explanatory? Yoga pants and pony tail for the win! Plus, no dry cleaning bill is a bonus.
CONS - When I do have to actually wear real clothes (you know, pants with a zipper) and style my hair and put on make up, it feels like work. My old work. I don’t like it. Not one bit. I can play dress up with the best of them but as soon as I leave an event, I reach for my ponytail holder and flip flops I’ve stashed in the car and back to comfort! I don’t even know what’s in style anymore or how to shop for “normal” clothes (shoes are another story - no problem there). The other con is that I’m afraid that someday I may just start wearing leggings permanently. Inviting me to a wedding? Leggings. 5-star restaurant? Leggings? I need a fashion intervention, stat.
4. I get to stay true to myself.
PROS - THIS IS HUGE. I am someone that FEELS everything. It’s wonderful and awful at the same time. I believe experts call me an empath. The great thing about being an empath is that I do everything with passion…love, friendship, work, play, family, yoga, shoe shopping. The not so great thing about being an empath is that when something feels “icky” I FEEL it, right down to my bones. I felt “icky” A LOT as a school administrator. Being my own boss allows me to engage in work and take on jobs and clients that I believe in and make sense for me. When it doesn’t make sense or the work doesn’t feel authentic or I think someone is trying to take advantage of my time and kindness, I’m outta there. I don’t need to give 2 weeks notice, I just walk away. I get to stay true to myself. My guiding principle (after some hard lessons and situations where I was taken advantage of), is that if something doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it no matter what the pay may be. End of discussion.
CONS - None. There is absolutely no downside to staying true to myself. EVER.
I am learning that peace and stress are always going to be part of life. You knew that already? Well, good for you. Apparently, I’m a slow learner. Now that I'm no longer in the honeymoon phase of this career transition, I realize stress and chaos will always be part of life and that peace comes from within. The wonderful thing about working for myself is I have no one to blame for my stress but me. I am entirely up to me. I can’t blame my co-workers, office politics, or stupid school policies on my stress. External factors come and go. I am in control of my peace. How I choose to manage my stress is all my doing (hey, I think I’ve said this to a coaching client before). Realizing I am in control of my time and my life is a wonderful thing. I like being accountable to myself (probably why I love coaching since you know, that whole accountability thing is the core of what I do). Peace, it really is an inside job.
The road to peace is most certainly a journey, not a destination. So far, I really like the stops along the way, peace by piece.
|Posted on July 14, 2017 at 12:10 AM||comments (2)|
The $121,423 road to peace
$121,423. 6-figures. The holy grail of income (at least for me it was). 24 years out of college, a master’s degree (and about 45 graduate course hours past a masters), and I had reached that 6-figure income. THEN I WALKED AWAY FROM IT. I always believed making more money would make things better. What things you ask? Well everything, silly. I would be happier. I would have nice things so I would be happy. I would be able to do whatever I wanted and it would make me happy. But, you see, I had a history of making poor personal financial decisions all through my 20s and 30s (did I mention I was a FINANCE major in college)? But, making more money didn’t make me happy. Why? BECAUSE I NEVER MADE ENOUGH MONEY. The more money I earned, the more I spent. The more I spent, the more money I needed to make. The more money I made, the more I spent. The more I spent, the more money I needed to make. Do you see where this is going?
My unhealthy relationship with money was ONE of the many wellness issues I struggled with. It’s a lonely struggle because no one openly talks about their finances, especially their financial problems. It’s taboo. I get it. I do. I didn’t know who to open up to or who to turn to for help. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I felt guilt. I felt like a failure. So, for years (2 decades to be exact), I pretended that everything was ok despite the mounting credit card debt that was weighing on me like a ton of bricks. I bought designer purses and drove a nice car. I took nice vacations and dined out in fancy restaurants. I spent ridiculous money on gifts. I lived in a fancy high rise. IT WAS ALL A FACADE.
So, back to my opening…the $121,423 road to peace…
The happiest years I spent in education were in the classroom. Teaching. Coaching. Interacting with teenagers (yes, I like teenagers, I really do). Creating curriculum. Using my creativity. Watching students grow and learn, socially and academically. I loved the classroom. I made my first move out of the classroom in 2005 and the raise was $12,000 (in one school year)! The answer to my problems, or so I thought (the height of my financial mess was right around that time). I continued on that path - taking new jobs with a higher salary - until my last administrative position. Now, part of my seeking new roles was motivated by my curiosity and the challenge of something new. Also, there aren’t a lot of “normal” school administrators and I thought I could bring some “realness” - all 100% Greek, south side of me, to the table. But, if I’m totally honest with myself, a big part of why I accepted administrative positions was because of the salary. What I had no idea of at the time, is what that salary meant. It meant giving up my soul, being less than authentic. It meant doing things (a lot of things) I didn’t like to do. Attending school board meetings. Sitting across from a crying parent while I read the reasons I was expelling her son from school. Managing bus transportation. Dealing with upset department chairs because there was, yet again, another substitute shortage and why wasn’t I doing anything about it? Agreeing to policies I knew were bad for students. Standing on the football field in the pouring rain on a Friday night until 11pm after getting to school at 7am instead of being able to see my niece play in a tennis tournament. Being asked to “go along” with the latest educational trend even when I knew in my gut I shouldn’t. Having to be quiet about my true feelings, opinions, and ideas because they didn’t align with district initiatives. Having my salary frozen because I was too outspoken (of course the reason I was given was spun a bit different). THAT WAS THE FINAL PUSH I NEEDED. The universe had been sending me whispers for years that I was on the wrong path. So, when I received a letter in the mail saying I wasn’t going to receive a raise (despite having an “EXCELLENT” evaluation rating), I knew that was the BOOM I needed to hear from the universe. THANK YOU. I was on the road to peace and I was being pushed into it, like merging on I-94 in the loop from the left lane. I made the decision that day to resign at the end of that school year and I did. For one whole school year, I looked at that letter every morning stuck to my refrigerator while I filled my travel coffee mug as a reminder to never again take a job that makes me feel less than my authentic self just for the money.
My issues with money were not about money. Just like my issues with food were not about food. I had a lack of self-worth. I had issues with my identity as a single woman, not married, with no kids living in suburbia (which is why I moved so much back and forth from the city to the burbs for years). I felt like I had to “keep up” with others by having “stuff” that would make me more like “them” and hoping all that stuff would make me happy. It didn’t.
I’m on track to make about a 1/3 of my last full time salaried job and I’m DAMN PROUD OF THAT. Because I have earned every stinking penny of that on my own. One sweaty downdog at a time. Changing careers and leaving a salary like I earned is not a move I recommend without proper planning. Had I not gotten my act together the last 6 years, I would not have been in a financial position to go all “Eat, Pray, Love” right here in beautiful Lisle, IL.
Everything truly happens for a reason. The dots don’t connect right away and while you’re in the midst of a big struggle, you can’t see past the pain. I see the picture clearly now. I had to go through all those years of unhappiness and loneliness and pain to get to my peace. Wellness is not just about your pant size or the number on the scale. It is those things. But, spiritual, financial, emotional, and mental health matter too. They are all interconnected. When all those line up and are in harmony that is when you are living a life of wellbeing, a life that is thriving not just surviving. I'm glad I finally heard the BOOM to realize that.
$121,423 to own my peace. I think it was worth it.
|Posted on June 30, 2017 at 7:00 AM||comments (2)|
One Year of Peace (by Piece)
June 30, 2016. A Thursday. A nondescript day in so many ways. A monumental day in one big way. You, see that is the day I walked out of the halls of Downers Grove South High School, where I served as an assistant principal. I spent 20 years in high schools. Bell schedules. Pep rallies. Bad cafeteria food. Sporting events. Music performances. Students. Teaching. Learning. Students. Oh, how I loved the students. The problem is, when I became an administrator, I lost a little bit of myself, peace by piece. It took 5 years as an assistant principal in two different high schools for me to finally admit that this wasn't what I wanted. So, now what? I thought this is what I wanted. Others thought this is what I wanted. How could I walk away? No one I knew walked away after 20 years in education. The salary. The pension. The health benefits. The paid holidays and breaks. But, I did. I walked away and haven't looked back once.
Here I am, one year later. Sometimes I still can't believe I left my career to start over. It's been a stressful, exciting, emotional, wonderful, liberating, challenging, amazing, and eye opening year. I'm not a professional writer. I've never blogged. I don't know the rules. I'm just writing from my heart. Over the next year, I will chronicle and share my experiences from the past year. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad, the ugly...all of it. I never thought of myself as a risk taker or brave or an entrepreneur. All of these labels have been used by others to describe me. The label I most wanted to hear when people described me was 'peaceful.'
This is my story of finding peace. One piece at a time. One day at a time. Peace by Piece.
Selfie captured in the parking of my school lot as I drove away on June 30, 2016.