On Becoming an Authority in My Own Life

It’s ironic that in my last post I was writing about my need for accountability, since for the past several months I’ve had a big shift in my mindset about that. Not that there’s anything wrong with accountability, or setting up situations to make it easier to accomplish one’s goals. But what if I could bypass that sticking point, and change my tendency altogether? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that growth is more important than what you start with. And studying the Enneagram has shown me that even personality is not fixed; I don’t have to be stuck in any box.

So, at some point this summer, I got angry that I had allowed just about everyone and everything else in my life to be an authority, and given that power away. From parents (and I love them dearly, so not harping on them at all right now), to teachers, to bosses, to church leaders, to professors, to doctors, to “experts…,” I have consistently lived up to the expectations of others while struggling, and often failing, to meet my own goals and expectations. But tendency is not destiny, and I realized that I have as much, if not more right to be an authority in my own life, and to live up to my own expectations and accomplish what I want to, regardless of whether I have someone checking on me or not. Now, I’m not saying I’m a rogue who disregards all advice or outside expectations; I absolutely consider advice and other’s needs. But instead of feeling stuck in a cycle of disappointing myself, I’ve come to a place where I’m much more judicious about who gets to be an authority in my life, and knowing that I deserve to consider myself someone whose expectations I will live up to.

A small change that is transforming my days

A month ago I mentioned to my therapist that I had realized that as an Obliger I needed some accountability or coaching to help me meet my own goals, but was at a loss as to whom to ask. We had once met with an organizational/ life coach, but balked at the steep price; I’m pretty good at figuring out what changes I need to make, I just need someone to help me stay on track. So I was thrilled when she said she could add a component of accountability to our sessions. It’s not high pressure in any way, but knowing that I am expected to check in on my goals gives me the push I need. So I chose three small goals and made a chart: write for 5 minutes, exercise for 10 minutes, organize for 5 minutes every day– goals so small it’s hard not to do them, and I keep track of when I do extra. After several weeks, these habits are becoming part of my routine.

Last week, though, I decided to add a couple negative check boxes to my chart: I get to check a box if I don’t yell for that day, and if I don’t check my phone, email, or internet until I have had water, eaten, written for five minutes, stretched, and taken my vitamins. Already that second small change of delaying accessing media has had a great effect on my days. I feel calmer, more in control of my time, and more productive. The Power of Habit explains that we can’t get rid of bad habits, only replace them. So if I want to stop wasting time on the internet, I have to come up with a new behavior for when I get the itch, and starting first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. And if I can put off getting online in order to do some simple self-care tasks, I can put it off till I organize, read with the kids, get back from the store, etc. I’m starting to crave the feeling of accomplishing my goals first thing in the morning, feel more grounded knowing the morning hasn’t gotten away from me before I’ve done some things to take care of myself, and have been much more judicious about my time online.

What habits are you or would you like to work on?

For Nancy

My great-aunt Nancy passed away last week. I had what felt like a premonition a few days before she passed, when I came out of my room after dressing to hear strains of the soundtrack from the Phantom of the Opera. Quint couldn’t say why he’d picked that music, which we hadn’t listened to in years, as he and the boys built with Legos at the table. But it immediately took me to my Aunt Nancy’s house, sitting in front of the stereo as we listened to “Phantom,” me poring over the cassette tape’s liner notes. Nancy’s life was filled with music, and it spilled over into my own, from the instrument-less hymns at her church and a cappella arrangements she directed during rehearsals for weddings, to teaching me “Edelweiss,” to blasting Phantom from her car stereo as she sheepishly grinned at the joy it gave her.

“Do you like the Sound of Music?” she onced asked me, as we sat in the twilight of a Fourth of July on the grassy hill at the McKinley Monument waiting for the symphony to play the 1812 Overture. I was confused. What kind of question was that? At eight years old, I hadn’t yet been exposed to the movie or musical. As I puzzled over how to answer, she explained she was going to treat me to a local production of the musical, a night after which I dreamed many times of the children dancing and imagining myself as Leisl, leaping from garden benches.

Aunt Nancy was such a fixture in my life growing up that when I was about ten, I decided she needed her own special grandmotherly appellation, and coined Grancy, for Great-Aunt Nancy. Grancy was the one waiting in front of our house when I got off the bus on days when my mom couldn’t be there; she came over regularly to help us tidy up—cleaning the fridge (“When in doubt, throw it out”) and scrubbing surfaces in the kitchen. Living in the same town as us, she was there for us in a way that my actual grandmothers couldn’t be, much as they would have loved to.

“I learn something new every day,” I heard her say many times. For her, it wasn’t a trite cliche, something to say when you didn’t know what else to say. It was the way she lived—curious, active, forging ahead. I can’t think of anyone else besides my parents from whom I learned so much.

I learned from her that a woman could be a protector, a guardian, assertive and strong. One of my earliest memories is one that I don’t think I experienced so much as inherited through being told the story many times: Aunt Nancy yelling into the phone and scaring away a creep who had been calling our home repeatedly. She was our guardian angel, and I was in awe of her strength.

Grancy always kept African Violets in a pot in her “parlor” as she called it. Whenever I visited her, she would fill the watering can and let me water the plant, showing me how to carefully place the spout under the leaves to send water straight to the soil. My favorite color has always been purple, and I can’t help but think those bold, dark violet petals had something to do with it. I read recently to have something living in every room in your home, and it made me think of those violets. Every room of Grancy’s life was full of living.

Trying, not failing

I’ve wrestled with all the feels this summer, and related to our decision to try out school, albeit a private, non-traditional one, I’ve struggled to fight off feelings of failure. Failure to do it all myself. Failure to impose a structure on myself. Failure to be able to meet everyone’s needs and my own, on my own.

But what I’ve come to see—through many sleepless nights and the tear-cleared sight that comes after a good cry—is that trying something different is not failure. It’s trying something different.

And something not working is something that can be worked on. I’m still exploring why I even frame so much of life in terms of a test to pass or fail in the first place, and why I so often feel like setbacks–even simply changing direction– mean I am failing.

A recent episode of the TED Radio Hour highlighted how one company incentivized failure, giving bonuses and vacations to teams who ended their projects instead of bullheadedly continuing along a path that wasn’t working and wasting time and resources. The message they were given was, come back fresh and excited to try something new.

We’re shelving full-time homeschool for my oldest for now, and trying something new, offering him and our family new experiences to grow. I don’t know how long it will be for or how it will go, but I am confident that we will learn through it, and whenever we need to, we can always try something new.

Reframing: Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to

I’m learning that small changes in thinking can reap huge benefits.  One way I have been learning to reframe my thoughts is by changing how I express what I would typically term an obligation, recognizing that I have a choice in my actions.  For example, instead of saying I have to do laundry, I say I want to do the laundry; instead of saying we need to go grocery shopping, I get to go grocery shopping.

I applied this yesterday at the pool, when I was saying to my son how much fun it was; I started to say, “We should do this as much as we can,” then amended myself, saying, “I want to do this as much as we can.”  Instant refocus on my enjoyment of the present moment, instead of on future pressure, guilt, or obligation.

So the mantra I’ve been repeating to myself lately is Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.  One day I was sharing this with my husband and kids, and my boys took this phrase as a fun rhythm to play with as they went about their games, which made me smile.  These are the kinds of things I want to be a part of their way of thinking as they grow.

Like to, Want to, Choose to, Get to.

It might seem insignificant, but it has given me a greater sense of peace and control to think that I’m not merely weighed down with obligations and things that are happening to me, as well as fostered gratitude for even the mundane and less pleasurable tasks.  I’ve also noticed it helps with my kids, who often ask, “Why do we have to?”  It’s hard to argue with, “We don’t have to.  We get to.”

What small changes in thoughts or perspective have made big differences in your life?

List of Beautiful, June 6, 2016

Walking the morning after a rain
Baby girl’s dazzling laughter after throwing herself backwards on the bed
How simply opening a book and beginning to read stops an argument and brings them running
Boy 1’s hysterical, eyes-won’t-open laughter at a silly muskrat in a picture book
A desert willow’s blossoms clouding the air next to the mailbox with their scent
A well-placed shade over a play-set at the park
How Boy 2 jumps up and down from a crouch when he’s happy or excited
Husband bringing me ice water, with a straw

Homeschool Intentions, Part 1

Several months ago I first came across the idea of setting intentions rather than goals–in other words, choosing a direction in which I can continue regardless of individual goals (ie., a goal has a set finish point, whereas intentions do not)– and one of the areas I’ve been trying to apply it is in our learning. So far, this is what I’ve come up with so far, which I’m sure will be amended as we go:

Fill our lives with Beauty
Foster a Growth Mindset
Discover our Passions
Nurture an atmosphere of Play and Curiosity
Cultivate Compassion, Respect, and Responsibility in our Relationships

For each of these areas, I’ve also listed activities, goals, and habits to work on, which I plan to share in another post. For now, though, have you ever used intention-setting? Was it helpful?

Buddy Breathing

When my husband was in the military, one of the trainings he had was in what was called Buddy Breathing. Recruits were paired up for a pool workout where they had to share an oxygen tank while swimming underwater. Quint figured out quickly the best way to stay calm and in control was to push the oxygen over to his partner right away, letting him fill up and keeping both calm. Other teams would end up fighting over the oxygen as they grew panicky about getting enough air, which only created more stress and made them fight harder to get the tank.

We have been reflecting since our most recent family trip about what made it successful (in other words, relaxing, peaceful, and enjoyable), and one of the things we did was to practice what we have come to call Buddy Breathing. This stage of parenting three young children requires a lot from both of us, and resources such as time and energy, much like that single oxygen tank between swim partners, are often limited. And while I absolutely believe in “putting on my own oxygen mask first” through self-care, my husband and I have identified a few ways we can look out for each other, contributing to both of us feeling a greater sense of peace and well-being. One way we do this is to encourage each other to get at least a few minutes of exercise in while the other watches the kids. On our trip to the mountains, this meant a few times a day, one or the other of us would say, “now’s a good time for you to take a walk.” Sure, we still often ask each other for what we need, but looking for opportunities to let my partner take a deep breath of air calms me too.

List of Beautiful: May 20, 2016


 celebrating 10 years of marriage with my love at our favorite cabin in the mountains

the sweet piney fragrance of the air when it rains

morning walks under ponderosa pines

my boys gathering kindling for the fireplace 

feathering new growth in my hand

an unhurried pace

dreaming about the next 10 years




I did not learn early
to love my body.
I sigh sometimes
to untangle curls, another
task in a day
of tasks.
I do not hold holy
in my hand
the toothbrush, take
a few moments more
to care for these teeth,
or carry enough
gratitude for the
geometry of the joints
that carry me.
But I am learning
what the massage therapist knows–
who sees naked form
bundled into bones,
sinews, and muscles splayed
on a table before him every day
like a sacrament–
there are only beautiful