Reschool Yourself

Latest Posts

A Quick Welcome

Welcome, new visitors!

I’m glad you’re here. These days I’m writing TinyLetters and making podcasts at Semi-Together.

If you’re interested in the Reschool Yourself project, here are a few quick highlights:

  • About RSY gives background on the hows and whys of the project.
  • The Archives let you follow the journey from the start, or look at certain periods like Elementary School, Middle School, High School, and College.
  • Reschooling Tools help you go through a “reschooling” process similar to mine.
  • Remember This? will bring back your own school memories so you can process them–or just enjoy the nostalgia.
  • Like I Always Say... is the ongoing epilogue to the Reschool Yourself project, as I apply its lessons to parenting, work, and everyday life.

I write about topics like overcoming resistance, finding contentment and gratitude in spite of challenges, and learning to value yourself. If you’d like to stay in the loop:

I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment or contact me!

Illustrations that Change the Way You Think

Originally published as a TinyLetter


I suppose it’s a hazard of getting older, but over the past few months a number of people in my life have been confronted with grief. They’ve lost a parent, a pregnancy, a beloved pet, or a partner. My heart just aches for them, and I try to help as much as one can in these times, offering a meal, a hug, a sympathetic ear, or a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, which I highly recommend for anyone who’s struggling.

What’s seemed to give people the most solace, besides just knowing that someone’s looking out for them, is this excerpt from a BBC mini-documentary on the nature of grief.

 


Here’s the full 8-minute video, with the animation above at the 1:40 mark. In short, it shows that grief isn’t something that disappears over time; instead, the rest of your life grows around it. The grief swells during times like birthdays, holidays, or just flashes of missing your loved one, and then contracts again.

The friend who introduced me to the video said that she’s come to think about depression this way. It’s how I experience anxiety, too: it fades, it flares up; on good days, my joys and hopes dwarf my worries and self-defeating thoughts. When triggered, the anxiety overtakes me entirely, radiating from my brain to my heart and crackling through my whole body.

It’s astounding how a simple illustration can change the way you understand and cope with feelings that can otherwise cripple you. Another friend sent me a piece from the brilliant newsletter Brain Pickings that featured the book Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind. The illustration that struck me most powerfully is this:


This is exactly what being stuck in my own head is like. Conversations and activity may be happening around me, but I have trouble engaging with them because there’s an alternate world playing out in my own mind. When I find myself there, I remember this drawing and consciously shift my field of vision outward, like a lighthouse beam sweeping toward the sea.

Instagram has been another source of illustrations that are as amusing as they are illuminating:

@gemmacorrell:

@selfcareisforeveryone:

@emilymcdowell_:

For me, the power of these drawings comes from making the intangible tangible, in giving anxiety, depression, and self-loathing a name and a shape, and knowing that it’s not just you who feels this way. Learning how to laugh about it (a la “like I always say…”) is a next-level coping strategy.

An artist friend (I am fortunate to have so many friends who “get” me) is working on her own series of paintings about anxiety and depression. I haven’t tried to sketch out my own yet, but channeling those big, nebulous feelings into art is something that I’d like to try. Even if my “art” turns out to be a series of stick figures and elementary shapes, I’ll transfer all of that bottled-up energy from inside my own head to the page, where I can observe my worries and fears from a distance and see them more objectively.

This is what I try to do in words, and the most gratifying feedback I hear is a variation on, “I know exactly what you mean.” The silver lining of suffering is to be able to say authentically to those who are having a hard time, “I’ve been there,” or “I’m right there with you,” and to see the beauty and even humor in your shared experience as you forge a pathway through.


what’s fueling me

Since my last TinyLetter raving about the A Star Is Born soundtrack, I’ve seen the movie twice (and continued looping the soundtrack). I can’t stop thinking about the movie and immersing myself in interviews about it. It’s an extraordinary work of art, a marriage of inspiration, talent, hard work, and courage, the first turn as a musician and director for Bradley Cooper and first feature film for Lady Gaga. They shot the music live, often stealing a few minutes between sets at actual concerts, and performed so seamlessly under pressure that it blows my mind. This core message of the film, which Jack shares with Ally on the night they meet, resonates deeply with me:

Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth. And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.

Thank you for listening to what I have to say. As always, I hope it adds something to your life!

Slow Down

Originally published as a TinyLetter


I’m someone who likes to move fast. I walk fast. I talk fast. I drive fast. One of my biggest pet peeves is being stuck behind a person who is moving at a snail-like pace. I’ll even go around Darren when he’s ambling around the house, as if we’re cars on the interstate and I’m zooming by on the left. Beep beep, slowpoke!

I zip between point A and B, because why walk when you can run? Well, because moving like Speedy Gonzales gets me into trouble on the regular. For example, the countless times that I’ve:

  • misplaced an item (phone, keys, shoes…) and had to tear apart the house looking for it
  • bumped into someone or something
  • missed what was happening because I was thinking about the next thing on my To-Do list
  • skimmed an article so fast that I didn’t retain much and had to start over
  • executed a task so quickly that I made an error, or
  • tried to multitask while listening to an automated phone menu and had to listen to the whole thing again (ugggggh).

Any time you save on the front end by rushing will probably be lost down the line, and then some, with a heaping dollop of stress on top. It seems counter-intuitive to “go slow to go fast,” but if you move purposely and mindfully, you’ll be more productive in the end — and enjoy it more.

To be clear, this is NOT EASY for me. It’s the very essence of “like I always say…” because while I know it’s the wisest approach, in the moment I struggle to follow my own advice. It seems like a waste of time. And often, I feel like I have to hurry because I’m running behind.

Here’s the practice I’m working on:

1) Plan ahead.

Often, the die is cast several steps before the moment you find yourself in. Darren compares this to Llewelyn Moss taking the briefcase of money in the beginning of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men; everything that happens afterward is set into motion by that initial action. Less dramatically, this morning I was yelling at Evan to get dressed so he could get to school on time, which made him pouty and even slower-moving. If I’d put out his breakfast and his clothes earlier, we wouldn’t have been in a bind in the first place.

2) Breathe.

I’ve been stopping myself throughout the day to take a three-breath pause, which Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advises: in and out, deep and slow. It’s especially useful as a transition from one activity to another, like moving from my car to the office in the morning, or as a buffer between a stimulus (e.g. my kids’ tantrums) and my response. Breathing slows down your nervous system and puts distance between what happens and how you react to it. It allows you to make a conscious choice instead of an automatic one, which can prevent you from freaking out or lashing out.

3) Remind yourself that you might rush yourself into a mess that creates hassle and heartache.

If you road-rage your way to a meeting and arrive on time but wound up and frazzled, or if you get into an accident on the way, you’ll end up doing more damage than if you’re a few minutes late.

Besides saving yourself time, stress, and damage control, slowing down lets you actually enjoy what you’re experience instead of barreling through it to get to your next destination. Lately, I’ve slowed down enough to observe my kids while they’re playing together and really take in how incredible these little humans are. At the suggestion of Elizabeth Craft and Gretchen Rubin from the Happier podcast, I’m consciously staying present as I enjoy my first cup of coffee in the morning, and as I sink into bed at night and feel the coolness of the sheets on my skin. This habit guarantees that I bookend my day with gratitude.

In the timeless words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


what’s fueling me

 


I haven’t seen A Star Is Born yet (soon!!), but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on loop. My “recently played” feed is pretty much all “Maybe It’s Time” (written by Jason Isbell), and “Shallow” (Lady Gaga’s voice gives me goosebumps). I’ve been learning both on the guitar and am just obsessed.

A splash of Nestle Coffee-Mate’s Natural Bliss in my coffee starts my day with a little treat. It’s real cream and milk with sugar, and the flavored options use real-food ingredients. I can’t wait to try the seasonal Pumpkin Spice and Dark Chocolate Peppermint flavors.

One of my favorite things in this world is Zumba, a group dance class that combines hip-hop, Bhangra, Latin, and more, and I still long for the pre-children days when I went to class three times a week. The next best thing to class is Zumba at home, via playlists on YouTube (here’s my favorite). The kids love to join me, which is fun but also challenging because 27-pound Avery wants me to carry her on my hip the whole time. She laughs and laughs as I spin her around, and at least my arms get a workout.

Find Beauty in the Face of Ugliness

Originally published as a TinyLetter


Last weekend, it felt like everything was chaos. The car was in the shop for wheel bearing damage, thanks to the wealth of potholes in Jackson, and a dead battery. A leaky section of the roof needed replacing, so a crew noisily worked away on it for most of the day. (Neither of these repairs was cheap.) Meanwhile, the Senate went ahead and confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in spite of knowing exactly what kind of person he is.

My soul felt tired.

After picking up the car, I sat in the driver’s seat with the kids in the back, waiting for Darren to join me so we could all go to dinner and rescue an otherwise draining day.

The live broadcast of Austin City Limits happened to be on the radio, and I heard Brandi Carlile’s voice. She’s one of my new favorite artists, and this felt like a little gift from the universe.

Introducing her song “The Mother,” a gorgeous tribute to becoming a parent, she addressed “what we’ve done today to the Supreme Court” that could affect her family; she’s married to a woman, and they have two young children. She said that although same-sex couples have won significant victories in recent years, “progress is not a one-way street. We shouldn’t think what we’ve done is final.”

She urged people to vote in November and introduced her band, twin brothers whom she’s been playing with for nearly two decades. Together, they performed “The Joke,” a song for “unloved, unaccepted, unnatural or illegal” citizens. They sang in three-part harmony, and the crowd sang with them.

Overwhelmed by this beauty in the face of such ugliness, I felt the tears begin to flow. They were tears of disappointment and anger over what’s happening right now in our country, but also of gratitude for good-hearted people like Brandi Carlile and the crowd who lifted their voices to meet hers. Listening to them sing, in spite of it all, renewed my hope.

Even when I’m deeply disillusioned by humanity, I believe in my heart that the forces of love will win out over fear, evil, and greed. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s hard to see that arc while we’re in the thick of it. But I hope that our children will look back at this period of history as a turning point, a time when we changed things for good.

So how do we keep from desparing in the meantime? We speak out. We sing. We gather strength together. We savor moments of beauty, kindness, and art to renew our energy for the next fight. We don’t give up until we vote these mofos out. And eventually, even if it’s slower and more costly than it should be, goodness will prevail.


what’s fueling me

Evan loves the Justin Timberlake song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” He’ll be hanging out in the living room when he’s suddenly inspired to hear it. He’ll say to the Amazon Echo, “Alexa, play ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling,'” which means everyone stops what they’re doing and joins in the impromptu family dance party. Even Avery, at 2 years old, knows what to do when that song plays. It’s impossible not to laugh when all of us are jumping and spinning around like loons.

I’m loving Spotify’s Daily Mix, a set of playlists that combine my favorite songs with recommendations based on what I like.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s post about her 11-year-old godson creating a piece of art to help him find courage in a scary new situation has stuck with me. She wrote, “I happen to believe that my brave and beautiful godson, as he drew this, was merely taking dictation from the divine. I believe that this mantra — ‘you are safe, you are safe, you are safe’ — is the sound of the universe breathing. Every mystic who has ever entered a transcendental state comes back with this same message to report: ‘You are safe.'”

We All Burn the Bread Sometimes

Originally published as a TinyLetter


On a recent family trip, my brother-in-law and his wife were kind enough to make dinner for the whole family (all 16 of us!): spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread.

Jeff and Kirstie put out the serving dishes in the kitchen of our big rental house and called for us to come and eat. Darren’s aunt started making a plate for his grandma.

“Where’s the garlic bread?” she said.

“No bread,” said Jeff. “I burned the bread.”

He explained that he’d baked the garlic bread on a tray he’d found in the kitchen that he’d thought was oven-safe. Turns out it wasn’t, and it had melted, saturating the bread with chemicals. The bread tasted awful, so he threw it in the garbage.

Jeff recounted these facts without shame or guilt. He wasn’t happy about burning the bread, but he didn’t dwell on it and went on to enjoy the spaghetti and salad with the family.

“Wow, people can actually operate that way,” I thought, astonished. “And it’s fine.”

If I’d burned the bread, I wouldn’t have forgiven myself. I’d think, You let the whole family down. You ruined dinner and destroyed a piece of property that didn’t belong to you. You’re such a bad cook. Why can’t you do anything right?

I would have apologized profusely and immediately driven to the store to buy more bread — plus a new tray to replace the old one — so I could rectify my mistake. All of this would have delayed dinner, caused more stress, and put me in a dark mood for the rest of the night. And instead of feeling slightly disappointed over not having garlic bread with their meal, the family would have had to deal with my emotional fallout (which would be oh so much worse).

I aspire to react to mistakes like Jeff did that evening. The fact that we all went on to have a lovely meal together was evidence that it’s okay not to berate yourself and apologize and generally make a big deal out of an unfortunate situation. We all burn the bread sometimes, and it doesn’t mean we’re terrible, worthless people. We don’t need to be so hard on ourselves (really and truly, we don’t!).

Though it’s not as easy for some of us, it’s possible to learn to take missteps in stride, cut our losses, and move on. There’s still spaghetti and salad in front of us and a family to laugh with about the tray of burnt bread, if we can just allow ourselves to enjoy them.


what’s fueling me

 

My new mid-morning snack is Liberté whole milk yogurt. With its smooth, creamy texture and flavors like Ecuadorian Mango and Philippine Coconut, it truly makes my day better.

Manoush Zomorodi, the host of the excellent podcast Note to Self, and her producer, Jen Poyant, recently left their steady jobs at New York Public Radio to start their own media company, Stable Genius Productions. Their podcast, ZigZag, documents the process of striking out on their own “and trying not to be bad mothers, bankrupt themselves, or destroy their wonderful creative partnership.” Their honest conversations about feeling fear and self-doubt but going after their big dreams anyway inspire me to keep pursuing my own.

The sweet song “Glorious” by MaMuse reminds me to notice the beauty and blessings in my life, even when I’m frazzled and underslept:

I’ve got good friends
To the left of me
And good friends
To my right
Got the open sky above me
And the earth beneath my feet
Got a song inside my heart
That’s singin’
All in life is sweet
Oh, what a day! Glorious!

Delight in the Little Things

Originally published as a TinyLetter

When I’m feeling down, life seems like a series of hassles. The bills to pay. The kids’ needs to tend to. The dishes to wash and house to clean (why won’t it just stay clean?!). My To-Do list is endless and overwhelming. It feels like the next day is going to be the same way, and the next day after that.

When I can step back and see things more clearly, however, I’m aware that for every hassle, there’s also a delightful moment.

Case in point: Before 8:30 a.m. today, I had already let the dog out, changed Avery’s diaper twice and gotten her dressed, asked Evan several times to stop putting his feet on his sister, prepped his backpack, made lunches, gotten myself ready, and dropped Avery off at school.

But there were plenty of delightful moments, as well: I was up before everyone else and had a half hour of quiet to myself, drinking coffee with sweet cream and collecting my thoughts. When Avery woke up, she came across a bendy cow figurine on the floor and squealed, “Cowww! Mooooo!” as she held it up for me to see. In the car on the way to drop her off, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Here to Make Friends, whose funny and brilliant feminist hosts were discussing the latest drama on Bachelor in Paradise.

I’m often so stuck in my own head, ruminating on the hassles and worries, that I don’t fully experience, or even notice, the delightful moments all around me. This morning I made the effort to quiet my mind so I could take in the chubbiness of Avery’s little dimpled hand as she sat next to me on the couch, and feel the soothing warmth of the water on my skin in the shower.

I’m being more intentional about creating these moments, too, and not just waiting for them to show up. I make a point to hug Evan tightly and tell him I love him before Darren takes him to school, even if we’re running super late and he’s been a handful that morning. He’s been replying, unprompted, “Have a good day!” which always makes me smile. I’ve been putting Avery’s hair in pigtails more often, which takes just a minute and makes me want to squeeze her because she looks so darn cute. My version of “Stop and smell the roses” is “Pause to pet the dog before stepping over her to get where you’re going.”

At work, inspired by a Happiness Hack from the Happier in Hollywood podcast, I put up a white board in the kitchen to share a quote of the day. A bit of wisdom about happy living and productivity boost my mood and, I hope, everyone else’s.

The business of living involves a lot of hassles, yes, but it’s full of just as many delightful moments — or even more, if we’re intentional about creating and appreciating them.


what’s fueling me

 

Darren knows what will crack me up, and he sent me this montage of Paul Rudd interviews with Conan O’Brien. I won’t spoil the joke, but it had me shaking and hyperventilating with tears streaming down my cheeks as I tried to contain my laughter in our quiet office.

I’ve been using the Momentum extension for Chrome, which is a pure joy: when you open a new tab, it displays a beautiful photo from somewhere in the world, with an inspirational quote. It asks, “What is your main focus for today?” and provides checkboxes for little tasks to get there.

My song of the summer is “Adventurers” by Holly Maher, a happy little ditty that I’ve been listening to on loop and playing on the guitar. (“Who’s got time for feeling sad when there’s so much fun to be had?” … like I always say.)

Righting the Ship

Originally published as a TinyLetter

One of my biggest anxiety triggers is feeling like I’ve done something, or failed to do something, that has caused irrevocable damage.

I’ve been feeling this way lately about my kids’ sleep. For the past six weeks or so, it has been awful. I was making progress with night weaning Avery until she got sick, and then we had visitors, and then we traveled, so I’m still getting up twice a night to nurse her. Meanwhile, Evan has developed some severe separation anxiety and won’t fall asleep without Darren or me in the room with him. He’ll wake up 1-2 times during the night and dash across the house into our room, so one of us will take him back to bed at 2 or 3 a.m. and crash on his bottom bunk. I often end up pinballing between Evan and Avery; just as I get one down, the other gets up. The next day, I’m completely exhausted and still need to function at work.

My thoughts about this situation quickly turn to self-blame and catastrophizing. Why didn’t you establish a good sleep routine early on, with an earlier bedtime? No wonder the kids get so cranky and throw tantrums, which strains our family time. They probably aren’t developing and learning as well as they could be. Other parents get their kids to sleep well. You’ve really screwed yours up, probably for life.

It’s like I’m the captain of the Titanic and have rammed the ship straight into the fateful iceberg, so it’s taking on water and sending innocent passengers plunging into the icy depths of the ocean. (As Darren says fondly, I can be “just a little dramatic.”)

In reality, most times I’m steering a much smaller vessel, and it hasn’t been wrecked beyond repair; it’s only veered off course. The sooner I realize that, the easier it is to right the ship. Here are the steps I’m taking to make that happen:

1) Notice when things are off. Pay attention, watch for signs of trouble, and identify the problem. Ours is clear: Our kids resist sleep and wake up multiple times per night. This is not sustainable!

2) Have compassion for yourself. Instead of yourself for screwing up, remind yourself, “If you had known better, you would have done better.” Especially when it comes to parenting. These kids don’t come with operating manuals. None of us has it all figured out, and we’re doing our best.

3) Believe that you can right the ship. Even if it seems daunting, you really can. All is not lost, even when it feels like it is.

4) Look for pathways to get back on course. There will be at least a few, and likely many.

Right now, it seems impossible that both my kids will sleep through the night. But I know that eventually they will, and Darren and I are experimenting with new approaches to this end every day: action figures for protection and stuffed animals for company, nightlights, and various rewards for staying in bed. Next week, we will be discussing Evan’s situation with the sleep consultant who helped us make a plan for Avery (it’s not cheap, but it will be worth every penny if it works).

If you’re in the midst of a problem, you don’t need to go down with the ship and tell yourself that it’s all your fault. If you’ve binged on junk food, you can get back to healthy eating tomorrow. If you’ve spoken harshly to your partner, apologize and commit to being kinder next time. Acknowledge with compassion that you’re off course, make some adjustments, and right the ship.

Where are you having a hard time, and how can you get back on course?

 


what’s fueling me

I bought this weighted blanket on sale after reading a blog post called This 15 Pound Blanket Helped Me Rewire My Brain. It’s comforting and tension-releasing, like a Snuggie that hugs you, or a Thundershirt for humans. It helps to pile it on the pressure point on my chest, which gets tight when I’m anxious.

I’m looking for daily good news stories like this one to remind me that there are still plenty of good people in the world.

I tried the Whole Foods 365 Liquid Energy Shot yesterday when I was on the struggle bus, and its caffeine and B vitamins perked me up for a good four hours.

You really can.

 Originally published as a TinyLetter

One of the most fascinating things about having children is seeing yourself reflected in them. They’re a mirror that magnifies your beauty, your quirks, and your flaws in ways that you can’t deny.

Sometimes this is amusing, like when I was reading Evan a bedtime story and he asked me a question I had to think about before answering. Deep in thought for a moment, I was surprised to see him looking back at me, stroking his chin as if he had a beard, and I realized that he was doing it because I was doing it. I hadn’t even been aware of this, and we both busted out laughing.

Sometimes our little Mini Me’s make us confront our own shortcomings, which is not nearly as charming. Evan is taking his first swim lessons, and this week he reached the point where he wasn’t going to progress until he could put his face in the water and blow out through his nose. Unfortunately, he would grimace and shriek every time his nose touched the surface, jerking his head up immediately and yelling for a towel.

“Just close your mouth and blow out your nose,” I said. “You can do it out in the air, so you can do it underwater.”

“I can’t!” Evan said, all wound up and shaking his head adamantly.

“You really can,” I said.

“I can’t!” he insisted. I saw his face cloud over. “I don’t want to do swim lessons anymore!” For the rest of the lesson, he pouted and whined and refused to put his face in the water.

“Oh my God,” I thought. “I do this, too.”

I can’t figure out how to wean Avery when she is resisting violently and stealing my sleep.

I can’t accomplish my creative goals while the kids are young and needing so much attention.

I can’t meet obstacles with confidence instead of anxiety.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. My mood darkens. I feel stuck and helpless.

Often these are vague assumptions I’m carrying around, and when I step back and articulate them, I can see them objectively. While I have compassion for where they’re coming from — frustration and desperation leading to hopelessness — I have to acknowledge that they’re just not true. When I’m able to access my wiser self, I see minor roadblocks instead of dead ends, with multiple pathways around them.

I can experiment with different weaning strategies until something works. Avery is not still going to be nursing when she goes off to college.

I can accomplish my creative goals, even if it takes longer than it would if the kids didn’t need me so often. I can make good use of the short windows of quiet time that I have, even if they’re interrupted (multiple times!).

I can learn to pause and breathe before reacting to challenges so I can think through them rationally. I can learn to believe that I can handle any challenge.

I can, I can, I can.

If I really think about it, there are very few “I can’ts” that are actually true if I really set my mind to overcoming them.

When I feel an “I can’t” coming on, I’m going to picture Evan in that pool, anxious and frustrated by a challenge that he’s actually well equipped to overcome, and calmly and confidently tell both of us, “You really can.”

A recent episode of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Question Your Limiting Beliefs, delves into this topic. What are your own “I can’ts” — especially the ones that you haven’t articulated yet but are holding you back? 


what’s fueling me

My sister, Gill, and I love sharing music recommendations with each other. We used to make birthday playlists for each other but recently decided that it was silly to save everything up for a whole year instead of sharing the joy year-round. We made a collaborative playlist on Spotify, and it brightens my day to come across a song I know she’d love and add it to the playlist right away, or to hit refresh and hear a new song that she’s added. It’s a fun way to stay connected from afar.
I’m really excited to see these movies: Oceans 8 (Sandra! Mindy! Cate! Badass female heist movie!), Hearts Beat Loud (single dad and teenage daughter form a band), Ibiza (ridiculous fun, like The Hangover with female leads), Crazy Rich Asians (all-Asian cast being glitzy and fabulous), and A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper sings?! and with Lady Gaga?!).

It makes me so happy to look at the subscriber list for this TinyLetter. It means a lot to me that you — people I know and love, and people I haven’t met — invite my words into your inbox. Thank you.

The Difference Between Knowing and Doing

Originally published as a TinyLetter

There’s a big difference between knowing and doing, isn’t there?

It’s baffling, the gap between what I know and what I do. I called this TinyLetter “Like I always say…” because it’s infinitely easier to rattle off wise words for happy living (like “This, too, shall pass”) than to follow them. Especially in moments of stress.

I actually know quite a bit about best practices for a happy, productive life, having immersed myself in personal development (a much better term than “self-help”) content since high school.

I can tell you all about Martin Seligman’s research on learned helplessness and learned optimism, but I still get stuck in self-defeating thought patterns of “I can’t” and “This is never going to change.”

I can explain researcher John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four types of interaction that predict divorce and other ruptured relationships, but I still react with defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling when I’m really angry.

I can share nuggets of wisdom from my sheroes Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, and Gretchen Rubin, and I have 20+ parenting books on my shelf (see photo — Evan’s spirited nature has really given me a run for my money!). So why am I not a fully expressed human being and exceptional parent by now? Why do I keep tripping over what Gretchen calls “happiness stumbling blocks”?

In moments of stress, Darren will sometimes ask me, “Is there a tool you can use here?” and I sit there searching my mental database and coming up empty. (Darren, on the other hand, doesn’t know half of what I do about all of this, but effortlessly manages to practice it. Must be nice!!)

So what’s going on here? A few things, I think:

1) Analysis paralysis. Over 20+ years, I’ve amassed an enormous toolbox to draw from. Under duress, I find myself desperately rummaging through the jumble of tools and coming up empty because there are just so many to choose from.

What I can do: Organize my toolbox in advance. When I learn about a new tool, I can decide what to use it for: “This will be a good tool for (when Evan sasses me / I find myself procrastinating / I feel hopeless.”) That way, when the situation calls for a wrench, I’m not trying to fix it with a hammer I grabbed from the mess at random.

2) Unrealistic expectations. I expect myself to apply best practices as soon as I encounter them, but things are simply easier said than done. That’s why New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside, even though we know they would make us happier and healthier. It’s just human nature to fall into the same old habits we’re used to.

What I can do: Realize that these lessons are called “practices” for a reason, because they’re not quick and permanent fixes, Like the board game Othello, they take “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” I’m working on taking a pause before reacting, and while this will get easier, it may always take conscious effort — especially when it comes to parenting.

3) Blind spots. It’s hard to notice the gradual evolution in yourself because you’re with yourself 24/7. It’s like how you see someone else’s kids every so often and see how much they’ve grown, but you don’t notice the same kinds of changes in your own kids.

​What I can do: Recognize progress. I wish my 15-year-old self and my 37-year-old self could have coffee together so I could see all the ways I’ve evolved, due to life experience and work on myself. I know that I’m kinder, more confident, and less judgmental, and even in the areas I’m still working on, I’ve made progress.

What are the gaps between what you know and what you do? Where have you made progress, and which tools are you using to keep doing better? Hit reply and tell me.


what’s fueling me

Last week I was drafting a different TinyLetter that just wasn’t working, and I felt deflated and frustrated after wasting the one precious hour I have for creative projects in the morning. My sister happened to send me a clip of Janelle Monae on Sesame Street singing “The Power of Yet” (It “needs to be my mantra,” she said). It brought tears to my eyes because it was — and continues to be — exactly what I needed to hear.

Selling our old house (hallelujah!) has freed up time and money to put into our new house, and I was overjoyed to buy a longtime wish list item: a digital piano. I grew up playing an upright piano but have grown to prefer a digital because it’s compact and easy to move, you can change the key (helpful for singing when the piece is written too high or low for your voice), you don’t need to tune it, and there are a lot of fun features built in, like different instruments, a metronome, and the ability to record. I’ve been learning the Westworld theme, which is a shiveringly gorgeous piece of music, through a Guitar Hero-style tutorial on YouTube. The kids are enjoying messing around with making music, too.

I’ve been loving Spotify’s Time Capsule, which creates a two-hour playlist of songs from your teenage years based on your age and location. From “Interstate Love Song” to “I Love Your Smile,” these songs are making me feel like I’m 15 again, in the best way possible.

Signs from the Universe

Originally published as a TinyLetter

I was not expecting to change jobs last month, but sometimes the universe has other plans.

I’d been working for an education foundation and had started a new marketing role there in January. I was loving the work and my team, and things were humming along smoothly. I had just announced the new job on Facebook, and my friends were excited and supportive.

Then, one afternoon, somewhat but not completely out of the blue, it became clear that the CEO and I were not going to mesh. It felt awful, but it didn’t seem like I had much choice but to brush away the tears, dig in my heels, and soldier on.

As fate would have it, I did have another choice (and of course we always do). The very next day, Darren’s marketing director at Creative Distillery, his branding and design firm, let him know that she’d accepted another job. He was going to have to find someone to fill her role, someone with my exact skill set, and someone he trusted. What kind of crazy cosmic timing is that?

Still, my first reaction was no. I felt loyal to my team at the foundation. The money was good. It was easier to stick with what I knew than to risk making a change.

Darren and I kept talking it over. Could this work financially? Yes. Could we work together? We did it for four years while we got the business off the ground. Working for myself would open up more time for creative projects — my writing, the podcast that my sister and I have been working on — and I’d be able to speak freely about what I was struggling with without worrying about optics. Plus, when my kids were sick, I could work from home without feeling guilty about being out of the office.

It felt like a door had appeared in front of me, inviting me to step through it toward a bigger life, the kind I envisioned for myself. And I decided to listen to my instincts, summon my courage, and step through.

My first few weeks have been not without their challenges — the learning curve of any new role, adjusting to taking direction from my husband instead of leading my own team — but I know in my core that this was the right move. I just need to be patient and bear with the process (like I always say…) as I settle into the new normal.

I believe in signs from the universe that point us toward our calling. It’s up to us whether we pay attention and follow them. Sometimes it’s a rough road, and we may be able to see only a few feet in front of us at a time, but we have to trust that we’ll end up better off than where we started. Right now I’m not quite sure where my own path will lead, but I’m looking forward to finding out.


what’s fueling me

 

My friend Kathryn recently introduced me to “The Mother,” a gorgeous song that gets me a little verklempt every time I hear it. It captures the joys and sacrifices of motherhood that are so difficult to put into words. I’d heard Brandi Carlile’s name go by for years but had never listened to her music, and my friends say that her albums “Bear Creek” and “The Story” are their favorites. I love her voice and vibe and can’t wait to hear more.


 re: my last TinyLetter

In my last TinyLetter, “Untangling the Knots,” I wrote about being overwhelmed by the prospect of untangling a big, ugly mess of necklaces but achieving it one strand at a time. Afterward, I wrote to my writer friend Margaret, “Was I clear that the untangling can go beyond necklaces? Darren thought so, but now I’m wondering whether people got the metaphor I was going for!”

She replied, “Oh, I think people should get it! Especially with the context of your letters in general, no one would think you were advocating a child-centered approach to jewelry maintenance. :P”

But I think it did seem like I was just sharing a story about organizing my jewelry, to which you may have thought, “Hmm…good for you?” I could have given an example or two of applying the “one strand at a time” strategy, like paying off major debt or getting in shape when you haven’t exercised in a while.

With my old job, I’d have to rush a TinyLetter out on a Friday morning so I could get to work, but with my new role I can take a bit more time to say what I mean. Cheers to that.