The 51st Retreat

Maybe it’s a coincidence.

Or maybe it’s the fruits of an excellent memory and natural ability to create synapses across time.

Or maybe it’s truly a sign of cosmic alignment and synchronicity.

The facts:

  • In 2007, I went on my first personal retreat to Manzanita, a sleepy beach town on the Oregon coast. I stayed for a week. I was transformed. I was hooked.
  • Over the next 10 years, I retreated, mostly to the same house in Manzanita though a few times elsewhere, at least once a season.
  • A few years ago, I was there. I noticed a group of folks in town (unusual during the week) and the next day ran into them at the public bathrooms by the beach. I talked to a woman in the bathroom and she said she worked at Marmoset, on a company retreat from Portland. As I wandered around the beach that day, I called a close friend and shared the moment of inspiration, the call to lead company retreats for communications at the coast.
  • A few days ago, I was doing background research on the folks participating in the company retreat for communications at the coast that I’ll be facilitating THIS weekend. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw the image of the woman on LinkedIn and her former role at Marmoset. Wait, the woman from the public bathroom is coming on the launch of my new planning retreat offering? WHAT!?
Synchronicity

Feels like synchronicity to me.

Julia Cameron talks a lot about synchronicity in The Artist Way:

Learn to accept the possibility that the universe is helping you with what you are doing….The minute you are willing to accept the help of this collaborator, you will see useful bits of help everywhere in your life. Be alert: there is a second voice, a higher harmonic, adding to and augmenting your inner creative voice. This voice frequently shows itself in synchronicity.

I have noticed useful bits of help everywhere in my life over the last few years.

Why didn’t I return home to Portland after that breakthrough and launch this offering then?

Short answer: I got distracted and I wasn’t ready.

Long answer: I got distracted by making money on a big contract for Nike and following through on previously designed annual and future goals. And I may have misinterpreted some of the useful bits of help or callings, such as focusing on the education sector (e.g.: by attending SXSW Education, organizing Startup Weekend Education and creating strategic plans for educational organizations), instead of creating an educational business model like I am now (aha!!).

Wonder

Since that fateful day, I have continued to go on solo retreats, attend some spiritual group retreats, lead custom-designed client retreats and organize annual retreats with my intergenerational, interfaith women’s group.

In February, 26 of us spent a weekend in Lincoln City, Ore. exploring wonder. We wondered at the beauty of nature, we wondered at each other, we wondered about our lives.

One the participants offered me a wonder-full gift (and useful bit of information) saying, “how encouraged and supported she felt by my presence during the session I facilitated.”

Upon returning, I booked two nights at a retreat center in the Columbia River Gorge for the following month.

There were no distractions and I felt ready.

It was time to “pivot,” as the business folks say.

For six weeks, I prepared by reading the Right Brain Business Plan and working through the exercises in Designing Your Life with my book club. These tools would prime me for this retreat’s focus, answering the question: what does the universe need from me right now?

I got to the retreat center and settled in. As soon as I was fully alert, the “answers” showed up clearly and concretely. And almost completely within an hour of arrival.

Last December’s Holiday TinyLetter said:

“I have in no way mastered radical focus yet, but I have a strong sense of how it’s steering my consulting engagements and energy toward real-time strategy and professional development retreats.”

No longer an intention, this was becoming a reality.

Becoming

To be expected given my preparation, but none the less a bit surprising, the “answers,” or rather instructions, extended beyond a new business plan to a new life design.

I wrote them down on a post-it note so I wouldn’t forget. So far, so good!

  • Get blessed by spiritual communities: check.
  • Move/downsize home: check.
  • Bonus: Go on 9-day solo trip to Mexico. Not a retreat. VACATION: check!
  • Join Council business acceleration program: check.
  • Radically focus on building out blog* and retreat program: check.
  • Launch 54-hour strategy retreat offering: in progress.

The above examples represent a pretty tectonic shift for me and have been a long time in coming (in other words not my average retreat), but do speak to the power of retreat and equally important – the promise of return – that this practice offers.

After being such an integral part of my process of becoming, I am thrilled to bring the power of retreat (and the promise of return) to client teams.

Former clients like Caldera, have proved to me that there are courageous organizations out there proactively investing in planning, training and retreating that inspire creative and practical outcomes.

One of the them is FUEL, a high-performance fitness studio in downtown Portland, run by a sister-brother team who are my Council colleagues, new friends, and incredibly soulful people.

I’m so honored that this exact group of people will participate in this first time.

They bring an all-in, high-performance mindset and we share passions for communication, design, leadership, community building + being in beautiful, natural places!

I woke up with that Christmas morning feeling today wondering “What’s under the tree?”

It’s really here.

Limitless like the ocean are the possibilities as the Dalai Lama (sort of) says.

We have nature, we have healthy food, we have a comfy house to work from, we have creative, enthusiastic participants, I have many activities planned and the rest – the immeasurable value, the magic insights, the deepest knowing – will show up.

After ~50 personal retreats I know this. What I don’t know is if my hunch that facilitating 6 people x 54 hours can build the same thing (or better!) than I can as a consultant in 325 hours? Guess we’ll see!

*New, awesome blog (and beautiful statement of beliefs thanks to working with Laura Trimmell) coming very soon! Maybe by my birthday later this month!?!

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My First Retreat

There was a series of decisions that had been quietly forming for at least a year, probably three, maybe my whole life, that lead me onto my first retreat.

Not my first journey. There had already been many of those.

But, my first retreat from the world into my world.

I had lost touch with my soul.

Lost and Found

It’s a rare occasion that a decision gets conceived and made simultaneously. Not the millions of mundane choices we make every day. But the real decisions.

The ones that carve the course of one’s life.

Most of these decisions were made long ago.

As John O’Donohue says, “in out-of-the-way places of the heart, where your thoughts never think to wander, this beginning has been quietly forming, waiting until you were ready to emerge.”

After two cross-country moves in six months followed by a soul-full, but draining, year teaching kids in the outdoors followed by several temp jobs, I landed an hourly receptionist position at a company I unknowingly admired. After all, the founders started their own company and they made beautiful things.

This was basically the same job I had the summer before I left for college.

The decision to quit lingered in the initial decision to accept. This initial “Yes” marinated in desperation and impatience.

I was three years out of college already and with no career in communications in sight. Intern, sales associate, program leader, administrative assistant, daycare supervisor…okay, no career in sight at all.

A full-time job with benefits paying slightly over minimum wage seemed like a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, insteading of seeing The Devil Wears Prada movie that came out that same year, I lived it.

It took an entire year until the “No” was ready to emerge.

And then, the “No” boldly gave two-weeks notice with no plan in place except to be whole again. But how?

Deciding ‘what color of parachute’ to claim? No. Not the career how.

This was the life how.

Retreat and Reset

This was not the first time I had been unhappy or confused.

But, it was the first time I considered that my life wasn’t whole. As it does when you’ve completely lost touch with who you are.

Or realize for the first time that you don’t really know who you are because you’ve been so busy building a life that matches what you think you’re supposed to be.

So how does one start?

By retreating to our core. Tapping into our deepest knowing, naturally attuning, again in harmony with all.

These are the words I use now, 50+ retreats later to describe the “how” to regaining wholeness.

Back then, I didn’t have these words. Nor did I have any practices, tools, resources or answers for how.

Seeking Answers Without

I did have the 2006 edition of “What Color is your parachute?,” a gift from my Dad during the grueling job search of those last few years.

This book alluded to wholeness: considering one’s whole life in the job hunt, such as preferred location. And that edition even included an epilogue on “How to Find Your Mission in Life,” that would soon be devoured and dog-eared.

So, during the initial days of deciding and informing those close to me about the decision to quit my job, I asked and received about the how.

Many of their answers were answers: Do what you love. Go back to your passions. Use your talents.

But one, was a path, a way, to wholeness.

After having tea and sharing my news with my retired-therapist-turned-friend, I got a call from her with instructions.

She would be dropping off a bag at my apartment in the next few days. It was supplies for me to bring on retreat at their beach house for a week. She would email me with directions on how to get there and instructions for the house. All I needed to do was let her know which week during the next month I wanted to go.

It sounded wonderful. And necessary. And true. But, what was a retreat? Was it like camp? Was it like camping? Was it like vacation?

And, what did one do on retreat?

Having traveled a lot with family growing up and and with friends during college, the travel and preparation part was very familiar: Check weather. Research activities. Plan meals. Pack accordingly.

But, that still left the question of what to do? And, what to do by myself?

Having spent endless days playing on my own as a kid and a semester with a single dorm room in college, being alone for a week wasn’t the part that phased me. If anything, that felt like the greatest part of the gift.

But, what to do in order to find myself again? That was the mystery.

Seeking Answers Within

My sister did not feel as confident about the idea of me being alone in a strange house faraway at the coast for a week, so she volunteered to come down for the first night. As a big sister would. And as requested by our Dad, I suspect.

She brought her puppy and groceries. She inspected the house. She walked me into town after dinner for a beer at the pub. She explored the beach with me and her dog the next morning. And then, satisfied I was indeed safely doing some soul searching and not sinking into a depression, she headed back to the city.

And I sunk into my retreat.

I opened the bag that my friend and spiritual patron had dropped off.

Out of it I pulled book after book:

  • The Artist Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.
  • The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart.
  • The Dance of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear, and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self.
  • Imperfect Control: Our Lifelong Struggles With Power and Surrender.
  • Intimacy and Solitude.
  • The Intimacy and Solitude Workbook.

An avid reader, I leafed through these in wonder and delight.

And set them, one by one, on the dining room table next to the pile of books I had packed:

  • A Gift from the Sea
  • Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
  • Transitions: Strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, and confusing times in your life
  • and, of course, The 2006 What Color is Your Parachute?

Over the next few days, I explored these books in the way that I explored the beach. In short bursts. Until hunger or tiredness set in. Broadly in general, intricately at parts. Listening. Noticing. Wondering.

It would be many years before I would consume many of these books and be transformed by them. Some I have yet to read or use.

Falling into Consolation

On this first retreat, as with all of them since, it has been about the dabbling, the tasting, the savoring. The connections and co-creation.

It was as Wayne Muller (whose books I didn’t know then, but highly recommend now) describes as “the intimate, fertile conversations between our own heart’s wisdom and the way the world has emerged before us.”

The deep, profound conversations that can be heard and had when things are quiet and still and candlelit and comfy in an overstuffed leather chair and with chocolate within reach. And when its overcast and windy and shells crunch beneath rain boots and there’s driftwood strewn across the shore where the waves are crashing.

When one’s away from the clutter, away from the distractions, away from the demands, away from time and measurement, is as if one is seeing the world through a child’s eyes. The clarity of these deep, profound conversations is simple, magical, truth.

Spurred by a passage in a book or by making a meal or by a scene in a movie or by artwork on the wall or by the sunset or by the rhythm of the waves, the truths show up and are relished as a gift. Often its one big truth. Sometimes there are ripples.

Basking in these truths, the minutes turn to hours turn to days. Some call this flow.

The spiritual director I’ve worked with for the last few years calls it being “in consolation.” Not the comfort one receives after a disappointment or loss. That’s consoling.

He describes being in consolation as a state of being with the world. Or rather, the world being with us, soothing us, taking care of us. As we take care of it.

For some, as it has for me, this state of oneness goes out of this world and extends from the physical waves and sand and shells into the spiritual, to a feeling of connection with the Source.

Moment of Truth

On this first retreat, I remember getting beers at the pub with my sister and talking to some scraggly local fishermen. I remember making popcorn in the microwave and watching a movie together. I remember throwing tennis balls on the beach and the puppy chasing after them. And, then I remember being on my own and time stopped.

I can’t recall the details of each day that followed and each revelation. I don’t remember changing or feeling the healing happening. Nor do I recall the magic showing up immediately, rather sinking into it as the days passed.

I do recall one afternoon when I was lazily draped over the overstuffed leather couch, a leg over the side, an arm dangling, with several books strewn around me. My ponytail drooped and the knit blanket sagged off the couch. The fire had died down in the wood stove since I hadn’t risen in hours to stoke it. A break in the grey day, the late afternoon sun came pouring in the picture window that faced the deck and overlooked the ocean a mile away. I set the book down, spine open on my belly, like a hug, and paused, watching the ideas of the past few hours, and days, start to line up. There were so many pieces of information coming together from my head and from my heart and from the world. It was as if the bits of information started square dancing. Partnering up to create ideas, and then joining up to promenade, one idea emerging after another. Amidst the clatter and joyful dancing of these ideas, I could hear the caller shout out directions.

And in this moment, I recall feeling, hearing, understanding, making the decision to attend graduate school. Important yes, cosmic no.

This was not one of the universal, soulful truths that has shown up during some of my retreats.

But it was the seed of a decision, the beginning that would start quietly forming until, to echo the words of another beautiful writer, Charles Bukowski: it came bursting out, in spite of everything, coming unasked from one’s heart and mind and mouth and gut.

This decision (one that would emerge unasked several months later) was important, because it was connected to my path, my mission, my reason for being. A way for the light of my soul to shine through the deeds of my life.

Everyday Integrity

That retreat – the first and most formative – took me away from everything and allowed me into my core. To the place where I am always whole. Where there is no searching or seeking. Tapping into my deepest knowing, naturally attuning, so that I was again in harmony with all.

This is not how I would have described it back then. Far from it.

What I knew then was that I felt good. I felt grounded. I felt in sync. I felt assured.

Over the last decade of retreating nearly every season, for a night or for weeks, I have discovered the “how” to regaining integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. In addition to this practice, I have studied and read and discussed and written and drawn and done all sorts of inner work to learn how to stay that way.

I am not yet one of those people who live in a way that keeps them in a constant state of wholeness. I would venture to guess that there are not many people left in the world who can.

And so, retreats offer a way to practice integrity. As does prayer and meditation and intentions and blessings and altars and cleanses and sabbath. And I enjoy all of those too (often during retreats!).

The power of retreat is not only in its practice, but also in its application – the promise of return.

Integrating that blissful, temporary state of being whole and undivided into our daily lives. Returning to taste, savor, relish and bask in the everyday.

What I’m Showing Up For Right Now

I’m not sure if they all will, but there is a good chance that my whole family will march on Saturday. Not together. But will show up in Portland and in Seattle and in Spirit. And it makes me so proud.

I know my Mom would have been so activated about this march, this election, these current events.

As I’ve watched Barack and Michelle Obama, and listened to their considerations for their daughters especially, I am reminded of my Mom’s (along with my Dad’s) modeling over the course of my life, about caring deeply, and especially about things that matter. That modeling triggers me to care deeply right now.

  • To tear up as I watch videos and read reports of people doing the right thing, courageously speaking the truth and showing up.
  • To feel moved by everything that is going on and not be complicit any longer.
  • To wonder what it means, what will happen, what the context is, what to believe, what to ignore.

That is my Mom’s legacy. That is all parents’ and adults’ true legacy.

The indelible imprint left on the next generation by their elders’ actions more than their words.

This Women’s March (with 200,000+ expected in D.C. including a few of my friends, 30,000+ expected in Portland including countless friends, folks I know marching in St. Louis, New Orleans, Sacramento, plus 100s of other marches in cities around the world) is literally millions of women showing up in solidarity. Millions of people showing up.

Yes, that does give me hope.

But is it enough?

Enough for what? To change public opinion? To change leadership? To change belief systems toward the Beloved Community, where no one is at risk and needs protection?

Well, probably not.

But, it is a tipping point.

And, to answer my Dad’s question from earlier today: that is the point of the March, I think.

To show solidarity, tipping us over to the other side — where enough is enough and real change can start.

I suppose President Trump’s election has been what I like to call the “disruptive catalyst” — something that shakes us to the core, turns our world upside down and jumpstarts us anew — to get us to this tipping point.

And from my extensive personal experience with disruptive catalysts this is the most painful, but most enlightening, part of the transformation process.

The pain has gotten too great to ignore any longer. A new way must be found.

There is no going back. Nor would one want to now that one’s eyes are opened so widely to the true reality of now. Not the now that one wanted to be, but that is.

Is because of circumstances and choices that we participated in.

In the shock of this new now, there is no remorse, no guilt, no shame, no judgement, no fear, no grief, no anger, but there is space.

A wide open space.

A space that will be filled. But remains an opportunity for now. A space that is magnetic—for inspiration. For inspiring the new, as yet unimagined, way.

It first attracts all the positive energy, the force—of creation, of new, of growth, of possibility.

A space for pure inspiration.

Mind you, not drive, not ambition, not opportunistic. Those are the acts of making something happen that one thinks should be (or could be). Inspiration is the act of an idea being born of its own accord—emerging from what must be.

And some people call this inspiration love.

I do in the sense that I love inspiration: I love feeling inspired. I love feeling lifted up, lighter, elevated. I love feeling its freedom, its vastness, its calling. It is a divine feeling. And so is love.

So, when we follow the jolt of a disruptive catalyst with an openness to inspiration, perhaps what we create is love. Or more love. Or closer to love than we were before.

Sure, some people would go another way. The space would collapse into itself, into a black hole of negative energy, from fear to hate. So deep their hurting.

Those people exist. And I feel for them.

But I am not one of those people. That is not how I respond to a disruptive catalyst.

That is not how my family responds. That is not how our family friends respond. That is not how my mentors respond. That is not how my peers respond. That is not how my friends respond. That is not how my people respond.

We are not better, but I dare say, we are better off.

I cannot even imagine how profoundly hard living in an existence of hate must be. The paranoia, the anxiety, the distrust, the fear, the defensiveness, the anger, the judgement, the shame. How exhausting and life draining! And, it’s never satisfied. Literally like a black hole.

So, I guess that is what everybody is talking about. And what it means when people at my church say they are “standing on the side of love.”

Well, then, yes, I too am standing (up and beside and within and) for love, for creation, for positivity, for creativity, for inspiration.

I am inspired to stand up and to walk.

I am inspired to do better and seek better.

I am inspired to be true and real.

I am inspired to respond and help.

I am inspired to understand and listen.

I am inspired to follow and lead.

I am inspired to show up.

The Big Chair Conundrum of 2016

So, I bought a chair. A gorgeous, leather, previously owned Pottery Barn armchair.

But, not with my own money. And not with a credit card.

I racked my brain and I searched my heart and I found a lucky loophole.

While I was curious to find out from my Facebook post what others would do about this conundrum, I knew I had to make the decision about whether or not to buy the chair by myself.

As it is with all of life’s big decisions.

Not furniture per se, but whether or not to stick to your values, principles, commitments. Or not.

And, how to learn from the decision-making process, no matter the choice or the outcome.

I could feel how strongly I wanted this chair, especially after looking for something similar for years. But, it’s only half-way through my self-imposed experiment to Buy Nothing for a year. High stakes decorating!

First, I needed more input before I could make up my mind.

I called my family (even in Amsterdam) and a couple resourceful and thrifty friends for consults with questions or angles I hadn’t considered.

You know, the kind of friends who find everything on sale or in a give-away pile but know when to splurge and so always end up telling you just what you want to hear. These second votes have been what I needed on many of my wisest purchases.

The appropriate questions came up:
Do you really want it? Yes.
Is it a good deal? Yes.
Can you afford it? Well, only if I put it on a credit card or use my savings meant for student loan payments. So, no.

I thought about barter and haggling, but knowing the tiny local resale shop’s bottom line (they’ve argued with me over the $1 books before) I knew they wanted cash for this thing—from me or somebody else likely to come by during the neighborhood-wide yard sale that very weekend so time was of the essence!

Cash is the fastest resource to exchange, thus making it the most heavily used. The other resources most of us have available—time, energy, effort, faith, stuff—are simply not as efficient in our big world market as they are in village life.

It did occur to me that someone else in my network might have the funds that I could borrow. That was a funny thought I hadn’t had before. If I couldn’t provide for myself, I usually went without.

And then I remembered: I have the funds!

After my grandpa passed away last year (and my Nana a few years prior) all of the grandkids and great grandkids were given a small sum in remembrance. Mine has been sitting in my reserve savings, just in case bills piled up and cashflow dried up, but meant for a special something that would remind me of my grandparents.

Like a painting! Or a camera! Or a chair!

Realizing how hard I was trying to figure out how to get this chair, I knew this was it! A lucky Buy Nothing loophole.

While I had the gifted funds available, I was still about to purchase my first non-consumable thing this year and break my Buy Nothing fast. Of course, I haven’t bought nothing this year.

I buy groceries. I buy toilet paper. I buy gas. I buy allergy medication. I buy tea at Crema. I buy hair cuts. Sometimes I get a RedBox movie. Occasionally, I buy a beer or take out. Mostly, the bare minimum.

The difference? Basic “consumable” goods or services, i.e.: here today, gone tomorrow.

But, wait, most of these take natural resources and may or may not use fair labor practices. So perhaps short-lived unlike a thing, but potentially creating a longer negative impact than a well-made chair that will last me for 40+ years, right?

Given that the chair is used and finding a long-term home where it will be loved, enjoyed, heavily used and meaningful to boot, it seems like an ideal purchase and exception to my Buy Nothing year.

Is the chair an investment? Yes.
Is it intentional? Yes.
Is it maintaining sufficiency in my life? Yes.
Does it open possibilities as opposed to create burdens? Yes.

Then, Buy Nothing mission accomplished:

  • This chair is making me examine my relationship with money, my relationship with consumption and my relationship with accumulation.
  • And I’m still leveraging savings from buying “nothing” this month toward my student loan payments. I’m up to nearly $5,500 paid toward my loans so far this year (that’s almost 300% more than last year)!

Ironically, this chair—the one thing I buy all year—may come to symbolize this year’s Buy Nothing experiment.

A constant reminder of seeking sufficiency and living the examined life.

And, of the legacy of loving grandparents from an era that knew these lessons all too well.

IMG_0044 copy

 

Buy Nothing year shopping list

What if I Buy Nothing for a Year?

I’m planning to buy nothing this year. Well, not nothing.

I will still buy things that are perishable or consumable, such as food and some household items (like toilet paper and light bulbs) and gas for my car and medication. As a city apartment dweller I’m not in the position to live off the land or go off the grid.

So mainly I will not be buying stuff. Stuff I love, like books, and stuff I feel like I need, like make-up, or stuff to replace stuff that I lose, break or wear out.

I want to see what it feels like to not consume. Or rather consume less as I don’t have the income to be a big spender.

And yet, I went over budget every month last year, including spending nearly $3,000 on shopping (clothing, gifts, electronics etc.) when my budget was $300 for the year. By comparison, the U.S. national average last year on shopping (categorizing similar transactions as mine) was nearly $5,000, according to Mint.com.

Was my budget unrealistically low? Yes. But $25/month was all that was left after all the mandatory expenses like rent, student loans and food.

So, this experiment is motivated partially by budget and seeing if I can break even, none the less attempt to save. I also want to reestablish, or rather establish, a healthy relationship with stuff by living within a state of sufficiency.

I’ve always loved stuff both for myself and especially for others. It’s teetered on compulsive over the years. While traveling this fall, I caught myself questioning: does my friend really need/want this ceramic food cart-shaped bowl for dip that makes me think of her or does it just feel good to buy it on clearance?

Buying just to buy. Having just to have. Collecting just to collect. Why does it feel so good?

This a personal experiment and will not apply to doing business. I am planning to still buy office supplies and electronics etc. but I suspect I will evolve in my spending habits here too (pretty sure whiteboard markers will remain essential, but we’ll see!).

I’m not going to make this complicated with rules or clauses, simply: buy nothing. Buy no things.

I think it will be hard and uncomfortable sometimes. There will be stuff I need, not just want. I look forward to being resourceful. Can I make it? Can I borrow it? Can I find it? Can I trade for it?

I’m excited to see what shows up, what I have to sacrifice, what doesn’t show up, what I gain.

The longest commitment I’ve made before that I can think of was training for eight months for my first half-marathon, so doing this for a whole year will be a stretch for me.

After making this commitment, I did a bit of Internet research and apparently there are many people who’ve successfully completed this year-long experiment. And not only in the last few years since our last Great Recession, but as far back as the 1990s when AdBusters started the Buy Nothing Day.

The lessons I learn may be extremely insightful, faith strengthening and earth-replenishing as others have uncovered from truly living within, but apart from, capitalism. For example, I’ve read about the twenty-something woman who got out of $25,000 in debt, the Bellevue family who doubled their charity contributions or the Indiana family who made almost everything, respectively. Or maybe it’s just a fun challenge!

Just like these other folks, this isn’t about making a statement and shunning capitalism.

It’s about hitting the reset button to find a respect for and equilibrium with consumption and money. After reading The Soul of Money last year, I realized I take for granted the abundance I already have and the scarcity I actually live in.

I wrote this to organize my thoughts and communicate my plans to friends and family, and whoever else is intrigued. So forewarning offered and encouragement welcomed!

I would love to hear your comments with tips or tricks for meeting one’s needs without money (such as clothing swaps or sharing communities like the Buy Nothing Project).

I’ll probably have some insights or discoveries that I can’t resist sharing this year and I’ll try to post about those here, so stay tuned.

How Kids Connect Us to the Source

This is well-known to some, unfamiliar to others: I love kids. Always have.

Being with kids is one of the ways that I feel connected to the Source (like when I am in nature, near the ocean or around the light of a fire). Their smiles, their laughter, their tears, their waddles, their nonsense—all uninhibited, all natural.

Kids seem directly linked to the Source. How come? Because they intuitively connect with the world as it is – pure and simple in all its wonder.

While there is a little bit of doing in this state, it’s mostly about being. Complete absorbed in the moment, living it exactly the way it feels, moving from need to need (no thoughts, no wants, no pauses), dancing with the Source.

No need for the question why and yet completely immersed in its answer: our greatest purpose—to live in harmony with the world around us.

Kids Are My Crew

Kids feel like “my people.” When I’m with them I feel totally understood and the world through their eyes makes complete sense. It is simple. It is pure. It is intuitive. It is wonder-full.

I especially love babies and toddlers, but really all kids all the way to 18 years old. That is not to say I love having kids present everywhere.

There are times and places where kids are a distraction. Partially because they’re so cute and I’m so drawn to them, but also because they are so uninhibited that their noise and activity can detract from desired focus such as working, or ironically, worshipping.

I imagine the world would be a way simpler place if it were run by three-year-olds.

Our days would be organized by prioritization of: eating, naps, play, potty, exploring, imagination, and laughter.

Like many others say, I am not convinced that I am an adult as opposed to a highly independent, efficient, capable and well-trained kid who is “playing house” and “playing business” each day.

No different than Lizzie Sanders and I did as five-year-olds in the finished basement of the Flanders Street house with fake money, expired credit cards and tri-sheet carbonless copy paper order forms, dressed in my mom’s best, retro left-overs from the 1970s that were several sizes too big.

Perhaps why I connect so strongly with kids is because I still act like one:

  • I still build forts.
  • I still yell at the sea.
  • I still watch insects crawl around rocks.
  • I still laugh out loud at unusual sights while walking down the street.
  • I still skip and hop and talk to myself.
  • I still make up songs in the shower (in poorly imitated British accents).

I’ve considered teaching Sunday School to be around my people more, but every Sunday feels like an unrealistic commitment given my current lifestyle. I considered, but chose not to pursue a career as a K-12 teacher, knowing one of the trade-offs was missing the opportunity to be with kids every day. My nephews and nieces live far away, so I don’t play with them nearly enough.

That is all to say, I would love more kid time in my life. So for now, I get my hit of the Source through my friends’ kids. Like the precious, little, tenacious, two-year-old Norwegian-American in this video.

And, through being with myself.

What to Wear When (and When in Doubt, Always #suitup)

2014 APR recipients Chris Benware, Brad Hilliard, Colby Reade, Tracey Lam, Janet Paulson, me and Russell Yost display an array of styles and personal preferences for “suiting up” on a special occasion.

In my community college small business class recently, one of my classmates who owns a yard maintenance company asked me:

“How do you do it?”

“How do I do what?” I asked with a tilted head and tilted tone.

“Always look so put together and professional. I don’t think I could pull it off like you do.”

How do I do it? I make sure my appearance is clean, cared for (no holes!), fits well, cohesive and appropriate whenever I leave the house.

Lumbersexuals are a perfect example. Notice their clean, pressed jeans, well-shined shoes, flannels with undershirts. Not to mention their coiffure–so meticulous it requires a .50 cent word.

Why should we aspire to “look put together” or “buttoned up” nowadays?

Because Perception is Everything

The Association of Psychological Science published research in 2006 reporting that “all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face.” I heard recently about other research, which found that appearance is 60 percent of someone’s first impression, followed by tone and then what one actually says or does.

Well, you can’t change your facial structure (nor should you have to), but you can change how you present yourself and your attire.

There is no system for what to wear when. Pairing clothes isn’t like pairing the right wine with food. It’s all about personal preference.

Here are some common questions and concerns.

How Casual is Too Casual

Where I live, the clerks at the grocery store don’t wear uniforms anymore. They wear whatever they want: sometimes it works, sometimes it does not!

Why not? The usual suspects are:

  • Be sensitive to body parts – Exposed toes, feet, armpits, and bare backs are usually not welcome, especially in a professional work environment. Unless you’re a masseuse. But, I’ve noticed they take better care of their body parts than I do my cocktail dresses!
  • Leave Saturday sweats for Saturday – House: yes, yard: fine, grocery shopping: okay, Opera: NO. Sweat suits were made for sweating and most still communicate that impression. They do not imply clean. As long as you’re comfortable, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Styling by Season

Once upon a time we had four seasons. I stopped keeping separate seasonal storage containers a couple years ago, mainly because it was silly to have that much stuff, but also because most items can actually be styled appropriately and useful for any time of year.

My closet is now fully co-mingled just like curbside recycling–wool sweaters hanging next to cotton capris!

How to decide what and when?

  • Prioritize personal comfort – I run hot, so I wear tank tops all year round and I always bring a sweater, especially for air conditioning. Layering is the perfect solution for managing changing temperatures throughout the day. The key is to layer up, but keep outfits simple.
  • Be judicious – People do get colds from wet hair and going out without coats. Be practical about the weather, the building(s), the crowd and the culture, then style it your way.

Suit Up or Not 

The looming question: to suit up or not to suit up. Literally wear a suit? YES.

“But, you don’t wear suits?” anyone who knows me would ask. True story. They stifle my self-expression. So, nice dresses are fairly equivalent in my book (hence, the term dressing up?).  The goal is to be polished.

Thanks to Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother, “suit up” is more than a style, it is a call to action (and popular hashtag).

It says: I have self-respect. I care. I made an effort. This is important.

Some considerations:

  • Fair warning, stereotypes persist – a three-piece suit says hipster, two-piece suit says lawyer, investor or traditional executive, ties speak for themselves. Like always, know your audience.
  • For better or for worse, you are often taken more seriously when you’re dressed up, including looking older, established or trustworthy. In many situations that is extremely useful.
  • Buy used and still look sharp – dressing up doesn’t require big brands or a big budget. Nowadays, it’s easy to feel good about shopping sustainably at second hand stores and still look clean, cared for, fit well, cohesive and appropriate.

At the end of the day, appearance is only the way we look. We can control what we wear when and how we wear it, but not how others see us.

A pleasant, intentional appearance can indeed be a powerful tool and “an act of becoming visible or noticeable.” Use it wisely.

Originally published as Networking Column for PRSA Portland Metro Chapter