Greatness Big and Small

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Since stepping away from my career as an executive in January, I’ve sought space and quiet to listen for insight about what might be next for me. I know that slowing down, nurturing my creativity and focusing on building habits of self-care are essential to that process. I have listened to my brain and mind for most of my life, and they have served me well. This gap year was intended to develop a more heart-centered approach to my life and work.

Round about August I got a little panicky about the future. I had been exploring the idea of enrolling in a life coach training program, and was as excited about the journey of discovery I’d be on as I was the picture of myself at the helm of a coaching business. Coaching has always been an interest, and I currently work with a few people. But suddenly I felt urgency about deciding on the training, and figuring out what was next. Part of the pressure was the deadline for the upcoming training session, but I knew that a fair amount of the urgency came from an untended well of questions about identity and purpose.

The idea of setting myself on a path to be a life coach – something I feel naturally and experientially inclined toward – answered so many of those questions. But the urgency was self-inflicted, a response to the discomfort of the untethered, highly disrupted, and confusing sort of year it has been. I realized (doh!) that the training and a coaching and consulting business would still be there for me if I decided I wanted it after listening to my heart rather than my brain (and the many shoulds that live there!).

I learned a valuable insight several years ago from a woman I took an art class with. We chatted one evening about navigating one’s path in the world, and she said the man who was coaching her told her to “listen to your inner voice” for guidance. She told him that she had many voices in her head, and asked how she would know which one to listen to… “That’s easy,” he replied, “listen to the one that’s kind. The voice that is kind and gentle is your true inner voice.” The loud, stringent voices are hard to ignore, and while even the harshest internal critic is trying to keep me safe, the methods are outdated and not useful to me anymore. I have to get very quiet to hear the kind voice, the one that knows my wants and needs better than I (consciously) do.

In all this sorting through “what to do next,” I have toggled back and forth between thoughts of doing great things in a small way – like working with individuals or consulting with small businesses or non-profits – or doing great things in a big way, like joining an organization with audacious goals and the potential to change the world, or at least a corner of it. The constant is my aspiration to do great things, which I define as making a difference, having integrity and high standards for myself and others. I want to continue to make a difference in the world, and I know that I can do so any number of ways.  My assumption has been that I while I’d be willing to work with large organizations, I wasn’t inclined to do so from inside the organization but rather as a consultant.

So I found myself surprised by my enthusiasm late last week when a friend forwarded a job description for a big job at an organization with audacious goals. Not at all the picture I had when I left my career in January, but one so aligned with my values, my experience and my aspirations, I am compelled. And watching my thoughts and feelings scramble about as I contemplated the role and putting my name in for consideration was an instructive adventure in itself.

I was drawn to the role, obviously, and recognized the “juice” of ambition the job description sparked in me. I realized that this would be an “all in” role, and likely wouldn’t allow me a flexible or reduced schedule, but that would be offset by the learning, the adventure, and the amazing potential of the role. I also entertained a litany of “not good enough” thoughts so common among us. I realized I wasn’t afraid of rejection per se — I have been seasoned by a career with many rejections, or as I have come to think of them, re-directions to something better. My core fear was being mocked for thinking I could compete, for having the hubris to raise to my hand.

But raise my hand I will. I’ll forward my interest and resume by tomorrow, and see what happens. If offered a chance to meet, I will be enthusiastic about the ways I can lead and contribute to the organization. I’ll be prepared to adjust to a future I hadn’t envisioned but would be excited about. If not, I have learned still more about myself: what calls to me, the ways I want to contribute to the world, and the many ways, big and small, I can be and do great things.

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Sweet Lucy

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I agreed to adopt Lucy and her litter sister Ethel in May 2002, a month after they had been left with their other litter mates in front of my vet hospital. I couldn’t bring them home until July because of my travel for work, so for two months they had the run of the back rooms of the hospital, running around the room where animal patients were recovering from or awaiting procedures. Both black in color, Lucy had short hair while Ethel was a fluff ball of long hair, and they were a hit with the staff.

My sister-in-law said at the time: “you’re going to be one of those cat ladies,” referring both to the fact that I would then have three cats, and that I was single at the time. I adopted them anyway, and met my future husband a few months later. A cat lover himself, David withstood inspection (trial, really) from my male cat Moses, who really was not at all happy this fellow was hanging around. Moses brought mice home several times during that period to show me he could provide for me… And then one day he got over it, and the two of them were inseparable. The kittens took to him too: my three cats became our three cats.

Lucy has always been the more extroverted of the two cats, loving to be with people and happy to hang out, while Ethel is shy and secretly ferocious. Lucy took over the role of alpha cat when Moses died, and began emulating his behavior: she’d sleep in ‘his’ chair in David’s office, began petitioning for lap time while David worked at the computer – providing Cat5 support – which was something Moses had always done, and took her place in the narrow space between us as we slept that we call ‘the valley of love.’ Sometimes, when she’d be on David’s lap on the couch, she’d lean her head back and look at him with such adoration. I’m certain she loved us both, but she and David have had a special bond.

She has been willful and entitled, arguing back with a sheep-like bleat when told not to do something, clearly understanding both the tone and intent of our words. She has ruined several lovely pieces of upholstered furniture with her scratching even though she has had plenty of cardboard scratching posts available. She has been jealous of Ethel, and chased her off the bed.  And yet she has mostly been loving and sweet to us and to strangers, and always been a chow meow: looking for more food or another treat, especially Gouda cheese.  She has deeply appreciated many pleasures: human attention, sitting in the sun on the deck, naps, pats and scratches, food – lots of food — and a good lap.

We met our former neighbor and now dear friend Russell (and occasional house sitter/cat care provider) because she wandered over from our back yard to his (several yards down) and befriended him. One day, he approached me on the street saying “you’re Lucy’s mom!” Last Friday we shared our fondness for “the paw”: as Lucy’s appetite burgeoned over the last six months and she wanted an early morning feeding, she would gingerly walk up to your sleeping face and reach out with her paw to ‘ever so gently’ touch it. Once awake, she’d jump off the bed and assume you were following her down to the kitchen to feed her. If you closed your eyes again, she’d repeat “the paw”, and show you, again, the way down to the kitchen.

Over the past year, Lucy has lost her sway belly and extra weight, developed severe arthritis in her hip and back legs, and is now a skinny, tiny slip of a cat with a bony back. The vet diagnosed kidney disease earlier this year, but couldn’t explain her dramatic weight loss (12lbs to a mere 7+lbs). When we returned from our most recent Canadian adventure, she looked tired and pained. I have always thought of her as a young cat, even at over 14 years old, but now she seems old.

She walked onto my chest in the middle of the night late last week, and sat down for a bit. I’m pretty sure she asked me if she could go; I know she told me she loved me, and that she was tired, so very tired.  We have second-guessed ourselves any number of times about what to do, especially as her arthritis and pain meds have masked her discomfort. But she has spent most parts of most days under the bed, which cats do when they are hurt or in pain.  Either way, I am sad, so very sad.

We humans know – if we are lucky with our own mortality – that our lives will be much longer than those of any pets we invite into our lives. Yet we still do it, knowing we’ll have to say goodbye and grieve the loss. We do it because these creatures are so special in their animal ways, and they bring so much joy, love and companionship into our lives. They bridge us to our own animal parts and wildness while inviting us to be more humane. They remind us that being human means creating bonds, and deepening them even if we know they won’t last in this physical world.

We say goodbye to sweet Lucy today, wishing her peace, and with luck, a loving, fun reunion with Moses. I’m grateful that we found each other and that she has shared our lives these past 14 years.

She has been a very good cat.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes later…  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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Under Observation

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We arrived on Sunday at God’s Pocket for our week of scuba diving. After a glorious week of sun and fishing at the Cluxewe near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island North, we arrived to learn of a very low water supply on the island.  Surrounded by water and not a drop to drink! The universe has since provided: it has rained every day this week, sometimes torrentially.

The diving goes on in all weather, gale force winds or 3 meter seas excepted. I chose not to dive this week, but planned to go out on most of the trips.  Humpback whales have been common sightings, and I yearned to see more otter, seals, and especially, wolves, all possible from the boat.

On Monday, as the divers suited up on the deck, I felt myself tense in empathy: diving is an equipment intensive sport, and diving in cold water require layers of clothing – thick neoprene wetsuit or, more likely up here, sealed canvas or crushed neoprene dry suit with fleece body suit underneath – which is then layered with a hood, buoyancy vest, mask, etc. Getting ready to “get wet” can take up to 15 minutes, and by the time one is ready, the boat may not be. It gets hot and claustrophobic waiting for the signal to jump in the water. And then I relaxed with the realization of how relieved I was not to be on deck, suiting up.

I am an observer this week, not least in the context of diving, and I’ve mostly been fine with that.

David surfaced on the first dive of the week, the check-out dive, with air leaks in his buoyancy vest. Then his computer malfunctioned too. In assessing potential solutions for his diving, we both realized that he could use my vest and my computer. The universe provided: we had one vest and one computer between the two of us, only a good scenario if one of us wasn’t diving.

I have come to God’s Pocket for scuba diving six times over the last 12 years, and I remember the experience of many of the dive sites in this unique environment. As the divers surfaced, I could again empathize, this time with their descriptions of their experiences, their joy in an interesting, good dive. I have had brief moments of envy, of wishing I had chosen to dive this week, remembering the fun of being under the surface, reveling in the remarkable experience of breathing underwater.

This week has also been more people intensive: our charter consists of 12 vacationing people, many of them with large personalities.  The owners and crew add five people, so meals are talkative and loud, and the clubhouse is frequently full of people chatting, trying to be heard over each other. I have enjoyed skimming the surface of these gatherings, and escaping to the quiet of my room with a book.

My yearning for peace and quiet, so strong that I wrote about this vacation as a “misery” a month or so ago, is still palpable. I so want to be home, with the cats, not worrying about restoration and workers and dust, returning to a bit of routine, exercising with my bootcamp peeps, eating clean and eschewing the daily cocktails and wine, and, well, just being home. I have enjoyed our two weeks in British Columbia, but also know this week, with all these people in close quarters, has again pushed against my introversion and need for quiet and calm.

Today is the first of September, not technically fall, but still the path to shorter and colder days is well established as the rain on the roof now affirms.  My gap year is nearly three-quarters done… mostly not at all what I planned, and certainly not what I had envisioned. Still, I have an abundance of observations and insights to guide me and to inform these next four months.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes later…  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.