One Calling or Many in a Lifetime?

Sometimes it feels ironic that I am an academic advisor, helping college students figure out what they want to do with their lives and how they are going to get there, when I still haven’t figured out what to do with mine. Back in August 2019, when I wrote this post, I thought I had settled into a place of peace with this. And maybe I had for a while. But life certainly can take us in unexpected directions, turning what we thought we had figured out on its head, again and again.

Feeling unmoored lately and having to spend most of my time and energy in a direction I never expected, I have wondered if this is ultimately leading me to my “calling,” somewhere down the road.

When I came across these words by Jen Sincero a couple weeks ago, I found them tremendously comforting:

“Let yourself off the hook if you don’t have that one, big, perfect thing that you know you came here to do, and feel good about the fact that you’ll probably fulfill several callings throughout your life.”

Viewed from that perspective, I can see my current circumstances as not simply a limbo period, but as a calling for this time in my life. I think that can be healthy for any of us.

Another author I really like, Chris Guillebeau, said, “Finding the work you were meant to do is rarely a linear journey. It’s a process of exploring many little twists and turns that lead us to the place we ultimately belong.”

While I have found comfort and resonance in those words in the past, they still point to some “ultimate” destination, when we have figured it out.

Maybe, as Sincero, suggests, at least for many of us, it is less a matter of a journey—winding or not—that, one amazing day, finally leads us to the nirvana of the answer—our one, true calling.

Or maybe it is simply that there is no particular way that a life has to look and that each of us just has both the privilege (although it doesn’t always feel like a privilege) and the responsibility to do the best we can at any given moment. And that can be a calling, in and of itself.

Whatever “truth” there may or may not be, I find it more comforting to view where I am this particular moment in time as where I am supposed to be and to believe that I am called, right now, to rise to these circumstances. Maybe this period in my life will lead to another calling, influenced and inspired by my experiences in this one. Or maybe this calling and these times will just blur into my next phase of life, seamlessly, without clear demarcation.

It’s hard to say.

But I do think that there are benefits to viewing each phase of life as a calling for the moment because they are all part of our journey, whether or not we actively chose them or went to school for them or enjoy them. As an introspective introvert, I do a lot of thinking, and I can fall into valleys of existential angst pretty easily.  This idea helps to pull me back to more level ground. In a sense, it is a form of mindfulness, of accepting and being where we are and trying to live in this moment, applying our full resources to it. Here are some things that I find helpful toward that end:

  • Doing an activity that takes us to flow: No surprise—riding my bike is my most reliable way to achieve flow. You may find it with physical exercise, too. Walking, running, swimming and other solo(ish) pursuits may be the best way, but extroverts might be able to find it in social sports, as well. There are other ways to attain it. I think most people are familiar with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book about the concept of flow, a state in which we lose ourselves in an activity to the point that it alters our perception of time. That is a great way to be right in the current moment, without struggling with the feeling that we should have found the quintessential calling that awaits us out there behind some turn that we have not yet found.
  • Meditating: The primary point of mindfulness meditation is to be right where we are, without striving. Easier said than done, but it is a healthy practice. Yesterday, I did a lightly guided meditation following a yoga practice by Kassandra Reinhardt. She introduced the mantra “Sohum” (also “Soham”), which loosely translates from Sanskrit as “I am.” That mantra can remind us that we are . . . right here, right now.
  • Recalling our purpose and reflecting on how it applies in this moment, under these circumstances: How can we bring the overarching purpose of our lives (for me: “To add value through optimizing my strengths, talents, passions, resources and experiences in the service of living and promoting my core values: compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness.”) to the situation that is calling for our best, right in this moment? There is strength in exploring that question and discerning the answers.  I continue to make an effort to grow toward resilience, self-reliance and self-efficacy, as I mentioned in this recent post, Recognizing how I am “called” to apply my purpose to my present challenges helps me to find that growth and to be more resourceful and discover better ways to ameliorate our circumstances. Maybe that is even the ultimate “calling”—knowing what our values are and what our purpose is and finding ways to live from and within them in each phase of life.

Talking to my students, I know I am not the only one who struggles with existential angst. Moving forward, I’m going to try to keep Jen Sincero’s perspective on callings in mind so that I can further relieve pressure on myself and rise to address the needs of RIGHT NOW in the most productive, peaceful and helpful way possible.

What do you think? Do we have—or are we “supposed” to have—one, single calling that we are here to find and execute? Or is life really a series of callings, asking us to bring our best selves to the circumstances of the moment, whether those are in our professional or personal lives? Which perspective feels most comforting to you?


My Favorite Books in 2021

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.”

–William Somerset Maugham

Along with my bike, books provide reliable refuge from life’s difficulties and struggles. Although I read nonfiction, great books still feel like an escape. They are there to take me out of the moment and keep my mind from going to unhelpful places while I fold laundry or wash dishes, and they are there if I am unable to go back to sleep after waking in the night. I’m certainly hoping for less need for escape in 2022, but I know that books will be there for me, regardless of what unfolds. I’m currently reading and listening to books with the goal of finding solutions and resources for handling some of the toughest problems. Hopefully, these will ultimately prove worthy of appearing in next year’s list.

Here are the books that earned a place on this year’s list. They appear here for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s because beautiful writing kept me captivated throughout the book. Sometimes, it is a compelling story, even if the writing itself is not particularly artful. All of them are great books, though.

As in each of my previous annual “best books” lists, this list includes books that I rated 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads. They are listed alphabetically, by categories of my determination, and then alphabetically within those categories.

Business/Career


Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers
, by Lauren Sapala—I went back and forth about whether this would be a 3-star or 4-star review, but it ultimately won me over for the higher rating. A highly-sensitive, INFJ writer herself, Sapala shares her strategy for marketing her books and allied services in a way that feels true for her personality and personal style. I picked up some practical suggestions and felt understood.

Gutsy Glorious Life Coach: How to Turn Your Life Coaching Practice into a Soulful Money-Making Business, by Lin Eloff—Written by an attorney/life coach, this book contains a very handy checklist for any coach at any stage of business. Although I have completed some of the steps, I plan to work through all 46 steps to make sure I have covered all my business bases if I return to coaching as a business.

Health

Eat Smarter: Use the Power of Food to Reboot Your Metabolism, Upgrade Your Brain, and Transform Your Life, by Shawn Stevenson—I listened to this on audiobook, and Shawn Stevenson is a very entertaining writer and reader. He has a lot of valuable experience and shares a lot of good advice. Some of his food recommendations don’t mesh with my ethics, but the overall message of the book is good, with useful advice. He is clearly creative and is very enthusiastic.


How Healing Works: Get Well and Stay Well Using Your Hidden Power to Heal
, by Wayne Jonas—There is lots of important information in this book about using our minds to enable our healing powers.


How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss
, by Michael Greger—Dr. Greger is one of my favorite authors. Just like in How Not to Die, he curates and explains the best research around health, this time with an emphasis on weight loss. He outlines research that I have never heard and provides unique tweaks for increasing fat loss and giving ourselves the best chance to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It is long, but wonderful.


How to Survive a Pandemic
, by Michael Greger—I listened to this on audiobook, and Dr. Greger is as dynamic in reading it as he is in his videos. This is an extensively researched book that provides a fascinating history of pandemics, an explanation of why they happen and important suggestions for preventing future pandemics and for staying health as individuals and families. I am always impressed with Dr. Greger’s outstanding curation of research.


The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage
, by Kelly McGonigal—Kelly McGonigal is an author that I really admire.  I am a firm believer in the power of exercise to enhance our mental health. McGonigal shares several interesting stories illustrating this power.

No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear, by Kate Bowler—I listened to this on Audible and found it resonating with a touch (or more) of cynicism I have developed after recent life events. Bowler shares her journey through colon cancer, as a young mother and professor.

Stress Less, Accomplish More, by Emily Fletcher—I listened to this on audiobook after learning about Ziva Meditation through Jim Kwik. I was inspired to switch up my daily practice after listening. I find that I can’t follow exactly what she recommends, despite the fact that the style is designed to fit into busy lives. I do find the practice to be beneficial, however, and I loved her emphasis on making meditation an accessible, practical part of daily life.

History


Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
, by Nick Bilton—I liked this book so much more than I expected. That is largely a testament to Bilton’s excellent writing. I don’t even use Twitter, but I was fascinated to learn more about its backstory, which Bilton tells in a page-turning fashion. I felt like I really got to know each of the major players in Twitter’s history.

Memoir

Evolving into Wholeness: A Journey of Compassion, by Dianne Waltner—I’m so excited and proud to be able to include this book here. Full disclosure: Dianne is a good friend, and I was privileged to be an early reader. It was important to me to read it in book (Kindle) form when it was published, so I purchased and read it that way a second complete time. I enjoyed it even more that way. This is a courageous and honest story of Dianne’s journey from a Mennonite farm girl and family hatchery worker to a vegan and animal-rights activist, as well as her journey to learn to love herself enough to go alcohol free. Dianne’s story reveals her compassion for the animals, the planet, other people and herself. There is something for all of us to learn in this beautiful memoir.

How to Be Married: What I Learned from Real Women on Five Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage, by Jo Piazza—This is the second book by Jo Piazza that I have read. I ordered this one because I liked the first so much. I enjoyed this memoir of Piazza’s first year of marriage, which is unlike most. As a travel writer, it was full of travel and adventure, but also full of health and family stress and heartache. As she and her husband traveled, Piazza sought insight and advice about marriage from women around the world.


I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope
, by Chessy Prout—This book deals with the very important issue of sexual assault in high school. Chessy is so young—only in her early 20s—but she wrote a courageous book about her stand for justice after being raped as a high school freshman. She was attending a very prestigious boarding school and became ensnared in a boys’ game of sexual conquest. She shares her story to encourage other sexual assault survivors to seek justice and to help them realize they’re not alone, while raising awareness of issues of consent.


If I Live Until Morning: A True Story of Adventure, Tragedy and Transformation
, by Jean Muenchrath—This is the author’s story of both her mountaineering experience and the internal mountains she climbed throughout her adult life. It is fascinating from the standpoint of an outdoor adventure memoir, and it goes beyond that with the spiritual and psychological tools she has used to survive since her and recovery from a horrific mountain accident.

I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro—I was not aware of Tig Notaro or her comedy career prior to reading this book, but it was such a well-written memoir that I quickly became a fan. She shares her story of multiple layers of hardship stacked right on top of each other, as well as the story of how she survived and thrived. I was truly struck by the wisdom in these pages. It is a great book.


In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir
, by Bobi Conn—This memoir was depressing and painful to read sometimes. I had to skip past some parts about animal cruelty. Yet, it has an important message that was well-conveyed. All in all, the book is both interesting and tragic. It raises a lot of important questions about humanity, preconceived notions, exploitation and gender expectations.


It’s Not Yet Dark
, by Simon Fitzmaurice—The story behind this book is what is most amazing. Fitzmaurice wrote it with eye-gaze technology, ventilated and immobile in his wheelchair, due to ALS. The style is unusual, but the writing is beautiful.

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller—This was a very interesting memoir of Miller’s experience surviving a sexual assault while attending a fraternity party at Stanford University and then surviving the lengthy legal process as her assailant was tried for the crime and the aftermath following his sentencing. There are many important lessons in her story.


Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory
, by Deena Kastor—This is a fascinating memoir of Deena Kastor’s running career, from age 11 into her 30s. There are many lessons to be gleaned from her personal experience of triumph, defeat, injury and spiritual growth.

The Long Run: One Man’s Attempt to Regain His Athletic Career-And His Life-by Running the New York City Marathon, by Matt Long—This is an incredible story of courage and determination to return from devastating injuries to conquer major challenges. Matt Long’s personal growth and his commitment to turning his tragedy into good in the world are inspiring.

Look at You Now: My Journey from Shame to Strength, by Liz Pryor—I don’t quite understand the title of this book, but the story is powerful. It is a memoir of something I haven’t really seen addressed. Growing up in Catholic school in the 1980s, I remember a girl being asked to leave the school when she got pregnant. At the time, I wondered if the father had to leave school. This book tells Pryor’s story of being sent away and hidden when she got pregnant at 16. Forced by her family to lie, she kept the secret well into adulthood and decided to share it only when her own kids neared the age at which she got pregnant. There are many powerful lessons in this book.

Maybe You Die: The True Story of a Couple Living the All-American Nightmare, by Nancy Lee—This is a harrowing memoir of a relationship that went horrifically wrong and the shocking lack of accountability for an attempted murderer.

Mile 445: Hitched in Her Hiking Boots, by Claire Henley Miller—This is quite a remarkable story of Claire’s life-changing experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and meeting and marrying her husband in less than 30 days.

A Mind Unraveled, by Kurt Eichenwald—It is amazing that Eichenwald was able to write this book, with his memory as scarred as it is by years of uncontrolled epilepsy. His story is an important one—a cautionary tale about the importance of finding competent medical professionals, a lesson in self-advocacy, a study in discrimination in education and employment and a gift of hope and resilience. It was a captivating and compelling read.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, by Mark Lukach—This was a beautifully written account of Lukach’s family struggles with his wife’s mental health. Lukach and his wife Guilia are both courageous for sharing their story. Lukach’s devotion to a wife with periodic psychiatric hospitalizations is touching and poignant, and he shares what he has learned over several years about navigating the options for living with and treating mental illness. While the Lukachs’ struggles are different than the ones my family is facing, I still felt resonance when reading his account of the emotional roller coaster on which his family lives. This is a book that I was sad to finish.


Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76
, by Mary E. Davison—This book is an epic journey in itself, as it details Mary Davison’s arduous quest to complete the Triple Crown of hiking—the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trial—over a period of several years as a section hiker. The book is long, but relating the tale of over 10,000 miles takes a while. Although the detail seems more minute than necessary in many cases, her story is inspirational and encouraging, complete with wisdom for remaining active while handling the realities of aging. She doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of being an aging hiker, but she demonstrates a way to keep moving gracefully under those circumstances.

Old Man on a Bicycle: A Ride Across America and How to Realize a More Enjoyable Old Age, by Don Petterson—This is another journey memoir—my favorite type of memoir—by an older adult who took on a significant challenge. Pettersen rode from his New Hampshire home to San Francisco when he was 71 and 72. Stories like his and Davision’s give me encouragement that my future can still hold many adventures.

Parenting

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims—I bought this book after listening to Julie Lythcott-Haims speak on the “Rich Roll Podcast.”  I was so impressed with her in that interview and felt like this was information I really needed that I decided to get the audiobook and listen on my commute. While she does have so many good suggestions, I was often left with the question, “But what if your child really is making truly bad decisions?” That was not really answered. She seemed to be talking to parents whose kids were stressed because of pressures to get into Stanford or Harvard. A lot of the critical reviews of this book center around the belief that Lythcott-Haims was talking only to the privileged elite. I took less issue with that than I did with the unanswered questions around young people of any socioeconomic status who make choices that endanger their lives and wreck their future.

Personal Development

Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable, by Jamie Kern Lima—I listened to this on audiobook. Lima does a great job of delivering an inspirational message through a memoir of her personal life experience. I was not familiar with her cosmetic company, but I really enjoyed learning about her journey and the lessons she has internalized along the way.


Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals
, by MJ Ryan—This is a simple, but powerful strategy for changing behavior. These mantras are different than affirmations. They are intended as reminders and/or resets when we want to adopt or lose a habit. The concept is simple to learn. There are several terrific mantras. Even if there is not one for your particular goal, you can easily learn to apply the strategy and create your own.


The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
, by Chris Guillebeau—Chris Guillebeau is one of my favorite authors, podcasters and thought leaders. I listen to him regularly and have read several of his books. This one features individuals who have taken on some type of quest. Many in the book, including Guillebeau’s own quest, feature some type of travel. Others take place closer to home. They are all fascinating and thought-provoking stories.

t’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, by Julia Cameron—This is one of the most important books I have ever read. The subtitle doesn’t really describe the book, in my opinion, but it was wonderful, nonetheless. The objective of the book is actually to help people craft a retirement of purpose and meaning. I initially thought this might not be the right time for me to read it, but it was beautifully written, so I kept reading, and it turned out to be transformative. It helped me decide to resume my blog, after a three-month self-care pause, although I have continued to write only as my inspiration and time lead me to write, rather than on any particular schedule. I made peace with releasing my striving to build a coaching practice or an audience for a book proposal and even with writing the book I had been writing for nearly a year and a half. It introduced Cameron’s conception of GOD–Good, Orderly Direction—which I find tremendously helpful and comforting. It was the right book at the right time, and I am thankful.

Let Your Fears Make You Fierce: How to Turn Common Obstacles into Seeds for Growth, by Koya Webb—Written by a fellow Wichita State University Shocker, this book shares what she has learned through the adversity of collegiate and post-collegiate sports injuries. She is now a yoga teacher and life coach in California. Her writing is upbeat and encouraging.


Limitless: Core Techniques to Improve Performance, Productivity, and Focus
, by Jim Kwik—There are so many actionable ideas for improving our brains and our lives in this book. Kwik is immensely likable and has done meticulous research to write a fascinating and useful book for thinking better, reading faster, remembering more easily and so much more.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living, by Jason Gay—Jason Gay shares quite a bit of wisdom in a very entertaining way in this hard-to-categorize book. It was part memoir, part “rule book,” as he called it. It made me laugh out loud at times, and it also contained worthwhile food for thought.

Psychology

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross—This book has many great suggestions for using our inner voice to help us, rather than torment us. I really appreciate it because it resonates with my messaging of choosing and directing our perspectives to upgrade our lives. There are many practical ideas.

The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, by Jonathan Rauch—This excellent book gave me hope and helped me understand what I now call my midlife malaise. I featured it in this blog post.

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, by John Leland—Although written by a different author a few months earlier than Rauch’s book, this book sometimes felt like a sequel to The Happiness Curve. Leland shares his stories from a year spent interacting with people aged 85 and older. Each one taught him a lesson. I wrote about this book here.

How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, by Matt Fitzgerald—Fitzgerald presents the psychobiological model of endurance. With my interest in mind-body synergy, I was intrigued by the information he presented about how the mind affects the body and how athletic efforts and experience affect the mind

Sociology

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, by Jessica Bruder—Bruder did an amazingly thorough job of describing the fascinating phenomenon of modern nomadic living in the US. She spent years traveling with and getting to know a group of nomads that had previously escaped my awareness. I knew that there was a trending movement of vandwelling, and I know that some retirees sell their homes and travel the country in their luxury RVs. Of course, I was also aware of people living in their cars because of homelessness. The nomads featured in this book had some similarities with people in all these categories, yet they were different, too. Many of them are retired, and many are living a nomadic life in order to eliminate their most costly expense—housing. I was completely unaware that they actually have a nomadic community—spending part of the year working as Amazon Camperforce employees and part of the year as camp hosts or beet harvesters. They fall under the general label of “workampers” and have an annual desert gathering called Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. This was an enlightening and interesting book. There is a movie by the same name that is now on my list to watch.

True Crime

Hijacked: The True Story of The Heroes of Flight 705, by Dave Hirschman—This is a fascinating account of a hijacking I don’t remember. Three courageous pilots worked together to create a happy ending out of a near-tragic ordeal.

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood, by Gregg Olsen—This was an incredible story of unimaginable abuse and murder. It is a book that really makes you think about human cruelty, human kindness and human resilience. It was both fascinating and horrifying. In the end, I was left with a sense of hope inspired by the three sisters who were at the center of nightmare.


Incident at Big Sky: The Inside Story of the Search for Two Savage Killers in Montana
, by Johnny France—This was a really good book. It was different than a lot of true crime books because the emphasis was more on the manhunt than on solving the mystery of who committed the crime. It felt like a combination of true crime and outdoor adventure because of the rugged natural setting where the crimes occurred. I really enjoyed it.

The Michigan Murders, by Edward Keys—This was a very well-written book about a series of murders of young women in the area around Ann Arbor, Michigan. While the crimes were horrific, the story about hunt for the murderer was fascinating.

To Kill and Kill Again: The Terrifying True Story of Montana’s Baby-Faced Serial Sex Murderer, by John Coston—This audiobook was so engrossing that I drove clear past Augusta and realized I was coming into El Dorado on my way to a BAK Bike Rally workday. The story is both horrific and fascinating and is very well written and very well read.

My hope for 2022 is that we will all have a great year, both in reading and in life.

Happy New Year!


The New Year As a Blank Slate for Growth

This blog post was inspired by my cousin-in-law Pam’s recent post on her business Facebook page. She said, “I love that pause right before my needle enters a fresh and blank fabric. At that moment, the possibilities are endless. This cross stitch project could be the best yet!!!” I commented that I recognized that feeling as the same one I get at the beginning of a warm-weather, early-morning bike ride. Pam is a cyclist, too, so she understood what I meant. Her post got me thinking about other times I feel that way. The start of a new year is one of them. As we move closer to 2022, I feel a touch of that blank-slate-anything-is-possible excitement, but it’s different this year. This blank slate feels tinged with 2021 soot that won’t wash off so easily—like we picked it up at Walls, the fire-sale store where I remember quizzically thumbing through lightly-damaged, water-stained or sooty merchandise while growing up in Oklahoma City.

Vintage texture old paper background isolated on white

I’m neither a cross stitcher nor an artist of any other kind, but I decided on my bike yesterday that although 2022 will begin colored by the stains of 2021, I can choose what I do with that blemished blank slate. I can choose to cover it with new “art” in the form of growth and wisdom, not in an attempt to pretend the damage hasn’t been done or that more isn’t possible, but in determination to become someone better and stronger through the struggles. Ultimately, there are many unknowns because I can’t control anyone else’s choices or behavior, but I can decide to learn and grow and evolve, regardless of what happens. We all have that choice, although it can be incredibly hard to recognize in the moments when life keeps throwing obstacles and unwelcome surprises at us in a seemingly endless barrage.

I usually set New Year’s goals—things I want to accomplish and changes I want to make—and I am pretty good at following through on them. I was taking consistent action on my 2021 goals, but I made a conscious decision to release them in April because it became clear that I had to handle other priorities. I had reached a crisis point, and it was necessary to relieve some of the pressure on myself. I had to give up something, and my in-progress book and business were what I could give up. That’s why this blog has become so infrequent. I’m not setting goals for 2022 because life and the future still feel very uncertain, and I am not in control of how they unfold. For the foreseeable future, my attention and energy are going to have to be spent in a way that will leave little space for my personal goals. But I commit to growing in resilience, self-reliance and self-efficacy in 2022. I will trust that I am capable of handling what I need to handle and of making good decisions to steer my family in the right direction. I’m good at finding resources and creating plans. Those are things I have done professionally as a case manager and as an advisor. It’s what I do when I plan bike routes. It is what I do when I create structure and ritual to bring order to my daily life. I will focus on my commitment to growth in 2022. And I choose to believe that someday I will find my way back to the setting more personal goals around things I want to accomplish and create and ways I want to, and am called to, contribute to the greater good for our world. I will do this from a wiser, clearer place because of the growth that I will achieve in this less-obviously-productive time. Even though aspects of life feel indefinitely paused and contingent upon choices that are out of my control, I will take care of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health as well as I can because I know doing so is crucial to my ability to show up and face life’s challenges every day. Focusing on growing in resilience, self-reliance and self-efficacy will prevent stagnation in this pause. On my bike yesterday, I repeated this affirmation: “I am resilient, self-reliant and capable.” When I say it to myself on the bike, I believe it. By being consistent with my meditation, yoga and journaling practices, I am better able to continually reconnect with the strength and power I feel on the bike and apply it to the rest of life.

There are many ways to approach a new year. It is important to honestly assess our present circumstances—those we can change and those we can’t—as we prepare to hang up our new calendars, so that we can make realistic commitments to ourselves and to those to whom we have responsibilities in order to learn what we need to learn and grow as we need to grow in the next 365 days.

Although I am not sure where I am ultimately going with this blog or with many other things in my life, I will continue to write when I am inspired and when I can make it fit because writing nourishes my soul and helps me make sense of things I need to understand. My only goal for my writing at this moment is to create something that adds even a little value, whether to those who read what I write or simply to the vibrational energy in the universe. I’ll be publishing my annual “best books” post in the next few days, because reading is also good for the soul. I wish us all a safe, happy, healthy, peaceful 2022.


Sacred Space

I surpassed my mileage goal for the year on my bike today. It’s not unprecedented mileage–nothing I haven’t done in previous (though not all) years. Yet it feels deeply significant this year. It is a tiny bit of success in a year characterized by a sense of failure, disappointment, loss, sadness, fear and a host of other negative feelings.

Over the past several rides, I have pondered the concept of sacred space. I am keenly aware that the bike is that for me, and I have become more and more convinced that we all need our version of sacred space in our lives.

I believe that what constitutes sacred space is unique for each of us. For some it will be a traditional religious space, like a church or synagogue or mosque. For others it will be an object, like rosary beads, or a holy book. Nature is sacred space for some, and it certainly overlaps with the bike for me. Riding an indoor trainer doesn’t even come close to power of an outdoor ride to lift my spirits and touch my soul.

Regardless of the particular manifestation of sacred space for an individual, I think there are certain elements common to all such spaces:

  • Sacred space evokes a sense of awe—not necessarily every moment, but frequently. It provides an opportunity to connect to Something Greater than we are. At least at times when in our sacred space, we feel the presence of our Source Energy, protecting us and encouraging us to keep going, amid the inevitable challenges that life presents. We feel less alone, if only for fleeting moments. I feel this on my bike when the Kansas wind pushes me from one direction or another and when the sun warms me. I feel it when I can see for miles and am reminded of the vastness of the earth. I feel it in a sunrise, blossoming with possibility and in a sunset, bathing the landscape with beauty.
  • Sacred space immerses us in gratitude. Connected to the sense of awe we feel in our sacred space, gratitude emerges spontaneously as we experience the magic that happens there. We recognize that having sacred space and the freedom to be in it are gifts. I am fully aware of the privilege it is to be able to ride my bike. So many gifts are involved in creating that privilege—health, drive to ride, freedom to ride, a nice bike and good gear, reasonably safe roads. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the gifts that coalesce to allow me to partake of the sacred space of a bike ride.
  • Sacred space gives us hope. It can help us peek out, even from dark holes, to see that there is still good around us. We are generally uplifted when we are in our sacred space, granted a much-needed break from drudgery and struggle. So many times, Kenny and I have said, “If life were just as simple as bike ride . . ..”  Some bike rides are hard! But they are usually (though not always) simple. We turn pedal stroke after pedal stroke, over and over again, grinding into a headwind, resisting the push of a crosswind or sailing gleefully with a tailwind. We know we will reach our destination if we just preserve.
  • Sacred space helps us to be better humans. This can happen in a lot of ways. In part, it is because of what sacred space helps us to release, and, in part, it is because of what sacred space gives us. When I got on the bike today, I was nearly nauseous with a swarm of anxious butterflies in my stomach. After about six miles, I noticed they were settling down. After a couple more, my stomach felt calm. Several miles later, feeling warmed by the sun and moving vigorously in the tailwind, I felt happy. I had released what I needed to release into my sacred space, and I was picking up inspiration and hope and the courage to persevere once I got off the bike.
  • Sacred space inspires us. This can happen in what feel like beneficent lightning bolts, or it can happen more subtly. It can feel exciting, moving us to create, to contribute, to give back to the world. I write in my head when I ride. I solve problems. Even if some solutions elude me, I get a little closer to finding answers, or at least I get off the bike more open to creative solutions than I was when I got on it.
  • Sacred space creates a sense of community, even when we are alone. I ride by myself almost all the time, just because that is what life offers me, but I still feel a sense of camaraderie and community with every cyclist I encounter. I met and briefly rode with another cyclist yesterday. I didn’t know him, and we only rode together for a mile or so before I turned south to head home, and he continued east to return to Wichita, but, in that brief span of time, it was clear that we understood each other, and it felt good. We both recognized what a gift it was to be riding in sunshine, with temperatures in the 60s, in late November. It was a brief, but powerful, exchange of positive energy.
  • Sacred space reminds us of who we are and what we can do. I think this has been the biggest key for me this year. I have felt like a failure in so many ways over the past many months, but I met my mileage goal for the year, and that feels good. Cycling has been one of the few arenas of life where I have experienced a sense of accomplishment this year. I knew I wanted to complete the century route on the BAK Bicycle Rally over Labor Day weekend. Even though neither Kenny nor any of my friends rode the long loop, I went by myself, without hesitation, (and met another cyclist in Sterling who finished the ride with me) and completed 104 miles. Like my mileage goal for the year, it was not the first time I had done that distance, but it felt sweeter than ever—probably than even my first century in 1999—this year because so much of life off the bike has felt so unsuccessful. When I get on my bike, I feel stronger and more powerful and more capable than in any other role or place in life. Cycling, although I have loved it for a long time, has become more crucial than ever for my mental health and overall sense of well-being. It is so much more than exercise or a hobby. When I face challenges in other areas of life, I can recall epic rides and remember what I can do, what I have already endured. I find comfort in my identity as an endurance athlete and carry that endurance mentality with me into the rest of life, drawing on it for confidence and courage.

Cycling checks all the above boxes for me. My bike is my most important sacred space. But your sacred space may look very different than two wheels on an open road. It doesn’t really matter what or where it is. What is important is how it makes us feel and who it helps us to be in the world. And I firmly believe that we all need some version of sacred space. I don’t know what I would do without mine. That said, I am poignantly reminded, just by looking around, that I could lose it in an instant. There are no guarantees in life. That makes each ride an even more valuable gift. It is more difficult to ride this time of year, with shorter days and colder temperatures, but I prioritize it as much as possible for all the above reasons. I encourage each of you to honor your own need for sacred space and to make room and time for it, as hard as it can be in a busy and unpredictable life. My meditation cushion and yoga mat are supplementary sacred spaces since I can’t ride every day at this point in life. I am grateful for them, too. My sense of accomplishment in those spaces is mostly about consistency. I have meditated every day for over four years, and I have done bedtime yoga (along with yoga at other times most weeks) every single night since April 1, 2021. Both are vital aspects of my self-care, and both meet the criteria I outlined above, although my bike is the ultimate sacred space for me.

A question I ask myself on the bike is, “How does this help me to make a positive contribution in the world?” The answer to that is still unfolding, and maybe it always will be. Besides helping me to function better and to be more stable, I decided that part of my current obligation to express gratitude for the gift of my sacred space of cycling is to share the insights I receive while inhabiting that space. I felt inspired to write this post, and I hope doing so will make a bit of difference to someone. It is really important to me to make a positive difference, and I feel constrained in my ability to do so under my present circumstances. So, I have a responsibility to use what I have. And, thankfully, my time on the bike is something I have right now.

I worry that this post may seem a little cryptic—alluding to a very difficult time of life, without elaborating or providing details. That is not my intent at all. The fact is that our stories often involve other people, so we have to be mindful of how much we share. I hope that by being vulnerable enough to share that I am struggling and finding life really hard right now, someone will read this and find strength in knowing she is not alone in feeling battered by the crosswinds of life. I hope that someone else will read it and know that, even if he has tried his very hardest to make good decisions, things still go wrong sometimes. It doesn’t mean he has made bad decisions. Maybe he can release a bit of shame and guilt and regret because he knows this happens to other people, too.

I’ll admit to picking up a heavy dose of cynicism over that past 18 months. I do not believe platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s God’s plan,” or “Everything is unfolding in perfect timing.” But I do believe that we all have a choice to grow through our tests and trials, and I am committed to doing that. Writing helps me process, and I hope it helps me give back to the Universe by supporting others on their journeys in some small way.

I am grateful for the sacred space of my bike. It is hard to get off of it and go back to the rest of life after a ride, where I can’t control other people’s actions or words, but I can look at the bracelet I wear with the link from a bicycle chain and remember again who I really am and what I can do. That helps me endure.

I have seen this Reno County road sign on dozens of rides this year alone, but it really spoke to me today.

Victory.”

I took the fact that it caught my attention today as a sign of hope from the Universe. I am not in victory yet, and I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but the idea of achieving some version of it spurs me forward and instills even more gratitude for my sacred space. I hope you know what your sacred space is (If you don’t, start paying attention to where you experience the characteristics I outline above.), and I hope you honor your need for going there. Doing so will be a gift to all of us because it will allow you to contribute to the greater good, to put positive energy into the world and recharge yourself to keep moving forward even when life is hard.

When we recognize the gift of sacred space in our lives, I believe we have a responsibility to go there as often as we can and use the growth we experience there to add value in the world.


An Unexpected Benefit of Acting on Curiosity

Pedaling in the strong, chilly wind this afternoon, I was rocked by the wake of a huge flatbed semi, hauling six or eight massive bales of cotton—fluffy, white centers in pink wrappers. No match for Kansas wind, the tightly-packed bales were shedding cotton balls as the truck barreled south. A curious thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if those cotton balls feel like the ones we buy in the store.” Spontaneously, I slowed to a stop, clipped out of my pedal and leaned over to collect one. It felt similar, but with a seed in it. I smiled at the softness, touched my cheek with it and then put it in the pocket of my windbreaker to bring home.

The cotton ball and the act of collecting it sparked an inspiration.

Prior to picking up the cotton ball, I had been battling the wind, riding more slowly and feeling colder than I wanted. I had also been thinking—one of my favorite of the countless benefits I find in cycling.

This year has been the hardest of my life. It’s not over, nor are the challenges, but I won’t dwell on that here. The inspiration of the cotton ball stirred a desire to write that has been absent for most of the last seven months. Before encountering the cotton truck, I had been asking myself versions of the question, “What do I want to do with my life moving forward?” Any kind of satisfying answer eluded me. The only thing that held any real interest once I really considered it was finding a way to get paid for reviewing cycling gear and adventures. That feels more like a fantasy than a possibility, but who knows?

Cycling, reading writing, vegan living. Those are the steadfast passions that have remained throughout this year of stress and loss and fear. Those are the pillars that have continued to sustain me and ground me.

But writing. That’s what was bothering me before I picked up the cotton. Writing felt too hard, too daunting, too overwhelming. One more thing. And I can’t handle one more thing.

But curiosity led me to pick up the cotton. What did it feel like? In the instant that I picked it up, I felt inspired by the idea of curiosity—both writing and living from a place of curiosity. I recognized that I had allowed curiosity to guide me yesterday when approaching a persistent challenge. It served our family in yesterday’s experiment, and I think it has potential as a guiding principle in other aspects of life.

When I acted on my curiosity and stopped to pick up the cotton, I suddenly felt like writing. So, I am. I promised myself on the bike that I could just write, publish the post to my blog and share it on Facebook—no pressure to send to my mailing list or worry about how many (if any) people would read it. I would just write and post and see what feels good from here. I would write with curiosity.

Since recognizing and honoring the need for a self-care break in April, I have put everything except the necessities on hold—writing a book, building a coaching business, publishing blog posts on a schedule, all the things I believed were goals for my future. I’m not ready to return to any of those things, and I’m not sure I will. I recently heard the term “The Great Reassessment” on a podcast. It was mentioned in reference to the global reassessment that all of us are experiencing to a greater or lesser extent, due to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Certainly, that is part of my experience, too, but the upheaval in my personal life has generated an even greater reassessment for me. Everything I thought I wanted to build feels flat now. Daily life has been reduced to surviving and trying to make the best, healthiest decisions for myself and my family in each given moment. The calculated nature of these decisions is exhausting. There is little room for anything else besides that and a job that is requiring more hours and more energy than I really have to give. I don’t write those things in self-pity. They are just the facts of my current state, and it is from this place that I was thrilled to feel the spark of inspiration that acting on my curiosity about the cotton ignited in me.

Maybe I’ll write consistently again. Maybe I won’t or can’t. Either way, I am committing to myself that I will trust curiosity to lead me to the next thing. Whatever that is. The next step on my path. The next place to which I am called. The next action I should take.

I think I will try on “curiosity” as a mantra in tomorrow morning’s meditation. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but that is the point. Curiosity is about listening to the things that spark our interest and then acting on them to see what happens.

I don’t know if this post will resonate with or benefit anyone else, but it feels like self-care today, and I am trying to trust and follow my intuition and instincts about what I need. Toward that end, curiosity is an attribute worth cultivating.

Navigating life with curiosity requires an open mind and a willingness to be wrong. I think taking a chance to trust curiosity sometimes comes from a place of having little to lose by trying a different approach. That’s where it feels like I am right now. I put the cotton ball in a special dish on my dresser. I’m grateful to it and its wind-blown friends for making me feel like writing again. Even if it is just for today. It feels nurturing in this moment, and I am choosing to trust that. When I set out on this afternoon’s ride, I didn’t expect to find inspiration floating from a passing flatbed, but I am grateful that I was open to curiosity and to where acting on it might lead. The cotton ball on my dresser will remind me to remain curious. I believe it may be a key to moving through our challenges in a more creative way. The gift of writing helps me to process and understand, and just maybe sharing my story will inspire a reader to act on curiosity and benefit from the results.