Powerful Questions



What is the Gift? I’m not talking about the actual physical gift delivered to your door from Amazon. I’m talking about something much more abstract and very difficult to find. I’m talking about the Gift in your pain or life struggle.

WHAAAAAT? That’s crazy talk, right? “There’s no Gift in my pain or my struggles!” you say. Well, yes, there is.

As human beings, when faced with a painful dilemma or difficult struggle, it’s our natural instinct to fix it, solve it, fight it, avoid it, and even run from it. Sometimes we can’t fix it or solve it or fight it. It just is.

For example, I’m thinking of diseases like Alzheimer’s or alcoholism or diabetes. Your mother has Alzheimer’s. Your daughter is an active alcoholic. You are a diabetic. There’s no fix, no solution, no cure. You can try to fight each disease, but you won’t win. They are all incurable diseases. It’s painful and it’s a struggle. The emotions actually HURT in our body. Now what?

Our next instinct is to avoid or run from the pain or struggle. We have SO MANY ways to avoid our pain… Food, drinking (“It’s just a couple glasses of wine!”), shopping (“It was on sale!”), social media, work, isolating so we don’t have to talk about it, etc. You get what I’m saying. At the end of the day, we STILL have our pain and our struggle. We try so hard to avoid it, but it keeps coming around. Now what?

Well, you have a choice. You can keep running on the hamster wheel of “fix it, solve it, fight it, avoid it,” OR you can start searching for the Gift. There truly is a Gift within all our pain and struggles. We find the Gift when we embrace the pain and the struggle (UGH!) and when we stop fighting and running (ICK!).

“How do we do THAT?” you ask. Here it is, simple, but not easy: Stop, breathe, close your eyes and step into the pain. Stand in it. Be present. FEEL IT with all its discomfort and ugliness swirling around you. Resist the strong urge to run. Be uncomfortable. The Gift is right there in the middle of it all. Find it and receive it. There is power and freedom in the Gift. What is the Gift?

“We may thank God that we can feel pain and know sadness, for these are the human sentiments that constitute our glory as well as our grief.”

~ Eugene C. Kennedy, author and Professor of Psychology

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“If you expect nothing, you will never be disappointed.” Has anyone ever said that to you? It’s been said to me before, but I don’t buy it. How can a human being expect nothing?

We can’t. It’s impossible. We ALL have expectations. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations. What gets tricky is the TYPE of expectation. Simple expectations — like I expect the sun to come up each morning, I expect to enjoy my first cup of coffee, I expect the news to be dominated by our President’s latest tweet, I expect January in Minnesota to be cold — are safe, predictable expectations.

But what happens when our expectations are based upon the behaviors of others? What happens when we expect people to act and behave in ways they simply cannot — for whatever reason. I call those contingency expectations. Meaning: fulfillment of my expectation is contingent upon your behavior.

Uh oh. Since I have no control over how others behave, contingency expectations end in disappointment more times than not. Ugh. People will disappoint us AND we will disappoint people. That’s a painful beautiful truth of being human.

So, now what? Well, we dig into the only solution available: stop expecting people to be different than who they are. People show us who they are every time we interact with them. For example, if your aunt behaves like a jerk every time you interact with her, odds are she’ll behave like a jerk the next time as well. Avoid the expectation that maybe this time she’ll be nice. If your best friend has a drinking problem and gets drunk every time you go out, odds are he’ll get drunk the next time as well. Avoid the expectation that maybe this time he won’t drink.

People are who they are. We can’t change them. We can only adjust, shift, and change OURSELVES. We all have the ability to shift from contingency expectations to REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

The shift comes from within, by honestly acknowledging what’s going on and reality checking your expectations. By asking yourself, “What do I expect?” you give yourself the power, permission, and insight to look at the person for who they really are. You get to choose the realistic expectation that’s best for YOU.

This week notice your expectations. Ask yourself, “What do I expect?” from this situation or person. THEN ask yourself if this is a realistic expectation. If it’s not realistic, what can YOU do to shift your expectation? There’s power in the shift.

In the words of British journalist and author India Knight, “Be realistic with your expectations. I’d really like to cuddle with a unicorn, but it ain’t going to happen.”

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Have you ever really thought about these questions: What will be your contribution? What will you leave behind? What will people say about you? Does it even matter? Wow, I sure hope it does.

Let’s think about those people throughout history who have made a contribution. There’s Jesus Christ, of course. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s no denying the significant contribution he left behind. There’s Vincent Van Gogh. Whether you’re an art lover or not, we’ve all heard of him and know he’s a famous painter who changed art forever with his contribution. There’s Martin Luther King, Jr. You cannot be an American and not know of his profound contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

So, who are YOU and what’s your contribution? I understand we can’t all be Jesus’s, or Vincent’s, or MLK’s. However, we all have within each of us the ability and resources to make OUR OWN contribution.

There’s a quote by theologian Howard Thurman that states:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes YOU come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I love that – “people who have come alive.” What makes you come alive? How can you make this your contribution?

Maybe you come alive when you knit. Perhaps your contribution could be to donate your creations to a homeless shelter. Maybe you come alive when you fix car engines. How can your love for car engines be a contribution? Perhaps you teach your daughter and her friends how to check and change the car oil, or maybe you teach a basic car engine class for the local community education. Maybe you come alive when you hold babies. You could volunteer to rock the babies at a children’s hospital or daycare center.

The examples could go on and on. The point is, find the thing or things that make you come alive and let yourself create YOUR contribution. It’s usually at this point when your Inner Critic rears its ugly little head and tells you there’s nothing you have that’s worth contributing. Such a total lie. Rise up and put that nasty voice behind you where it belongs.

You see, it’s not about doing it right or having the proper education or having enough money or whatever else gets in the way of finding your contribution. It’s truly about sharing with others what makes you come alive. So, now ask yourself: What makes me come alive? What will be my contribution to the world? Now, go out and do it.

“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” –Vincent Van Gogh

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I believe a single year is made up of 365 opportunities – at least. Opportunity is everywhere. Each day we have an opportunity to shift or change our perspective in any given situation no matter how difficult the situation is. Each day we have an opportunity to live from the place of “what’s possible?” rather than from our circumstances.

We are surrounded by opportunity, but do we see it? Thomas A. Edison said, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” That quote makes me smile because it’s SO TRUE!

How many times do we miss an opportunity simply because we refuse to SEE the opportunity? We get stuck in the negative perspective, which says: this is a burden, this as an unsolvable problem, he/she will never change, that’s how we’ve always done it, it is what it is so don’t bother.

Ugh. I feel heavy just reading that.

Let’s switch it up – let’s see the opportunity. “This is a burden” could turn into an opportunity to accept and meet a challenge. “This is an unsolvable problem” could turn into an opportunity to ask for help and work alongside others to solve the problem. “He/she will never change” could turn into an opportunity to change how YOU respond to the person or situation. “That’s how we’ve always done it” could turn into an opportunity to EXPLORE other options that offer more joy. “It is what it is, so don’t bother” could turn into an opportunity to DISCOVER a more resonate or desired outcome.

You see? It’s all about recognizing the opportunity, even when “it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” For the next 5 days, ask yourself, “What’s my opportunity today?”

Watch for it. It will show up. Then act – do not hesitate. In the words of Jack Sparrow, “If you were waiting for the opportune moment, that was it.”

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There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” That’s the definition of resilient. Every time we get back up, we become more resilient.

But, here’s my question… If we keep falling down, why do we keep getting up? Why don’t we just stay down there? We’re going to fall again, right? What’s the point of all this getting up? There must be a point, or we all would have stopped getting up a long time ago, right? What drives us to keep getting up?

The answer is Hope and Connection. The Hope that it will get better, and the Connection with someone who knows it will.

Hope comes from experience. We experience Hope every time someone shares a “fall down” story with us. It helps us get back up. We experienced Hope every time our mom told us “it will be ok.” Hope comes from those around us. Maybe they’ve gone through the same struggle, or maybe they simply know every struggle passes. They give us their Hope. With their Hope, we become resilient.

However, we cannot receive Hope without a Connection to others. We connect with others by TALKING ABOUT OUR STRUGGLES. When we share our struggles with a trusted friend, we give meaning to the friendship AND provide the opportunity for them to pass along their Hope.

“We have to be willing to break in order to become,” writes author Jeanette LeBlanc. Where there’s Connection, there’s Hope, and then Resilience follows. Hope + Connection = Resilient.

This week, let’s notice how many times we get back up, and notice who provided us the Hope and Connection to do so. Then, share your resilience with another.

Photo Credit: Anneliese Phillips

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There’s an old adage that says, “The things we resist, persist.” Isn’t that the truth?

Ask yourself, “What am I resisting?” Be honest. I’m talking about the kind of honesty that’s uncomfortable. The kind of honesty that brings out your Inner Champion, Your Captain. Because when Your Captain comes forth, that fear-speaking voice inside your head doesn’t stand a chance. Get honest and acknowledge what you are resisting.

Whew! It feels better already to simply have permission.

Nine times out of ten, we are resisting a change of some sort. Maybe you want to go back to school. Maybe you want to travel. Maybe you want to pursue your art. Maybe you want a different job. Maybe you want to retire. Maybe you want to quit drinking. Maybe you want to end your unhealthy relationship. Maybe you want to have that difficult conversation with your teenager.

Honestly acknowledge what you are resisting. You don’t have to take any action – just acknowledge it. Sit with it. Write it down on post-it notes. Place the notes where you will see them several times a day. Get used to the idea. “Lean into it,” as author Sheryl Sandberg would say. Give it space in your head. Imagine WHAT’S POSSIBLE if you stop resisting.

This week bring out Your Captain to shoo that fear-speaking voice away and acknowledge what you are resisting. Just own it.

Photo Credit: goodtherapy.org

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We all have a Captain within us. Most of the time we don’t acknowledge it as Our Captain, but it’s definitely there… just waiting to be called upon.

Now, before we can go any further with all this Captain-talk, close your eyes and visualize yourself stepping out of your guarded comfort circle. Only when we intentionally step out of our self-imposed comfort zone and see beyond the limits of what we believe is “realistic,” can we access our Captain within.

Your Captain is your inner leader, your visionary who is always in command, whether you know it or not. It’s that calm, wise whispering voice within each of us that is filled with compassion, clarity, certainty, and courage. Your Captain believes in you completely. Your Captain is fearless and relentless in pursuit of what’s best for you. Your Captain has always been a part of you; you were born with it.

For many of us, it’s difficult to hear our Captain. Our inner critic can be SO LOUD. You know what I’m talking about: that critical inner voice telling us we shouldn’t take risks, we might fail, we’re not good enough, we’re not strong enough, don’t rock the boat, stay within your comfort zone, blah, blah, blah. Such a loud annoying voice, isn’t it? It takes patience and commitment to hear and FOLLOW your Captain’s wise whispering voice.

Your Captain is your true, authentic, real self. It’s that huge part of you that is wise, strong, compassionate, and courageous. It’s the risk-taker.

Here’s your challenge for this week: Find your Captain. Live from your Captain. Rise up and get BIG.

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A LOT! Remember all those times when FEAR stopped you from doing what you really wanted to do? You see, FEAR talks to us. It’s that little voice in our head that says STOP.

Now, to be fair, I’m glad FEAR intervenes and says STOP if I’m about to cross the street on a red light or go for a walk alone at 2:00 am. FEAR is our natural, God-given safety valve. But what happens when this safety valve of FEAR seeps into every aspect of our lives? What’s the personal cost?

We get stuck, and we stay stuck. We can’t move because FEAR whispers “you will fail,” so we stay safe. We don’t move forward. We don’t try new things. We don’t become who we were created to be. We stay safe. We rob ourselves of our own creativity and greatness all because of FEAR.

Know this: We all have the capacity to take away FEAR’s power. It’s true. FEAR is always with us – we need it, but it doesn’t need to rule us.

It’s EMPOWERING to step out of the FEAR and take a risk, like go for that promotion, quit the high-paying job you hate for the lower-paying job you love, submit that article for publication (or rejection), learn to snowboard, write your novel, set boundaries with your in-laws, be vulnerable with your spouse or a friend, and do that one thing you’ve been afraid to do – whatever it is. What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail, right? What’s the greatest that could happen? You could succeed and achieve and move forward! We must be prepared to fail — so that we can succeed —
otherwise, we simply stay stuck.

This week, step out of the FEAR and trust your power and greatness. Remember the old adage: “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.”

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Admittedly, not many people walk around bearing or carrying their own personal flag. But if we did, if that type of behavior was commonplace, what would your flag be?

Each flag tells a story. The American flag tells the story of our original 13 colonies (stripes), existing 50 states (stars), and our union (blue square around the stars). The Canadian flag tells the story of the aboriginal peoples’ discovery of maple sap as a food property (maple leaf) and the colors red and white represent peace, honesty, hardiness, bravery, strength, and valor.

Flags tell a story. What’s your story? What kind of flag would you create? What would it look like? How would you show your bravery, your intelligence, your love, your inner strength?

Perhaps it’s an animal, a flower, a specific color, or all three. Maybe it’s a long winding road. Think about it. Get creative (yes, you ARE creative). This week create your flag – the flag that tells your magnificent story.

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Take a look at your life today. Where are you? Are you where you want to be? Are you just about there? Do you wish you were somewhere else?

Regardless the answer, you are HERE. HERE is where you are today.. now.. this minute. It is not only your physical proximity, but your emotional and spiritual proximity as well.

How did you get here? What did it take? Put another way, what’s the road you walked? Think back. Were there hills or maybe even mountains to climb that required your continued determination, persistence, and grit? Were there low valleys filled with sadness and fear that required your courage, honesty, and vulnerability to make it out? Were there unforeseen rocks and roots in the road that required a blind leap of faith or some serious risk taking?

I’ll bet the answers are yes, yes, and yes! So, let’s CELEBRATE! You made it to today.. now.. this minute. You did not give up. You kept moving forward. That’s no small feat, people.

For this week, acknowledge, be grateful, and celebrate your HERE.

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