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Category Archives: choosing your life

What do you do for a meaning?

I’ve had a couple of topics waiting, and they’re both going to have to wait a bit longer. I had an interesting thought this afternoon, and by this evening it had grown into a full-fledged reflection, and is on its way to maybe even achieving the status of an understanding.

I was considering the phrase ‘what I do for a living’.  I dislike this phrase. I dislike most variations and most meanings of this phrase. ‘What do you do for a living?’ is often one of the first things people ask when meeting someone new, and it’s just as often not very relevant.

What someone does for a living is specifically what they do that generates enough money to pay the bills, buy the groceries, keep clothes and soap and maybe even a new lip-gloss available. It’s just what it says – it’s a way of keeping up the bits and pieces that allow someone to survive.  It’s also as likely as not to have little to do with someone’s passions, dreams, interests, what they put their heart and soul and energy into. People can work in a job simply because it’s a job. They could have a trust fund, be disabled, or so many ways to try to make ends meet.

‘What do you do for a meaning?’  Why aren’t we asking that?  When I’m introduced to someone, why don’t they want to know what I do for a meaning?

My friend M, for example, works for a large office-supply chain. She makes a decent wage, insurance, all of that. And it’s not at all her passion. She loves food. Finding new restaurants, comparing different recipes for similar dishes, seeking out authentic ethnic food or great places to buy particular ingredients; those are all things she’s passionate about. She writes about it in a blog. Filling orders for paper and desk chairs is what she does for a living. Discovering restaurants and comparing dishes is what she does for a meaning. A meaning is so much more.

I was thinking of that as I left my therapist’s office today (always a good thing when your therapist can make you think!).  I was mentally composing a self-description that included ‘I’m a counselor for a living’.  And then it occurred to me that that statement doesn’t really fit me at all.

(Before I go any further, I do need to add a disclaimer for people who are, have been, or will be my clients. It is NOT your job to make sure I am making enough to live on. We agree on a fee, insurance, whatever; and that’s that. That is not what this post is about.  Yes, building up a business is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do. I’ve also had repeated opportunities to work for more hours in a per-hour or salary position. That isn’t what I want, and I’m doing okay.)  So moving on…

I am not a counselor, therapist, or any similar term ‘for a living’. A small part of that is, yes, that I don’t (yet!) make enough to live in the style to which I’d love to be accustomed – or even to maintain my own lifestyle now. That’s okay. I do make enough to add to the household budget, I’m married to someone who makes more than I do right now. Together, we do make enough.  But that’s not the main reason this term doesn’t fit.

In fact, that’s really not the reason the term ‘for a living’ doesn’t fit. The main reason is that it doesn’t matter how much I make, I’m not doing it ‘for a living’.  I, like most counselors, have to charge something to be able to afford to be a counselor – but I’m not doing it ‘for a living’.

I am a counselor for a meaning. There are dozens of things I could do to pay for groceries and cat food and insurance and petrol for the car and making sure I have a place to live. I could probably get a job in the same company as M, my friend above. If I needed to, I would.

What do you do for a meaning?  I like this question so, so much better. I happen to do at least one of the things I do for a meaning to make that ‘for a living’ part work as well. I think that makes me lucky, but I don’t think everyone would agree with me. I know that I specifically chose not to do several other things that are meaningful and enjoyable for regular pay or on much of a schedule, because I knew that that would take the meaning out for me.

I do many kinds of art. I paint, sew, make jewelry, do calligraphy, work with clay, do henna art… and several of these things would stop having meaning for me if I did them ‘for a living’. If I were a professional calligrapher, for example, I would most likely be employed writing out endless invitations, addresses, and certificates. The joy I take in putting an important or beautiful text onto a page in beautiful writing, adding lovely or cute or amusing art alongside, would be completely smothered as I ticked off another 50 envelopes.

What do you do for a meaning? I am an artist, a dancer, a counselor, a friend, a gardener, a reader…

What do I do for a meaning? One of the things I do is counseling. I love it. It’s a very important, very meaningful part of my life. I feel like I make a difference. I’m honoured to have people who let me see their struggles & triumphs and to provide a helping hand. That’s a major thing for me. That has meaning.

What do you do for a meaning?  Regardless of what you do to pay the bills, what do you do for a meaning? The IRS can worry about what you do for a living?  I’m changing that question for myself. I’m also daring you to ask. At the next party, the next time you’re meeting a the significant other a relative or friend brings along, the next time you get together with people you don’t know, ask what they do for a meaning.  Then explain what the heck you meant. And then, LISTEN. It’s amazing how great it feels to have someone listen to what you’re passionate about!

If you’re okay replying, tell me what people have said. There’s plenty of room to post replies here!  What do you do for a meaning?  What does the person you met the other day do? What’s meaningful in this world?

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t stress about it (I just might take that advice)

Today I was supposed to pick up some stuff from a colleague. Just a few things for me, not something that had to be transported immediately from one person to another or a major part of my job – just personal. This isn’t a ‘several times a day’ kind of thing, but it does happen a lot in my job. People have stuff, need to get stuff out of their space and given to people who can use stuff, stuff is exchanged.

Mind you, I don’t want someone reading this to go into a career in counseling or a related field on the basis of getting stuff. (From what I’ve heard, try being anyone famous for that. Bonus points for famous and someone who makes regular comments about stuff on the computer, radio, or TV.)  But anyhow, while counseling, social work, and the like are not professions filled with free wardrobes or being able to specify what colour of candy in your trailer, they do tend to get you ‘stuff’ on a regular basis.

Some examples:I have a tote bag from my supervisor – she went to a training, was given assorted items with the logos of the businesses sponsoring the training, and didn’t have a use for the bag. I never run out of pens or post-it notes, as long as I’m willing to use ones with ‘Eating Disorder Centers’ or ‘Behavioral Health Services’ blazoned on them, because they give this kind of thing away by the handful at trainings. I got a whole set of leather coasters once at a workshop because the guy giving them away was packing up and didn’t want to have to take a ton of them back (I’ve been decoupaging the labels from really cool drinks onto them). I get stuff.

When perishable items or simply a huge amount of items are given to shelters, counseling centers, housing centers, etc; things that are left over get given to the people who work & volunteer there. (I once left a shelter with as many loaves of bread as I could carry – and then gave some to a homeless guy at the corner where I turned off of the interstate.  So it gets to the people who need it -just maybe by an interesting route 😉  )

Just a note here, please, PLEASE don’t stop donating on the basis that therapists end up with ‘stuff’!  No matter what you have to give, someone can use it. (Except maybe germs. Every winter there’s way too many colds & flus going around every shelter & safehouse & counseling center I know of. We all have plenty of germs. If you think you have a really unusual one, contact the CDC.)  Everything else, though, can be used. Bread & beach balls, lip gloss & lotion, diapers, tires, bus passes – ever considered giving a half-used member ship to the zoo or museum or gym to a safehouse if you’re moving and it still has half a year on it?  A lot of places could make that work for someone!

DO check first – some places don’t take items x, y,or z – they partner with the place down the street who has the room or the freezers or whatever. But we can use anything – except germs.

The thing is, stuff like those loaves of bread expire pretty quickly. Sunscreen & make-up take longer, but they still go off after a while. And we can’t tell you if we’re going to have 87 women who all need ‘coppery sand’ face powder, for example,  or only two or three.  So when things have been given to as many people in need as possible and there’s extra stuff, counselors and caseworkers and the wonderful fantastic people who make the computers keep working and manage the front desk and whoever else get offered stuff.  And your donation is still helping someone. Not having to buy bread for two weeks PLUS giving some to the guy I passed at the corner?  Major help that month!

So I was supposed to meet up with a colleague today to pick up some stuff. I said I could probably adjust my schedule just fine to meet up with her. Until this morning, when my schedule started going a bit sideways. Schedules do that sometimes.  I’m usually pretty relaxed when it happens to other people. I know it happens to everyone. But when it happens to me, it bothers me.

Part of it is that I were left to my own devices I wouldn’t have such a thing as a schedule. In my heart I want to live in a time and place where sun or clouds, warm or cool, day, night, impulse and inspiration drive me, and not just me, but everyone.  I’d love, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, to be the wise woman at the edge of the village. I’d tend my gardens and create my art and when people needed advice or a shoulder to cry on or emotional guidance, they would come out my way, carrying a basket of fruit or a jug of milk or a few eggs or a loaf of bread in payment. And I’d set aside whatever I was doing, or maybe just continue weeding or kneading bread or whatever, and we’d talk.

I’m actually trying to do some of that.  I’m happier when I work on my garden on good garden days, paint on good painting days, bake or make jewelry or go for a walk when it feels right to do those things.  I’m even working on having counseling clients sit outside with me (although not this week, it’s been snowy, blowy, and drippy). I’m working on the idea of clients going for a walk, or how people would feel if they & I worked on knitting or embroidery while we talked. (Although if I’m writing stuff down or drawing a kinda stick-figure version of the brain or something, I need both hands, and my whiteboard.)  And when I’m guiding a client through an art exercise, there are times when I get to do art, too; although it’s whatever supports or guides their project, it’s still art!

But the time and place I live in also requires schedules. The hotline run by the local domestic violence organization is staffed 24 hours. That means for me, and all of us who staff it, there has to be a schedule. Twenty people available on Tuesday and no one on Saturday would NOT be ’24 hour’.  It would also be kinda hard to stuff twenty people into the office, or even into two or three offices!

If I’m going to meet with a client, they deserve to have the time for themselves. And since I live in an area much larger and more occupied  than a village, if I decide to go to the store, it’s not very likely that a client will see me go past and wait until I’m on the way home to come out to my office. So I have schedules, and appointments, and even a clock.

If I’m meeting with a group; leading a group, or as a member of a counselors’ support or supervision or educational meeting, or going to yoga or dance, or any group of people, then we all have to meet at the same place, at the same time. We all have to work around individual clients (if we have them) or other groups or staffing the 24-hour phone line or driving clients from point A to point B or whatever we do.  We have to work all of that around errands and families and social occasions and the very important ways we take care of ourselves.  No matter how perfect the day is for a walk along the creek or to stay in with a cup of cocoa, there are some things that have to be scheduled.

I also tend toward being the type of person who tries to take care of everyone else first.  Alongside that need to follow the patterns of the seasons and the weather and my own interests is a strong belief that I should be taking care of you. If there’s a meeting of people, and I don’t strictly have to be at the meeting but it’s the best time to hand out the extra stuff (you never know – I could get more post-its!), then I should manage my schedule to be there, not have you manage to meet me. (Not always. I know. I’m working on it.)

Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning, when I realized scheduling was going to be pretty difficult today, I e-mailed the person in charge to apologize. (Something I’ve come to realize is that people work best with changes in plans if you tell them as early as possible.) I let her know that my schedule wasn’t quite as workable as it seemed the other day when I said I could be there. I said that I didn’t mind coming by to pick things up at another time, but I didn’t want her to feel pressured – she could give it to someone else, instead.

Her return e-mail simply said that she could leave the things in a space in the staff area for me to pick up later, and not to stress about it. “Don’t stress about it.”  What a fantastic sentence. At the intersection of various angles of self-care, care for others, things I need to do, things I want to do, things I said I’d do, things others need to do: ‘Don’t stress about it’.

She meant that this particular errand could be done without each of us having to match times perfectly, but I’m hearing it more deeply.  I’m coming up on having people over for a holiday dinner. I need to tidy up the house. I have things to do for my work. I have things to do for myself. I have things I need to do before I can do other things.  Don’t stress about it.

I need to be reminded of this quite often. As much as I want to live in harmony with myself and my world, I tend to think everyone else needs their needs met first, and it can be stressful. Don’t stress about it. I suspect quite a few other people need to be reminded about this, too. I wonder what would happen if we all reminded each other a bit more. Come over when you can; don’t stress about it. Get that finished as you’re able; don’t stress about it. Happy holidays; don’t stress about it.

I wonder how that would work as a closing in an e-mail or on the phone? Thank you. I appreciate it. I love you. Sincerely. Don’t stress about it.

I just might give it a try as a closing in some of my communications. But I’ll try not to stress about it.

 

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Seeds of life

A bit of a conversation with a client a few days ago and a bit of a conversation last week with my spouse came together in my brain as a new idea – or at least new to me.  I’m quite willing to believe others have had most of the same ideas I have, and have expressed them much better, but it’s still cool to have a new way for me to look at the world, and to share it with others.

Simply expressed (in 25 words or less): Dreams are the seeds we use to grow our lives.

To elaborate on that, in well over 25 words: I’m referring to dreams as in daydreams or hopes, wishes, or wondering; not dreams as in the rather surreal movies most of us watch throughout our sleep cycles. Obviously I can’t tell you about the conversation with the client, it comes under the ethical and legal right for my clients – for ALL counseling clients, with ALL counselors, to have their information and communication kept private. But it had to do with dreams, and the conversation with my spouse had to do with choice versus predestination.

(Note: If you’re having an issue with a therapist keeping your info private, that’s a different topic from this post, but it’s an important one. If that’s you, I urge you to talk to your therapist, or to talk to a different therapist to get an outside opinion, or to look up your state’s regs & state &/or therapy organization ethical codes to see if your therapist’s treatment of your privacy is acceptable.)

Sorry – that was definitely a digression, but an important one, in my opinion. In any case, after my talk with my client, I started thinking about dreams as seeds.  To give a bit more background info; one of my personal-care, stress-relieving, taking-care-of-me hobbies is gardening.  My garden, like my life, is a work-in-progress. Like my life, there are areas that I thought would work splendidly that are kinda dry or droopy, areas that I didn’t really think would work so well that are amazing, and areas that I just haven’t yet achieved the beautiful, show-off state they’ll be in one day.

A lot of my garden is based on what I call ‘confetti gardening’.  (Who knows – maybe one day I’ll write a book on my gardening methods and have it be a best-seller on ‘Confetti Gardening’ – so you heard it here first!).  I love to gather seeds from wildflowers I enjoy – if they’re growing wild in the same part of the world I live in, there’s a good chance they’ll do well in my garden!  I gather seeds from plants grown by friends & neighbours.  I discreetly gather seeds from plants in community flowerbeds or local areas of greenery in front of stores, downtown, by the library… By ‘discreetly’, I mean that finding someone with the authority to say ‘why yes, go ahead’ is really difficult in many cases – does the manager of any store in a shopping area know who is in charge of planting & caring for the little decorative flower & shrubbery areas throughout the parking lot?  Sometimes I can’t ask, but I also don’t, Do Not go out & rip up plants.  I wait until a group of flowers I like has finished blooming & started going to seed. Then I gather a few seed heads or loose seeds and take them back home.  The gardening services for these areas typically come through and ‘deadhead’ – cut the dead flowers off the plants – at intervals. So I take what isn’t needed for the plant, and only if I can’t find someone to ask.  If you plan to emulate this strategy, be SURE you know when the plant has really gone to seed, only take a little bit, and if you have any questions or misgivings, don’t do it unless you can find someone for permission.

I gather seeds from gardens of strangers – with permission!  A personal garden isn’t like a decorative planting in a space in the sidewalk downtown. A personal garden belongs to someone. ASK if you  want some seeds. They’ll likely be delighted to give you some – and you might make a new friend and start swapping plants & gardening advice, but ASK!!!

Back to my confetti gardening, I take the seeds (bought, traded, harvested) that I want or hope will do well in a particular space, and sprinkle them down.  Yes, I do start some carefully in small pots, yes, I get cuttings of plants and I buy growing plants, but a lot of my garden is from seeds I toss in areas they just might do well in.  And then I wait. Several years ago I carefully planted some lovely dark pansy seeds in a particular flower bed. Nothing happened. No pansies from those seeds grew that spring, or summer. The next spring (yes, after a whole previous spring of care, a summer of not bothering to care for a space that didn’t have a plant, a fall of caring for other, actually growing plants, and a cold freezing snowy winter) one of the pansies sprouted. And it bloomed. It did better than a pack of pansies purchased already in bloom from the store. This spring it came back (the ones I plated from the store pack didn’t).  Seeds work like that.

These are a lot like my dreams – and I hope, like everyone’s dreams. We dream the likely (I’d REALLY like to get a couple new outfits for work soon), and the plausible (I want to start taking regular bellydance classes again).  We dream the maybe (Wouldn’t it be cool to get to go on a white-water rafting trip) and we dream the way out there (What if I adopted a kitten with wings?).  These dreams are the seeds of life. They get tossed out into life – hoping to buy a new outfit without spending too much and maybe go on a cool trip and how the heck would I keep my indoor plants safe if I did have a winged kitten – and we see what happens.

Some of them sprout. Some start to sprout but aren’t in a good place to be nourished. Some aren’t viable no mater what. Some wait and surprise us long after we thought anything could still happen.  The more dreams, the more possibilities of new, interesting parts of life are available.  There are easy, obvious parts of life, and the dreams that sprout and grow so large & take up so much space that other dreams might not get as much of a chance.  My own sprouting career as a counselor is definitely taking up space that an alternate dream of being a rock-star can’t use now; it’s hard to be available every week to talk to clients and touring Europe with a bunch of musicians in a cramped tour bus at the exact same time. 😉

Some dreams end up requiring more care than we can put into them.  The reason I prefer seeds from established plants is that I know they’ll have a better chance of growing in my garden. I want plants to be beautiful & growing well and I’m not the sort who wants to be out making a separate little climate for each plant.  I live in Southern Colorado along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Summers are usually dry, winters get snow, and have days that dip below 0* Fahrenheit. Rain is wildly different from one year to the next, and I prefer to semi-xerisacpe, where my plants get nearly all of their moisture & climate needs from the climate we have, not from carefully covering, watering, shading, warming…

My life is the same way. I’m willing to do a lot for a dream that matters, but it has to be giving back to me, and sustaining itself as a part of my life.  When I get those new clothes for work, they need to be comfortable to wear, and coordinate with things I already have, and fit who I am – physically and emotionally and suited to my lifestyle.  My dream of perfectly polished fingernails clashes with my dream of spending time working the garden regularly.  Some seeds don’t grow well next to others.

The large, established ‘plants’ in my life (my marriage, my house, the years I put into my college degree) and the ‘climate’ of my life (having a chronic illness, a passion for art & creating, my values & spiritual beliefs) strongly affect what new dreams can more easily take root & grow. This is the part that relates so well to the conversation my spouse & I had. We were comparing free will to destined events. He pointed out that previous choices direct what happens in the future.  It’s not impossible to change course, but the older & more experienced you get, the more energy it takes to make a radical change.  At the time he said this, we had just taken the ramp off of a street onto the freeway (car rides are awesome for personal conversations. You’re basically a captive audience for each other, there’s not a whole lot else to do, and there are time limits, depending on how far you’re going).  It was a wonderful serendipitous analogy. We were swerving onto the southbound ramp (Onto I-25 off of Colfax, for those who drive in Denver), every second getting further from the northbound option. It would have taken a heck of a lot more time, energy, and fussing with side-streets if we’d suddenly decided to turn & head north.  Our journey south wasn’t ‘predestined’, but once we turned, it would have been a LOT harder to go north, especially given the roads in that particular area.

Taking it back around to seeds, or dreams: Growing one plant determines the likely success of others. I have a beautiful blue spruce in my front yard. It was probably planted when the house was built – it’s certainly been there for decades. It’s beautiful, it’s growing well, and I have no desire to change that!  My spruce is big enough and established enough that it quite literally foreshadows what else will grow nearby. Planting seeds that need full sun too close to the tree strongly ‘predestines’ those plants to do poorly.  A few feet further away where it doesn’t cast so much shade, the same seeds have a much better chance.  And it’s possible that a few could defy the odds and grow happily in the shade anyhow – but not as likely.

If I wanted to change that aspect of my garden (and I do NOT want to do this, this is strictly for sake of an example) even taking out the tree wouldn’t simply change things for the garden.  Spruce trees, like most evergreens, are slightly acidic. The needles & cones that fall every year put some of that acidic quality in the soil.  Some plants, like roses & blueberries, LIKE acidic soil.  If I get the chance to grow blueberries, I should either put them near the tree or scoop up some of the fallen needles to amend the soil for the blueberries.  But other plants don’t like acidic soil so much. If I had seeds for a plant that strongly disliked acidic soil, I’d likely not get much growth from planting them near my tree, even if they liked the shade and the other characteristics of the soil. Even if the tree was gone, the soil would be very acidic after years and years of needles composting into the soil around it.  The tree is more than just shade, it’s soil structure, water use, and shelter from wind & rain.

My dreams are the same way. I cast them out into my life, and some get too close to shade, or don’t like the place they land. Some don’t even try to grow until conditions improve. Some break down or blow out of my life entirely. Some need to be consciously moved or tended to, and some take too much work.  Some are even ones I can pass along!  I was given a beautiful ring in a previous relationship. When we broke up, I didn’t want to wear the ring anymore, but it was a perfect style and great fit for my sister-in-law. I hope she’s still enjoying it as much as she did when I gave it to her!

I don’t always, or even often, know just what a seed or a dream will need to thrive. Plenty of times I only find out some detail when it’s too late to change it.  I had a lousy crop of potatoes last year, and found out this past February when reading about companion planting in the garden that potatoes don’t do well near squash. My zucchini were right next to the potatoes! So it goes.

So it goes. Companions and light and shade and nutrients. Direction and size and competition for resources. Only one thing in one space – the next one has to be moved over at least a bit. This is why I want myself, my clients, everyone I know to have many, many dreams. Some won’t grow, and you may never know why. Some may be perfect for the space under a tree, next to a squash, or in a sunny corner; but those things can change.  Dream many, many dreams. Collect spare ones from books and music and conversation. Harvest new dreams from successful ones that are thriving.  Toss them into your life now, or wait until the time seems right, or carefully nurture them on sunny windowsills until they’re big enough to make it on their own. I don’t want to have nothing left to plant if my career became unmanageable, or if someone close to me passes on or moves away –  I’d rather be able to mourn the loss but still be able to plant more seeds.  Always plant more seeds… always plant more dreams.

 

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