Gifts of Life

Watching a child open birthday presents is such a joy. They are “beside-themselves” excited. As they rip the bright wrapping paper away from the first gift, they quickly glance at the package inside. Just as quickly, they toss the revealed gift aside, reaching anxiously for the next present. “Wait,” you say. “Look what you were given. See how shiny it is? Hold it; isn’t it wonderful? Listen to the beautiful music it makes.” But your child is distracted by the better possibilities hidden within the other boxes wrapped in shiny, colorful paper.

Life is full of gifts that fall in continuous grace upon us. Our lives are lavished with blessings, yet we are just as children. Often as quickly as a gift is upon us, we are reaching anxiously for the next opportunity lest it pass us by and we miss out on something better. How many precious moments have slipped through our fingers because we did not take the time to relish them? How many gifts have rained down upon us, while we paid them no mind, busy stretching forward to what is next?

We can get caught up in the undertow of our experiences. Drifting along, our lives can become a fast-moving stream. For many of us, this is not merely a stream, but a white-water river churning and barreling over jagged rocks. You try to swim harder to keep your head afloat, not really steering your way, but merely being pulled along an uncontrollable, sometimes treacherous flow. You reassure yourself that at least you are moving forward. Others are in the river, too. They seem to be doing well, so this must be the way to keep moving ahead. As you keep working harder, you struggle and lose a little bit of footing. You take on more projects to be better than the next person; that should help gain more control. Your footing is now non-existent. The river feels foreign. You don’t feel in control, and you really don’t even know if you are succeeding at what you are trying to accomplish. But you are “accomplishing;” that is for sure. If achieving is success, then you should be happy and fulfilled. Are you? If you are, then you are deeply blessed. Keep swimming; you have found your purpose. If you are not, then perhaps you need to find a way to re-center yourself.

Getting swept up in the river of your life and career may lead to unhappiness if you don’t take time to enjoy the journey. What a travesty to be traveling along such a lovely landscape and not take the time to enjoy the gift of it all.  Would your life or career suffer if you took the time to occasionally swim to the shoreline for a moment? Sit on the bank and listen to the birds. Touch the prickly grass under your fingertips. Breathe in the smell of the cool air. Look above you at the tree canopy with the sunlight dancing through the leaves. How your heart would dance. Oh, how your soul would sing. Think of the memories you could make, fully enjoying the gifts of this life. What memories are you creating with those around you? Will their memories be of how hard you worked within the river of life, or of those abounding moments when you stopped and enjoyed the “gifts” along the way?

Contrary to what you might think, taking time to be still and present won’t cause you to miss anything important. The rushing river of your career is still there, waiting for your next twist and turn. The flow of life can wait for you to unwrap the moment and enjoy the blessings along the stream. Opportunities will not cease to come your way just because you take the time to enjoy the journey. Your purpose will be fulfilled. Trust in yourself. You have come this far. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew everything would work out well? The common quote is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Well, if you couldn’t fail (and I know you, you won’t), you would be free to take time and swim to the shore occasionally. When you find stillness and presence in the current moment, you can look-see-touch-smell every aspect of the gifts around you. Often this will clear your mind and remind you of your “why” for this journey in the first place. When you take the time to enjoy the journey and focus on your “why,” you can make clearer decisions when you are in the throes of the river of life.

Stop and take time to be still and enjoy your gifts and blessings. You don’t always have to be working harder to get there first, to be the best, to do more, to reach anxiously for the next opportunity. Don’t get to the waterfall of your life and look back to see the beauty of the river bank that passed you by. Wouldn’t it be better to float away with a smile on your face remembering all of the deep, amazing blessings you fully enjoyed, and yell, “WOW, what a ride!”

Take a Break from “Doing” and Start “Being”

Our lives are so full. We set them up that way. We love it. The more we can achieve, the better we feel about ourselves. Our houses should be their cleanest. Our kids should be involved in activities (we don’t want them to be seen as lazy). And what about building a career? You should have high ambitions and drive hard every day to take steps forward to be the Best_____ (fill in the blank). If you are not seen as trying to climb the ladder then you are not trying hard enough. We kill ourselves to impress those around us by how much we accomplish. For some powerful reason, we are still trying to make someone proud of us; our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children.

Achievement is innate in all of us. From the time we are born, we are trying to gain our parents’ approval. When we enter school, it is our teachers and fellow classmates that we want to impress. Competition is real; on the playground, during those exams, trying to get into college. Life tends to train us to continually look for a way to gain an edge on those around us. Work harder. Do more. Stand out.

Staying busy, having more on your checklist than you can ever accomplish in one day, is empowering, right? Is that what makes you who you are? Is that what defines you; what you “do?” Your day-in and day-out rat race, running yourself ragged, is that what defines you? Perhaps. If so, then you don’t stand out at all. Anyone can make a list of the things that you do each day and do them. This doesn’t make you unique. This doesn’t truly define what lies deep within you; your “youness.”

Consider looking at your life through this lens; bear with me. If you died today, what would people say about you? Yep, we’re going there. What would people say about you in the neighborhood, at work, at your funeral? I’ll tell you what they would say about me before I changed my focus. If I had died a year ago, people would have said, “Wow, so sad to hear about Heather. She worked her butt off. She worked so hard every day from 7 am to almost 7 pm. And I think she was kind of nice.” I was so defined by the things I was “doing.” I thought that the more things I achieved, the more purposes I served, the more important and viable I would become. The result of all of this “achieving” would lead to more happiness, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

I was only impacting processes, not people. Not the way I wanted to have an impact. There was more in me than what I could “do.” There was more that defined me than what I could accomplish by being busy. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t happy, not truly happy. I was feeling spent. No matter how much I achieved, I still felt unsatisfied with my progress and empty inside.

I don’t want to be remembered by how busy I am. I want to be remembered for deeper reasons. I want my legacy to be centered around how deeply I cared for people, by how much I made them smile, by the fun crazy adventures that I journeyed through. I want to genuinely make a meaningful impact on people around me. I want to nurture my relationships, including my relationship with myself.

I decided to stop “Doing” so many things and started “Being” more.

Being more still

Being more thoughtful and unrushed

Being more aware of everything around me

Being more aware of my surroundings at this moment

Being more aware of the energy and needs of those around me

Being more aware of myself and my personal goals and desires

Soon I realized things I hadn’t before. I began to connect more deeply with those most important to me. I noticed more clearly the deep needs of those around me, and I took a long moment to sit with them (for more than one minute) and talk with them more about themselves. I took a break from my craziness to just breathe, look out the window, go for a walk, give myself time to contemplate who I really am and what I truly want for my life.

It was a challenge. The call of responsibility is strong. Society tells you that if you aren’t “Doing” than you are lazy. I tell you whole-heartedly, this is a myth. You deserve to take time to be still. You deserve to take time to think and be creative. Let your mind wander. It can’t wander if you are constantly tasking it with activity. Creativity, self-awareness, hearing the voice of your true calling can only occur if you stop engaging your mind in tasks. Give your mind and yourself some space to stretch. It is only then that you truly achieve what life has set for you. Hear that? What Life” has set for you. Not the world. The world is like a rushing river.  It will pull you along its own agenda unless you take control of your time and find the purpose that God has specifically designed for you. Do you feel like you are being carried along by the world? Do you feel like you want more control over where you are going? Do you feel that you aren’t where you think you need to be? Perhaps you are not yet living your special, unique purpose. God is constantly reminding you of your true calling. You can’t hear his purpose for you unless you get away from the drone of “Doing” and set yourself to more “Being.”

Of course, life will continue to have responsibilities you need to accomplish, but I challenge you to find a small smidgen of time every day to devote to stillness, to breathing in the moment, to relaxing your mind. Give yourself permission to just “Be;” you deserve it. During these special moments, don’t have expectations for yourself, no rules or boxes to stay in. What you find will be inspiring. You just might decide to nourish that hidden passion. Paint more, buy a kayak, start a Mom’s group, hit the gym and get those biceps you’ve always dreamed of, and spend more time with those who mean the most to you.

 

Wow, the memories you will make, and the joy you will find in your life. Your daily tasks will suddenly seem lighter because your cup will be full. Even though you will be taking valuable time away from your “Doing,” you will actually feel more accomplished. You will feel more fulfilled in your life, and thus every step will be lighter for you. Your days will have purpose; a purpose that is in line with your own personal journey and desires.

My hope for you: Give yourself time to experience your uniqueness. Give yourself permission to relax, to let your mind wander, to just “BE.” Creative and amazing things will happen. You just might find more happiness, more fulfillment in your life. And those around you will celebrate as you find your true passion. You can’t live your passion without a smile on your face, and a smile brightens so many of those around you. What will your legacy be?

How in the World Did This Chocolate End Up in My Mouth?

You are fired up!  You’ve got this!  You have been talking about eating a healthier diet and reaching a healthier body weight for years.  Oh, yea; today’s the day!  You have planned it out; the kitchen is full of organic, healthy food choices.  Your salad is packed for lunch today.  This is the grand moment that you will turn over a new leaf.  Doesn’t it feel awesome?  I mean, really, don’t you almost feel healthier already?  This is going to be easy.  You are prepared and motivated.  You feel so strong and hopeful about your future success.  You can envision the finish line, and you look and feel amazing standing there as your future self.  Nothing is gonna stop you this time. No way.  No how.

After eating some oatmeal and fruit.  You drive to work, patting yourself on the back.  Great start!  So far, so good.  Walking tall and feeling like a million bucks, you stroll into the office confident that you can take on the world today.  When you arrive, you realize that you have an unplanned meeting with leadership, and they want you to present the results of your current project.  No problem, you remember…you got this today!

Wow, the meeting was brutal and took three hours. A huge chunk of time has been devoured.  Suddenly you realize how much energy was zapped out of you. Feeling hungry, you smile and grab the protein bar you packed.  Haha, see, this is easy.  Why haven’t you done this sooner?

Sitting down at your desk, you are suddenly overwhelmed by how many emails you have received.  By the time you have answered all of your emails, it has been two hours.  What?!?!?  And lunchtime is now almost over.  No worries, you packed that salad.  Whew!  Scarfing down the salad, you realize that you feel a little unsatisfied and wish you had more time to actually enjoy it.  But who has time? Now that it is already 1:30 pm, you must get to your actual work for the day.  There is so much pressure on you to hit the next deadline, get that order out, network with 8 clients, answer more emails, and go to two more unplanned meetings. You are racing the clock, giving 200%. Later in the afternoon, you are sitting in… OK, let’s just say it… boring meetings that are keeping you from getting your “actual workload” done.  With a big sigh and a rub of your forehead, you leave the last meeting of the day at 5:30 pm. Wow, you should be driving home at this time, but you just received information from this last meeting that has to be acted upon today.  As you walk by a coworker’s desk, without thinking, you casually pick up a shiny piece of chocolate from the dish.  You deserve a little sweetness after this crazy busy day. You open it up, pop it in your mouth, and giggle as you read the saying within, “Nothing Can Stop You Today!”

WHAT JUST HAPPENED!!!  How in the world did this chocolate get into my mouth!!  Oh, no!!  What am I doing?!?!? What a goober I am; what a failure.  How could I have let a little piece of candy get the best of me today? Really?!?!? And you thought you were so strong. Yea, right. The phone in your office rings and distracts you. Oh, yea, your boss said he would call you after the meeting and get you those figures you need. Running to your office, you put your “self-bashing” on the back burner.  You will deal with this failure and your weakness later.

Driving home at 6:30 pm, you are exhausted, mind a whirl, stomach growling. You had really planned to get home early and grill that chicken breast. Traffic just has to be horrible today, right? And this wanker in front of you is driving 20 miles under the speed limit blocking the fast lane.  At 7:30 pm you pull into the garage. Today definitely did not go as planned. Where was all of your drive, your confidence? When you left this morning, you were so sure that you were stronger than anything that life would throw at you. Wow, you really deceived yourself. What a lie you told yourself this morning. You should have known that you would fail at eating healthier. Who do you really think you are?

Sitting on the couch about 10 minutes later, you are shoveling ice-cream into your mouth as you watch another episode of your favorite Netflix show of that dysfunctional family. Yea, that’s you. You’ll never change. You, too, are stuck in the body of someone destined to fail in life.

How did this happen when I was so strong and motivated today? I am so ashamed and disappointed. I trick myself into thinking that I can change, but it is hopeless. I might as well fill my pantry with sweats and pasta and enjoy my short, unhealthy life.  I’ll never be able to do this.

Does this sound all too familiar?  You can get so very motivated with great plans, and then life somehow quickly unravels your best intentions.  How did that chocolate get into your mouth anyway?  Did your coworker plan out a huge conspiracy to place a bowl of candy directly along the path to the boss’ office?  Did your leadership know that you were trying your hardest today and devise a wicked plan to keep you tied up in meetings? It might be easy to feel like life purposefully worked against you today. I usually blame the devil. He is always laughing at me as he throws out another curveball. Perhaps the universe is trying to “keep you down.” Likely not.  Likely it was something much more powerful than these.  It was a few long-trained habits.

Habits are like a stalking lion. They are usually quiet and unnoticeable until they pounce, and before long you are sitting with a spoon in a quart of Haagen Dazs.  Habits lead you blindly to repeat a behavior that is ingrained in your psyche. They are extremely powerful and effortless. Did you hear that? Wait a minute. What if we could bend the will of those habits to work “for” us instead of “against” us.  If we could harness our habits, we could accomplish so many of our goals without much effort or thought. Sounds great, but you’ve tried to stop them before. This isn’t the first time you binged on ice cream.  I hear ya.  Those bad habits have been conditioned over many years; they won’t relinquish their hold easily.

How will we retrain them? It took many hours of focus and conditioning to bring you the wonderful skill of blindly listening to your subconscious when it comes to snacks and treats. Listen to me. This is the part where I tell you it is not easy, but it is so very effective and worth all of the time you spend on improving them. You absolutely CAN retrain your habits to be healthier and work for you instead of against you.

Habits are like children. They listen well to your plans for them but quickly get distracted by the shininess of a candy wrapper. You will have to constantly tell them “no, this isn’t good for you” and lead them back to the path of your will. Believe me when I tell you this as well: It gets so much easier. If you commit yourself to change your unhealthy habits to healthy habits, you WILL succeed. “Yea, right.” I hear you whispering to yourself. You’ve tried that before, and yet here you are again. That is the best news I’ve heard because that means you have already accomplished the first phase of harnessing your habits. Step 2, try again. Step 3, try again. This is called conditioning. And conditioning is exactly what it takes to harness those habits. It will become easier as long as you continue to try and change them.

Your children frustrate you, yet you continuously forgive them because you know they need your help and will eventually see your grand plan for them. Habits, like children, need your forgiveness and love. When the bad habits happen again, accept them for what they are. You are not a failure. You are working towards creating a healthier life, and this is part of the journey. Take a deep breath, forgive yourself for succumbing so easily again, and remind yourself of your goal. You are blessed with the opportunity to try again. Believe it or not, next time it will be easier.

The great news is that you can harness the power of your habits and achieve a healthier and happier life. Once your habits are trained, they become a roaring lion that works for you effortlessly and subconsciously; they are your most powerful tool for reaching your goals. Before long, you will walk past that candy dish (and every candy dish) wistfully and without hesitation. And you might just be 10 pounds lighter in your step.  Forgive yourself, keep trying, and celebrate every small win.  You CAN do this. Believe in yourself and the power of your spirit. I believe in you. Now forgive yourself, put that ice cream back in the freezer, get out there again, and harness those habits.

Choices and Chickens

Your journey is a result of a zillion choices. Some choices are big, like where you decide to go to college, or who you choose to marry. Obviously, those choices have major impacts on the course of your experiences. Yet even small, subconscious choices shape your own distinct path of life. I can think back to many small choices that I have made that have shaped my life and created who I am today.

When I graduated from pharmacy school and began working, my time off was extremely valuable. Between spending time with my husband and two small children, doing chores, and shopping for shoes (a pretty big priority), my time was limited. Even though I was fully focused on these responsibilities, I had a little tickle of an idea. Because I had enjoyed my time as a student at the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, I made a choice to sacrifice a few hours each week to return to the college and sit in the back of the pharmacotherapy classroom. I had every intention of merely sitting there re-absorbing the plethora of clinical information without that ominous concern for “what is going to be on the exam.” It felt good to be there in that learning environment again. It felt right … Hold that thought. We’ll get back to this in a sec.

Fast forward about nine years. Though it wasn’t my favorite topic, I took on the responsibility of teaching a lecture on Behavioral Barriers for Diabetic Patients. I had to stretch my thinking outside of the medication treatment itself; an area in which I had little expertise. It was not something I would have chosen to teach about, but I was thankful for the opportunity, so I pushed ahead and set a goal to teach myself about the struggles of diabetic patients beyond drug treatment. The lecture ultimately contained more global holistic issues that hinder a patient from reaching improved health outcomes. These included feelings of social stigma that may occur when having to give themselves insulin injections in public, and a lack of self-efficacy (which is basically self-confidence that “you can do this”) … Again, hold that thought, this will all make sense soon.

Another path-defining choice I made was to raise chickens. Yep, I am a crazy chicken lady. I love those little hens. They are great listeners when I need to practice any presentation. They just cluck and cluck, and tell me how awesome I am. I digress … Oh, yeah, I became a crazy chicken lady. You may not know this, but there is an actual attraction between chicken people (not romantically, but socially—come on; stay with me). Once we find out that the other person has chickens, we can sit and discuss chickens for hours; what color eggs they are laying, how they are molting during this hot weather, how those foxes are so annoying. You get it. We connect with each other on a chicken level … Again, wait for it, the wrap up is coming.

I could go on and on, but I at least wanted to give you a few examples. These small, sometimes subtle, choices helped me find the most rewarding and exciting journey in life.

Because I made a choice to spend that one hour of my off time to go back to learn more at my alma mater, I eventually was asked to not just sit in the back, but to assist in teaching a few topics. A few months later, I got a phone call I’ll never forget. I was invited by the College of Pharmacy to join their team as a faculty member in developing and growing what is now the very successful Center for Quality Medication Management at UF. I became a UF Professor!! What?!?!?!? I would never have dreamed it; what an honor to be able to be in that stellar learning environment with those amazing students, and they were going to pay me! I was humbled beyond comprehension (and still am).

As I evolved in my teaching career, I later took on the lecture section about behavioral barriers to address improved health outcomes. Because of this experience, I have grown to become a clinical expert who is now creating a concierge life enhancement business that not only helps patients with safe and effective medication usage, but truly guides them holistically to great success in achieving positive health outcomes. I gained the knowledge that if we, as pharmacists, truly want to help our clients/patients effectively manage their conditions and become healthier, we cannot merely counsel them on medications. If we truly want to help our patients, we must take the time to address all of the other influences in their life that are barriers to health success. These include providing coaching in nutrition and fitness, identifying social and economic hurdles, and addressing psychological factors that prohibit them from feeling that they can achieve great health outcomes (and deserve to). Because of that one lecture experience, I am blessed to be creating a business helping my clients in a personal, holistic fashion as a concierge pharmacist.

Now, what about those chickens? Well, because I made the choice to own chickens and become a crazy chicken lady, I have connected with many people that I might not have met otherwise. One of my connections has been instrumental in donating his time to help me create my website for my new business. What a blessing! Who knows how well my business would have kicked off if I had not met my amazing friend; if I had not chosen to become a crazy chicken lady.

In every moment of your life, you are making choices; choices that affect your next minute and your next. Sometimes we regret the choices we have made. Sometimes we don’t even choose, we just “move.” Buying coffee at Starbucks versus the local coffee shop may just lead to a personal connection that opens up a new opportunity. Choosing to be a nerd and stay home to read a book your friend recommended may just lead you to try out that idea that has been bouncing around in your head.

It is important to realize how your journey is influenced by every choice you make and to realize that YOU make the choices in your life (at least the choices that you control). How and what you choose will lead you to your next step in YOUR journey. You are creating your path of life that is uniquely YOURS. Avoid basing your choices on what your friends do, or what you think you “should” do to be accepted. I mean look at me. Owning chickens is not always what most people would choose. And if you try to choose like someone else, you won’t end up where YOU need to be. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Be conscious of the decisions you make; be purposeful. Listen to your intuition; follow your heart. You will be glad you did when you arrive where you are truly headed.