February 26, 2013

Map of Self-Exploration

Sometimes I need grounding--a break from the busyness to anchor on my breath. Last week I noticed the mental energy I spend in the past and the future, which inevitably leads to fear and anxiety. But when I come back to the present moment, the fear is manageable and often dissipates. My mantra for last week: in this particular moment, I am really okay. Even with uncertainty about the future and anxiety about the past, if I slow down to notice the moment I'm in, I know I'm all right. There's no emergency, no urgency, no impending threat. It's just me and my breath. And it's all okay. The most important pieces of this process are the noticing and pausing. (And the willingness to start over again and again.)

Just as I need grounding, I also need to look up:

Too much time spent searching for ground (read: certainty) or keeping eyes on the pavement leads to a distorted view of self, others, and the world. My spirit is recharged when I deeply connect with others, including myself. This means looking people (and myself) in the eyes, hearing difficult stories, sharing my own truths, opening my heart, staying with the moment, and--when appropriate--lightening the mood with laughter and silliness. It's taken me years to be comfortable having the difficult conversations; but through the process I've strengthened my relationships. And I feel more at home.

What can be most challenging is looking deeply inside ourselves. We encounter dark places and pieces of ourselves that we don't particularly like. We feel the painful emotions (e.g., shame, sadness, grief, loneliness) that we've spent years trying to avoid. And our avoidance habits are well-grooved. For me, I watch movies, busy myself, plan, make lists--anything to avoid just sitting with myself. And that's precisely when I know I must sit. Because sitting with myself is the only way through the pain. Via the dance of avoidance and self-exploration, I've slowly learned to know myself, trust myself, and actually see my beauty. Because it's not just darkness we encounter when we look inward; we also see the special, beautiful light that shines inside us. Each light unique and extraordinary.

February 19, 2013

What I Didn't Realize

What I Didn't Realize 10 Year Ago

My greatest gifts stem from my most difficult experiences.

It feels better to have the hard conversations; it feels worse to avoid them.

I require alone time and silence to restore.

When I feel unworthy or not enough, there's no external approval that can take it away; the only balm is self-love.

It's better to be happy than right (righteous).

There's no need to try so hard to be liked; I can simply be me.

Small actions can have big effects.

Gardening and cooking feed my soul; experimentation (and screwing up) are essential to the process.

I'm happier when I don't take myself so seriously.

When my first reaction is strong and rigid, that's an important bell of mindfulness: What's going on inside me? What's hurt? What do I need? What choices am I not seeing?

I'm more connected with other people when I'm more connected with myself.

February 14, 2013

The Stories We Tell

I'm working through an interesting e-course called "The Story of You." I've long been interested in stories: telling my story (read: finding my voice); recognizing the different tapes that regularly play through my mind; noticing the stories (in all directions) that can cloud communication; listening to the lives of others. This week's pondering: does a particular way of telling my story (or living my life) move me closer to contentment? To freedom? To connection? I asked myself these questions just last night. Sitting in the hot tub, I ruminated on a particular situation. Indeed, I was telling myself a story (creating explanations and scenarios). When I asked the questions, I knew--I physically felt--movement away from freedom, connection, and contentment. What wonderful gatekeepers. So I recast the story in a different light that was more expansive. This small realization brought me to tears--tears of release. Another tool in my toolbox.

A different insight came from a list of mantras Jen and Ria proposed to the group. I read all the phrases and could accept them--could take them into my story. All but one: "She did not judge her flaws." I saw clearly the role of self-judgment in my life. Self-judgment provides me a perceived sense of control and perceived protection against hurt and sadness. (I purposefully use the word "perceived.") Judging my flaws has always been part of my story. In that way it feels comfortable, even though it's not truthful or helpful. Self-judgment does not move me closer to contentment, freedom, and connection. In fact, it cages me in a prison.  But it's a prison of my own making. I have a choice. Even now, as I write these words, I'm easing into a modified story line: "She did judge her flaws, but then she smiled and remembered she had a choice. So she chose to love herself just as she is."

February 12, 2013

FAQ about Joy's Resignation

I've written posts about my resignation from Lawrence (ChoicesBe Brave, Born Joy), but now seems appropriate to answer frequently asked questions. Indeed, there's no drama; there's no mystery. There's just a woman listening to herself and making a change. 

FAQ about Joy's resignation

Are you moving?
No, Mark and I will stay in Appleton, at least for the short term. We treasure our friends, our community, and we love our house (I'm fully nested). There's no reason to move right now. 

Are you sick?
No, I feel great and I'm in excellent health.

Are you upset in some way with Lawrence? 
Absolutely not--Lawrence will always hold a special place in my heart. (I'm deeply grateful to my students.) I'm not mad or upset. In the last 14 years I've done meaningful work at Lawrence, and I'll always treasure those memories, especially my experiences with the students. (And I welcome correspondence from former students and colleagues. I'm leaving Lawrence, but I'm not leaving life.)

Are you sure you're not going to some other college?
Actually, I'm stepping away from academics. No more college teaching; no more statistics.

Will you get a different job in statistics that pays tons of money?
No, I'm leaving the field of statistics; it no longer holds my interest (and doesn't bring me happiness). Perhaps there's money to be made in the statistics profession, but I'm not chasing it.

Do you regret going to graduate school? 
Not at all. In graduate school I learned how to learn. Separate from my gained knowledge of statistics, I grew tremendously as a person and a student of life. The extra years in school provided me a safe space to build my confidence and find my own path. That path is changing, but I have no regrets.
 Are you really sure about your decision? You're giving up tenure and you can't get that back; are you sure you won't change your mind?
Yes, I'm sure. This is a big decision, but I'm completely at peace. In fact, I don't think there's been a decision in my life where I've felt this much peace. I know this is the right choice for me. I need to move on to something new; it's a natural part of my life path.

You exude excitement in the classroom--how can you say you've lost your passion for teaching?
Whatever I do, I do with my whole heart. So while I'm still in the classroom, I'll be there fully and exude excitement. But at the end of each day I'm tired. This tiredness has come every day for a few years.  Things for which I'm passionate give me energy; they don't drain my energy. This job is draining me. That said, while I'm still at Lawrence working with students I will do so with my whole heart. I will not hold anything back. (BTW, there are many ways to teach. I think I'll be a life-long teacher, just not in front of the classroom.)

Will you travel?
I have no current travel plans. There's a piece of me that wants to immerse in another culture--to travel and experience. Perhaps this will happen in some organic way. But it's not necessary for my happiness.

What's your next career?
Honestly, I don't know. When I'm done at Lawrence, I want to leave space to not know; to not jump at the next thing that might bring me safety and income. This is unusual for me--my typical path is to plan (planning makes me feel like I have control). So I'm purposefully putting myself in an uncomfortable place. I want to leave space to really listen to my inner voice, apart from all the identities I've acquired over the years.

But you must have an inkling, some seed of an idea?
Yes (she says very tentatively). I enjoy writing. I'd like to give my writing some serious attention and care. I'd like to stay out of the traditional workplace for a while. But otherwise, I really don't know. And I want to stay open to everything.

Are you scared?
Sure, I feel fear in response to uncertainty. But more importantly, I feel completely alive. With any risk comes the chance of failure. Yet I trust in myself--in my gifts, skills, creativity, and self-awareness. I feel more excited than scared; more at peace that at odds. It's really all okay. 

[If interested, you can read more explanation in my baccalaureate speech.]

February 8, 2013


I encourage my students to try things; to experiment in a low-stakes environment; to screw up. It's our mistakes that teach us everything. Within the world of statistics, I've been an expert for years. The role of expert provided me safety. Yet it also feels dull. Dull, blah, uninteresting. It no longer serves my soul.

So I took some risks. (Besides my upcoming resignation in August.) I experiment with photography and writing, and I often bare myself on this blog. I participate in the online Flickr community, and I bare tender parts of me (the parts that are still unsure about my art; the parts that want critique, but in a gentle voice).

Every time I take these risks, I feel naked; I feel vulnerable. Yet I also feel incredibly alive. It's an interesting line to walk: if you fall off one side, you feel hurt and embarrassed; if you fall off the other side, you feel stilted and tired. I've come to realize that perhaps it's not such a fine line, but a wide path (with many soft places to land). All of life is balancing responsibility and freedom, safety and risk, vulnerability and boundary, pleasure and pain.

And it's our mistakes that teach us everything.