Am I a Bad Mom if I let my Child Fall & get Hurt?

“In our happiness-obsessed culture, we often feel like bad parents, bad teachers, bad friends—bad people—when we allow others or ourselves to fall.”

Shannon Mullen, Elephant Journal

This isn’t an article about parenting.

Not really.

I’m not a mom.

But I know that my amazing mom friends seem to be asking themselves this question a lot.

To access my article in Elephant Journal, an online magazine about mindful living, click here.

On Writing: Faith & Sweat

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 11.47.58 AM
Bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton gets up at 4:30am to write.

This morning I was going to get up early and go to the gym. I didn’t.

After the gym I was going to go to my fave café and get my marking out of the way so that I could spend the afternoon writing. I didn’t.

What did I do this morning?

I slept in until after 10am (which rarely happens) & I lay in bed scrolling through Instagram on my phone.

Truth is that this is what my body & mind needed this morning. Rest and recovery. So I’m not going to beat myself up over skipping the gym and letting my marking sit in my backpack for a little longer.

But while scrolling through Instragram I came across the above post by Glennon Doyle Melton (@glennondoylemelton), founder of Momastery and author of #1 New York Times Bestseller LOVE WARRIOR, a memoir of her journey of self-discover following the implosion of her marriage. It’s an honest & inspirational account of confronting pain and claiming love. I highly recommend it. (So does Oprah!)

Faith & Sweat

nora roberts advice

Glennon’s post struck me this morning because it reveals how important it is to MAKE TIME to pursue our passions. Even bestselling authors like Glennon struggle to prioritize their writing.  As a mother of three children, Glennon struggled to find time to write amidst her family responsibilities. So she gets up before her family is awake to make it happen. Even if this means dragging herself out of bed when she wants the extra sleep. Her memoir, Love Warrior, is the product of her getting up at 4:30am so that she could MAKE TIME for writing.

As an aspiring writer myself, I’ve been finding myself resenting the various responsibilities that encroach on my time to write.

I’m a full-time teacher during the week, so in order to meet professional standards, as well as my own personal standards for myself (which are arguably too high sometimes), I need to spend time in the evening and weekends to get marking done, and prepare my lessons. It is not fair of me to resent my job or even my students because these tasks take time away from writing.

Teaching also allows me to pay the bills and contribute to society in a meaningful way. As of now, writing is not paying the bills. So as much as writing fuels my heart, it is not fuelling my very hearty appetite. It is not paying my rent. It is not paying utilities. It is not paying for the splurge on the blue cowboy boots I bought in Arizona.

Still, writing fuels my soul and makes me feel happy in a way that nothing else can. Not a person. Not an adventure. Not an experience. It is really hard to explain what writing does for me. I guess it is when I feel most like myself.

joan didion desktop
I love this interview with Joan Didion on CBC’s Writer’s & Company.

Before I wrote my first novel, See What Flowers, (which is yet to be published and maybe never will), I had the same attitude as “S”, the aspiring writer Glennon refers to in her Instagram post. I thought “One day when I have enough money, I will write. One day, when I have enough time, I will write. One day, when I am good enough to do it, I will write. One day, when I have a good enough idea, I will write.” But somehow the desire to write overcame the excuses not to and I made the time.

Having saved up a lot of money from living in the Arctic and having the privilege to live with family and not pay rent, I took 10 months off of teaching to write.

The process of writing a novel that hasn’t been published taught me how important it is for me to make time for writing in my life. Regardless of whether my novel gets published, or regardless of whether or not anyone else thinks my writing is any good…writing adds meaning and value to my life in a way that nothing else can.

I likely will never be a bestselling writer like Glennon Doyle Melton. But I certainly won’t if I don’t “SWEAT”: if I don’t make time to work on the craft. I can’t get the beach body by skipping the gym every morning…

Bill Bryson Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 8.50.23 AM

I also won’t make time for writing if I don’t have FAITH. I need to believe that I am deserving of making time to devote to my craft.

Maybe this novel won’t be published. Maybe the next one that is yet to be started won’t be either. But for me, the process of writing is enough to justify making the time to do it, even if this means early mornings, Saturday nights in, and allowing my marking to pile up every now and then.

neil gaiman quote

The next book won’t be written “one day.” The next article won’t be written “one day.” The dream won’t happen “one day.”

But it doesn’t have to happen all at once either. It will happen bit by bit, by carving out some time each day, and with a lot of faith & sweat.

This means setting boundaries on other responsibilities, setting limits on how much I do for other people, and putting myself and my own dreams & desires first sometimes.

Time to hit the gym.

 

We’re Not Entitled to the Life We Didn’t Choose

lalaland.jpg

This article has been published on Rebelle Society.

“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

-Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

In the final scene of La La Land, Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), plays a heartbreaking salute on the piano to the ghost ship of his life. The life he didn’t choose flashes before his eyes.  It’s an idyllic life, the one where he achieves his dreams AND ends up with his great love.

Sebastian will never know the magic that could have been his other life. None of us can. When we go in one direction, we are also choosing NOT to go in another. Our lives are defined as much by the choices that we make as the ones we don’t.

All choices have consequences, even the ones we don’t make. 

In North American consumer culture, we seem to have forgotten that our choices have consequences. We are constantly surrounded by an abundance of options: not only can we buy barbecue chips, we can also buy ruffled, wavy, baked, or kettle-cooked; and in spicy, hot, chipotle, tangy, mesquite, hickory smoked, and sweet flavours (to name a few). We are non-committal, sampling the various flavours without making a real decision to go one way or another.

If you are lonely on a Friday night, all it takes is a couple of swipes on Tinder to find a range of prospective dates. Then we break up with each other by ‘ghosting’ and move onto the replacement as quickly as we left, or often it seems, before we even left at all.

As the world becomes more and more globalized, it is becoming easier for many of us (especially if we have Western white privilege) to travel and work abroad. This results in an endless list of possible career paths and destinations to add to our bucket lists.

Instead of being liberated by the many options available to us, many of us become paralyzed by choice. As Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice emphasizes, this culture of “over-choice” has detrimental outcomes as it prevents us from contributing to society in a meaningful way. We fail to choose because we don’t want to feel the pain or regret that’s associated with making the wrong choice. But we aren’t helping society or ourselves by doing nothing.

We only need to look at the recent US election, where nearly half of all registered voters didn’t vote, to see the consequences of the choices that people don’t make (read: Trump).

It’s important to “own” our choices.

Instead of being non-committal, we need to own the choices that we make. This allows us to continue making subsequent choices: either to correct mistakes that we made or continue in a similar direction. By making a decision, even if its the wrong decision, we put ourselves in a position to do something about the consequences if necessary.

In the last decade, I’ve worked as a teacher in three different countries and five different cities. Now that I’m back home, I’m feeling envious of friends who chose to stay in one place. As Facebook and Instagram constantly remind me, they now have stable careers, happy families, and financial security.

This has left me wondering: should I have stayed home too?

Maybe then, I too, would be where they are. Maybe I would have the job I’m seeking now. Maybe I’d have savings instead of debt. Maybe a man I loved wouldn’t have chosen someone else. Maybe I’d be happier. Maybe none of these things would have happened. Maybe all of them would have.

Importantly, though, the choices I have made have led me to who I am now.

I’ve trekked through expeditions in the Andes, Alaska, and the Arctic. I can speak English, French, and Spanish and a few phrases in Inuktitut. I’ve learned to understand and forgive myself more. I’ve met incredible friends all over the world. I can reconcile with the fact that I lived authentically, and made the decisions that I thought were right at the time with the information I had. So any thoughts of regret or feelings of envy are connected to a sense of entitlement over the path I didn’t choose.

By “owning” my choices, I’m better able to appreciate that I chose a different path, the one that was more authentically me. Just because my life looks different than some of my friends’ right now, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own unique value.

Fear and unworthiness lead us astray. 

There have definitely been a few occasions in my life where I’ve made decisions knowing that they were wrong for me. While I have tried to be self-compassionate (I’m human and make mistakes), I’ve realized that in these situations, my inability to make the right decision was blocked by one of two elements: fear or unworthiness. 

Here’s one example:

When I was in university I didn’t try out for the basketball team. I went to the training camp, saw how competitive the tryouts were going to be, and decided that I probably wasn’t good enough to make the team. I spoke to the basketball coach after the training camp and he told me that he wasn’t sure if I would make it. He couldn’t say yes or no. He would decide at tryouts.

But I never went to the try-outs. I was afraid of getting cut, so I didn’t go.

I chose to play rugby instead, which ended up being a great experience overall and connected me with an incredible group of lifelong friends who I still hang out with regularly. So everything worked out and in many ways I feel grateful for the choice that I made. But there was always this nagging desire to play basketball. I even spent the whole summer after first year training to tryout for the basketball team the next year. (I didn’t.)

In hindsight, it would have been much better for me if I would have tried out for the basketball team and let the coach decide whether or not I was good enough. At the end of the day, the person who put a value on my worth, the person who decided that I wasn’t good enough, was me.

My fear of getting cut had two negative consequences.

The first is that it prevented me from succeeding. I didn’t try so I didn’t make it.

The second is that it held me back from embracing the path that I’d chosen: rugby, whole-heartedly. I could have spent my summer after first year devoting myself to becoming a better rugby player, which would have been a more valuable contribution to the rugby team. But I didn’t. This taught me that when we fail to choose authentically, we don’t only hurt ourselves; we hurt the people around us as well.

Similar scenarios unfold all of the time in relationships.

Someone I loved very much told me that we couldn’t be together because he “wasn’t good enough for me.” This made me very sad because he was the person who decided he was not worthy of the relationship, not me.

It was very difficult for me to accept when I learned that he had chosen to be with someone else, because it made me wonder: Is he settling for less because he doesn’t feel like he is worthy of what he actually wants?

In the end, I realized that I can only control the choices that I make, and with time and tears (lots and lots of tears!), I worked on letting go, even though it was not what I wanted. While I chose him, I had to learn to accept that he didn’t choose me, whether or not I agreed with his justifications for not doing so.

Acceptance.

Back to Sebastian and La La Land.

When the life Sebastian didn’t choose flashes before his eyes, he doesn’t try to fight it or change it. He doesn’t act entitled to it. He accepts it with tragic grace.

Sebastian made a choice to follow his dreams and he pursued that path with everything he had. He made a commitment to live authentically, and didn’t hold himself back due to fear of failure or regret or a sense of unworthiness. He went all in, and embraced his choice wholeheartedly.

The choices we make will define our lives, as well as the many versions of the lives we don’t have. So when we make choices, we need to be prepared to salute those ghost ships from the shore as they pass us by.

This means being able to ask ourselves two important questions:

Can I accept the choices I’ve made?

Am I living the life I imagined?

Since we can’t predict the future, we will never know the outcomes of our choices before we make them. Being able to answer “yes” to these two questions is the best that any of us can hope for.

The only life to which we are entitled is the one we are living right now, so we owe it to ourselves to choose the life we want to be living.

Inspiring Women Series: A Conversation with Heather Cheeseman

Sarah & Robert - June 19, 2010

“It is only YOU who gets to make the choices about your own time and what you do…and you need to make the time for what DOES matter. It’s okay that that may not be what everyone else says matters…”

After growing up in Burlington, Ontario, Heather Cheeseman completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Queen’s University. In the fall of her fourth year, she was recruited by the international tax, audit, and advisory services firm, KPMG, and became a Partner in KPMG’s Canadian Mining practice by the age of 32.

Over the course of her career, Heather has visited over fifteen mine sites on six continents, and has significant experience providing internal and external assurance and other services to companies at all stages in the mining life cycle. Although she’s experienced tremendous career success, Heather still struggles with a sense of “impostor syndrome” in the workplace.

“No matter what success you reach or no matter what you do, you always think that someone else is going to figure out that you’re really not that good at what you’re doing.” 

During her undergrad, Heather also met her husband, Dave, while they were both working in their hometown of Burlington for the summer. As Dave attended Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Heather and Dave maintained a long-distance relationship for a few years before eventually moving to Toronto where they both currently live and work.

“I think the thing with love…a big part of it is seeing beyond all the good stuff and seeing them for who they really are and accepting that…and knowing you’re not perfect and they’re probably not perfect, but accepting that about them… and being there through it…

…The good stuff’s easy.”

Despite her busy schedule as Partner for KPMG, Heather has learned to balance her personal and professional lives and make room for other things that are important to her, like spending time with her family and friends, traveling, drinking wine, and going to the gym.

“There’s always more work to do if you want to do it….so it can be A LOT if you forget about what else is going on in your life.”

It has taken her several years to establish boundaries at work but Heather believes that letting go of “work that doesn’t actually need to get done” so that she can put herself first has actually helped her to perform better at work. It has also improved her relationships, as she has learned to invest her time and energy into the people who matter the most to her.

The Inspiring Women Series is a podcast dedicated to sharing the stories of the many women who have inspired me in my life or who have inspired the lives of others. You can subscribe to the Inspiring Women Series podcast in the iTunes Store and can listen to my conversation with Heather below.

What does it means to be “strong”?

bp-release-st-clair
Eva & I team teaching Body Pump 99!

As a part-time fitness instructor, it’s my job to motivate participants to become stronger. Don’t give up. Keep going, stay strong. I cheer them on with cheezy one-liners and upbeat music, and I try to inspire them to challenge themselves physically by lifting heavy weights and pushing my body to the limit.

Physical strength has always been important to me. It’s enabled me to take on physical challenges, like a 24-day backpacking expedition in the Alaskan wilderness and cycling in Italy and Spain which have taught me discipline, resilience, and the power of positivity.

But lately, especially as I’m trying to figure out how to balance pursuing my passions and paying the bills, I’ve been wondering what I really mean when I’m encouraging people (and myself!) to be strong?

In North America, we tend to glorify independence, invincibility, fearlessness, and perfectionism. So in the past, I believed that “strong” people were fiercely independent, and void of vulnerability or imperfection. This definition of strength guided the way I lived, worked, and loved.

I rarely asked for help. I didn’t take care of myself enough. I prioritized my independence and career over some of the the relationships I valued most. I strived for perfectionism, and was overly hard on myself and the people I loved when I/they didn’t meet my unrealistically high expectations. When I played rugby, I taped up a sprained ankle to play in a championship game while my teammate played with a hairline fracture in her elbow, even though these choices put our bodies at risk for long-term chronic injuries.

Through some recent experiences teaching, writing & traveling, I’ve learned that being strong means something quite different than I had originally believed it to be. Here’s what “being strong” involves for me now.

Vulnerability

The work of Dr. Brené Brown has also really challenged my perception of strength. As a self-professed “recovering perfectionist,” Brown’s research reveals that instead of being a sign of strength, that perfectionism is rooted in fear. Fear of not being enough. Fear of unworthiness. Fear of disconnection.

Her books, particularly Daring Greatly, have made me realize that vulnerability is not weakness. Rather, strength lies in embracing our vulnerabilities and having the courage to be imperfect. If you aren’t familiar with her work, I encourage you to check out this TED Talk.

Learning to embrace vulnerability has helped me to gain a better sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. It has made me a better teacher because when I allow myself to take risks and make mistakes, it gives my students permission to do the same, providing them with greater learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.

In addition, it’s allowed me to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships. When I’m able to find the courage to speak and act from the heart, my friends and family members are more likely to engage in the relationship honestly themselves.

Humility

After living and working as a teacher in the Arctic, where society is centred around the community and not the individual, I learned that being strong doesn’t necessarily mean being able to do everything on your own. Instead, it’s having the humility to accept our limitations as individuals and ask for help and/or support from others when needed.

In the Arctic, the communities are small and isolated (in Pond Inlet, where I lived, there were only 1500 people) and resources are scarce, so people depend on each other for survival. Instead of admiring my independence, many of the local people felt like it was really sad that I would want to live so far away from my family. I couldn’t do many of the things, like running and cross-country skiing on my own because of safety concerns with extreme cold and polar bears, so I had to ask people to help me do these things. I depended on co-workers to help me understand the local culture and way of life and build relationships so that I could be accepted by community members.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I was a ‘teacher’ on this school land trip, BUT students were definitely teaching me!

Even though it’s still really hard for me to ask for help, I no longer see it as weakness. Living in the north taught me that relationships can make us stronger and that we gain strength through connection.

Faith

In addition to accepting help and embracing vulnerability, for me, strength also involves faith: faith in myself, faith in others, faith in the universe. It’s about trusting my intuition, letting go of the need to control everything all of the time, or having all of the answers right away. Connected to faith is resilience: getting back up when I’ve been knocked down, despite the obstacles that get in the way.

While writing my first novel, I struggled daily with self-doubt. Who am I to think I can write a novel? Will I even finish it? Will my book ever get published? Will anyone read it? Is it terrible?

There were days when the doubt was so crippling that I couldn’t even type a word. I’d go for a walk, clear my head, meet a friend, go get groceries, work at the gym, do ANYTHING else to avoid writing…because if I AVOIDED writing and never actually wrote the book, then I would never have to confront the fact that it might not get published, might be terrible, might humiliate me. But then the desire to write the book would eventually outweigh the doubt and I’d give myself a little pep-talk and continue writing.

I finished writing the book. It isn’t published…not yet anyways. But through the process, I learned how much I love the act of writing itself. Regardless of whether or not this particular book gets published, I have faith that one day, I will write a book that will.

Forgiveness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mandela’s cell on Robben Island

In August 2015, I traveled to South Africa for my friends’ wedding and did a day trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for 18 of his 27 years in prison.

The experience was incredibly powerful, as tours were led by a former inmate who spoke about his time in prison and the oppressive system of apartheid that he had been fighting against. The guide spoke a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation, and how he had chosen to forgive his oppressors for the harm they had caused him and his country.

After apartheid was abolished in 1994, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as a method of restorative justice where both victims and perpetrators of violence could give statements about their experience, and perpetrators could request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. The guide emphasized how the path of forgiveness as opposed to punishment or revenge, was necessary for his country to heal and move forward.

At the time, I was grappling with how to forgive a friend who I felt betrayed by. This small personal conflict was so insignificant compared to what the prisoners at Robben Island had suffered, so I felt inspired to take the path of forgiveness in my personal life. Yet it wasn’t easy at all and I couldn’t even begin to imagine the strength it took South Africans to choose to forgive on the political scale.

I went back and forth about whether forgiveness was strength or weakness. Was I letting my friend off the hook by forgiving? Did forgiveness mean I would be risking more pain in the future? How would I benefit from forgiving?

After reading Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu’s, The Book of Forgiving (a life-changing read),  I realized that true healing requires forgiveness. It takes a lot of strength to let go of the desire for revenge and retribution, but forgiving provides an opportunity for growth for all parties involved.

*

Now when I say, “stay strong” in my fitness classes, I’m trying to send a message (at least as a reminder to myself!) that strength is  grounded in self-care, love and compassion. This means being okay with taking “off days” and allowing injuries time to heal. It means I’m not obsessing about numbers on the scale or my body fat percentage, but rather am learning to be vulnerable and accept my body’s imperfections.

Being strong doesn’t mean being invincible and independent and macho and fearless and perfect. It’s about looking inside ourselves and opening ourselves up so that we can grow, follow our hearts, connect with each other, and heal.

Why I go back to a place I’ve already been

rainbow-over-yurt
During my 9 months in Colombia, I went to Salento four times and each time I “glamped” at La Serrana Eco Hostel  (#happyplace)

When I travel, I often feel overwhelmed by how much of the world I’ve yet to discover.

I meet people along the way who reveal hidden gems they’ve stumbled upon, and think I want to go there too.

My “bucket-list” just keeps getting longer and longer: Hike in Patagonia. Visit friends in Israel, New Zealand, and Australia. Trek in the Himalayas. Walk the Camino de Santiago. Camp in Northern Ontario. Drive across Canada.

But I have no intention of traveling for the sake of checking items off a bucket-list. For me, the wonder of travel lies in opening myself up to new places and cultures so that I can develop a deeper understanding of the world and of myself. Much like Andrew Evans of National Geographic Travel, I cringe at the idea of “DOING” a country.

“Last summer, I DID Colombia. Next vacation, I’m going to DO Morocco.”

Yuck.

Like a one-night stand, doing someone/somewhere implies CONQUEST: traveling to boost your “likes” on Facebook/Instagram (ie. your ego). It misses the true beauty of an intimate moment, the magic of possibility which comes from a deeper and often unexpected connection.

Even though I know that I’ll never have enough time to travel to all of the destinations I want to visit, I’ve found myself GOING BACK to places I’ve ALREADY BEEN.

When I was 16 my family took a ski trip to Banff National Park that changed my life forever. As we drove from Calgary airport to Banff in our jam-packed rental car, I was struck by the danger & beauty of the Rocky Mountains, and said something I will NEVER live down amongst my family:“I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mountains,” as though I was a character in Road to Avonlea (which at the time, I probably wanted to be).

Less than 6 years later, I went back and spent nearly a year working at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. My reasons for going back weren’t rational: I went back because something about the energy of the place took my breath away. I went back because I had to. I went back because I knew that the story of “me there” wasn’t over yet.

me-the-ant-on-rundle
Me, the ant, on top of Rundle Mountain in Banff National Park

Since Banff, I’ve gone back to many other places for many different reasons. The land. A person. A challenge that wasn’t complete. A relationship that wasn’t over. A sense of ALIVENESS that I’d never experienced before. Something that made me think: I’m a better person because I’ve been here. 

Five months after my teaching contract ended in the Arctic, I went back to take the junior boys basketball team that I’d coached while I was working in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, to a tournament in Iqaluit. I had applied for a grant from the government to build the program and provide more opportunities for the team of grade 7-9 boys to engage in school & basketball.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Matthew & I at the Nunavut Territorial Basketball Tournament in Iqaluit

Shortly after I’d returned to Ontario, I found out that I’d received the grant. I’d invested so much of myself in the team, that I couldn’t just decline it because I’d moved back home. Even though my contract at the school had ended, my responsibilities as a coach hadn’t. I needed to go back to finish what I’d started.

Much like life, travel is a journey, not a destination. Sometimes the story isn’t finished in time for the return flight.

Sometimes we stay.

Sometimes we have to go back to read the next chapter.