Today marks the second half of 2022, a natural time to check-in on how the year is going. I kicked off the year focused on the word enough.
In a world that seems to be on the constant quest for more (myself included), I wanted to remind myself that in this very moment I am enough. That I have all that I need. That, the life I am living, is in fact enough.
The reminder comes on the heels of a few years of some serious soul-searching, personal growth and grief. A time that allowed me to slow down and ask myself, what is it that matters and am I living my life in alignment with those values.
Most days, the answer is yes. But, acknowledging that is easier said than done. I’d be lying if I didn’t find myself getting caught up in the rat race of not enough. Of the pressure to do more, be more, work more, and hustle harder. That somehow if I don’t start my day in the middle of the night with an intense routine personal and professional growth, I am failing. If I don’t lose the weight and hide the wrinkles and get the promotion and be the rockstar mama, I am not living my best life. PS, this imaginary perfectionism I find myself sometimes chasing should also look effortless.
A work in progress, right? The fact that I can catch myself doing this is a step in the right direction. A small step, but an important step.
I’m 44-years old and find myself without a plan. I’m living in the moment and trusting that as long as I continue to show-up and do my best everything will be ok.
My relationship with faith remains complicated, but I’m finding comfort in acknowledging that as much as I want to believe that I can control what happens to me, there is something bigger watching out for me.
I have found such joy in saying no. To gently creating protective boundaries around my time and heart, allowing space to be curious and allocate extra time to that which means the most to me.
James Clear continues to wreak havoc in my life. Six months in, and I find myself finding ways to ensure I get my 150 minutes of movement in every week, no exceptions. I write every day, even if it to just capture some gratitude, shoot a note to a friend, or jot down the latest joke my son told me. Last month I turned in a book proposal in a Hail Mary attempt to share my lessons on loss. Even if rejected, I’ll find a way to publish my story. These daily habits don’t come easy but they are simple. Achievable. And in alignment.
My garden is growing – weeds and all. This week my son and I shared a few strawberries before heading to yet another baseball game. The simplest of simple moments created by chance. But, to experience it fully present is more than enough. It is everything.
Things are getting real. This week, a podcast I recorded last month with Coach Kiah came out. I first discovered Kiah by accident on Instagram. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan not only of watching her incredible weight loss journey but also her zest for life and all things farming. Yep. She comes from a cattle ranch and often features ag and farming stories that remind me how much I want to own a tractor someday. She mixes cute cow pics and great personal development advice together, resulting in me becoming a huge fan. If personal growth or farms interest you, be sure to follow her.
She was kind enough to invite me to be a guest on her podcast. It was a ton of fun to record. I went in thinking I’d spent a lot of time talking about my running journey and my one and only self-published book. But, towards the end we got talking about my new book. It was my first time diving a bit deeper into the purpose of my book and definitely had me sweating since it is a hard topic to talk about and even harder when you’re already nervous AF. If you’re interested in hearing more about the book and what I’ve been up to, check out the podcast here.
Since I’m writing, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my book. I am so appreciative to all of the messages I got from my last post with feedback about my writing. So, if you have a few minutes, please consider reading the chapter below and shooting me a note at email@example.com with your thoughts. It really does mean the world to me. My first ever book proposal is due June 5 so the clock is ticking and every bit of advice and encouragement helps!
Chapter 8 Therapy
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” David said.
Time stopped. How is that even possible. A few months prior I had started therapy in hopes to fix myself. Mom had been dead for over a decade. Despite graduating from college and landing my dream job, I had wasted my 20s away in a semi-destructive fashion. Perhaps I was just living my single days to their fullest. It is a fine line after all. Needless to say, something in my soul said I needed a change.
I quit my life in television news. I sold my soul to the dark side and took a job at an environmental liberal arts college as a PR hack. It was a straight day job, 8 – 4:30 pm, with weekend and holidays off. The pace more predictable and at times mundane. Come summer, the nearly empty campus and a generous vacation schedule allowed me to finally slow down and process the past decade.
Brutal is the only way I can describe it. At times emotional. One night, out of boredom, I watched boring reruns of The Real World and drank an entire bottle of wine. Somewhere towards the bottom, I suddenly felt I was spiraling out of control. I feared becoming her. Looking at the cheap zinfandel, I wondered at what point my mom transitioned from social drinker to alcoholic. I’d never get to ask her. But in this moment, I felt uncomfortably close. I threw the bottle out.
I chatted with my primary medical doc. She suggested therapy. I had run out of excuses and my insurance covered it. There was immediate availability at a clinic just 10-minutes from my apartment. I didn’t know many folks in this new town I was now trying to make home so I figured I had nothing to lose. YOLO, right?
There was also Steve. He was different than the other guys I’d dated. A keeper some might say. Our conversations ran deep. I laughed a lot. He seemed emotionally available. The attraction ran deep. Nearly a year into dating, a part of me wanted to run. To destroy things before he could break my heart. The other side of me, convinced I’d somehow mess this up because I was in fact a mess, wanted to do the work to ensure I’d get my happily ever after.
The perfectionist in me won out. I signed up for therapy convinced that a few deep conversations with a stranger would solve my grief, open my heart up and allow me to finally move past my mother’s death. In my mind, it was time to accept my mother’s death for what it was, close that chapter and start my life. Unfortunately, that’s now how therapy works.
Each week I’d find myself in a comfortable office sharing snippets of my past with a complete stranger. Conversations jumped from what life was like growing up to my career path to losing mom and falling in love. It felt very disjointed. Not at all like the movies. David rapidly scribbled notes down while I babbled on and on about all of the things I was trying to process. Occasionally he’d prompt me down another rabbit hole in which I’d bare another piece of my soul. Things I never shared with anyone suddenly came spilling out – I was comforted by the knowledge that this man had taken an oath to never share my deep, inner secrets with anyone.
The more I talked, the more broken I felt. What a mess I am, I thought to myself. But at least I’m doing something about it. At least I’m taking action to put myself back together again. At the time, therapy seemed magical, like the unsung hero who if given the chance, could have magically put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Finally, David said our time was coming to an end and that he felt he had enough information to diagnose me. Finally, a definition to this mess. A definition meant a solution. A pill. A treatment. A book to read. A way to move forward.
Then he said the words that shook my world.
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Other words followed. A lot of them. An explanation about how grief is hard but that I was in fact processing it and it was complicated. How it was totally normal to be nervous about my relationship because I was ready to transition from living solo to inheriting a roommate. Moving in with the boy was a big deal for me because I had spent a decade alone. I had successfully changed careers, but a lot of my identity was tied to that career I just walked away from. Something about the 20s being a major transition in my life.
He also talked about how my mother dying may have dimmed me ever so slightly. That pre-mom, I was perhaps a bit more outgoing and probably felt like an extrovert. It was impossible for him to know if I truly was an extrovert or just used that as a façade to not address my mother’s illness. Now I seemed to look inward more. To be a bit more reserved and at peace with that. Was that a result of my mother dying? Perhaps. My mom died at a very pivotal time in my life where I was figuring out who I was as a person. And, this would likely be one of the most defining moments of my life. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just meant I had evolved as a human – something we all do throughout our lives.
“But, what does this mean,” I asked.
In my head I was convinced he was wrong. He had to be because if he wasn’t wrong, that meant I was sentenced to this unsettling feeling for the rest of my life. That the random tsunami waves would continue to knock me off my feet at the most random of moments. I would never be the carefree teenager who took chances and felt invincible. Instead, I’d always be on edge waiting for the next big ball of doom to drop.
“It means that without me finding a diagnosis, your insurance likely won’t continue to pay for these sessions,” he explained. “I want to be upfront about that. I still think there are things we could talk through but you really are fine. If I had to prescribe you anything, it’d be to go live your life. To move in with Steve, enjoy this new life you’ve built. You’re ready.”
I couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket costs for these weekly talks. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money but I questioned the value of paying someone to tell me I was fine, when I knew I wasn’t. I thought about getting a second opinion. Of finding another therapist who’d maybe understand that I wasn’t ok with just being ok. I wanted more.
I left therapy and something happened that hadn’t happened in a long time. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried tears of rage for mom breaking me and then abandoning me. Tears of rage for a therapist who couldn’t fix me. Tears of loss for discovering that the person I was pre-mom was gone. Tears of unmet dreams for leaving a career I loved and knowing I’d never return to it.
When the tears finally stopped my soul felt lighter. I started to understand that losing and letting go of those things meant space for new things. It meant exploring a new career that provided a more equalized balance between work and life. It meant time to start a side hustle writing. It meant giving my heart the space it needed to heal and eventually open up to falling in love. It meant exploring the Northwoods of Wisconsin and rediscovering myself on the south shores of Lake Superior. It’d mean starting to understand the connection and triggers that caused those tsunami sized waves of grief but also making space to remember the good times with mom.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d return to therapy many times in future years. Each time, I’d still ask the question, “am I broken?” Sometimes I wasn’t as whole as I’d like. Other times, I just needed a neutral stranger to ask me the tough questions and give me the space to process the answers out loud. To remind me that life is hard. That even on the easiest days, life can kick us on our ass. But we get to choose how we react. That we decide what comes next in those moments.
At one point, I found myself at a pretty momentous crossroads in life. I was having what I can only describe as yet another existential mid-life crisis, but I was only in my 30s. My career had stalled. I had grown tired of the Northwoods. Dad was sick. My relationship with my sisters was strained. I was a new mom. The honeymoon phase of my happily ever after had long since worn off. I was tired. So tired of going through the motions.
I wanted to run. I don’t know where to. But anywhere seemed better than the sticks of northern Wisconsin in the heart of winter. I just wanted to start over. I found myself once again in therapy, this time with an incredible lady who seemed to read my mind.
“If you could start over, what would you do?”
“I don’t know.” But it doesn’t matter, I thought to myself because I cannot.
She used that moment to give me some tough love. She reminded me that no choice is a choice. I was choosing to stay stuck by not doing anything. That inaction was in fact the action of nothing. I hated her in that moment.
“If you want to leave, leave. You have the knowledge and resources to do so. But, I wonder if that’s really the heart of what’s bothering you.”
Steve would eventually join me in therapy and I’d share my frustrations. I’d share that I was living a life that felt unfulfilled because somewhere along the time, life had started happening to me instead of for me. I no longer felt in the driver seat of my own destiny.
A conversation ensued about choices. I was reminded that I chose to marry a forester. I had chosen a career that provided a work-life balance that allowed me to be an incredible mother. I had fought long and hard to become a mother, it didn’t happen by accident. We had sought out our dream home on a small recreational lake, but that meant living in a very small place away from friends and family, but within driving distance of dad. These are choices I had made that lead me to this life I was living.
My therapist reminded me that this new life I dreamed of was void of making any choices. That if I wanted to start over, it’d mean making a choice about giving this all up. That’s the thing about choices. Choices rarely come without change. Change rarely comes without losing something to gain something else.
The truth is, I couldn’t imagine my life without Steve or Jake. I couldn’t imagine working a 60-hour work week or not being home to say goodnight to my miniature me. I couldn’t imagine a view without Moon Lake or the ability to be at my dad’s bedside when he’s sick. I couldn’t imagine not having time to write, or garden, or read a good book on my deck. I couldn’t imagine Christmas without snow and a massive live pine tree in my living room. I couldn’t imagine not living next to endless green space or leasing chickens in the summer.
The what if game is a dangerous game if you allow it to consume your life. It is one thing to wonder what if, if that is followed by a big dream that you go pursue. It is entirely another telling yourself how wonderful life would be if you could live someone else’s. I realize that now. Sometimes life hands me unexpected surprises completely out of my control. They knock me off my feet and make me angry at the world. But, for the most part, my life is the result of a series of choices I made, consciously and unconsciously, that I should embrace. If I don’t, I should change them.
If I could tell myself one thing, it’d be that a therapist can’t fix me because to fix me, I’d have to be broken. I now understand if mental health is Home Depot, your therapist is that friendly worker in an orange cape who can give you the tools needed to build, renovate or destroy whatever you want. I can google how to plumb a toilet or find happiness. It is just a lot easier to ask the man in orange to provide me the right tools to plumb that toilet, just like it is a lot easier to have my therapist help me understand the choices I’ve made and how that’s lead to the life I’ve created for myself and that maybe if I focused on what I have, I’d discover I am happy.
A therapist is great at arming you with tools and resources. The part that’s often missed, or at least was for me, is that you ultimately do the work. I ultimately decided to move in with Steve. To acknowledge that the life I chose is actually the life I want. To realize that if I don’t call my own shot, someone will call it for me. That’s on me. No therapy session, pill or self-help book will change that.
The great reward that comes with doing the work is you only have yourself to thank when things go as planned. It doesn’t happen often and sometimes it is a long and bumpy road, but there comes a moment when you can make peace with the decisions you’ve made. The other great thing, you get to decide when to do the work. Looking back, I genuinely believe things worked out the way they needed to for me. Delaying the full feelings of my mom’s death until I was in a place to process them, helped me get to a place where I could start to understand the grieving process. To understand that even trivial moments could trigger memories of mom, and that was in fact ok.
Megan Devine penned an incredible book entitled “It’s ok that you’re not ok. Meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand.” In it, Devine spends a lot of time talking about our society’s inability to process grief and acknowledge that grief is not in fact something you get over but rather live with. There is no other side to grief. As a therapist and someone who has experienced great loss, Divine’s stories and advice are based in science and experience. I wish her book had existed in 1996 when mom died. But am so grateful it is available now. I understand now, the piece of me felt broken, is in fact a broken heart over losing someone I loved. But, as cliché as it sounds, it is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all. Knowing that and understanding that means I wouldn’t wish this pain away, because for that to happen would mean never feeling the love either.
This is the first birthday I feel legitimately old. As in, aging. Don’t roll your eyes at me and tell me I’m young. I know I’m only 44 and things are bound to get worse but these past few weeks, a series of events have reminded me that I am no longer a spring chicken.
First, there’s the pandemic pounds that have piled up on my mid-section thanks to perimenopausal (and over-indulging). Then, age, or spending endless days in virtual google meetings, resulted in so much squinting that I finally broke down and saw an optometrist. Cheaters were the solution, for now. A series of ads resulted in me noticing the deep divots (likely from squinting) lining my forehead and a flock of crow’s feet on my eyes. A custom skincare promises to ease the problem or at least inform my ego I’m trying to slow the decline. These items would be bad enough, but manageable. But it gets worse.
Shooting hoops with my kid makes my plantar fasciitis flare up and running has become increasingly difficult. My husband also informed me, while on vacation, that I snore. He even took video to prove his case. I’m sure this is a result of any number of the above items, including but not limited to the pandemic pounds. I’ve noticed I’m not as quick to spring up after lounging on the couch. Odd cracking sounds usually follow. Muscles are tender. Hair is thinning. My memory isn’t quite as crisp.
I’ve invested in some vitamins. I sometimes wonder if these are just placebos to cater to one’s ego, similar to my new facewash routine. Time will tell.
Bottom line. I’m aging. My birthday wish is to slow that process down just a bit this coming year. Not halt it. Just manage it.
How you might ask? Atomic Habits. I am such a fan of James Clear’s work. Since January, I’ve been implementing small changes in my life. This past month, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I need to amp up this game. Clear often reminds us that we are a summation of our habits. Given that, it makes sense I’m where I’m at today. It also makes sense that there are many aspects of this I can change.
I know that because I’ve made serious inroads in other areas of my life. I now have a work-life balance I once thought impossible. My morning ritual has freed up space to be creative and start crafting a second book. While slow, I’m still running after more than a decade of continuing to show up and move. I had my best garden ever last year with plans to build on that this year. All of these are the result of some small but consistent changes to how I approach each day.
To top things off, this past week, my faith in humanity was restored by the simplest of gestures. We were strolling a beach in Elk California when a stranger approached me with a large sea shell. He mentioned he enjoyed finding them and then giving them to parents to hide so their kid could find it. I did just that. Jake reveled in finding a shell that mom and dad walked right past. Sounds silly I know. I don’t care.
I’m bringing that shell home as a reminder that there is still good in the world. A reminder I sometimes need when I get wrapped up into the troubles that seem to find me wherever I go. The shell reminds me of a sand dollar parable my pastor once told me on a church trip out west. You know, the one where a mom and child are walking along the beach and the parent keeps throwing sand dollars back into the ocean. After a while the kid asks, why do you keep doing that? There are hundreds of sand dollars here and you cannot possibly save them all. And the mom says, it may not seem like much but for this sand dollar, it makes all the difference in the world. A bit corny but true.
Despite the downside of aging, I’m so grateful for the perspective each year brings me. I now know how fortunate I am to have cultivated some incredible relationships with individuals I’m lucky enough to call my friends. That being an introvert is not a negative. And, that even the simplest of gestures can make a big difference in someone’s life. Here’s to another trip around the sun, this one focusing a bit more inward on making some simple changes to help ensure many more trips around the sun.
Here’s to 44. To know her and love her and embrace her for all she’s about to bring me. May we all be so lucky.
It took 16-months of a global pandemic before I finally sat down and did a puzzle. About 95% of the way into it, I discovered a piece was missing. It didn’t matter. I was committed to finishing, missing pieces and all. Like I’ve said before, there’s a fine line between stubborn and stupid.
Plugging away at the puzzle, I couldn’t help but compare this to life. How often life hands us a pile of jumbled up pieces that we’re supposed to somehow cobble together into something whole. That how after much trial and error, a pile of mess can transform into something beautiful. Or, how we can get to the end only to realize we never had the tools needed to finish what we started.
This past year was no exception. I’ve talked a lot about grief this past year. How losing dad left a big void in my life. Not just with grief, but with time and my identity. It was an odd combination that left me struggling with where to go next. I decided rather than bail, I’d sit in it for a while. I gave myself the gift of time and space to ponder what’s next and slowly put things back together one piece at a time. I discovered the absolute joy that comes with productive procrastination. That sometimes, you cannot rush the puzzle because you need some time to find or create new pieces.
2021 was the year I did nothing but something. I didn’t go to school, run a PR, score a promotion at work or publish a book. I started the year with a blank page, lots of questions and not much direction. So I wandered. I polished rocks. I grew sunflowers. I read a lot of amazing books. I traveled. I saved money and spent money. I did a book signing. I plotted my next book. I cried. I laughed. I laughed so hard I cried and maybe even peed my pants a little. I watched my kid play baseball and basketball and wished my dad was here to see it. I cried on Christmas morning. And Easter. And my dad’s birthday. And on random days that end with Y. I also remembered our time fondly and worked to create new memories and traditions. I took up spin. I invested in the people that matter and let some other fade away. I enjoyed a lot of happy hours. I gained weight. I lost weight. I lengthened my plank time. I upgraded my fitness tracker and bought an espresso machine. I got rid of unrealistic expectations and discovered the joy of saying no. I added some boundaries and dropped my guard. I said good-bye to my cat. I was a guest on some podcasts and discovered my love for Teremana tequila. I completed my first real writing workshop. I blogged. And tried new running shoes… only to discover there’s no point in fixing something that isn’t broken. I tried meditating, practicing gratitude and sitting in stillness. I binge watched Yellowstone. I made new friends. I discovered things I never knew about myself and was reminded about things I had forgotten. I got my first tattoo.
In other words, in 2021 I did a whole lot of life. No matter how hard one grieves, time keeps moving. It is a gift we’re all given each day to create something. This year was no exception. It was hard but beautiful at the same time. Somewhere along the way, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. I find myself ending the year with new goals and dreams and direction while also never wanting to lose the joy of productive procrastination. I don’t know if I’d feel the same if I had powered through 2021 like year’s past.
But back to the puzzle. I eventually finished it, missing piece and all. I left it assembled on our table for over a week, annoyed about the missing piece but proud of finishing what I started. As I went to tear it apart, I noticed something peeking out from underneath our table runner. Turns out the missing piece was there all along. I just wasn’t ready to see it.
I hope your 2022 is filled with many moments of productive procrastination, moments of discovery, and time to assemble the puzzle pieces of life.
This quote popped up in my Pinterest feed last night buried between recipes about homemade chicken pot pies, Christmas appetizers and running exercises. I’m working on a book about grief so I imagine there’s some logical algorithm explanation for this moment of clarity that literally scrolled in front of my eyes.
This Christmas marks one year without dad. One year of reckoning with my faith and trying to come to terms with how things went down last December. How my dad went in for a hairline fracture and in less than two weeks was so isolated, distraught and heartbroken that he was begging ICU staff and his daughters to let him die. I genuinely believe we made the right choice – if choice is the word one uses in a situation like that. I’m so grateful that even with COVID-19, we were allowed to be there to say goodbye. I know many families did not have this luxury. But, the logical side of me struggles with the unanswered questions and lack of accountability in a system that failed.
I imagine in this moment, some turn to faith. To let go and let God – to believe that the universe had decided it was time. Others, want to understand. The past year, I did what any daughter would do. I sought to understand the events that had unfolded by asking questions of those who cared for him in his final days. I expected a logical explanation and medical records that supported that. That this logical information would provide much needed closure and peace. Instead, I was dealt a series of calculated conversations packed with misleading information, missing documentation, unanswered phone calls and shaming family members. Each encounter left me with more questions than answers and heightened skepticism about multiple systems that failed my father and was in cover their ass mode.
This story isn’t about the mistakes made, though. There are countless books about how our healthcare system sucks. That despite having many heroes on the frontlines, the systems they are boxed into are costly, inefficient and at times deadly. This is a story about what happens next. How far you go to get a simple answer.
For me, I sought the most basic of answers and was dealt more heartbreak. The lack of empathy in a world focused on risk mitigation, even though I never threatened litigation, broke my heart. The latest – a so-called investigation in which the Minnesota Department of Health investigated Benedictine Health System in under a few hours. The investigating nurse so “committed” to her case that she left me a voice mail on a Wednesday afternoon stating she wanted to get more information from me and despite me calling her back within the hour – never spoke to me again. The case was closed that same day. After several attempts, I finally got an opportunity to speak to her supervisor. Turns out, that’s the definition of a quality case review, skilled nursing home lie during investigations (her explanation, not mine), and that I wasn’t entitled to any information about the investigation without filing a freedom of information act. As for wanting to talk to me, apparently that wasn’t necessary. This, despite the state’s QI department citing Benedictine for quality issues relating to my father’s case. As for an apology or explanation about the unreturned phone calls and emails – that’s just not a thing. And so it goes.
How long does one keep asking the questions? The truth is, nothing will bring my dad back. But, reliving his final days over and over again, only to get more questions than answers, does nothing in finding closure or peace. It is one thing to set-out on a crusade to make the world a better place. It is another to advocate for change in a system that’s indifferent to your pain knowing nothing will change. That’s the trouble with asking questions. The answers are often worse than the unknown.
Twelve months in, I’m still grappling with how to let this go. A new reckoning so to speak. An attempt to carry on with life and a new normal of no dad, while also honoring his legacy. To advocate for others, including dad, who deserved better those final days but not let it consume me. A man who deserved to die with dignity versus defeat. Perhaps that makes me irrational and angry, a logical stage in grief. Or, perhaps just a daughter with a broken heart trying to bargain for his return. Or, finding meaning in his death by not letting him die in vain. It is a fine line.
Yesterday, my son scored two baskets in third grade basketball. I couldn’t help but think of how proud my dad would have been to see this. A part of me even feels he even played a role in this shot in-between cribbage games with mom, hunting bucks with Uncle Booty and securing the perfect Christmas tree. Picturing these moments bring me peace. It makes the empty seat this Christmas a bit easier to bare. I know I’m not alone in grappling with the reckoning of holidays. Of finding ways to remember those lost while celebrating new moments and traditions with those still here. After more than 25 years of holidays without mom, I know it never gets easier. Different perhaps. But never easy.
For those grappling with these big questions and no answers as well, I can only provide this word of advice. Grace. Give yourself grace and give grace to those around you. Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions. Early on after my mom died, I didn’t do that. I kept it all in. Decades later and some hefty therapy bills, I now understand the value of the human body being able to process multiple emotions. How we’ve been gifted the ability to feel joy and pain simultaneously. To laugh and cry in a single moment. To be grateful and heartbroken. That this is in fact normal. For me, that reckoning has been the single greatest gift I can offer myself this holiday season. I hope it helps you as well.
Last week I shared my top 5 favorite personal development books of 2021. This week, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memoirs that I devoured in 2021.
I once heard David Axelrod mock David Litt for publishing a memoir about his time speechwriting for Obama because he was so young. Like somehow age determines the worthiness of one’s story. Here’s the thing. I think everyone has seasons in their life that are story worthy. Maybe it is a personal story or maybe it is a universal lesson that someone else could draw wisdom from. By sharing your experience, you give voice to someone else – allow someone else to realize that perhaps they aren’t alone. In a time where isolation can be the norm, that matters.
The following five memoirs helped me immensely this past year for a variety of reasons. Most of the authors are my age, sometimes even younger, but their wisdom is priceless. I hope something here might help you as well.
In no particular order:
Brave Enough. By Jessie Diggins. I’ll be frank. I’m not a cross country skier or a huge fan of the sport. But this athlete continues to amaze me with her sparkle and no-nonsense ability to bring out the best in people. She’s known for her sparkles but this book shares her real-life struggles with body image, even while smiling on the podium. In this memoir, she says “It takes a lot of bravery to ask for help.” Her willingness to ask for help even as she’s garnering gold medals is a stark contrast to so much of conventional wisdom that implies those who ask for help are weak. Add in the fact that she calls out reporters who imply she’s not thin enough and she’s got a fan for life. This winter I’m looking forward to tuning in to see her glitter turn to gold again, and if for some reason it doesn’t, she’ll still be a winner in my book.
Believe It. By Jamie Kern Lima: In things I’m not a huge fan of, make-up ranks almost higher than cross country skiing. But, I stumbled across this book when a sponsored post for a free personal development conference came across my facebook feed (thank you FB algorithm). I signed up not even knowing who this gal was and within minutes I was hooked. Perhaps it was the story of a middle-aged white man saying real people would never buy make-up from a fat gal that resonated with me. Or, the scrapper in me being in awe that she went on to prove that mother-f***er wrong by ultimately going public and making millions. I love an underdog story as much as the next gal. While littered with a few too many rah-rah Miss USA moments, I was able to look past that to the heart of a story about a woman who worked hard and achieved her dreams. I even purchased some IT Cosmetics following this purchase… and that should tell you something.
Bravey. By Alexi Pappas. I first heard about Alexi Pappas on a podcast. I’m a runner but don’t really follow the sport so I wasn’t aware of her story or frankly that interested in it. But, this isn’t really a book about running. It is someone’s life story who happens to be a runner. Pappas shares a lot of life lessons that I think most folks can relate to – only with the added pressure of being a world-class athlete. At one point she says, “grit is what’s left over when nothing’s left.” This is something you’d expect in a book about running – but the added bonus of beautiful poetry and writing snippets about being brave and struggling with mental illness and burn out and the Olympic letdown – read more like a novel that an athlete’s memoir. All in all, she’s a passionate and amazing writer who is navigating a world where she wants to be a runner and… in other words, running is just one aspect of her life.
Courage to Start. By John Bingham. I first read this book when I decided to take up running. I revisited this book on my 10th anniversary of running to see if it read differently now that I can call myself a runner. It did. This is one of those books that depending on where you are in your running journey, different passages jump out at you. The most popular is “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” That still rings true for me today. Every time I start training for another race, the self-doubt comes rushing in. This book, along with so many other things in my life, have helped me overcome that obstacle. It is definitely running focused so if you aren’t a runner, probably not for you. But, if you run at all, this one will inspire you beyond your early morning jobs.
Untamed. By Glennon Doyle. I couldn’t wait to read this book. I enjoy Doyle’s writing but what I love most about her is the ability to cut out the bullshit and get to the truth. What’s crazy about this book is nearly every page has a passage that if read in isolation would serve as an incredible life lesson, or frankly words to live by. My favorite – “this life is mine alone so I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.” Wowza. When all of these lessons are layered on top of each other, you end up with a story that’s empowering. There is so much power in sharing one’s truth. Doyle takes that power and ups it by taking action in her own life. The end result is an empowering story and a lot of inspiration that we can input into our own story – if we are brave enough to live out our truth.
Bonus Read: If I’m going to talk about being brave, I might as well be brave. One last bonus read to consider this year – my book It Could be Worse. A girlfriend’s guide for runners who detest running. It isn’t Glennon Doyle worthy, but it is my running story. If you’re still reading this post and have always dreamed of running but don’t know how to start? Two suggestions. Just start. And read my book. I promise you, if I can run a half-marathon, you can move mountains if you choose to.
I’m an avid reader so it shouldn’t come as a major surprise that a good book is something I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving. This past year, I’ve really doubled down on my reading and devoured a number of game-changing books that in the words of my 8-year-old left me with my mind blown.
There are so many good books I read this year – all of which are listed on my Good Reads account. That said, there were five in-particular around the personal development space that really hit home for me. These books offered me keys to the kingdom – a better understanding of how my brain operates and why some of the most random things trigger me. Turns out, they aren’t that random.
In no particular order, I gift you these reading recommendations.
It’s ok that you’re not ok. By Megan Devine. I discovered this book by chance (thanks Amazon algorithm). After my dad died, I wanted a book that’d tell me it was ok to grieve my way. I’m convinced that book doesn’t exist, hence me writing my own book about grief and loss. That said, this book came close. Devine spends a lot of time exploring our country’s culture around grief and how sometimes folks’ best intentions in helping someone grieve fall flat. How in our cure all culture, we sometimes do more harm than good. “When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better. You just tell them it’s not OK to talk about their pain,” she says. She also gives permission for folks to grieve on their own timeline and their own terms. In my heart, I knew I needed to grieve my loss this past year on my terms, but this book gave me the courage to do so.
What happened to you? By Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. This poses the simple question of why we should ask the question of what happened to you versus what is wrong with you. I first bought this because I thought that was an interesting question to ponder. What I uncovered was a deep understanding of how my brain is wired, presented in a way that was engaging, interesting, educational, emotional, inspirational, scary and liberating all at the same time. This book changed the way I talk to myself and how I look at my past. Oprah says, “because what I know for sure is that everything that has happened to you was also happening for you. And all that time, in all of those moments, you were building strength. Strength times strength times strength equal power. What happened to you can be your power.” This book doesn’t try to say everything happens in life for a reason. Frankly, I don’t really buy into that anyway. But, it does reframe the power you have over your past if you do the work. It also draws connections in your everyday life that tie back to experiences from your childhood. Seriously, the connections are eerie, but at least for me, surprisingly accurate.
Atomic Habits. By James Clear. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems,” is one of the most quoted lines of this book. It is easy to understand why. In 2020, I attended a personal development conference that was all about goal setting. In hindsight, what I really needed in that moment was this book. If you have dreams and goals and desires in life (which if you don’t, that’s a bigger problem), this book is your guide to achieving them. This book doesn’t coach you into setting big ass SMART goals and then tell you to go change the world. In fact, Clear does the opposite. He says, you want to lose 100 pounds, go to the gym everyday but for under 2-minutes. Don’t go on a diet but instead, if your goal is to be a healthy person, start asking yourself what would a healthy person do. If you want to write a book – don’t drop $1,000 on a weekend long retreat. Instead, write for a few minutes. Every. Single. Day. In other words, we are a product of our habits. I’ve heard that in a variety of ways – often times in fat shaming with the common line, you are what you eat. But, Clear backs this up with science and tools and framework that makes you realize that incremental steps over the long haul is what gets you to the finish line. Seems obvious but in a world of instant gratification and life-changing transformations everywhere you turn, it is easy to forget that most if not all of us actually put our pants on one leg at a time and do the best we can with what we have – and how that’s more than enough if you build a system that supports the life you want to lead.
The 5 Second Rule and High Five Habits by Mel Robbins. Understanding the why behind stuff is one thing. Doing it is another. Clear’s book gave me the framework and set a bar that was achievable. Robbins takes that framework one step further with a self-help hack that’ll get you off the couch. The 5-second rule is a simple countdown from 5 that ends with action. Once you’ve got momentum, it is easier to keep going versus stopping. When I first heard about this, I thought it was lame. Then I watched her Ted Talk and was hooked. After reading her book and trying the hack before many, many summer runs, I can say it works. This fall, she followed up with another book called High Five Habits. This one is about how quick we are to self-sabotage ourself and how a simple act of giving yourself a high 5 in the morning, can rewire how you look at yourself. And frankly, if you don’t believe in yourself, what’s the point. All of the goal setting, habit stacking, momentum building in the world won’t work if at the end of the day, you think you suck. Together, these two books and Atomic Habits in-particular, have provided me more traction on my goals this past year than anything I’ve ever read in the past.
I’ve always been a strong believer that reading can change your life. In the words of someone much wiser than me, Dr. Seuss once wrote “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
This weekend, I have the rare opportunity to explore my writing. For the first time ever, I’m participating in a writing workshop at the North Shore Readers and Writers Non-Fest in Grand Marais. The course is lead by creative writer Kathryn Savage. Remember back in early 2020 when I traveled to Florida to participate in a personal development conference? You know the one where I was terrified to dance with 10,000 strangers? Well I upped that today by sharing my writing with ten individuals. Turns out, it is a lot less revealing to dance like nobody is watching, then reveal your soul to strangers. The joys of being a writer.
Anyways, the class has my brain in overdrive. I will be leaving this weekend with so many more questions than answers. But, I’m also leaving a new found appreciation for some new forms of writing. I’m even playing with some new approaches to my non-fiction writing. Here’s a glimpse of just one of my writing prompts today. I hope you enjoy it.
Wonder and Worry
I wonder sometimes if I’m overly ambition. Too extra. Too out there. I worry that I am not enough.
I wonder if we had caught the addiction sooner, my mother would be alive. I worry I’ll follow in her footsteps.
I wonder if my son knows how much I love him. I worry I will smother him to death.
I wonder if I’ll ever lose the extra weight. I worry about the impact diet culture has on women.
I wonder if I love my job enough. I worry I’ll never find my calling.
I wonder about the roll COVID-19 and a broken health care system played in my father’s death. I worry I didn’t advocate hard enough.
I wonder if there’s a greater being in the universe calling the shots. I worry about challenging my faith.
I wonder how I reversed a life of poverty. I worry I am not generous enough.
I wonder why Pet Smart prohibited me from buying a goldfish. I worry about all of the goldfish sacrificed as prizes of the golf ball toss game at summer festivals.
I wonder why I grow so many zucchinis when I hate zucchini. I worry my garden will never grow.
I wonder if I love myself enough. I worry that my ego gets in the way.
I wonder how a dating app brought me and my husband together. I worry about how technology is changing relationships.
I wonder if I miss opportunities because I’m the world’s largest introvert. I worry that I talk too much.
I wonder where these words are coming from. I worry words are never enough.
I wonder if I worry too much. I worry that I wonder too much.
This month, an essay I wrote about dad and gardening was published in Northern Gardener magazine. You can catch a glimpse of it here. It was shortened a bit since in typical Probst fashion, I was a bit wordy – so the full version continues on below. I learned a lot from my garden this past summer, including a bit about faith. There are so many things I never told my dad, but topping the list is just how much of him lives on in me.
Grieving in the Garden
Father daughter bonds take many shapes and sizes. For me, gardening offers me a rare moment to reconnect with dad. At just 42, I became an orphan. The story is complicated but the void in my heart is easy for any daughter to understand. Sure, I knew my parents wouldn’t live forever. But, my dad had 1,000 lives and for a while seemed invincible. Despite defeating the odds over and over again, it was a minor case of pneumonia that blindsided me Christmas Eve and left me alone.
Now, a few months later I find myself looking to the soil for answers. My dad and I shared a common love for making things grow. Growing up, gardening season started at the local feed mill in early spring. It was there, I’d watch my dad slowly count out the exact number of seeds he’d need and place them gently in a brown paper sack. We’d then move on to the potato starters picking the ones with the funniest eyes. Back home, I’d watch him turn the soil over with fresh manure, prepping it for planting, but not placing a single seed in the soil.
“Is it time,” I’d ask almost daily. “Nope. You must be patient.” This was one virtue I didn’t inherit from dad. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, my dad would determine it was time to plant.
One by one we’d place the seeds in rows marked by twine. We’d round out our plantings with small tomato and cucumber plants from the local greenhouse. And then we’d wait. As the weeks dragged on, I’d watch my dad lovingly water and weed those tiny buds.
“Is it time,” I’d ask in earnest every day. “Nope. You must be patient.” I’d see those initial white blossoms morph into tiny pea pods knowing that someday we’d finally pick our first super sugar snap pea of the season. I can still taste it. Green beans soon followed with juicy cherry tomatoes, bi-colored sweet corn and bright red raspberries. Endless rows of cucumbers were soon ready to be canned in mom’s secret pickle recipe. Each day, I’d wander the garden in awe of what transpired over the summer. Dad made it seem so simple.
Years later, I’d try to replicate the magic in a makeshift garden in my first home. The veil was pulled back. Without the loving eyes (and watering) of dad, the plants died. I discovered that cheap soil, no fertilizer and an unfenced area in a heavily populated deer area spelled disaster. Weeks later, I glanced at my shriveled up decaying plants and decided I was too busy to tend to the garden. By summer’s end, the once plotted space was nothing more than grassy weeds.
I’d move several times over the next few years. Each move marked a new opportunity to plant. But, something always got in the way. And when it did, dad would share his bounty with me. As time went on, dad’s declining health limited that bounty. I didn’t realize it then, but I wanted to make up for lost time. So I returned to gardening.
I began plotting my vision of the perfect garden. Every year involved bigger and better. My husband tried to keep up with my growing demands of more raised beds, additional fencing, more hoses, more fruit trees, and perennials. We trucked in fresh manure. We fenced and fended some more. Despite being on a small lake lot with acreage under 2.0, the project quickly became unmanageable. To overcompensate, I planted what was easy and could grow no matter what.
It started with the beans. There were so many beans. Purple beans. Green beans. Beans on top of beans. And then there were the zucchinis. I don’t even like zucchini. But it grew fast and furious in my garden, somehow compensating for my missed years.
I proudly shared my bounty with dad. “I don’t even like zucchini,” he’d quietly hint as I brought him baskets of them. “But I grew them, dad.”
“So, why don’t you eat them,” he’d say. (He knew I disliked them as well).
Back and forth we’d banter. He’d hint, in a not so subtle way, what he wanted from my garden. And, I’d try to navigate around the fact that we liked the same things and I didn’t want to give him my cherished sweet peas because I wanted them all for myself. I even attempted to pass off sweet peas from the Farmer’s Market as mine. He instantly knew they weren’t. This push pull relationship continued for years, yet for some reason I kept planting the zucchinis.
After my son was born, my priorities shifted yet again. The balancing act of being mom, daughter, wife, professional caught up to me. Areas of the garden were quickly taken over with mint. My raspberry bushes left untrimmed spreading like wildfire. Asparagus quickly became trimmed to the nub by north woods creatures and my unfertilized lingonberries succumbed to their demise. Areas of fencing now aged, were nothing but a minor inconvenience for the resident deer in the neighborhood. But yet the zucchinis kept growing.
Last summer I finally stopped. The garden scaled back to a mere four, 4×4 beds and a small plot of raspberries, sweet peas, sunflowers and mint. A few fruit trees remain and deer friendly perennials surround a newly made (and easily maintained) rock garden. I fertilized and doubled down on water. My dad, now an amputee, gladly accepted my single, simple offering of sweet cherry tomatoes and a few sugar snaps that I snatched from my son’s hands.
“You might get this gardening thing down, yet,” he’d say before giving a friendly suggestion on how to improve my outcomes. “You just need to be patient.”
In hospice, dad declined quickly. I suddenly understood we were out of summers. There would be no more garden banter about how to make things better. His parting words of “I’m proud of you girls and I love you” captured a lifetime of love in a single moment. And then he was gone.
Due to COVID-19, there was no funeral and I’m left wondering how to live out my dad’s legacy. There are so many things I could do. Do I plant a tree or an entire apple orchard? A garden statue? Planters? My dad loved blueberries. I thumb through countless mail order catalogs looking for the perfect tribute. I turn to Pinterest. But, each time I’m overwhelmed with grief.
Like clockwork, spring finally arrives in the north woods. I find myself longing to solve this legacy question so I can check grief off my to-do list. If only it were that easy. Instead, bare ground looks back at me. I return to the basics. Prep the soil. Fertilize it. Plant it with what you love. Water it. Nurture it. Each movement is a living legacy to dad. Each time, it gets a little easier. Turns out, grief like gardening, needs patience and grace.
I just enjoyed the most incredible week off. I traveled the UP and listened to great podcasts, hiked, took some photos and curated an incredible piece of artwork. I also played the what if game. I tend to do this a couple times per year – once in the spring and once in the fall. It is an opportunity to reflect on what’s going well and not so well in my life.
For many moons, the what if game tended to lean negative. It was often reflecting on my past and contemplating if I had made the right decisions. In many ways, a game of regrets and being disappointed that I hadn’t accomplished more in life. Rarely, did I flip the switch and say what if this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now to get to the next thing. What if I’m setting myself up for success by being here in this moment thanks to the hard choices I’ve made in life. What if accomplishing more in life looked different for me because I’m actually really happy with the life I’m living – even if others might think rural Midwest living is lame. (PS They’re wrong).
Two things happened this week that steered the what if game in a different direction. First, I had pre-ordered Mel Robbins High Five Habits. It arrived just in time for vacation and my vacation happened to coincide with her high five challenge. At some point, I need to write a post about some of the game changing books I’ve read that have inspired me to ask some tough questions and make minor tweaks in my life that have made a real impact… but until then, I’ll just say buy the book. Or, check it out at the library. Or, watch the videos about it. It is some super simple hacks to help you understand why you think the way you do and to help motivate you out of bed. Very similar to her other book that is also was a game changer for me.
Then, my amazing friend Tracy launched a business called Stoneweaver. I ordered one of her custom pieces that comes with a question. The question associated with mine is: if it’s not about winning, then what is it about for you?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I gear up for a race tomorrow morning. The race itself isn’t that exciting. I really just want to enjoy the fall colors and it helped motivate me off the couch this summer. But, it is sort of symbolic in that ten years ago, this was my first half-marathon (or any race) for that matter. (Quick plug, you can read all about this adventure in my book!) And, I realized I’m capable of so much more than I ever dreamed, if I only reframed my narrative from I can’t to I can… if I really want to. More importantly, my definition of winning in these races is finishing. For some, that is not enough. But, that’s what is so great about asking yourself what matters. You get to decide. And that’s pretty awesome.
And ultimately that’s the real question for me. This week I spent a lot of time dreaming. Trying to determine my next what if. What if I’m meant to tell more stories. What if I lost the weight. What if I went back to school or opened the business. Or, what if, I spent the next year being curious. Trying new things and seeing what other narratives I can challenge because I think my greatest passion in life is learning.
I’m ending the week with more questions than answers. A sign that I’m on the right path. Curious minds never stop questioning. I challenge you to do the same. Ask yourself what if and dream of what’s possible.