Jan 152020

Humility shows itself in the people with whom I am connected — both online and in real life. I love the conversations about becoming better  at who we are and what we do. Lately they have been about the balance between a commitment to continuous self-improvement and acceptance: of self, of others, and of life as it is. So how does one balance a desire to improve with gratitude for the way things are? I don’t know about you, but I struggle. And I seek greater humility.

I struggle not to compare myself and my accomplishments to those around me, striving always to applaud and appreciate others’ successes. Recognizing that we may have different strengths, interests, opportunities, privilege, resources, life circumstances, or abilities helps steer away from jealousy. The struggle is sometimes to recognize my own accomplishments — I’m not denigrating them, I just don’t always remember them when I should.

“Humility is truth.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus

Humility is truth. ~ Desiderius Erasmus Click To Tweet

I’m not interested in loud, brassy self-improvement like artificially adding “best-selling” to my author bio; but continuing to improve as a writer? To be recognized by my peers? That feels right — especially when I couple that commitment with the hope that what I produce lands with people who will enjoy it and, perhaps benefit from some of the ideas. It’s not a SMART goal but it’s a way of thinking about life and growth that’s meaningful to me right now.

Humility Makes us Real

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. ~ Thomas Merton Click To Tweet

Until checking the dictionary, I thought I might be trying to approach self-improvement with humility. But once there, it became apparent that I needed to discard most parts of that definition. Rejecting “a feeling of insignificance” and “low in rank” left space for “not arrogant” and “courteously respectful.” So many definitions of humility seem to ask us to present ourselves as “less than” and, to me, that doesn’t square with acceptance. What if humility is an accurate self-appraisal and an understanding that there are those whose skills are better than ours and those who know other things? Perhaps it has more to do with just being or with something our culture has rechristened “authenticity.”

Practice Radical Humility

Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes... ~ Wayne Dyer Click To Tweet

Searching for others’ thoughts on humility led me to a pair of popular writers whose work embraced a combination of creativity, spirituality, and helpfulness.  Thinking about them together makes me smile as I picture them having a cup of coffee together. I wonder if they’d enjoy the other’s company — and what the conversation would be.

My first Maya Angelou quotation places me (or “us” if you choose to join me) in a continuum. It places us in time, honoring those who came before and those who will follow. “What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.”

And, as is true with almost anything I’ve ever read by her, she points us to honesty. “Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.”

I finally arrived at a favorite thought from Wayne Dyer. His advice? “Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes, or proficiencies. Be in a state of awe and bewilderment.”

So what can I do with this? How can I incorporate humility into my day-to-day life? Here are five simple ideas, a list that could, perhaps, be titled “Five Simple Ways to be a Better Person” or “Don’t Be Such a Jerk.”

    • Turn off your cell phone. I like instant access as much as the next person but liberal use of your smart phone’s Do Not Disturb function allows us to be fully present to the meal we are eating and the people with whom we share it. (Pro tip: I didn’t know how, so I asked the artificial intelligence to do it for me!)
    • Vacuum behind the furniture. I’m far (way too far) from being a neat freak but this one speaks to our place in time and doing our work completely whether or not anyone else will see it.
    • Supermarket behavior. Some venues are better practice than others and for me this is it. When I can let someone go ahead of me in line or return their empty cart, my behavior says their time (and their car doors) matter as much as mine.
    • Passing along a favorite book may say “I thought of you while I read this.” (Or, in the case of self-help? “I got a lot out of this, would you like it next?”)
    • Saying “please” and “thank you” — frequently and in many formats. A text. A hand written note. A small gift. The more I practice this the more ideas come my way.

Please share your thoughts on humility and self-improvement in the comments. Thank you.

Jan 072020

New year conversations about intentions, resolutions and change can be inspiring, tedious, or both. It seems that everyone is going to eat better and exercise more. Make the first thing the first thing. Spend more time and less money. For some of us these conversations trigger questions. Lots of them.

I find myself wondering why do we do this. Where does it hurt and why? How do pain and discomfort show up?  What result are people looking for? How are we going to know when we get there?

It seems that everyone is going to eat better and exercise more. Click To Tweet

Permission to Pursue Resolution

While it’s tempting to attribute a bit more altruism and pursuit of positive change to the “new year – new you” phenomenon, I really think it’s more about suffering. Maybe the end of  a year gives permission to give voice to our disappointments. Perhaps the opening of a new year gives permission to pursue resolutions and change.

Discomfort gets our attention: when my favorite jeans are too tight I choose to eat less and exercise more. When the dog is obnoxious I commit to more training. Headaches? More water. Credit card bills? More business and less spending. If the suffering is still at too low a level to get our attention, we’ve always got advertising and other forms of media to help us ramp up. “Life suffers.”

Severe pain changes the motivation picture from “carrot and stick” to “all stick, all the time.” Click To Tweet

Changing the Picture of Motivation

It may be useful to look more closely at the pain we accept, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Somehow it rarely occurs to me that change is possible unless or until the pain level becomes unacceptable. Severe pain changes the motivation picture from “carrot and stick” to “all stick, all the time.” It  locks doors and limits our ideas about options. Perhaps resolutions start to reverse that process.

What makes a level of pain something we finally reject? One answer is that it has started to impair the ability to function — and that can show up in the mind, the body, or the heart. How clouded is our thinking? Are we making self-defeating choices? Setting ourselves up for success or for failure? There’s lots of information available when we start to look at pain as a messenger rather than a two-headed monster to be avoided at all costs.

Changes for a new year of can involve lots of quitting: smoking, drinking, vaping, swearing, sugar and spending are some I’ve heard recently. I’ve certainly made my share of “I’m going to stop ________” resolutions.  Most of those didn’t carry me more than a few days or weeks down the road. But change is going to come whether we embrace it or not: if we continue to engage in destructive behaviors our bodies will respond in ways that bring even more pain. If we continue to overspend, our debt will change as well.

Change is going to come whether or not we embrace it. Click To Tweet

Straddling The Line

I seem to have more success when I acknowledge the constance of change and when I add a positive rather than when I determine to stop a negative. I continue to discover that opening to transformation works better than simply seeking relief. “Eating more fresh fruit and veg” works much better for me than giving up sugar.

As the “new year- new you” stories already fade from the headlines, I continue to think about the process of change.process of change. I want to straddle the line between the relief of suffering and the peace that can come with opening to transformation: both provide motivation and remind me that change is coming — whether I acknowledge it or not. Maybe instead of dramatic lists and proclamations I would do well to think in terms of  getting out of the way and “nudging” my habits in the direction I’d prefer.



Dec 292019

I’ve always enjoyed the excitement and anticipation that comes with a blank page. It speaks to me of hope and possibility, of space for the vision that will become a story. And although I rarely bring the clarity of 20/20 vision to that beginning, I trust my experience as I trust the process. I assume a satisfying and positive outcome. It’s an attitude I try to bring to anything new and a new year provides good practice.

As we all know, some years are easier to love than others: this one brought some great joys. It provided an abundance of soul-crushing moments as well. No, not “challenges” — real honest-to-Pete, street fight, jumped in a dark alley, ass-kicking, bone bruising days. Some have been mine while others have tried to take down the people I love, my community, and some beliefs I hold dear.

Some years are easier to love than others.This one brought great joy and some ass-kicking, bone bruising days. Click To Tweet

How Much Magical Optimism Juice?

There. I said it. I’ll be glad to see this one go. I struggle only with not sprinkling too much magical optimism juice on the one that’s waiting just around the corner, on the next page of my weekly calendar. It actually feels good to exhale and let a little bit of air out of the ugly party balloon in my chest. That’s the balloon with the words “what now” scrawled on it.

I habitually take a few days after Christmas to review the year that’s winding down and make adjustments to my expectations for the new year. I use a process that’s a lot like making a vision board except that I create pages. I have books full of them. This year I started early. Very early. It takes some time for the themes of the artwork to come into focus. One of themes from this year’s process is “vision.” And I’m noodling around the internet to see what others have to say on the topic.

It actually feels good to exhale and let a little bit of air out of the ugly party balloon in my chest. Click To Tweet

Is Vision in the Mind’s Eye?

If you don’t have a vision you’re going to be stuck in what you know.  And the only thing you know is what you’ve already seen. ~ Iyanla Vanzant

A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more. ~ Rosabeth Moss Kantor

In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice. ~ Ansel Adams

Artists, musicians, scientists – if you have any kind of visionary aptitude, it’s often something that you don’t have a choice in. You have to do it. ~ Patti Smith

Do You Have a Big Vision?

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~ Jonathan Swift

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~ Melody Beattie

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. ~ Carl Jung

You have to have a big vision and take very small steps to get there. You have to be humble as you execute but visionary and gigantic in terms of your aspiration. In the Internet industry, it’s not about grand innovation, it’s about a lot of little innovations: every day, every week, every month, making something a little bit better. ~ Jason Calacanis

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart... Click To Tweet

A Curtain Gives a Clear Vision

I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing. ~ Mary Oliver

The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at. My favorite example is the symphony orchestra. When I was growing up, there were no women in orchestras. Auditioners thought they could tell the difference between a woman playing and a man. Some intelligent person devised a simple solution: Drop a curtain between the auditioners and the people trying out. And, lo and behold, women began to get jobs in symphony orchestras. ~ Ruth Bader Ginsburg

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. ~ J.K. Rowling

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already... Click To Tweet

Starry Eyed, Realistic & Visionary

When women reassert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, an oracle, an inspiratrice, an intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge vibrant life in the inner and outer world. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. ~ Cecil Beaton

To be realistic today is to be visionary. To be realistic is to be starry-eyed. ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

Dec 182019

Approaching the longest night of the year always brings to mind thoughts about darkness and light. The instinct to retreat to a comfortable den grows stronger and I find my self noticing variations in light. A later sunrise speaks to creativity, to comfort, and perhaps to the wisdom of snuggling up with a good book, a cup of coffee, and a dog. Or two.

My sense of lightness and dark matured when I studied graphic art — especially when I moved into photography. It’s another place to learn about what to keep and what to edit out, what to focus on, and what kind of light brings out the truest nature of a subject.

And, of course, I turn to others to shape my thinking. And to give me hope as we move through the longest night.

Darkness and Light for the Longest Night

And to give us hope as we move through the longest night. Click To Tweet


woman light and darkness stone wallThe planet is always half light and half dark, and so are we. ~ Jennifer Lynch

Life evolved under conditions of light and darkness, light and then darkness. And so plants and animals developed their own internal clocks so that they would be ready for these changes in light. These are chemical clocks, and they’re found in every known being that has two or more cells and in some that only have one cell. ~ Jessa Gamble

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. ~ Carl Jung

Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other. ~ Sojourner Truth

Pure, Blazing, Fierce

There is a wide, yawning black infinity. In every direction, the extension is endless; the sensation of depth is overwhelming. And the darkness is immortal. Where light exists, it is pure, blazing, fierce; but light exists almost nowhere, and the blackness itself is also pure and blazing and fierce. ~ Carl Sagan

Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters... Click To Tweet


I want to be inside your darkest everything. ~ Frida Kahlo

Each day is a different length of time and that gives a different length to the cusp between light and darkness or darkness and light. ~ James Turrell

Love is not consolation. It is light. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light. ~ Albert Schweitzer

You cannot look up at the night sky on the Planet Earth and not wonder what it’s like to be up there amongst the stars. And I always look up at the moon and see it as the single most romantic place within the cosmos. ~ Tom Hanks

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Click To Tweet

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. ~ Helen Keller

Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. ~ Malala Yousafzai


Thank you for reading. And commenting. And connecting. And sharing. Those are all wonderful ways to to help a spark become a flame. They all add to the light. Thank you.