Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Finding Your Passion – at Fifty!

I recently lead a small group discussion with the goal of discovering how to reinvent yourself after the age of 50. One of the members of the group was just turning the magic number and I was hired as a sort of “dog and pony show” birthday present as part of a weekend celebration. I loved the idea and jumped at the opportunity. Having never been engaged professionally before to explore this topic, and with no prepared notes in the “can”, I decided to let my instincts lead me through this exercise.

I felt very comfortable with my decision, as experience has shown me that I access much better information when I speak extemporaneously. After all, this is a subject I have been exploring and writing about for years. Lucky for me I had a fourteen-year advantage of life experience on my side. Turning 50 had me changing life gears, so sharing the steps I took myself seemed like a safe avenue to explore in this venue. Thankfully this proved to be just the ticket.

The sun had all but set, and a blizzard was blowing wildly outside. There was little chance of distraction from the topic at hand. As this very informal and comfortable group settled into their overstuffed chairs, I began with a little background about me, and the journey I had taken. I had never met any one of these folks before, and the energy in the room was warm and intense. I knew I would need to stay focused in order to navigate a path for them to follow with clarity.

Once I finished my introductory remarks, I tossed the ball out to the group, asking them to let me know what each of them wanted from the brief time we would spend together. Two main themes quickly emerged. One was how to find one’s passion. The other was to discover what we are truly committed to – a surprisingly elusive treasure. As with most discussions I lead, I incorporate the Six Pillars of Civility framework into the process. In this particular journey the pillars that seemed most significant were those of compassion, awareness, gratitude, and encouragement.

Compassion for ourselves gives us permission to explore both new and hidden territory. So much happens to most of us at this time in our lives, that we may experience feelings of selfishness – how can we justify focusing on ourselves? We are so used to raising a family and establishing a career, that little time has been available to us for ourselves. The feeling can be very unsettling, so we must have compassion, and allow ourselves to follow our inner voice. That is how we will ultimately discover our true passion.

We must expand awareness. We need to emphasize the importance of paying attention. This is the next step in the process of discovery. When we open our eyes to infinite possibilities, the “yes buts” will fall away, allowing us to consider alternatives we had been putting off, and putting off, and putting off. We can begin to imagine how following our passion will satisfy us and influence those around us in a positive way.

Gratitude for the opportunity to take the next step along our path balances our joy of discovery and acceptance. And encouragement allows us to give ourselves a pat on the back. After all we’ve been putting others first for many years. The passage into our sixth decade provides us with a chance to put ourselves first for a change. We need to develop the confidence to enter these uncharted waters safely and gracefully.

Understanding what we are truly committed to is one of the toughest challenges we will ever encounter. On the surface it may seem simple, but if it were so simple why is the result so elusive; and why has it been so elusive for so many years? The answer lies in a quote I recently ran across by Brigitte Nicole: "All of life's lessons you have been through are only a preparation for what is about to happen in your life. If the experience brings you joy, much wisdom has prepared you for this journey. If it brings you sorrow, remember lessons will keep striking you at your weakest point because that's what needs most strengthening."

Simply put, we must look below the surface at the feelings the situations in our lives elicit to discover where our true commitment lies. Do we empower feelings of joy or put more of our energy into avoiding the feelings of sorrow? Whichever one we choose – and it is a matter of choice – we will find ourselves in circumstances that require us to support that choice.

Whatever changes we decide to make in our lives, we must learn to understand that these alterations require scheduling “me” time. We need to explore how to best find our revised paths, and discover fulfillment in our different roles. I hope we can all take the time we need for ourselves. In the end, this is the ticket to civility in our lives and in our communities.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Treating Mother Nature With Respect

As a young boy, I had the privilege of attending summer camp for eight weeks every year for five years. As for many of us who had similar opportunities, this was my first time away from home. I remember so much from that time as though it was only yesterday.  The camp was Pemigewassett, located on Lower Baker Lake in Wentworth, New Hampshire. As an eight year old, being thrust into an environment with total strangers, no hot water, and no en suite facilities was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I loved every minute of it, and am happy to report the camp is alive and well, being managed by the same families that have owned and managed it for over 100 years!

I gravitated towards the Nature Lodge, where activities centered on collecting, identifying, and even breeding everything from Luna moths to Fern fronds to rocks and minerals.  I also enjoyed canoe trips down the Connecticut River, climbing the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and many overnight camping trips. Although these activities were far from a boot camp like experience, they were opportunities to learn about respecting the natural environment – both its awesomeness as well as its fragility. We learned to leave a campsite in better ‘nick’ than when we arrived. Gaining a working knowledge of pitching a tent, building a campfire, and digging one’s own ‘toilet’ were all a part of these formative years.

There is no question in my mind that learning to respect our natural surroundings as well as our fellow human beings enhances our enjoyment of life. Climbing steep mountains carrying a seemingly heavy backpack to enjoy the view from the top was a foreign concept to me as a small boy. I doubt seriously if I would have enjoyed the experience as much were it not for the patches of wild mountain blueberries we stopped and munched along the way. We were careful not to take them all, not to trample any of them, and most importantly to savor where we were at that moment. Learning to appreciate all of what was immediately around me was very rewarding and has stayed with me my whole life.

Eventually we had to stop for the day and pitch tents or lay hemlock boughs on the dirt floor of an open lean to where we would sleep in our sleeping bags. We hiked in small groups of about a dozen, a counselor leading the way, and each of us carrying our fair share of the load, which consisted of enough food for the whole trip, assorted paper products, cooking pots, pans and utensils, a first aid kit, and a lot of candy bars. The more we matured through the summer months and enjoyed weekly outings; we couldn’t help but be in awe of the natural world.

Granted we learned best with the reward system of cleanest campsite gets the candy bar. But the main thing is that we learned to understand what stewardship means, why it is important to follow the rules, and how to do both of these things well. Perhaps having an appreciation from a young age of just what a responsible outdoorsman is sparked my keen interest in conservation.

Cleanliness is next to godliness in the woods, too. Today’s guidelines are far more stringent than they were 50 years ago. The principle remains the same. Leave your footprints with care; plan ahead, leaving no stone unturned in your planning; and take away every scrap of trash and pick up any that comes across your path.

From a pure etiquette point of view, follow the “when in Rome” rule. Before heading into a park or down a marked trail area, be sure to stop and read the signage explaining what hikers and campers may and may not do. This is important for our own safety and for the protection of the wilderness inhabitants. And, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. The quiet that the deep woods afford can become alive with an orchestra of night sounds. This mingling of voices is magical. We are responsible to ensure these wonders of the natural world are here forever.