In the Flesh

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It was a gift to spend a few days on Cape Cod last week, inserting ourselves into my sister’s annual vacation. Dear son commented at one point, “I love it on Cape Cod. Everyone’s so friendly.” While this is not everyone’s description of the traffic-plagued Cape in summer, my young one was appreciative of all the unexpected side conversations–people stopping to say hello, ask about a favorite destination for dinner and dessert, or comment on the clouds slowly gathering off-shore. I have no idea if vacationing people are friendlier or not, but I do sense that people let their guard down when they are relaxed and beside the ocean. They are less likely to perform and more likely to simply live.

I noticed this in the bathing suit-clad women who frequented the beach near our cottage. One woman proudly carried her newborn and the roll of residual flesh that perched at the top of her bikini bottom. Older women with wrinkles and sags from years of beach living crawled along the sandy shore with grandchildren, oblivious to cleavage revealed or dirty knees. A girl I would place around ten spent hours perfecting her cartwheel, pausing after each attempt to deftly pull her bathing suit from where it had become wedged.

I’ve read a blog post or two inviting women to stop protecting the world from the sight of their thighs and begin enjoying summer, and perhaps these messages have worked. Maybe women really are more at ease in their own flesh and bones this year….or maybe I noticed their ease because I feel more of my own.

This ease is not merely physical. My body is a work in progress, and there are still days when I long to push a button and change this or that. (Though I am not a body-focused coach, I can happily recommend others who are!). This body has worn the strains and struggles of life’s lessons and losses–and a couple of births along the way. But something happened around the age of 40. I began to appreciate the gift of this flesh that holds me together–I began to love this body that contains my story and the stories of those I love.

I don’t know which came first–greater comfort in my physical skin or the determination to create a “life-skin” that fits me, my family, and my values. After working in recent years to make my choices fit others’ expectations, I began to look for commitments that don’t require quite as much maneuvering. I sought (and still seek) environments where my nature is embraced. I am a positive person–a kind person. I like to do work that instills hope and confidence and joy in people. I have realized over time that these gifts, however positive to me, are devalued or dismissed in some contexts; I can no longer perform or “act as if” in such settings.

This body–this personality–this accumulation of life wisdom is all I’ve got, and I am grateful to wear it in the open now. I no longer feel the need to conceal or cover-up. The places where I work, gather with friends, and invest my energy are places where I can be seen fully, in the flesh….arm flab, fleshy thighs, stomach rolls, and all. I move through all my days in response to more natural impulses and rhythms, just as my Cape Cod self aligns with tides and sunsets and time in the outdoor shower.

Climbing into the skin that is my life today took courage–and it took deciding to stop living a life that fits better on someone else. Perhaps you also crave the comfort and ease of life in your true, beautiful skin. If you would like encouragement (and hope and confidence and joy!) as you strive to create the life you can wear in the open, let me know. This is a journey best taken among friends.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

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You’re worth it!

I was pregnant with my second child, three years into a part-time work schedule, when I began dreaming about my grandparents’ Steinway baby grand piano. They were gradually reducing their belongings, and I contacted the family member most instrumental in this process to find out if they would be willing to sell the piano to me. I realized the piano was a one-of-a-kind item, and without similar items to give to all their other grandchildren, this was going to be a family purchase rather than a family gift.

In many ways, the timing was awful. We were just beginning to wrap our minds around the loss of my full-time income and prepare for a second child in daycare (an expense second only to when we will send these two to college!). This second child also meant a new vehicle was in our future, and we perceived there to be little “wiggle room” in our savings for a significant purchase. But the piano was–and is–gorgeous. The wood is a rich medium brown, and the touch of the keys is light and fluid. I had played that piano for hours when visiting my grandparents in their Florida homes, and I suspected it would bring them and me great joy to have it remain in the family. So I approached them, asked their price, and began digging into our resources to find what would make this exchange possible.

It’s amazing what you can find when you are motivated to look. There were funds from a recent inheritance. We decided we could skip a summer vacation….who travels with a toddler and newborn baby anyway? Securing and ultimately receiving the piano took some work, including finding a long-distance specialty piano mover, but you can clearly see my delight (and pregnant belly!) on the day this new-old piano arrived.

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I have never regretted this purchase or the financial sacrifice it required of us at a challenging time….just as I believe leaving a secure position with a stable income to start my own business–and be nearer my growing children–is the best decision I’ve ever made. (Remind me of this when I get the middle of the night fear tremors!) The fact is, we almost always have the money for what matters.

[Quick aside: I recognize and believe that systemic inequality exists in our world and in my community. There are people who do not have the resources to meet their own basic needs, and we have constructed a society where we actually rely on this fact. While I believe many of us can rethink our resources and how we use them to make room for what is of value, I do want to bring to mind those who do not have this sense of agency. They, too, are our collective responsibility, and I hope reversing this plight is one of the values you choose to invest in with your time and your financial resources.]

I grew up in a family that struggled financially. My parents were white collar employees–a teacher and minister–but neither career provided significant income. This state of being–and the state of mind that accompanied it–is planted deep inside me. I reflexively feel like there isn’t enough, and I am more likely to contract my life to fit a smaller income than to imagine growing my resources to invest in experiences or wants for our family. (It is especially difficult for me to prioritize my own needs–Exhibit A: Years ago I forgot my checkbook for the first three appointments with a new therapist.) But I have experimented in recent years with believing there is enough, and somehow this continues to be true. On really wild days, I imagine abundance….and surprise, surprise, this has turned out to be true too.

The shift of mind has allowed me to invest in my own well-being from time to time–an occasional massage, a yoga class from that instructor I love, and, yes, coaching. I have received individual coaching on multiple occasions, especially at life’s “intersection” moments, and I have also participated in group coaching or classes offered by coaches. What initially felt indulgent has yielded some of the most important decisions of my life–decisions that have benefited far more people than just me. But you know what? “Just me” is worth it! And you are too!

If you are looking to make a change in your life and want to work in focused ways with someone who can ask you powerful questions, I’d love to be that person. If the investment still feels out of reach, consider creative possibilities: professional development funds at work, birthday money for a coaching fund, or consider group coaching. This fall I’ll offer periodic calls for groups interested in a theme or question. The experience is more cost-effective than individual coaching, and there’s great benefit, from my experience. Whether you want to talk about how to find and declare a sense of purpose, how to make decisions about work/family that align with your values, or how to resolve those pesky voices that continue to tear you down (including the one who says you’re not worth the investment!), let me know the themes that feel worth it to you. Comment below or email me at jenniferlsanborncoaching [at] gmail [dot] com.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Under promise, over deliver

Two weeks ago, when I announced to Facebook friends the launch of my coaching business, I promised to deliver bi-weekly blog posts in summer….simple reflections on work, life, family, and opening to the life you’d love to lead. Secretly, though, I intended to write weekly. Shhhh….don’t tell. I have long held to Tom Peters’ adage “under promise and over deliver,” and so I deliberately set a target I thought I could exceed.

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It’s summer, though, and there have been s’mores to be made, pools to dive in to, and fireflies to watch. I am delivering on my blog promise today–still a worthy goal–but no longer exceeding it.

Under promise, over deliver is a simple, straight-forward pathway to success if you’re looking for results. Tell people they’ll hear back from you in two days on a question, then surprise them with a call after just one. (This is particularly effective with parents of college students, in my experience, for whom any wait is agonizing.) Tell a colleague you’ll have a helpful contact for her, then give her the names of three. And always, always, always provide a report, a product, or a paper ahead of deadline.

If I’m honest with you–and I will try to be nothing but–I have used this formula for success in work far more than I have in other areas of life. At times, I have been a living, breathing example of over promising and under delivering in parenting. In my desire to see my children happy, I can set unrealistic expectations. Or perhaps the potential consequences of over promising and under delivering at work feel more dire, so promises to the kids get subsumed by a supposedly higher-stakes game.

In this new arrangement between my work and the rest of my life, I want to experiment with what it means to under promise and over deliver to my family, my friends, and even–or especially–myself. When I agree to show up and watch a favorite show with my nearly-teenage daughter, I will try to be there early, popcorn popped, with my phone turned off and far, far away (still working on this last part!). When I agree to pretend with my always-active son that we are on the German World Cup team, preparing to trounce Brazil, I will try to have my sneakers laced before he can find his cleats and join me outside. When I say to a friend, “Really, I’ll call,” I will, and I’ll set aside other distractions while I listen to news of her day. When I say to my body, “Today I will move you and feed you well and give you rest and love,” I owe all this and more to myself.

I’ve been on all sides of this equation–disappointed by broken promises, delighted in ones kept, and over-the-moon joyful at promises exceeded. Whether on the giving or the receiving end, our promises and how we deliver on them build perceptions of what we value, who we prioritize, and how we plan to live.

What one promise to yourself can you make–and keep–today? Who or what in your life deserves a new promise and heartfelt effort to over deliver? Let me know what you try and discover. I’ll listen–I promise.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.