Crossing the Threshold

First day of school JH

My Facebook feed is flooded today with pictures of the first day of school–kids beside the bus, carrying signs declaring ages and stages, and, my personal favorite, standing at the doorstep of home. I photographed my own two children separately, as their departures are an hour apart. The older is increasingly aware of life’s audience, so she tolerated a picture only after forbidding me to post it; the younger willingly smiled beside the dog and even stood next to the school sign with a friend. I’m sharing here one of many “first day” pictures of my sister and me–the start of kindergarten and second grade, I would guess. I imagine you can pick out which of us grew up to be the elementary school teacher and which of us is now gazing out the window reflectively, trying to draw wisdom from this first day experience.

First days–of school, or of anything–embody a complementary pair of intention and mystery, purposeful direction and possibility. I am experiencing my own “first” today, the first day in twenty-four years when I have not been on a college or university campus at the start of the academic year. So after waving off my daughter and walking my son to his school, I took some time to walk the streets of our village and really notice this moment. Perhaps it was because I was on foot, or perhaps it’s all those first day pictures taken literally on the threshold of home, but I began to think of this new start for all of us as a pilgrimage.

I associate the word “pilgrimage” with religious traditions, though I am assured by a quick internet search that there are secular versions as well. While I have taken many a pilgrimage in my life, I gave my first careful consideration to the word during a retreat a year ago. One of our leaders took us on a walk to a sacred spot on the property, using this short journey to illustrate the elements of pilgrimage. The step or stage that stands out most in my memory is crossing the threshold–that literal moment of departing the place you have known and beginning the journey to what is ultimately unknown.

On our walk we crossed the threshold twice–departing and returning–and we identified an intention as we set out and then a gift or blessing we were carrying back with us. While the weeklong retreat was filled with meaningful experiences, this one is prominent in my memory because I had to stand, look someone in the eye, and share aloud my intention and my gift. There is something profound about speaking aloud such truths; the words and the hearing create an immediate sense of accountability. This is part of why I love the coaching process–you name where you hope to go, and we always end with thanks for where you have arrived.

As I walked my sweet dog around the village this morning, I started a short list of my own guiding principles for pilgrimage that I plan to share here in the coming weeks, but for today, this first day, let me offer this to those of you who are in the midst of your own transitions, whether chosen by you or chosen for you: Stand and notice yourself on the threshold. Honor where you are starting from and this familiar place you are departing–there is much wisdom you have drawn here, and every new start builds upon every journey before it. Look someone you trust in the eye, and share with them what you intend for this time of change. There will be much that you cannot predict; this is true of every journey. But your life is worth living with intention, regardless of whether you stay on the actual path you set or veer off to something even better.

And if you’re willing, whether you are wearing a new outfit and carrying a backpack or not, take a picture of yourself at the start of this change journey. Send it to me–I’d love to see you and the place from which you are setting out. Happy first day to you and yours!

(If you’d like to invite a coach along as you make a change, book by September 1st and receive the multi-session discount for any number of sessions….see “Coaching Sessions” for more details.)

 © 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

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When the Plan Needs to Change

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This has been the summer of family change. In our own immediate family, I left a much-loved position to begin a new venture, and we happily opened our hearts and homes to a rescue dog, my first official “co-worker” in the home office. Family change doesn’t stop at our doorstep, however. There’s been a wedding, a college graduation, a nephew about to begin kindergarten, and, topping all of these in the preparation and work required, my in-laws’ move from the home they built nearly 45 years ago.

The story of the home and the move are theirs to tell, though of course I have my own special memories of my husband’s childhood bedroom where we argued, made up, and confessed to one another our hopes and our failings (picture bright turquoise walls!), or the grove of trees planted by my father-in-law where our children created a hide-away fort and carved their names for future children to discover. The story I can tell is what happened when the kids and I decided to stay on in the midst of the move and help sort, pack, organize, and otherwise “save the day!” (That rescue inclination runs deep and can look deceptively generous at first glance!)

Our family of four joined in a weekend effort of family and friends to move my in-laws’ desired belongings to a new home just a few miles away. There are a lot of memories stored in 45 years of house and home, so of course the moving of what they will keep in this next stage was only the first phase of the work. There’s also sorting and giving away, tossing and preparing for an auction. I’ve packed and left behind homes after the deaths of both my parents, so I consider myself uniquely equipped for such emotional tasks. My schedule is notably more flexible than my husband’s, and it seemed smart to all involved that I would stay on after he left. When I elected to remain there, kids and dog in tow, I likely imagined calling my siblings-in-law at the end of a week with the happy news that the house was ready for the market–rooms spotless, mementos saved!

For a couple of days, we really were helpful. The kids played in the aforementioned fort. The dog was content with a run or two at either end of the day. And we were making progress. Kitchen cupboards sorted and divided? Check! Special family dishes photographed and sent to relatives for decision-making? Check!

With little warning, though, the tides turned. Kids who had been self-reliant and entertained for days had finally had enough. There are only so many hours on iPods and in the woods that can keep them from needing parental attention. The dog I expected could serve as a bit of a therapy dog, easing the sadness of the move, peed one morning at the new house….and not outdoors. Her constant desire for attention shifted from, “Pat my soft fur, fine people,” to insistent nudges that were more grating than gratifying. I felt less and less able to be the one who could support the decision-making process as we entered rooms more associated with personal stories and losses. (The “in-law” clause has emotional limits, in reality, and I am generally wise enough to recognize them.)

Despite my best intentions to remain on through the second weekend and the return of my husband, I realized our helpfulness was hinging on a hindrance. It was time to head home. Amazingly, all our minds lined up on this. I called my husband and he said, in essence, “I was thinking just the same thing.” My in-laws seemed both appreciative of what we had done and grateful for the silence they would have with our departure. Siblings-in-law said, “Thank you for what you were able to do–we’ve got it from here!” And when the kids and I stepped into the car for a long, squished ride home, the bickering stopped, and the barking dog snuggled in between them, silent at last. Peace returned, all with a simple change of the plan.

Not every plan can be as quickly altered. I have known the need to leave jobs months before I could find the path out. I have recognized the “forever home” was the “for now home” years before we could envision where we would live next. But each of these experiences has helped me hone wisdom to sense when the tides have turned….to instinctively pay attention when some part of me says, “The plan needs to change.”

It can be hard to shift direction. We want so badly for our past decisions to have been right that we fight to hold on to what no longer works for us. A couple of years ago, when I became serious about losing some weight, one of the hardest things to reconcile was that I would have to leave behind a body I had lived in quite successfully for a number of years. Now, as I contemplate continuing that effort and gaining even greater health and well-being, I again realize there is a letting go that comes with new goals and new directions, however good they might be. Perhaps coming up with a new plan and determining to follow it is not an indictment on our past decisions at all. If we can accept that we did the best we could with what we had in that moment, we can allow that new information has entered in, a new plan is emerging, and we are preparing to do the best we can with what we have in this moment.

How about you? Have you wisely changed direction in the past, or are you thinking it’s time to do so? I’d love to hear your story.

 © 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.