What listening to dozens of writers has taught me about life

What listening to authors has taught me about life

I have always LOVED listening to writers. If you ask me to go to an event where an author is speaking, I’ll probably say yes.

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert in the basement of a Barnes & Noble right after Eat, Pray, Love came out – and right before she became uber-famous. Half her family was sitting in the basement of that bookstore AND Richard from Texas was there. They both signed my copy. (Which, sadly, was lost somewhere in all my moves.)

Jacquelyn Mitchard came to my dorm in college and told us that she writes ideas for her books on post-it notes and tosses them into a plastic container in her closet. When the container is full, she knows it’s time to start writing.

Ann Patchett outlines her entire book and then sits down to write it in single draft. Of course it’s edited, but she knows EXACTLY what is going to happen in the whole book when she sits down to write.

Brené Brown got stuck while writing one of her books and invited a bunch of friends to a working weekend on the beach where she told them her stories and they helped her finish the book.

Colson Whitehead, Chris Van Allsburg, Nicole Krauss, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan…they all have a different story.

You know what I learned from listening to all these amazing writers?

THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE A BOOK.

There is only figuring out the way that is going to work for you.

This is true for everything in life. Yes, you can listen to mentors and get advice from people that have gone before you. But then you have to turn inward, listen to yourself, to your true inner voice, and decide what’s going to work FOR YOU.

You get to decide the right way to do your career, to parent, eat, and take care of yourself. You get to decide the right way to do LIFE.

There are many great paths. You get to choose the ones that are right for you.

 

If you know something needs to change in the way you work and live and want guidance figuring out the right way for YOU to do life, schedule a free coaching consultation with me now. We’ll get underneath what’s holding you back and figure out if coaching is the right solution for you.

A Letter To My Fear

Minneapolis sunrise

This past June was a month of uncertainty for me. I had internally decided to leave my job and become an entrepreneur, but I hadn’t actually pulled the trigger. About 90% of the time I was excited for the possibilities. The other 10% of the time I felt like someone had wrapped a corset around my lungs and pulled the strings tight. I questioned the sanity of my decision to leave my safe, steady job and pursue a path that could lead to failure. After all, I hadn’t actually quit my job. I could still change my mind.

But in my heart I knew that I couldn’t change my mind. I was already on this path. I was moving ahead and fear was just going to be part of the journey.

I remembered reading a letter that Elizabeth Gilbert had written to her fear in Big Magic and I decided to do the same. I had no intention of sharing this publicly, but a colleague suggested that it might help others to manage their fear.

It’s taken me five months to get the courage to share the letter. I feel vulnerable just typing this introduction. But I also believe that vulnerability is the key to growth, so here it is:

Heather – You are becoming the person that you want to be. Stepping fully into yourself. Expressing what you have to offer to the world. You are taking the time to design life on your own terms and release the expectations you have created for yourself or others have impressed upon you over many years. Heather, you are creativity, and when you reach into that creativity and act from your heart without ego, your light is unstoppable.

 And, Heather, you know that stepping into the light can be scary. Light exposes flaws, makes it harder to hide when things go poorly, all eyes on you. But remember when this fear washes over you and you feel vulnerable to the eyes of the world – a life in the light is also warm. It is open, illuminating, and free. It embraces your beauty and also your imperfections knowing that’s what makes you real. You’ve known for a long time that perfection is unattainable – it’s now time to act on that knowledge.

But the most important thing to remember, Heather, is that a life in the light isn’t about you at all. It is the light you give to others that matters. And only by stepping into the light and bathing yourself in its radiance do you have light to give to others. Overflowing radiance. What might be possible with overflowing radiance?

So when the fear creeps in and sucks the breath from your lungs and the energy from your heart, take a deep breath and turn towards the light, towards the possibilities, inward to your creativity and outward in overflowing radiance.

I’ve read this letter countless times since I wrote it in June. Whenever I feel the fear edge in, this letter gives me the pep talk I need to move forward with confidence. The fear doesn’t disappear entirely – and I wouldn’t want it to. A little fear gives me a sense of urgency and pushes me forward – into the light, into my creativity, and outward in overflowing radiance.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach and speaker that works with women to master doubt and imposter syndrome and own their brilliance. Learn more about her coaching services here.

Growth mindset and fixed mindset: Which do you choose?

Hiking in Slovenia

As I thought about the research for my book on maximizing learning during development experiences, I immediately knew that I wanted to include something on growth mindset. The term kept popping up in Ted Talks, webinars, and articles and it seemed like a key to ongoing learning and success.

What is growth mindset?

In her book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck writes, “growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.” In other words, if you believe you can get better, smarter, faster AND you put effort into it – then you will.

Fixed mindset, on the other hand, is a belief that your intelligence, gifts, character, creative ability, etc are fixed and cannot be improved. We are born with a certain amount of innate talent and we cannot develop past that point.

Why does growth mindset matter? 

Carol Dweck’s research repeatedly links growth mindset and continued growth and success throughout life. She provides examples of people that we now view as experts in their field, like Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, and Jackson Pollack, that didn’t show promise early in their careers. It was practice, effort, and experimentation that led to success.

This concept doesn’t just apply to world-renowned individuals. Dweck shares stories of kids that are taught the growth mindset and suddenly say “You mean I don’t have to be dumb?” After this realization, test scores improved rapidly. Belief in their abilities created a new reality.

My story

I’ve always been a learner. I enjoyed going to school, read with a flashlight under my bedcovers, and collected pond water to examine under the microscope I got for Christmas. I started this book assuming that I had a growth mindset. But as I read I realized that while I do have a growth mindset in my intellectual ability, there are other areas of my life where a fixed mindset is alive and well.

There’s one area where I shifted from a growth mindset as child to a fixed mindset in middle school and then again to a growth mindset as an adult – creativity.

I’m guessing many of you will identify with my story. As a child I painted and drew to my heart’s content. I never thought about whether my art was “good”. That changed in middle school when art class suddenly had rules and grades. It was immediately clear that I was not good. Art went from being fun and playful to something I avoided for years.

As I grew older my fixed mindset around art broadened to general creativity. Despite the fact that I wrote poems and loved taking photographs, I did not view myself as creative. My mindset told me that I wasn’t good at drawing and painting and therefore I wasn’t a creative person.

My entire attitude towards creativity changed with one conversation nine years ago. I was working on a global leadership development program and I had just pitched an idea to my manager. She looked at me and said, “Heather, you’re always saying that you want to be creative. You just conceptualized an entirely new module for our program. That IS creativity.”

For years I had equated creativity with my perceived failure in seventh grade art class. Suddenly I realized that the root of the word creativity is CREATE – and I did that all the time. That shift opened a whole new world for me. New ideas came to me with more frequency and ease. I looked at my photography as art. I didn’t just write curriculum for our programs at work – I created them.

I also took this growth mindset with me when I started to write a few years ago. Instead of thinking that I was either naturally “good” or “bad” at writing, I adopted an attitude of learning and enjoyment. I took classes, was open to feedback, and didn’t take myself too seriously. Not only has the quality of my writing improved, I’ve also written in styles that I never considered. I even have two silly poems that I’d like to turn into children’s books! I never would have written them in my fixed mindset state.

Your story

Where do you have a fixed mindset in your life? It might show up as a hidden saboteur, the little voice in your head telling you that you’ll never be good at public speaking or math or running. It may emerge as fear of taking on a big project at work or applying for a promotion. It could even appear as a limiting belief around dating, parenting, or belonging.

“We’ve found that whatever mindset people have in a particular area will guide them in that area.” Yes, we are born with certain abilities. But, as Dweck writes, it is curiosity, challenge, and effort that feed our abilities and cause us to learn, grow, and eventually succeed.

What might be possible for you with that mindset?

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach and speaker that works with women to master doubt and imposter syndrome and own their brilliance. Learn more about her coaching services here.

Life Lessons From a Taxi Driver

International portraits

I emerged from the airport terminal into brisk February air and accelerated my pace towards the open trunk of a minivan in the taxi queue. “Taxi?” the exceptionally tall driver asked rhetorically as I approached the van.

“Yes” I confirmed, lifting my suitcase into the trunk.

I climbed through the side door of the minivan and placed my backpack on the floor between the cargo seats. I sunk into the chair and took a deep breath to release the hurried pace of the airport. The soft scent of mint in the van seeped into my senses and triggered memories of a long-past trip to Morocco.

“Where to?”

“I live off 94 and Hennepin/Lyndale exit.” The door slid closed beside me and we pulled away from the airport. I instinctively reached for my phone. “How was your flight?” the driver asked as I texted my Mom to let her know I was back in Minnesota.

“Easy. We even landed early! There were 10 minutes of bad turbulence – one jolt was so bad that everyone gasped – but other than that everything was good.”

I opened Facebook and started to scroll. “Where did you go?” I looked up from the phone, fighting between the urge to be polite and the desire to stay in my own little world. Politeness won.  I turned off the screen and set the phone in my lap.

“I was in Florida visiting my parents. It was really nice – good weather, relaxing. It was great to get some sunshine and warm air! Although it feels pretty good here tonight. I’m hoping that the really cold weather is done for the winter.” My words echoed the common desire of every Minnesotan for an early spring.

I took a closer look at the man driving me home. Most of the taxi drivers I’d encountered in Minnesota were from Somalia or Ethiopia, but it was clear he wasn’t from eastern Africa. His perfect English was accented, so I knew he had started his life elsewhere. Intrigue over this man’s story quickly prevailed over the pull of my Facebook page. “Where are you from originally?

“Turkey.” His tone was warm and invited further conversation.

“I’ve never been, but I would love to visit Turkey! Where in Turkey are you from?” The country was near the top of my travel list.

“A small town near the coast 200 miles from Istanbul. We own a big house there and used to raise Arabian horses.” I had a vision of this broad man riding an equally broad horse in the Turkish countryside with a large white Mediterranean-style mansion in the background. My curiosity was piqued.

“What made you move to Minnesota?”

We veered right onto 35W and headed north towards downtown Minneapolis. “My brother is a doctor at the University of Minnesota and we came here 11 years ago for our kid’s education.”

Quite a selfless act to move to the other side of the world for your children’s education. I wondered what other sacrifices he had made.

“My oldest son is a professor at the University of Arizona,” he continued with pride in his voice. “My daughter is also in college and my youngest son studies soft computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.”

I noted his first mistake with English since starting the conversation. “Software engineering! That’s a great field.”

“Yes. My wife and I will be going back to Turkey when he is finished with school.” His resolution was clear.

“Do you like it here?” The Minneapolis skyline came into view through the windshield.

“Oh’ yes,” he assured me. “Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Clean and very friendly people.”

“Good. I’m glad that people have been nice to you.” I was relieved to hear his experience in my home state had been positive.

“Oh’ yes,” he repeated. “Beautiful people here.”

“Sometimes I think Minnesotans can be hard to get to know.”

“Well, all people are just people. They become your friends; your family.” His words lodged squarely in my heart. Goosebumps spread down my arms.

“I think you’re right. All people are just people. No matter where you are in the world.”

Our conversation turned mundane as we drove the last mile to my condo. I asked his favorite Turkish food. He responded that it was kebab and lamented the fact that there wasn’t anywhere in the Twin Cities to buy good kebab.

He stopped in front of my condo and took my suitcase from the trunk. We exchanged the suitcase for taxi payment. The tip I included didn’t come close to covering the worth of the ride.

The taxi driver and I were as different as you might imagine. Gender, age, nationality, profession, and probably a thousand other factors separated us. We may have been one Turk and one American, but, as he said, all people are just people. Connected by the simple state of being human.

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

Embracing Writer’s Block

Magnetic Poetry

“Often, in this poetry, we steal words, gather kindling, twist newspaper, circle rocks, and wait for the flame.” Sherman Alexie

I laid on my bed, journal open to a blank page, pen in my hand, ready to write. I waited for the words I knew were inside of me to come out. Nothing happened. Like Sherman Alexie in the quote above, I gathered kindling and twisted newspaper, but still, no flame. After several minutes of frustration staring at the empty page, I realized that this inability to find the words was the flame. The dizzying lexicon bouncing around in my mind was the sentiment to capture. I embraced the feeling and this little poem emerged.

Words fumbling,

Knocking against one another,

Never finding each other long enough,

To build a sentence.

The story is swirling,

Searching for structure,

In the dizzying lexicon.

Instead of fighting the frustration, I needed to embrace my thoughts and emotions with curiosity and create from what I felt inside. Expression came with little effort once my mindset shifted. The flame burned with ease. This is often the case. And if that doesn’t work, I close the journal, go to sleep, and try again tomorrow 🙂

 

Heather Whelpley is a coach working with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

The Punky Brewster Generation

Punky Brewster costume

To celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday I held a throwback party. Everyone was instructed to come dressed as a favorite character from childhood. An array of notable fictional figures from the Eighties showed up – Magnum PI, Maverick, the Hamburglur, Karate Kid, Mr. Rogers – even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Me? I was Punky Brewster. There was no question that she was my favorite. She was everything I wanted to be at six years old – quirky, outspoken, optimistic, creative, funny, and downright colorful. Her mismatched socks and sunshine hair binders spoke to me. She didn’t want to be a ballerina or a princess when she grew up; her goal was to be an astronaut. In the wake of the Challenger explosion, my clearest memories are not of the disaster itself, but the dismay that Punky felt when the shuttle fell. Punky gave permission to a generation of young girls to look, act, and want to be different.

A 26-year-old co-worker asked me about my birthday party the following week. I enthusiastically told her that I had been Punky Brewster. I received a blank stare in return. “You do know who Punky Brewster is, right?”

“I mean, I’ve heard of her, but I don’t really know who she is.”

I was surprised, shocked, appalled! I had assumed that Punky Brewster was an enduring cultural image, like The Brady Bunch. Everyone knows Marcia, Jan, and Cindy no matter when they were born. But I was wrong. Only the class of kids edged between Gen X and Gen Y, cuspers born in the late 70’s and early 80’s, identifies with Punky. For our mini-generation, Full House, My Two Dads, and the rest of the TGIF line-up consumed Friday nights. Saturday mornings meant The Muppet Babies, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Small Wonder, and Saved by the Bell (starring my first celebrity crush, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aka Zach Morris). We watched The Real World on MTV before reality TV officially existed. We were influenced by a very specific set of television characters throughout our youth. And it all started when Punky Brewster debuted in 1985.

The Wonder Years premiered January 1988; four months before Punky took her final bow. It may have been set in the Sixties, but the emotions and awkward adolescent moments of Kevin, Paul, and Winnie were universal. My heart exploded at the end of the first episode when Kevin and Winnie kissed for the first time on a rock in the woods. Was it creepy that this moment came right after Winnie found out that her brother had been killed in Vietnam? Not in my eight-year-old mind. I wanted to be Winnie Cooper sitting on that rock, a pre-teen Kevin Arnold longing after me.

The Wonder Years continued for many seasons, but after a few years of will-they-or-won’t they between Kevin and Winnie, I grew bored and progressed to more exciting television. My Mom decided that Beverly Hills 90210 was too mature for my 12-year-old eyes, but in my greatest act of defiance to date, I watched it every week on the black and white television in my room. I saved my weekly allowance and meager babysitting earning for months to purchase that television. Knowing I was breaking the rules, I would close the door and turn down the volume to a practically inaudible level so that I wouldn’t make my mom suspicious. Week after week I listened to the extreme drama of Brenda, Dylan, and Kelly as they navigated sex, school, and diet pills. Despite my addiction to this soap opera, I viewed the characters from afar. The chaotic lives of rich teenagers in southern California never made the emotional dent of other shows.

That would come in ninth grade with My So-Called Life. The same girls that idolized Punky Brewster sat down every week to empathize with Angela Chase as she fell for Jordan Catalano. When he finally decided to date Angela halfway through the first and only season, Jordan fulfilled the dreams of freshman girls across the nation. It was suddenly possible that the hot, creative, cool guy could notice me! How much time did I waste in high school waiting for that fantasy to come true?

We seared with agony when Angela’s best friend Rayanne slept with Jordan after Angela decided she wasn’t ready to have sex. I felt Angela’s pain so completely that I wrote a poem about the betrayal and turned it in for an English assignment! (See below for that stellar piece of work.)

Despite its short tenure, My So-Called Life defined early high school for me. I even have a magazine clipping at the front of my photo album from these years that says “My So-Called Life. You Know How It Feels.” And I did know how it felt. We all did.

My So-Called Life

A few years later we took sides between Dawson and Pacey in the WB classic, Dawson’s Creek. There was no Team Dawson or Team Pacey, but everyone had a clear opinion on who should end up with Joey, the tomboy next door. Who can forget when Dawson ran around Capeside in a desperate search for Joey when he finally realized that he had feelings for his best friend? We all had a Dawson in our life that we were waiting to make that same realization. I watched Dawson’s Creek religiously for years. I would even record it on my VCR in the dorm so that my roommates and I could watch it together after we finished studying.

Then we became real adults. The cusper girls were no longer a target demographic for advertisers and we lost the shows and characters that defined our early years. We would soon fit into the sect of early to middle age women that watched Grey’s Anatomy. And while I watched that show with enthusiasm for many years, it will never be a part of who I am. That will be left to Winnie Cooper. And Angela Chase. And especially Punky Brewster.

 

Betrayal (written in 1995 after an episode of My So-Called Life)

Sometimes she does things

That nearly bring you to an end

She tears at all your insides

But she was supposed to be your friend

 

She didn’t know she’d hurt you,

She saw only her own pain,

Even with your tearful expression,

She thought only of her disdain.

 

For a while you’ll live in silence,

Only understanding your own brain

She’ll never think twice about you

So you’ll live with your thoughts and pain

 

But then one day she finally knows

What she has done to you

Now it’s her turn to live in the tears and pain

That she has put you through

 

One day you’ll get the courage

To ask for the truth through her lie

You’ll stare her in the face and ask

Why did you do it, why?

Start From Your Position of Impact

My ears perked up. I wrote the words in capital letters in my notebook and drew a large box around them.

IMG_3619.JPG

 

Dave Stangis, a Corporate Responsibility Leader for Campbell Soup Company, made this statement at the Net Impact Conference in 2014. I decided to attend the conference because of an ongoing interest in the environment and international development. I was toying with the idea of moving from my established career in human resources into corporate social responsibility.

It quickly became a non-decision. Prior to attending the Net Impact Conference I felt that I needed a job title to make a real difference. I learned, however, that many people driving change were experts in something completely unrelated to sustainability or community relations. They were supply chain managers, engineers, and entrepreneurs that layered sustainability on top of their expertise to create an impact in an area where they had influence.

Last week I heard a story on NPR about Carmen Bachmann, a professor of tax and finance in Germany. She saw that the 6,000 refugees living in shelters in her town spent most of their time just sitting and waiting. Carmen felt this was a waste of human capital; a loss for the individuals that couldn’t use their knowledge and a loss for society that wouldn’t benefit from their work. She called the unemployment office and discovered there were no jobs available for highly skilled workers in science and academia. She thought to herself, “My contribution to this problem is what my profession is. I know the special need for the people who have an academic background and I thought, this is what I can contribute.” In other words, Carmen Bachmann decided to act from her position of impact. Carmen worked with a grad student to build a website that matches refugees with a science background to jobs in academia. The website had a slow start, but after Carmen visited shelters and made personal connections with refugees, people began to sign up. Now over 100 refugees have registered on the site and European Union officials have asked Carmen to speak about her work.

I cried as I listened to this story in my car. I cried again while replaying it in Spyhouse Coffee to write this post. I shed tears partly for the stories of the refugees that had held respected positions in their home countries and were now waiting to be recognized and utilized in a new country. I also cried from inspiration. Carmen Bachmann is an ordinary person. Is she solving the refugee crisis? No. But instead of being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the enormity of the crisis as a whole, she looked at what she could influence, how her skills and connections could make a difference, and she acted. Imagine the total impact if everyone behaved in the same way as Carmen.

Perhaps you already know your position of impact and are affecting positive change in your community. If so, I would love to hear your stories. If you’re reading this post and wondering what difference you can make, reflect and ask yourself:

  • What skills and talents do I bring to the table?
  • What are my connections to people and organizations in my community? Who is within my sphere of influence?
  • What causes or organizations align with my values? What am I motivated to work on?

I believe your position of impact comes from the overlap of these three areas: skills, connections, and values. Determine this sweet spot for you and then look for – or create – opportunities to act.Position of ImpactThis perspective has shifted how I pursue community service. For years I volunteered with kids programs in organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Perspectives, and CLUES. They are doing excellent work in the Twin Cities and were great experiences for me, but I knew I had skills that many nonprofits couldn’t afford – someone to facilitate team development, coach employees, or provide an HR perspective. I also wanted to learn more about how I could connect employee development in my organization to community service. Exploring these overlapping areas led me to a meeting with HandsOn Twin Cities, an organization that seeks to increase the impact of volunteerism through working with individuals, companies, and nonprofits. I joined the Board at HandsOn six months ago and it has already been a great opportunity to utilize my skills and experiences to help the organization achieve their mission. Additionally, I connected with members of the community relations team at my company to co-create a leadership development program for individuals that lead our employee networks and community councils. I will never invent a life-saving vaccine, provide pro-bono legal work, or donate billions of dollars to anything. My position of impact is with people – developing and training others so they can fully utilize their talents to build and transform their teams and communities.

Your position of impact may be entirely unrelated to your occupation. I now know that I want my writing to reach someone or something beyond myself. I reflected while composing this post and realized that I have already been doing this for many years. In high school I wrote an absurdly long letter to the editor of the local newspaper speaking out against moving to a four-period school day (it happened anyway). As a college intern for the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) I volunteered to write an article about the history of Earth Day and opportunities for involvement in local Earth Day events. To my surprise it was published in the Wisconsin State Journal. I had no degree, title, or experience that qualified me to write an op-ed in a newspaper. But my connections to WISPIRG, a personal value to protect the environment, and a little skill in writing allowed it to happen. If only one person participated in Earth Day events because of that article, there was impact. If one of you considers your position of impact and takes action after reading this post, there will be change.

We are limited in our time and energy. Acting from our strengths and values guarantees that we can make the greatest difference with our resources. Start from your position of impact and the battle is already halfway won.

 

Heather Whelpley is a writer, photographer, and coach that works with people that want to have a meaningful career and live up to their own potential, but feel stuck in their job. See her home page to learn more. She is also the host of Destination Soul Shine, a community dedicated to nourishing your soul and making your spirit shine. Like Destination Soul Shine on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @destinationsoulshine for resources to inspire you to live a meaningful, healthy, creative life. 

Winning at Winter

Snowy morning in Loring Park

It’s the time of year when my daily walk to work is a source of pride and competition. Who is going to win – me or the Minnesota winter? King Boreas or Vulcanus Rex?* There are days that I concede easily, disqualify myself without a second thought. When the National Weather Service describes the temperature as dangerously cold and any exposed skin is liable to freeze in under a minute, I’m fine with taking the bus.

But let’s face it – as much as we like to complain about the cold, most days do not include a wind chill warning. These are the days when the competition is a fair fight. I start these mornings waking up five minutes earlier than other seasons to allow for the extra preparation time. I execute the first portion of my routine in a typical fashion – shower, dry my hair, put on make-up. Getting Dressed: Act One is fairly normal. I put on a heavy-knit black and white striped dress and pull fleece-lined leggings over my legs (okay, maybe wearing fleece-lined anything to work inside isn’t entirely normal). Black ankle boots with a chunky heel are placed in my backpack to wear once I arrive.

Breakfast is next, usually eggs or oatmeal. It’s always something hearty and warm to prepare me for the approaching 40 minutes outside. Occasionally I think it will be a timesaving measure to pack a smoothie to consume at work. Then I arrive at my desk to find the smoothie too cold to drink or freezing to the point that the top of my Nalgene adheres to the bottle and I have to run it under warm water to access my breakfast.

After eating is Getting Dressed: Act Two. The order is critical. First I pull black wind pants with vertical white track stripes over the leggings and under the dress. Then I tug a gator over my head, trying not catch my earrings or destroy my hair in the process. Next I slip on short, furry black boots if the sidewalks are dry; gray Merrill hiking boots if I’ll be trudging through snow. The wind pants cascade over the tops of the boots, ensuring total protection. The next layer is the main event; often the only article of clothing that people living outside of the Midwest require to stay warm in the winter – the coat. I love my coat. It reaches to the mid-thighs and zips all the way to my chin where the velvety lining hugs the gator close to my neck. I raise the hood and snap it in place over the zipper; a third tier between my skin and the impending air. I adjust the elastic around the hood, pulling it tighter as the temperature decreases and wind increases until my peripheral vision is completely blocked and I have to swivel my entire body to check for cars as I cross the street. On the coldest days I pull the gator over my chin and mouth so that only my eyes and nose protrude from the depths of down and fleece. Many co-workers have commented on the sheer beauty of this layered look. I think it’s the wind pants under the dress that really takes it to the next level.

I swish through the back door of my condo and enter the basement. I lock the door, clip the keys in my backpack and then proceed to the final step, putting on my mittens. It is imperative to wait to put on mittens until any activities requiring small motor coordination are complete.

I open the back door and emerge into the dawn. On warmer days the sky is filled with a thick layer of gray clouds providing insulation for the city. On cold mornings the sky is crystal clear, a few stars still shining in the west while the eastern horizon brightens with a sun that will bring no warmth. My asthmatic lungs quickly reject this dramatic change in temperature and I cough, my face pressing into the tight straps of my hood with each convulsion. My nose runs immediately. I sniff and my nostrils stick together, freezing momentarily before body heat takes over and my breathing canal opens again.

I ascend the half flight of cement stairs from the building, careful to avoid the patch of ice that pools at the bottom of the stairs on the occasional day above freezing. I march through icy ruts in the alley towards the bus stop two blocks away on Hennepin Avenue. This is the test. Once I take a left on Hennepin towards downtown there is no turning back. Several elements factor into my decision. Does the coughing continue or do my lungs adjust to the 40-70 degree temperature plunge they just encountered? How quickly does the cold air seep through my wind pants and fleece leggings? Does the slightest breeze against the four square inches of skin exposed on my face inflict pain and incite cursing? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then I head towards the unheated shelter of the bus stop and hope that one will be along shortly.

If the answer is no, or if I’m feeling particularly stubborn, then I endure the walk. Many times, I even it enjoy it. I see the sun rising through glasses that are intermittently fogged by the warm breath rising from inside of my gator. The light catches the snow, creating golden waves and shadows through Loring Park. Squirrels bury their noses in the snow attempting to find a stash of acorns and chickadees flutter spastically to stay warm. I pass by people with dogs, other walking commuters, even the occasional biker. We exchange a knowing glance, eyes smiling at each other because our mouths are hidden behind fleece and wool. Today we have won. King Boreas defeats Vulcanus Rex. The Minnesotan rises above the Minnesota winter.

Spoon and Cherry in the Sculpture Garden

*King Boreas is the son of Greek gods that presides over St. Paul, Minnesota and declared it his own winter playground. Vulcanus Rex is the god of fire and against all festivities celebrating winter. To represent this dispute we hold the Winter Carnival each February, a festival complete with ice sculptures, medallion hunt, and outdoor torchlight parade. King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows preside over the Carnival along with a number of other royalty. Thousands attend the events every year, showing that many other Minnesotans have also risen above the Minnesota winter. Click here for the full story.

The Women’s March

Women's March Minnesota

Until yesterday I had never participated in a political march. Although I have always had strong opinions, the thought of protesting made me a little uncomfortable. But I was devastated by the results of the election. I tried to understand the millions of votes cast for Trump, but I just couldn’t get there. I felt like I didn’t know my own country anymore. I was powerless against the outcome of the election, but participating in the Women’s March Minnesota was something I could control. I could show up and be counted. And if enough peopled showed up to be counted, at least our new president would know that he was going to have a force to reckon with throughout his term.

I marched with my friend Alix, her mom and aunt, and a few of her friends. We started on the roof of a parking ramp overlooking thousands of people gathered at St. Paul College. The massive parking lot and lawn below us was a sea of pink hats and positive energy. Signs ranged from inspiring (I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept) to clever (Thou shalt not touch thy neighbor’s uterus. Fallopians 2:28 – one of my favorites!) to downright angry (It’s 2017. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit).

Women's March Minnesota
“Together we are powerful. Organized we are unstoppable.” Senator Patricia Torres Ray

We made our way to the crowd below and eventually starting marching slowly towards the Capitol. Occasionally someone would start a chant – “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” A member of our group pointed out that we Minnesotans were a little passive in our ability to shout. And it was true. I felt awkward yelling out those words, even though I believed them.

The crowd walked faster as the road widened. It felt like there was a huge mass of people ahead of us, but as we marched it became clear that we were relatively close to the front. The moving sea that had started in the parking lot at St. Paul College continued to rise and overflow, with people still squeezing in from every possible corner. This was the America I thought I’d lost.

Women's March Minnesota
“We must not quit. This is the beginning.” US Representative Betty McCollum

Our group of seven separated when we arrived at the Capitol. Three people wanted to try and find a spot on the steps. I stayed with Alix and her family and we found a place next to a fence and open area where we could hear and partially see the speakers.

For the next two hours I stood, feet in the melting snow, and listened to Ilhan Omar, our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, state senator Patricia Torres Ray, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota Sarah Stoesz, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, and explorer and activist Ann Bancroft, among many others. The speakers were both hopeful and frustrated. They inspired a call to action. I yelled with a little more volume and confidence as the afternoon wore on.

I watched a woman climb the statue of former Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson and stretch a pink knit hat over his head. She then sat back-to-back with Floyd holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Later someone poked a hole in their Stay Nasty poster and hung it on Floyd’s thumb.

Women's March Minnesota
“This is the moment to true our moral compass…Be the vision you see ahead of yourself.” Ann Bancroft

Alix and her family decided to leave and I was still enjoying the speakers, so I stayed at the rally alone. I occasionally received texts and saw Facebook posts from friends in the crowd, delayed in their arrival due to the sheer number of people overwhelming the local cell towers.

My hands were numb by the end of Ann Bancroft’s speech and I could see the lines at the light rail station beginning to form from where I stood in the snow. I decided to miss the last speakers and joined the crowds waiting for the Green Line. I made it to the platform in 15 minutes. The next train arrived a few minutes later, but marchers inside the train were already pressed into every available space. Instead of expressing irritation, when the doors opened everyone standing on the platform began to cheer. Marchers inside the train followed suit, shouting and raising their signs yet again.

Metro Transit had planned ahead for the large crowds and just five minutes later a relatively empty train pulled into the station.  We all piled in, crammed body to body for the 45-minute ride to Minneapolis.

I got off the light rail at Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis and sprinted towards the 6E bus that would take me home. I missed it by just seconds. I knew it would be another 15 minutes before my next bus appeared. A man waiting at the bus stop looked at my sign. “Revolution? What’s that about?”

“The Women’s March in St. Paul!”

“Women are taking over,” he stated in a surprisingly light-hearted tone. “Women are in all the positions of power in Minnesota.”

I racked my brain. “What women? Amy Klobuchar?” She was the only one that immediately came to mind.

But he was thinking a little more personally. “All the bosses are women. I’ve had all lady bosses. They were stressed. They were emotional. I’ve got to find myself a male boss next.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me was thinking Know your audience! Clearly a woman coming from the Women’s March is not going to agree with you on this! Another part of me wanted to bite back at his comments. But I didn’t want to end my day of hope in an argument with a stranger at a bus stop. Instead, I just stopped talking.

A minute or two later he spoke again. “I kind of like Trump.” By this time a few other marchers from the light rail had also gathered at the bus stop. Their ears perked at his comment.

“What do you like about him?” I tried to remain open despite the frustration rising in my chest.

“He was great on The Apprentice!”

“But as our president?”

“He just became our president yesterday, he hasn’t made any decisions yet. You have to give him a chance!”

Another marcher jumped in, “One day was enough of a chance!”

I questioned him further. “What do you think about what he’s said in all of his tweets?”

“I don’t know about any of them.”

At that moment his bus pulled up and he disappeared. This is why I marched, I thought to myself. An hour earlier I had been surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded individuals and here I was faced with the reminder that there are just as many people who believed that overly emotional women were taking over the world and supported Trump because of his performance on The Apprentice.

My bus arrived soon thereafter. As I climbed the stairs and scanned my transit pass, the driver looked at my sign, smiled, cheerily pumped his fists, and said “Today’s the day!”

I smiled back. Yes, it was the day. But not just one day. It’s tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. It’s the day we call our legislators to tell them what we will not tolerate. It’s the day we go back to the polls in the mid-term elections and vote for change. It’s how we teach our children to respect differences and show empathy. It’s the conversations we have with those that see the world differently from us and try to understand their point of view. It was not just one day. It’s every day.

Women's March Minnesota

Hold On

Cape Tribulation, Australia

 

Hold on to what is still inside of me

The breathing in and out, the beating of my heart

Those constants that are always near

 

Grasp on to what is moving in the world

The whirling seconds, the leapfrogging moments,

Those variables always at my fingertips

 

Hold on to what is still in the world

The reflecting sun, the strumming guitar

Those outer comforts instilling peace

 

Grasp on to what is moving inside of me

The turning of my mind, the chaos of my heart

Those gears unlocking piece by piece

 

I wrote this poem on a flight home to Minneapolis after visiting friends in Seattle. Five days prior I had left the company where I had been working for eight years. I would be starting my new job in twelve hours. In that moment it felt like everything was simultaneously moving and standing still. The airplane was flying at 600 mph, yet it was so smooth I couldn’t feel any movement. My new work world was a complete unknown, but I felt solid in the decision to leave my previous company and do something different. Isn’t all of life like this?  The balance of moving forward while remaining grounded, seeking change and maintaining stability, pursuing growth and pausing to rest.

The photo was taken on a beach at Cape Tribulation in Queensland, Australia.