You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Do Good

I’ve written before about the fact that I am not perfect. (I know—shocker!) For example:

  • I once stood by as a sales person made racist remarks during a sales meeting. (I wanted to say, “If you have to preface your statement with ‘I know this isn’t PC, but,’ don’t say it!” But I didn’t.)
  • I’ve taken my career so seriously that it upset the health of my family.
  • I complain too much—especially when people don’t meet my (unrealistically?) high expectations.
  • I sometimes pull out of commitments at the last minute, because I’d rather be reading in bed.

I’ve done—and continue to do—plenty of things of which I’m not proud.

Am I Worthy?

I think about this, and I wonder, who am I to call myself a social activist? I’m not Gandhi or Mother Theresa. I still live in a biggish house while writing about simple living. (Hearing Dee Williams, author of The Big Tiny, speak last night gave me even more perspective on what it really means to live simply.) I barely scrape together ten minutes of formal mindfulness practice each day, yet I’m giving lectures and presentations on mindfulness in education. I’m a health coach, but I just ate a pumpkin cheesecake bar (so good!). And I want to end injustice in this country, but I haven’t taken the time to really get to know those who truly suffer injustice.

The end of my stream of consciousness ends with: Am I worthy? Do I have what it takes to be a “social activist?” Or should I just go back to watching TV?

The Common Good

This morning, I finished Jim Wallis’ little ebook Conservatives, Liberals, and the Fight for America’s Future. I found it when searching online for writings on the “common good.” Our politicians—and most of us, really—have lost sight of the common good. Doing something “for the common good” means to do something that benefits all. Not just people with money and power. Not just your own interests.

While reading this book, I realized (again) that everybody can—and should—contribute to the common good. We don’t have to be perfect to do good! In fact, according to Wallis, “the common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make.”

The epilogue includes a list of “Ten Personal Decisions for the Common Good.” They are all excellent and many overlap with the calls to action in my forthcoming book. But my favorite one is this:

Ask yourself what in the world today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help change that and join with others who are committed to transforming that injustice.

Transform That Injustice

It doesn’t say anything about having certain qualifications or meeting specific standards to make change. No, it’s about diving it and “transforming that injustice.” For me, that’s ensuring that all children are given the best possible start in life to improve their mental health outcomes. That’s why I’m lecturing about mindfulness in education. That’s why I write about having “enough,” but not using more than your share. That’s why I spent thousands of dollars to become a health coach so I can help others manage their stress and have a happier and healthier home life.

If we wait for perfection to start transforming that injustice, it will never happen. And we don’t have to wait! Perfection is an illusion. We are fallible humans who make mistakes, don’t live up to ideals, and continuously disappoint ourselves and others.

Now’s the time to start or recommit ourselves to transforming that injustice, imperfect as we may be.

What injustice will you be transforming?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

All Work and No Play…

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. ~Proverb

Lately, I’ve been feeling dull. Every conversation I’ve had with anybody outside of work has focused on my book or my work to promote mental health in the schools. In my defense, some people asked—and seemed genuinely interested. But when my daughter started pointing it out, I realized that I needed to lighten up a bit and find a little play in my life.

Finding Play

So this past weekend, my 17-year-old and I drove down to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, for a weekend of play. Half-way there, I discovered that I had left my backpack, which contained my laptop and Kindle, at home. I was quite distraught for a few minutes, fretting over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to send my Sunday email or read a few more pages of Overwhelmed (a book about balancing work and play). Then my daughter reminded me that it was a good thing. And of course it was!

We spent Saturday afternoon in our hotel room watching a marathon of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” Then I got a makeover for a night on the town. After a bit of shopping, we ended up at a great little tapas bar with superb food. We fell asleep to more HGTV. The following morning I stayed in bed until 9:20 a.m. Yes, that’s 9 freakin’ 20 a.m.! It is very possible that this hasn’t happened since adolescence. After a leisurely morning at the hotel, we brunched (one of our favorite activities) and shopped some more before heading north for home.

Play Is Essential

I may forget, but right now, I’m thrilled to have re-discovered that I need to play. Really play. Forget about saving the world. Forget about writing a book. Forget about chores and obligations. Just for a little while.

Turns out play is an essential component of wellness!

Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships. ~Margarita Tartakovsky

After that great weekend, getting up on Monday morning wasn’t very difficult. In fact, it was easy! I felt rested. Energized. (And that’s a good thing, because this week has been anything but smooth so far!) In fact, playing sharpened my focus and motivation.

So don’t forget to play. Because, all work and no play makes you dull. And we can’t have that!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

Ten Books

I usually don’t participate in the Facebook “tag you’re it!” games (yes, total party pooper—I know…). But when two different friends tagged me to post ten books that have had an impact on my life or stuck with me in some way, I couldn’t resist.

However, in the Facebook post, I didn’t explain why I posted the books I did, so I thought I’d explain that here.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I believe my aunt Kina introduced me to the Chronicles of Narnia when I was a young child. It was my first experience with fantasy literature, and I was hooked. Imagine if there are other worlds out there with talking animals and centaurs and evil witches!

I read the whole series multiple times throughout my childhood, getting lost in the stories time and time again. As I got older, I became intrigued by the allegorical qualities of the books. So intrigued, in fact, that I wrote my senior paper on this topic in high school—and won best paper in my class. (True story!)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy

This book has everything you’d want in a great story: action, romance, great dialogue, intrigue, and suspense. I think the reason this book (and the rest of the books in the series) stuck with me is because I loved the unpredictable twists and turns.

It also has a most beautiful love story that you don’t see coming.

Papa’s Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn

In this charming book, a young girl convinces her much older employer, a Swedish priest and sworn bachelor, to marry her. It is a beautiful love story set in reality.

It has stuck with me over the years, partially due to the wonderful depiction of life in northern Sweden, but also because the family eventually migrates to the United States—just like me!

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I don’t know how this book couldn’t have a profound impact on anybody who reads it. It was my introduction to slavery and the abolitionist movement. Reading this book helped me understand the power of the written word to enact change.

I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover of my county, I trembled at the coming day of wrath. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

I remember reading an especially sad part of this book as a child and not being able to sleep. The next morning, I was so tired and didn’t want to go to school. My dad’s solution was to offer me coffee…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I typically don’t read mystery, but since this book was set in Sweden, I decided to give it a try. And look, here it is on my top ten list! Of course, I love it because it’s set in Sweden and is wonderfully shocking and entertaining.

However, as a writer, I love how the protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is able to forget about everything and write. He does find time for exercise and spending time with a handful of friends (lovers), but other than that, he investigates and writes. What a life!

Kulla Gulla by Martha Sandwall-Bergström

Oh boy. How do I even begin to describe… Kulla Gulla is the nickname of an orphan who, in the first few books in the series, slaves away at various farms, but always with a great attitude, until she discovers that she is the long lost grandchild of the richest landowner in the area.

Once in a position of power, Kulla Gulla uses it for good and marries a (gasp!) socialist. While I never picked up on the political undertones as a child, now I appreciate Kulla Gulla’s influence on my own political views and my longing for a just society.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I have recently recognized that many of my favorite moves are about writers. Now I’m realizing that many of my favorite books are also about writers. Anne of Green Gables is no exception.

Here’s another series that I read multiple times in my teens and also at least a couple of times as an adult. I am in love with Anne’s free spirit and creativity. She encourages me to keep writing.

Simple Prosperity by David Wann

Switching gears into non-fiction… This book is the first book I read on voluntary simplicity or “simple living.” I remember vividly reading it early in the mornings with my breakfast before hitting the gym. I literally bounced out of bed every day to learn more.

Before I read this book, I never considered that I had the choice to live simply. That I could get off the hamster wheel and make less money and have more quality. Talk about impact!

Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker

A friend lent this book to me and my husband during a time of deep despair. Within its pages we found stories that sounded just like ours, and we realized we were not alone. We also realized the vast influence of the pharmaceutical industry on psychiatry, the mental illness narrative, and our collective mental health.

It’s possible that this book saved our daughter’s life.

On Writing by Stephen King

I have read a number of stellar book on writing and this is one of my favorites (and the one that came to mind during the Facebook game). I actually listened to this book, with Stephen King himself as the narrator. Part memoir and part writing manual, it gave wonderful insight into the writing craft.

But best of all, it made me realize that Stephen King is a pretty smart guy and a marvelous writer—and perhaps I should read some of his other books, even though the horror genre is never at the forefront of my mind. I’ve now read several of is novels, including The Stand, The Green Mile, Carrie, The Shining, Doctor Sleep, and 11/22/63. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Over to You!

What’s your list? Quick, don’t think about it too much. It’s okay if it isn’t the list.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

There Is No Try

As an aspiring Essentialist (just learned this term the other day—love it!), I get very little syndicated content sent to my inbox. However, I do subscribe to Nilofer Merchant’s essays because I love her style and her ideology.

Yesterday, an essay titled “‘Tried’ Is No Longer Enough” landed in my inbox. Nilofer had decided to raise up her voice in response to the tragedy in Ferguson. In the introduction to the piece, she writes:

Each of us is living in working in places where “those in charge” doesn’t match up to “those who are affected”. And that gap between those “in power” and “the powerless” is to me a central source if not the source for so many issues.

This struck a chord with me, because my husband and I have had similar conversations related to mental health as I struggle with the second edition of my forthcoming book. How do I communicate to readers the power relationships that are present in the mental health discourse (i.e. the mental health “script”)?

The script that says that medication should be used as first-line treatment for kids with behavioral and emotional problems.

The script that tells us that mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance, so it’s an individual issue.

The script that places more value on profit and control than people and compassion.

This is indeed a source for many issues.

She continues, “If there’s one message I’d want you to read, it’s this: see what you can do in your own community. Don’t watch history get made, go make history by making things better.”

Well, that made me perk up even more.

There are so many things wrong with our world. Many of these problems have detrimental effects on our children’s mental health. It’s exhausting to read (and write) about it—let alone do something about it.

Most days I waver between wanting to “go make history by making things better” and escaping to a tiny cottage in Scotland to read, write, cook, take long walks, nap, and do nothing. However, as of right now, the tiny cottage in Scotland is not on the horizon, so I’m stuck with making history—in my own small way.

I told you last week about speaking to the entire school district about mental health. I didn’t try to speak about mental health. I spoke about it. There was a slide up on the big screen that said “Everybody has mental health… Teachers, kids, & parents!” Bam. No getting around it. We must consider teachers’ and children’s mental health in order to optimize learning—and it’s a community effort. Tonight, I’m meeting with a group of brave parents who want to make history by promoting mental health in our community. It’s time!

This is not to brag about my community activism efforts (why would I?). Rather, it’s to show that there are things we can do right now to address some of the problems we have. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to be a speaker or a writer. Indeed, some of the most effective change makers are the ones in the middle of everyday life doing their thing. It’s the teachers who look their students in the eyes and teach unconditionally. It’s the family therapist who doesn’t assume behavior problems equal mental illness, but gets to the core of the problem by involving the whole family. It’s the doctor who uses medication as a last resort for kids. It’s the parent who questions the status quo of the mental health system and demands comprehensive, integrative care.

The most important thing is to do something—not just try to do something. Because, in the words of one of the wisest creatures ever, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

When leaders say they are “trying” but unable to accomplish their goal, what they are really saying is they haven’t made it a priority. ~Niolfer Merchant

(Credit to my husband Todd for the Yoda quote—it came in response to sending him Nilofer’s essay and inspired this post.)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

Thank God for New Days

Yesterday was tough. I woke up early to prepare for a presentation to the entire school district about promoting mental health. As soon as I turned on my phone, I learned that one of our key presenters was not going to make it due to illness. “We’ll figure something out,” I texted. “No worries.”  (I also sent a virtual bouquet and some love, for good measure.)

I spent most of my morning mindfulness practice “figuring something out.” Then I walked our dog—still figuring. I devised a plan that I thought would work well. To make a long story short, the morning took many twists and turns until we ended up almost as planned with a substitute presenter taking our ill friend’s place.

It worked out.

However, during my presentation, everything that could go wrong went wrong. The audio didn’t work for the super cute mindfulness video I was going to show at the beginning of my presentation to set the tone. So I had to rush into CASEL’s core competencies ahead of time, stumbling over words in the process. In order for the audience to see the screen, somebody turned the lights out, so for the rest of the presentation, I stood in the dark looking out over dim faces in the large auditorium. And somehow, I skipped one of the most powerful slides in the deck.

Although I got great feedback from the people I talked to after the presentation, I felt like I hadn’t done my best work. I was drained. The rest of the day didn’t go much better. I came home and ruminated until my husband gently reminded me, “it’s in the past.”

I crashed at 8 p.m.

Today, on the other hand, was awesome. After nine hours of sleep and a morning at the office, I worked at my favorite spots (the co-op and a local coffee shop, Java Johns). During lunch, a colleague came up and told me I did a good job on yesterday’s presentation (thanks!). After work, I rehearsed with a group of talented singers and came home to a cooked dinner. Later on, I chatted with one of my beta readers, a college student, about my book and she told me she wanted all her friends to read it (yay!). And to wrap up the day, I hung out with my high school senior (where did the time go?), and we laughed until we cried as she assembled this tweet:

Thank God for new days!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon