What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
I have a rather unusual weekend before me: nearly completely unscheduled. And I don’t know what to do with it.
Ironically, just recently someone I know on Facebook posted that they had an unplanned day and were at loose ends. The question that rose to the surface before I could even think about it was, “What would please you?”
She said, predictably, that she didn’t know.
I don’t know, either. And it’s usually my job to ask those questions. But faced with the actual reality myself, I have maybe a 50% success rate at asking and answering the question and then doing the thing. All too often I spend my extra hours or days or weekends refreshing social media, sleeping, eating when I’m not hungry, or staring at the ceiling.
First of all, if you spend most of your time sprinting from task to task, it actually takes time to downshift. The staring at the ceiling part is important. It’s part of the process. You need the break from doing anything, even something you might enjoy. Think of it like unschooling for the entrepreneur. It takes practice and even discipline not to pop up or flip open the computer to “just see” something. Don’t. Do. It. Let your brain unwind. There’s good stuff in there, caught up in the constant spinning.
Secondly, if you’re feeling a little tired (or a lot) or a little down (or a lot) it can be forty times harder to answer the pleasure question. Make your lens really, really small. Stop trying to find The Big Pleasure Thing (YAY I WILL HAVE HOT MONKEY SEX ALL AFTERNOON AND THEN EAT A SUNDAE! –wait, that sounds like a lot of work, maybe I will just check Facebook again) and let even the tiniest little whisper of pleasure be the place you start. (That wild violet: I want to put it in a bud vase on the kitchen windowsill. The house is chilled. I will turn up the heat. I will have a mug of my favorite tea. I will wear my happy socks.) Pleasure doesn’t have to start (or even become) huge. But the wiring of your brain (for reals, they have studies) gets into recursive loops. The more it does x the more of x it will do. So anything you can do to shift the loop will help. Anything. Tiny square of dark chocolate. Funny cat videos on YouTube. Using the good smelling soap.
Let “What would please you?” become, “What is pleasing you right now? (and how can you do a little more of that?)”
Anything is everything when it is the beginning of something. And when it is the beginning of pleasure, so much more true.
It’s a strange thing to move from the nonprofit to the entrepreneurial world. Strange as in disorienting and destabilizing and ultimately, liberating.
Because in a nonprofit (most nonprofits: there are, as always, exceptions) there are so very many lids on the possibilities. Decisionmaking is rarely streamlined or fast or nimble; passion matters more than practicality. But more than that, money runs the show.
It’s ironic, because money is supposed to be outside the issue for a nonprofit. Money is supposed to be beside the point. But precisely because it isn’t supposed to matter, it matters more than anything.
Try to have a new idea in a nonprofit. Want to see how long it takes before someone wants to know what it will cost and where the funding will come from? Use a stopwatch. For that matter, watch yourself try to have a new idea. How long before YOU ask where the money is coming from?
Drilling even further into the massive dirty laundry pile that is finances without money, take a look at rates of pay. There is an assumption that persons working for a nonprofit should expect to be paid less than their for-profit peers.
This is absurd.
Equal work for equal pay: across gender lines, across age lines, and across institutional lines. A nonprofit is nonprofit because it doesn’t make money for owners or shareholders, but not because it doesn’t pay its people. Unfortunately, this is what we as a culture have come to expect.
We criticize endlessly if people get paid at nonprofits. We complain about EDs who get CEO-like-salaries. Why? Do we not want to compensate talent and skill when it is working for the common good? Should it only be profitable to be brilliant if you work for a soul-sucking megacorporation? Is there something morally wrong with having a good income?
We love that these groups exist to do the work and organizing that we don’t have the time, energy, or skill to do, but we don’t want to actually pay someone to do it. And then we wonder why those groups are struggling to change the world.
When we focus the conversation on how terrible it is for them to spend money on things they find important, we are completely undermining their work and diverting their limited energy, time, and resources from the work we want them to do to arguing with us.
And if any institution has a massive gap between the highest and lowest paid employee, perhaps the question is why are the people at the bottom of that scale paid so LITTLE, not why the CEO is paid so much. Let’s adjust the scale UPWARD until it makes sense.
There is a third, insidious effect to this undervaluing of humans. It creates an entire culture where shoestrings are virtuous and sufficiency is considered luxury. It creates and supports a culture where struggle is deified, turned into some kind of god for which we must strive. And it means that we have no idea what our skills are worth in the rest of the world, or what it might be fair to be paid. The nonprofit world creates an insular subculture where valuing the self at a reasonable market rate is considered uppity and unreasonable. In a perennial culture of scarcity, no one wants to look up from the microcosm to find out that their rates and expectations are twenty or thirty years behind. So instead they put intense social pressure on everyone inside the container to stay the hell down.
and the people all said sit down! Sit down you’re rockin’ the boat. –Guys and Dolls
Minimum wage in Australia is $22/hr.
Twenty-two dollars. AND they have health care.
So when I say that my educated, skilled, practiced time is worth five times that, I’m not crazy. And in the world of entrepreneurs, indeed I am not. Consulting and presentation and workshop rates reflect that. They reflect that rate for the hours on the stage and the hours backstage, traveling, getting ready. They reflect the risk that we take on as entrepreneurs, the money we invest up front, the cancellations, the technical work, the marketing, the infrastructure that makes it possible for us to be hired. They reflect the actual cost of business. They reflect what it costs to do it well and have everyone feel good about it.
But if you start from a nonprofit where getting paid $10/hr seems like a huge upgrade from minimum wage (and you should be grateful!) or where your senior leadership is paid under $50,000/year, it is hard to even THINK numbers that big.
It is like speaking a language where there is no word for grass and then starting a lawncare business.
It requires years of rethinking to formulate a vocabulary which includes those possibilities. It is a major internal cultural shift to value yourself well. And if you continue to keep company with those who have a different sense of the financial value of a person, it is even harder.
This is not about being ungrateful. This is about knowing your worth.
Because when you are paid well, you have mental and emotional space to do what you are here to do, which is not worry about money. You release stress and pain. You take on pleasure as your compass. You make better decisions.
Because you–and the world–are worth it.
This is the teleclass archive, where any teleclass I deem worthy of posting will be made available. I’m still kind of new to the teleclass format, so sometimes I may record a class and then decide that I don’t want to make it public. If, however, you were ON the class and you want a copy, please let me know and I will either make an exception or tell you politely that I never want anyone to hear it again. 🙂
This is the Know Your Body, Know Your Mind class from April 22, 2013
I never thought I could speak in public. I hated speaking in public. I was the epitome of shy kid: that speaking assignment in seventh grade where we had to get up in front of the class and talk for four minutes was awful.
(You know it was almost impossible when your seventh grade classmates who hate you applaud and cheer for you when you’re done. Sympathy lives.)
I’ve been out of the pulpit for a while now. But at my last settlement I spoke to seventy or eighty people every Sunday. The position before that was two seatings of 400-500.
That’s not a typo.
And I loved it.
Yes of course, some of this is training and having something to say.
But the kick in the ass that got me from zero to basic presentation?
Sexuality education. No joke.
Let me tell you a story: I’m in eighth grade. Long hair pulled back in a braid. Braces, I think. Shy, shy, shy. Big glasses. Smart. Depressed. Withdrawn. Two close friends and the rest of the world thinks I’m invisible.
Unitarian Universalist church had already started to save me. I had more hope and connection in youth group, more interesting conversations, frankly, more fun there than anywhere else.
Then we started sex ed. In church. (PSA: They still do it. Now it’s called OWL and every single kid should have the chance. UUA and UCC churches offer it, but it’s also out there in some cities as an outreach program.)
So I’m sitting there with some kids I don’t know particularly well, and we’re going to spend a semester of church school talking about sex. I’m well-read but intrigued. And by the end of the semester I am thoroughly impressed. We have practice, information, and training in how to be with sexuality, make our own decisions, talk about what we want and need, set boundaries and limits, understand and provide (or not) consent, PLUS all the plumbing and mechanics. It is 1989. We have talked about HIV/AIDS and about being gay/lesbian/bisexual and even touched on transgender identities.
For possibly the first time in my life, I am totally inspired. I want to DO this. I want to TEACH this. I want to BE PART OF THIS BECAUSE HOLYSHIT IT CHANGED MY LIFE. (I had no idea how much it had changed my life.)
And I resolved, then and there, to get trained to teach AYS when I was old enough to do so.
Meanwhile I ended up becoming the go-to information source in my high school.
And then I went to UU summer camp and decided I wanted a youth group that did conferences and stuff…but I was the only one with the information. So I learned to lead. Training, modeling, mentoring, fumbling, but I learned and was encouraged and learned and was encouraged…
and then I was old enough. And I got trained.
And then when they updated the AYS program to OWL I got trained again. By that time I was in seminary.
And then I learned to preach. And the rest is kind of history.
But here’s the bottom line: if you want to break through an old limit, there is nothing (NOTHING) that beats passion for getting you there. When I was talking about sex I wasn’t thinking about what people were thinking. I was thinking, “Oh my god, you need this information. You needed it last week. And I’m the only one who can give it to you right now. Listen up, this is important.”
What do only you have to give? Give it. The world needs it. Right now.
Feeling better takes time.
That’s a royal pain in the ass for those of us who are impatient, or perfectionists, or just really into feeling good.
But it just is.
It just is so.
Like wind and rain and sunrise and the tides, feeling better doesn’t always turn up on your schedule. It hints and teases, and then you have One Of Those Days–the ones where you wish you had a magic pill to make it go away.
And when you can’t get out of bed, or the baggage you’re carrying from early childhood (or your last breakup) feels just a bit too heavy, what do you do?
I don’t actually know what you do.
But here’s what I do:
1) I drink water. Dehydration is a serious problem for my brain’s function.
2) I eat protein.
3) I forget everything I know about feeling better and wonder why (1) and (2) haven’t worked yet.
4) I try to go back to sleep. It doesn’t work.
5) I drown my sorrows in Facebook or Twitter. It doesn’t work.
6) I remember what feels good. (This is the key. It’s the pivot point.)
7) I get out the art supplies. When I draw I have TOTAL PERMISSION to make a COMPLETE MESS (2-d art is not my thing) so I get out paint or markers. And I draw. I scribble. I “waste paper” (ask me sometime about my mother’s admonitions about wasting paper.)
8) I call people who make me smile.
9) I go to the ocean (I live near the ocean)
10) As I am doing these things I put my attention in that part of my lower abdomen that gets tingly when I’m turned on. All of these things give me that same tingly feeling (sex doesn’t actually appeal to me when I’m down in the dumps or I’d probably try that, too) and as soon as I feel it, I follow it.
11) and follow it.
12) and next thing I know it’s 10 PM and I’ve written a blog post or a short story, or I’ve made art I want to hang, or made plans for the next day to see someone I really enjoy or…
There are variations on this theme. But this is the essence.
These techniques also work as maintenance–when you’re not dumpsy but you don’t want to be, it can be avoided by prophylactic application of art, friends, touch, salt water, and eventually joy.
Why does it work? Brain chemistry. When you’re down, you are actually less able to experience pleasure and be creative. Eventually, if you hit panic, you are functioning under fight-or-flight threat mode from yourself. BUT. But…if you can flip the spiral it changes everything.
Figuring this out took me yearrrrrsss. Long. Years.
But it changed my life.
Give it a shot. What do you have to lose?
If you’d like to go into detail about this, I’ll be teaching a class called Unpacking With Pleasure: how not to let your shit run your life–on April 20. Details are on my other website, over here: http://ebbmassagestudio.com/unpacking-with-pleasure
It’s about cheese and eggplant this morning,
anything warm against the bitter cold
shining so bright against the winter’s corners.
It’s about any excuse to heat the oven,
waiting until I am dry to go outside,
even to feed the birds,
anything, really, to remember
that she is bigger than us, bigger than all of us,
she cannot even see the speck of us
against the brilliance of the sky
we are too small
to even make shadows
and yet we feed the cats, walk the dogs,
bundle up scarves and mittens
to render the wind harmless,
just whistling on its way.
there is that moment when we yearn for something larger,
reach for the sunflower and
decide we are reaching for the sun
because why not?
Why should we not stand as tall and proud as any other?
Why should we not proclaim the greatness of miracles to the world?
Why should we not be prophets and scholars?
Indeed we shall
Indeed we are.
And it begins today,
it begins in milk for cheese,
Let it begin now.
Dear Boston, if you are needing a bridge from reaching to beginning, come explore on January 26th. We’ll start where you are and end up where you didn’t know you were going. http://ebbmassagestudio.com/wishfinding
This is the question I wake up with most mornings:
What if we’ve got it backwards? What if it’s inside out and upside down and widdershins?
What if it’s really supposed to feel good?
What if all this valorization of The Hard Way is a bunch of crap cooked up by people who pretty much didn’t have a choice at the time…
and now we have a choice. And if they were here today they would jump at the chance to be warm and dry and pleasure-filled and happy.
So what if you were to look at your life and do a hardness inventory?
Where are things hard?
Make a list.
Now what could be easier? What could you just stop doing? What could be fixed with a tiny little change?
What could be repurposed?
What five minutes would save you five hours?
Write down all the possibilities.
Now pick one.
And see what happens.
Everything is connected to everything else, and pleasure is your compass. Love your direction.
PS: in Boston? Wishfinding is intuition made easy. January 26. Register now at http://ebbmassagestudio.com/wishfinding
When I was a kid, a little kid…seven, eight, nine years old, I was in school.
So I’d get up go to school, run around doing School Things all day.
Then I’d come home. And after I put down my backpack and took off my shoes, I would notice something.
I was hungry.
So I’d do that thing. You probably know the thing. You’re probably already picturing me, touseled braids on either side of my head, socks falling down around my ankles, jeans cinched right up around my waist (hey, it was the 80’s). I’m standing there, fridge held open, squinting inside.
And I don’t move.
My mom was saving electricity before it was fashionable, so she’s saying, “Close the door! You’re wasting energy! Decide what you want first!”
“But I’m hungry, mom.”
“Figure out what you want, and THEN open the door to get it.”
She didn’t understand.
I had no idea what I wanted. I knew I had this gnawing in my stomach. I knew the answer to that feeling was food. But it had to be the right food, and I had no idea what that might be. I wasn’t looking for a snack, I was looking for inspiration. (Note to self: do not look for inspiration in a cloud of refrigeration fog. There’s probably another post in there somewhere.)
And here’s the thing: my method worked. She could stand in front of the fridge all day, arms crossed, rattling off foods, “Do you want carrots?” “No.” Do you want milk?” “Nooo.” “Do you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It will ruin your dinner, but…” “No, yuck mom I JUST HAD ONE at lunch.” “Well then what do you want?” “I don’t knooooowwwww.”
I would never ever figure it out.
But if I stared and rummaged and got the things I thought I knew about what a snack should be to shut up for five minutes, I could find exactly the thing. “Ants on a LOG! YEah!” or “Mom can I have soup?” “There’s no soup in the fridge.” “I know, but can I?” “Yes….”
I didn’t think of soup because I saw soup. I thought of soup because I saw milk, and that reminded me of putting milk in Campbell’s Tomato Soup instead of water, and that reminded me of grilled cheese from camp, and….a masterpiece was born.
And it tasted so SO good.
I’m convinced that the reason that my method worked is that there was some alchemy in the creative process, something that stirred my digestive juices in the random, stream-of-consciousness process involved in staring into a packed refrigerator.
It wasn’t concrete, linear, or logical. It was pure flow.
What, don’t you go into a flow state when staring at a refrigerator?
Funny thing is, it still happens to me. If I need to cook, the best thing for me involves staring into a stocked refrigerator until something looks good. Oh, the kale, yeah, and then I’ll need some garlic and onions and butter to saute it in, and it would taste really good with that fresh ravioli and a light sauce, and then I think those pears, poached and drizzled with maple syrup…
Not logic. Pure inspiration. Yes, in the fridge.
…and recently, I discovered something. it’s not just food. And once I discovered that, I started thinking. And once I started thinking…well, you can see what happened next. It’s over here: http://ebbmassagestudio.com/wishfinding. You get to stare into the fridge of your life, and have some support in figuring out what you’re really hungry for. 🙂 And if you’re not in Boston, make sure you’re on my elist so I can let you know when I’m coming to a city near you…sign up over in the sidebar.
One of the things about me that I wish were less true is that I’m really hesitant to volunteer for things these days. In fact, I’m even hesitant to commit to things sometimes. I just change my schedule a lot, and it makes it hard to plan ahead. The more I have to change my plans the less I want to make plans, and so it goes.
But today I shared something on Facebook that I can TOTALLY get behind…because I’m already doing it. The Human Awareness Institute posted an image that said, “The world is changing and I’m on the transition team.”
Yeah, that’s me. And then I started thinking: how and why and what?
But no, really, I am. And I was inspired to make a list of things I try to do because I want things to be different from the way they are.
I strive for:
- ethical and local eating
- a healthy life cadence (enough rest, enough sleep, enough spaciousness)
- clear, gentle, and healthy communication
- more touch
- fewer toxins
- work that helps the world be more of what I would like to see
There’s a lot I don’t do, but that’s my transition team work. What’s yours?
Same coffeeshop as yesterday.
They’re laughing. In fact, the three people behind the counter are joking and smiling as they dish up coffee, relaxed, real, fun.
This is a notable change from summer, and not unusual for Maine. After all, the tourists have gone home.
No offense to the tourists–they keep our economy afloat in a very real, concrete way. But the high volume, high demand, low forgiveness culture of tourism makes our lives a little trickier from May to mid-October. We arrive, breathless, at September’s end, and groan a little when we realize there’s another lap before we’re done.
But about this coffee shop. The staff has changed, pretty much completely.
And I’m noticing how much easier I feel here now.
The other people were perfectly polite. But it was obvious that we were different kinds of people, with different values, different social expectations, different rules. I always felt uneasy–like I was going to have a hair out of place, make a misstep, get snickered at behind my back. It’s old stuff, stuff from before high school, before middle school, although it was there, too–it’s stuff that goes all the way back to the first cluster of mean girls that I encountered. It was probably first grade, maybe second, and it put me off girls for a very long time.
I’m shocked, amazed, at how often as an adult I get hooked by that old fear, even though many mean girls grew up to be perfectly nice adults. Eighteen or twenty years of practiced defensiveness doesn’t evaporate easily. It makes me stiff, hesitant, withdrawn. I can usually smell a clique at twenty paces, and I get uncomfortable on either side of the division.
On the other hand.
On the other hand I know how often I write the story all by myself, with no help from the person I’m judging. I can make up a whole story about how someone is going to treat me, what they’re thinking about me, what they have to say in their head without ever hearing word one from them. In fact, they might not even have noticed me, all the way across the room, busy with their children.
My story is, I have found, most often based on clothes. That’s a product of where I grew up (Fairfield County, Connecticut) and how I learned to sort people out. We had the popular kids and the outcasts. I wasn’t a popular kid, and I knew it–my dignity’s saving grace was that I was too proud to try to become popular, so I was spared the bulk of the humiliation that some other kids were subjected to in their quest for membership among the elite. Who could I trust? Kids who didn’t wear designer clothes, trendy fashions, or (as I got older) makeup.
Fast forward twenty years and I still trust people in fleeces, jeans, and glasses before I trust people in stockings, and heels. No wonder I have chosen to live in Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, where the winter uniform is flannel, canvas, and denim.
And no wonder I am more at ease today than I was in August. The people behind the counter are “like me”–cute-messy ponytails, layered t-shirts, rolled up sleeves. And somehow the people have changed, too, since summer. The next table over has a mom in t-shirt, vest, and knee-high Bogs–the black kind rated for forty below.
Funny part is, I don’t know anything about them except that. I don’t know what they do in their spare time, or how they cook their dinner. I don’t know if they go to church, and if so, where. I don’t know what really matters at all. But I still feel easier around them.
There’s good laughter, easy laughter coming from the coffee bar.
And that’s all it takes. I feel like it’s a good place to be.