Run with Scissors: a guide to taking risks to discover your purpose
My new book will be out in late August and I wanted to share an excerpt here so you can get a taste. Run with Scissors shares real life stories of innovation, personal change, and creative problem solving. These stories will inspire you and the exercises at the end of each chapter will help you practice open-ended and open-hearted thinking. If you are interesed in being notified the book is available, please contact me at email@example.com
Perception, especially self-perception, is a funny thing. How do we know if the objects we see are actually in focus or simply the blurred fantasies of our imagination? How do we know if our personal lens is calibrated to “reality”? I remember the day I experienced the literal act of “seeing properly” for the first time. I was eleven years old and sitting in the oversized chair in my optometrist’s office, surrounded by scary pivoting metal arms full of dials and gauges. As my optometrist gently slid the frames of my very first glasses onto my nose and hooked them carefully over my ears, I let my eyes adjust. I blinked a couple times, and stared at the objects near by, a bit disappointed that not much had changed. But that perception was quickly altered as I turned my head and focused outside the exam room door and across the hall.
Whoa, I thought as the unexpected sight of the chair and eye chart in that distant room came into crisp, clear, almost Technicolor, focus. So, that’s how everyone else sees the world!
That experience is the perfect metaphor for what happens each time I encounter a new idea or a perfectly written passage that connects me to some larger truth. I remember standing outside the church when I was in first or second grade, wondering where words came from. Who had originally named all the things around me. Who first looked up, saw those beautiful white wisps scuttling across the azure sky and had the wisdom or inspiration to call them clouds? Later, I would wonder, did that god or goddess give them a name so s/he could recall them later, or share that sense of wonder with a friend, child, or lover? If so, was that act of naming actually the first love poem or the first religious text?
This was the first of what I later came to call my “moments of blinding truth.” You know, those moments that surprise us with a great flash of light and an audible ah-ha? Of course, I didn’t really consider what these flashes were until I was in my late teens and started to really pay attention. I had always loved to read and had been an avid reader for as long as I could remember, devouring shelf after shelf of children’s, and then young adult, books from our local library. It was through reading that I would find a door into a wide world of ah-ha moments. As an undergraduate English major, my homework consisted of hours of reading great literature – which was certainly NOT work to me. Through my course work, I came to understand what kept me hooked on reading. I learned that reading wasn’t just for fun or for escape, but actually a magical way to access and feed the soul.
My freshman year, we were assigned Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 novel Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small-Town Life. It was the first time I realized that the little nuggets of wisdom I found in books – these flashes of truth that Anderson called “illuminations” – were more than an organic part of the story. That course helped me dissect how the language and images Anderson used captured my human experience and connected directly to my soul. I realized I wasn’t the only one who experienced this. I saw that other people experienced these flashes of truth as well. Anderson (along with and a talented professor who took the time to become my mentor) showed me something universal about the human experience, and I felt the kind of deep-soul knowing that poets and writers have been trying to share since the first primitive pictures were scratched into the cavewomen’s walls.
If you’re not familiar with it, Winesburg is a collection of stories about the residents of a fictional town in Ohio, and Anderson crafts each story and its central character so there is an epiphany—a moment of dazzling insight into some universal truth. Already wondering where my life would lead when I left college, a line from that novel almost brought me to my knees. (I, of course, substituted my little hometown, “Lowell, Indiana.”) Was I destined to live and die alone in Lowell, Indiana? Was I meant to lead a life devoid of higher meaning and bogged down in the everyday? Ironically, Winesburg, Ohio was my wake up call. I had a job to do, I needed to find my personal meaning, and how it fit into that core of common knowing and shared meaning. It’s a job that still fascinates me today.
I regularly feel that “connection” to real truth when I read, and believe me, I still read a lot. I read a lot of fiction – some great and some not so great – for entertainment, for relaxation, and for fun. But mostly I read good fiction to find my meaning in passages that speak directly to my heart. For years, I read two to three novels a month with a yellow highlighter in hand, searching for those blinding truths. I highlighted them, copied them into my journals, shared them with my friends. Today I read a novel a week, capturing passages on my Kindle app and sending them to myself via email. Reading has become my primary religion and the guide that helps me discover the ever-changing meaning of my life. Unlike some of my friends, who like to find their truths distilled into tips and directives in self-help books, I like my truths raw and in the flesh of characters and stories that let me experience them in a kind of virtual firsthand way.
Of course, reading about something isn’t ever the same as experiencing the thing in real time, in real life. What description of the Grand Canyon could ever capture the feeling of our infinite yet finite place in the Universe like seeing it for yourself? Nothing tops that knowing you experience while standing on the canyon’s rim with the wind roaring in your ears and the vast panorama of textures, colors, and atmospheres spread out before you. But I like to see truth in “lower case” nature as well, in the buds on the trees waiting to burst forth in spring, the hummingbird dancing from one bloom to the next in search of nectar, or the sunset shooting beams of orange and red over the surface of Lake Michigan. These things feel like deep, joyful truths to me. And these truths often transcend the confines of mere words and goes straight to my soul. Truth often arrives in flashes of insight, illumination, and pure joy!
Capturing truth and beauty isn’t reserved for poets and novelists. We each communicate our own personal truths in many ways. Truth can be found almost anywhere that connection and meaning hide: in a fine painting or a beautifully laid table; in a well-served dish or a comfortably arranged and decorated room; in a baby’s giggle or a great cup of coffee with a friend. Of course, not all truths are joyful. Gut-wrenching truth is also found in the slow progression of loss that accompanies the aging process, in the realization of being alone, and even the feeling, regardless of your age, of becoming an orphan when the lid to your final parent’s casket is closed.
Over the years, I have captured lots of these truths in my journals, but if I am totally honest there were many, many more times when I let truth slip away. I often failed to take special care of flashes of truth, not noticing or appreciating the wisdom around me as I rushed headlong into my busy life. And that’s a shame, because with the passage of time some of the power of truth is lost. Like a gourmet meal, truth never tastes quite the same reheated, reshaped by the passage of time. But, like an episode in a Food Channel competition, it can be carefully reconstructed in a format to be shared. A well-written truth can cause a reaction much like the mouth-watering response you get when you see the chef plate a great dish on your screen. You can’t really smell it, but your ears hear the sizzle, your eyes see the juices accumulating on the plate, and your taste buds get the idea!
The point is, we fail to tune in to the truths all around us. We stay busy, we stay numb, and the truths slip on by. At one time in my own midlife, “busy-ness” became a narcotic that numbed me, keeping me from feeling all the beauty and truth that resides in the given moment. It reminds me of the fable of the frog. (This is, by the way, a fiction, a myth that I should probably avoid spreading in these times of animal rights.) As the fable goes, a frog placed in boiling water will jump out immediately to avoid the pain, thus saving his life. If instead the frog is placed in tepid water and placed over the flame so that the water gradually comes to a boil, the frog remains unaware of the subtle change, getting warmer and warmer until he dies. Despite its ghastly nature, I can see why the fable persists as it so aptly describes the impact of change. Most of the time, our water slowly comes to a boil around us. We give up a little, then a little more, and a little more, until we reach the boiling point of no return. At times in my life being busy morphed into staying busy. Staying busy became an excuse to treat others badly, an escape from self-reflection, even a shield for my tender psyche and a place to hide. Over time, staying busy even became easier and safer than slowing down. We rush headlong toward the next meeting, the next goal, the next reward, all the while missing the lessons that are being laid out along our journey.
Mindlessly being drawn along by the forces around us isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a blessing. I realize at this stage in my life that I have been lucky enough to sometimes find my flow, my own, passion-led way to show up in the world that seemed effortless – and enjoyable. I’ve explored the ingredients of my flow and sought ways to encourage more of it. When I write, the flow sometimes allows me to channel ideas and images that my conscious mind had not yet fully formed. And when I later reread what I’ve written, I can see I’m growing the guts to risk being real and gaining the strength to silence that voice inside me that has been yelling, “What makes you think you know anything at all?”
Other times, my insights come from intentional activities and observations. As I analyze the evolution of the self-work and the for-money-work that I have done over my career, I can see that it has usually centered around exercising and expressing creativity within the constraints of practicality. That combination of factors has taught me to appreciate blinding moments of truth while staying engaged in the day-to-day process of supporting myself. It has led me from my work to my passion, from what guilt dictates to the pure joy in letting go and the wonder of discovery.
Many of the clients I work with today are struggling with the same challenges. They want to know how to balance the demands of their current job with the ever-growing voice of their hearts that is looking for more purpose. Some want to make a career change but are handcuffed to their current paycheck. Others want to leave a house, a spouse, or a relationship that no longer serves them, but feel trapped by obstacles that seem insurmountable. Still more are simply asking themselves, “Is this all there is?” “Should I be looking for more?”
As I considered my lessons learned, I realized that many of my current truths actually contradict what is considered common sense or conventional wisdom. That realization is the main light bulb moment I want to share. This book is my attempt to capture the concepts and tactics for balancing the “what is” with the “what if,” for understanding the ways we are what we have been programmed to be, and / or the person we choose to be. When I use the term “purpose,” I mean the true calling of your soul, what some call your heart’s desire. On our deepest, most subconscious level, we do know our heart’s desire, but as a practical matter, many of us lost touch with it long ago.
I share these thoughts with you in hopes that you will find some shortcuts and tools for finding meaning and purpose in your own life. Fundamentally, I believe that on some level you already know the answers. You are the master of your life. Everything you need to know is inside you. When asked “How do I find my purpose?” author Glennon Doyle answers: “Figure out what breaks your heart in the world. That’s your purpose” While there is truth in that, I believe it can also come from exploring what makes your heart skip, what makes you smile, what makes your fingers tingle, and your socks seem to roll up and down. You just need to give yourself the time and the space to explore and to feel these things. The exercises at the end of each chapter in this book are designed to help you practice. They can help you flip the switches in your own mind.
In thinking through what I wanted, even needed, to share, I realized that my voice might not be suitable to today’s self-improvement or business advice books. Unlike the “X Steps to Success” format that is so popular today, I am far less certain of the number or the order of my insights; in fact, I seem to be growing less certain every day. This may have something to do with my upbringing as a female in a male-dominated world. If the long-accepted view that men are “hunters” and women are “gatherers” is true, I am definitely not a hunter. I am not out to hunt a wild truth and bring it home as a trophy. I am a gatherer of things that seem to make sense to me, things that over my life have combined to create a tasty table of mixed fruit and nuts. I want to share this table, and I hope you will find some treats you can enjoy and use to thrive in your own journey.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Chapter 2: There’s No Time Like the Present
Chapter 3: Coloring Outside the Lines
Chapter 4: Running with Scissors
Chapter 5: Don’t Get too Big for Your Britches
Chapter 6: Don’t Talk to Strangers
Chapter 7: Don't be a Know-It-All
Chapter 8: Don't Be a Copycat
Chapter 9: Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched
Chapter 10: Never Make the Same Mistake Twice
Chapter 11: Don't Forget to Breathe
Chapter 12: Always Wear Clean Underwear
Chapter 13: If They All Jumped Off A Bridge, Would you?
Take a stack of small sticky notes – the size that would allow you to place twenty-four on one piece of paper. Once you have your paper with the twenty-four blank notes lined up in six rows of four across, begin to fill in those “hours” by labeling the sticky notes with tasks based on how you have filled a typical day in the past week. Perhaps you will write work on eight or ten of the notes. Then do the others, with the numbers of hours/notes you spend sleeping, eating, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, doing laundry, getting the kids ready for bed, helping with homework, et cetera.
If you find you run out of sticky notes before you run out of the tasks you need to write on them, you have a strong visual of your time challenge. One thing is clear, you can’t add any more notes. You can cut some into pieces, but you can’t add any more whole hours. Time is finite; there is no way that you can add more than twenty-four hours to a day.
How can you adjust your time? You can simply sleep less, but that isn’t very sustainable and would leave you running on fumes. You can let your kids sleep in their clothes so they’re ready for school in the morning, but some nosey teacher or social worker is sure to notice at some point. So, what can you do? To start, you have to prioritize by asking yourself a few questions:
Are there some things I can “outsource”? For example, can you hire a cleaning service? Use an online grocery delivery service to save time spent shopping?
Are there things I can simply stop doing? What do you do today that really doesn’t matter? Does anyone really notice if you don’t make your bed or dust your dining room furniture that no one uses?
Can I divide and conquer some areas by forming partnerships with other family members? Are your kids grown enough to make their own beds? (Maybe first you’ll have to simplify their bedding to make the task kid-friendly, but it can be done if it matters to you.) Can other family members share laundry sorting, folding, or help in delivering the clothes to where they belong?
One word of caution here: Don’t forget how important it is to stay balanced as you struggle to fill in and adjust your sticky note time diagram. Women are famous for thinking they have to do it all. In my workshops I find they are much more likely to “replace” the one hour of relaxation they have in front the Netflix with a task than they are to “protect” their hour by asking for help from a family member.
How can you remind yourself that your time matters? How will you be a good role model to others and help them form good habits? How will you set an example of the art of honoring yourself by sharing the chores?