Applying Mindset in Marriage

Over this past weekend my husband and I took some much needed time away. We have had so much going on that even when we’re together it can feel like we’re roommates, or co-workers, or maybe even the top executives calling the shots in our business of this life. These aren’t bad relationships to have but in my opinion, and very limited observation, having them in marriage is how a great relationship devolves to a good one. I know, a good relationship with your spouse doesn’t sound all doom and gloom but the operative word there is devolve. It’s going in the wrong direction because unchecked, good can roll down to tolerable. Eventually, wondering why the two of you bother and going your separate ways. Well, this is a slippery slope that I am in no way even willing to risk even getting near.

So what did I do? I went against every anti-planning bone in my body and I chose a weekend 6 weeks out that we would have a break. I set up a sitter for the kids and provided my husband with plenty of notice that while I didn’t know what, we were doing something together because I missed him and us. When his reaction wasn’t what I hoped for I found a way to discuss calmly in a separate time my intention and my why. All of this to say, the planning went well. I did all of the things I profess to be passionate about. I was reflective about why and how I wanted this to be a priority. I was objective in what the problem was and what my part could be in the solution. I took action consistently that supported my plan and was to the benefit of everyone. If you’re sensing a ‘but’ because this is too early in the post for a happy ending, you’re right.

The contrast of the red and green rocks on the shore and in the crystal clear water contrasted with the murky sky was beautiful.

We planned to drive 5 hours from home to bike and be near the lake. Minutes before leaving my husband decided the weather wasn’t great so we wouldn’t take the bikes. We got a later start than intended. I didn’t have as much time to pack as I wanted (and in a world where my husband sees me in glorified PJs every day I did plan to look like something while away) and therefore didn’t get to put together any outfits just haphazard tops and bottoms without enough socks. We got to the hotel late and slept a little later than I wanted followed by a truly lovely day where we most certainly could have biked. I didn’t feel great all day so that was a fun add to the hours and hours of hiking we did. All of these things ate away at me and detracted from our trip. I was constantly getting these little nagging reminders in my head of why it wasn’t perfect. Why I didn’t look perfect. Why I didn’t feel perfect. Why the scenery and the forecasting weren’t perfect. I could have let that pull me in an entirely unproductive direction that would have eaten away at our relationship if I allowed the time devoted to us be overcome by my nitpicking.

So how did I combat this terrible mindset? By telling that little voice to shut up, not dwelling on it, and picking any one of the 1000 of great things to focus on.
Voice: Shouldn’t have listened to him, bikes would have been fine in this weather.
Me: Shut up. Isn’t it great that since we’re hiking we can hold hands and talk more?
Voice: What did you do before this weekend that made you sick? Couldn’t you plan better?
Me: Shut up. This fresh air and activity is going to be so good for me. I’m so thankful I’m feeling well enough to be out here enjoying it.
Voice: There is so much more that you could be doing this weekend. Why didn’t you stay home for a work weekend just the two of you? That would have been time for you and productive.
Me: Shut Up! All of the stuff will still be there tomorrow. Today we build on us because without us none of that matters.

Enjoying the early morning mist while hiking.

I’m not going to say this worked every time. I still said ‘I told you so’ on the weather more than I needed to. I allowed myself to pout on not feeling well. I got annoyed that the ride home didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to but (this is the good but) I utilized a muscle I had been building for my mindset to combat the negative self-talk. I pushed myself to refocus on the positive, creating a better experience for both of us. This is a practice, not something I’ll ever be perfect at. You need to build that mindset muscle. When the stakes are high you’ll be ready to flex and turn the spiral of your mind around to support where you want to be and where you want to go. Listen for your own voice and tell it to stop and make the conscious decision of what you’re going to allow yourself to focus on.

Set the Boundary

I was asked a while back to write on boundaries and my first response was, I don’t have any boundaries, I would have nothing to say. So I read a few articles and listened to a couple podcasts and realized, I have set boundaries in life I just wasn’t using the right words, and some could really use some strengthening. That being said, it is all fairly recent that I set any at all so let’s look at why.

In my work world I wanted so desperately to be accepted by my peers, by my up line, and by other leaders within the organization. I would work longer hours, finish more projects, make only passing comments about my children when specifically asked, and had no personal life. My intent was to out work every person there so there would be no excuse to say that I wasn’t good enough in some way and it still wasn’t working. I was told I was immature and that people didn’t like me by the person I was trying to impress the most. At home I was doing all of the cooking and cleaning, caring for an infant among others, and would be devastated when I’d hear a snide remark about a cluttered counter or how dinner wasn’t right up everyone’s alley. I had no hobbies or fun because trying to prove I was a hard working woman with mom and wife as very time consuming footnotes meant there was no time. The ‘immature and people didn’t like me’ comment was likely more appropriately applied to me at home but I couldn’t figure out how to do anything about it because I thought the focus needed to be work so I just kept piling on. What if I’m also a Sunday School teacher? What if I donate more money to school and daycare fundraisers? What if I go to every school board meeting? What if I crack the code on healthy snacks and lunches that kids love but have zero sugar and fillers? Then with my husband, I don’t know, what if I say yes to every trip he wants to go on and toy he wants to buy? What if I never say no to anything? That should work right? Then I’ll be in a good spot. I mean some of these are silver bullets right? If I can’t do all of them (which I promise you I did in fact do all of them that’s why I’m able to think to list them each out) I can do the ones that get me ‘points’ on more than one side. If I go to a school board meeting I’m benefiting my kids by helping make informed decisions, sounding more informed on topics at gatherings, and learning about how they are run for future roles I might play. If I’m a Sunday School teacher I get points for being a good and present mom and volunteering at church. It was exhausting, I wasn’t any happier and neither was anyone around me. I checked all the boxes and was not happy about it. At this point in life I would say I really did have no boundaries.

Yes I know normally people draw a line in the sand for a boundary but just look at that line in the sky. What is below is good, but what’s above is better. Drawing your line allows you to focus on what is better.

Looking back at my story, I don’t think it is terribly different from many other people’s. Reading it I’m sure you could find at least a couple things that resonate with how you’re living life too. There isn’t a single person I’ve met who doesn’t need to strengthen at least a couple of their own boundaries. That typically comes from a lack of confidence and lack of prioritization in any one or a multitude of areas. For example, you don’t know your true worth as a mom so you assign it to all of the ‘mom stuff’ you can do making it feel like more stuff means higher value. Same is true at work causing you to say yes to every project, overtime request, and shift in priorities. You need to first understand your worth, to be confident there, and then you’ll be better equipped to draw the line. Once you build your confidence you have to remember you’re not special (yes those two things do go hand in hand you need the balance). You think there aren’t 1000 balls in the air for everyone? You think some people have more hours in the day? The difference is that people with healthy boundaries know when to pass a ball off or let it fall to the ground. This isn’t an us vs them topic where some people have it and other’s don’t. Confidence and prioritizing are learned skills, if you don’t have them now, that’s ok. Let’s work on it!

Plan it out, write it down, speak it out loud, take some action. These are the ways you make a change.

Start by reminding yourself that you are good enough just as you are. You are a rock star that can do all of those things you listed in your head you just don’t have to if you don’t want to. You are out to please no person on Earth be they at work, in a house down the street, sleeping in a crib down the fall, or lying right next to you because you are not responsible for their happiness. I want you to come up with your own version of that and remind yourself of it before you fall asleep at night. Mine was a simple 5 words, I don’t work for you and I repeated it to myself at every corner stone of my day. It will take time and you will argue with yourself in the beginning but I’m telling you it will change how you think.

Then, I want you to take a calendar (one that is built out by the hour) and write out your ideal week, or maybe two weeks. This will allow you to understand where your time could be going if you were confident in your priorities. Include everything you do and want to do. That might mean morning routine, work (including commute if you have one), workouts, dinner time (including cooking if that’s your responsibility), playing with kids and/or running them to events and practices. You might notice that you either need to get more help or there is more time than you were realizing and it just wasn’t being utilized the way you wanted. For example, when I first did this I realized two things I did not understand how long making and eating dinner was actually taking, probably 90 minutes overall, and there was a lot more margin than I realized and I spent too much time on social. Will writing out how you want the calendar to work magically make it work? No, but it will make you more aware of where the time is going to allow you to prioritize. It will allow you to make decisions eyes wide open about where you want your boundaries to be. That late night school board meeting, might need to go because silver bullet or not, it doesn’t fit. Or maybe you decide on Friday’s you’re not cooking so you can use the cooking part of that 90 minutes to do something else.

Retrain Your Brain

Do you ever walk into your office, work station, or your kitchen and start running through all of the things you need to do in your head? You start thinking about all of the things that you need to do or that need to be done and pretty soon you’re overwhelmed. Or maybe you can even get past that part. Maybe you’re one of these Type A people who can start thinking in a whirl wind and knows to grab a pen and paper to start writing it all down. You know that you need to start a list for yourself, another for your spouse, another one that has groceries on it. Then once it’s all done you start wondering how you’ll prioritize and strategize to make the most of your time and multitask when possible (I mean starting laundry always comes first because it can be running when you’re not, right?) How long does it take to get to the point that you’re actually getting things done? How much time do you spend planning the Saturday morning chores or the Tuesday afternoon focus time that you’re not actually accomplishing anything?

This day everything came together. Priority one, supervise bath time. I did figure out how to multitask it.
Not pictured, I was having a dance party, win,win, win.

I am so guilty of this. I mean, I am absolutely an achiever but I can get so wound up in planning and thinking about what needs to get done that I’m not actually doing the things sometimes. I walk into the kitchen and think about the meal planning, and grocery shopping I should do and wasn’t I going to clean out that drawer and wash the fridge shelves? So I get out the cookbooks for inspiration and start running the hot water for dishes and then decide I should really know my husband’s schedule for the week before getting started. So I walk to the bedroom thinking I’ll start a load of laundry and see the baskets are all full with clean clothes that still need to be folded and put away. I decide I’ll make up a little ground at work and I turn on my laptop and spend it answering emails because I can’t decide what to do first on projects. At that point I realize I still have the water running.

I know I’m not the only one. The results of this end up being half done jobs all over the place or the work that did get done is not the top priority. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to make traction when your brain is pulling you in other directions and telling you to focus on other things. I personally blame Mark Zuckerberg (only half serious of course because we all have control over how we spend our minutes and where we focus our attention). The rise of all of these social media platforms has caused our minds to rewire in a sense. We are so used to new information, the new shiny object, the new pretty pictures shifting our attention as we scroll that we start doing it when we aren’t scrolling. When you run through your social feed you view, read, or watch everything for a matter of seconds and I don’t know about you but when the video says it is 57 seconds long and it encourages me to ‘wait for it…’ or ‘you gotta see how this ends,’ I typically don’t even watch it because, who has that kind of time?

My tent pole is my morning routine. Nothing get’s done well, or sometimes at all, if I haven’t done my morning right.

The solution, that I am trying and failing at every single day, is training our brains back. Prioritizing to put first things first and training ourselves to slow down, to think clearly, to do the one thing and then decide on the next. Know your tent poles, what is most critical to you and your success and state of mind get that done. Then, if you know you need to finish x project just do that. Don’t move to the next room. Don’t start a color coded list. Don’t peruse Pinterest for ideas on the thing. Just do it and then move on to the next. Even if everything that was on the to-do list doesn’t get done you’ll have the most critical and a few other things all tied up in a bow. Let’s be honest, the whole list wasn’t getting done the other way either.

Learning from Life

Did you ever have one of those days where you are just killing it at one time and then 10 minutes later you’re thinking, why are these words coming out of my mouth, stop talking. It’s like a Jeckle and Hyde situation where one minute you’re rocking out all the things and the next you’re flailing like you weren’t just the exact person who gave advice on the topic. That was me recently. For sake of saving face we’ll call this all experimentation and leave out that I was actually flying by the seat of my pants for some of it (which typically yields not great results) and reflecting on it after the fact. I conducted a number of experiments but I’ll provide only a few examples.

Talking with Take the Credit Tim. There is a peer of mine who consistently chooses to ignore and forget my role. That sounds harsh right? Maybe I’m being sensitive, maybe it isn’t intentional, maybe I’m not as valuable (and therefore memorable) in that area which is why he neglects to remember. I appreciate and have considered those things but, that’s not it. When determining strategy, planning, and forecasting I am not invited to the table. However, when the work needs to be completed I am remembered, called upon, and my opinion is sought on the strategy that was laid out. Tim always appreciates and implements my thoughts but it is only as an afterthought to the greater meeting and in practice, changes are laid out as his ideas with a pat on the head to me for sparking some inspiration. Well, that came to a head. I was over it. I have been sweet with him in the past giving reminders and asking to be brought in. I have been direct, telling him I was frustrated by this pattern. This time I played a new card and didn’t give him any ammo to aid in his strategy just asked questions. It felt smarmy and manipulative but I didn’t feel like I had any other options. The next part is what got to me though. I vented about it, like it was my job. I complained to a co-worker, my husband, my mom, I even told my kids an age appropriate version that served as a fable of sorts. Don’t take people’s help and intelligence for granted or you might not get access to it anymore. This was maybe not my best moment.

Sometimes It’s best that I just keep the camera off.
Photo by Anna Shvets on

Agreeing with Out of Control Agatha. I was asked to join a call where the intent was to bring the brightest people available on a topic from a variety of backgrounds together to solve a problem. There was a limited framework laid out around how the solution should fit that served primarily as guideposts with lots of room to make a proposal in between. We got an example recommendation on a possible solution that was just not going to work but that was the point of the group, find something that did, then present back to the people who had the ask in the first place. (Ok so you know I’m all about finding your development opportunities, this. is. one.) This would be an amazing opportunity to demonstrate leadership abilities and network, not only with the folks considered to be the brightest in their field but also with the people orchestrating the ask. This could be a chance to make a great impression with some people in high places who can then mentor and potentially advocate for you. Only problem was that Agatha was in the group. Agatha was so focused on the example solution being wrong that she spent the call insulting the people on it, yelling at the person who called the meeting, and basically inspiring anger in the rest of the group. Well, I agreed with her but could not let that opportunity go to waste based on her interaction. I jumped in and acknowledged her concerns but suggested that we use another similar process as inspiration and move forward.

Empathy with the Elementary Schooler. My middle man loses his cool sometimes and cannot get it back. He screams like someone is stabbing him sometimes when he gets upset and hyperventilates repeating, ‘I am the worst kid.’ It is hard to watch and after long spans of time I lose my patience. He was standing in front of me outside screaming about something that didn’t go his way but in my mind wasn’t that big of a deal. He had made a poor choice and I had given a slight consequence, I’m old school and we believe in consequences for all actions (I think it was to discuss the choice and how he could make a better one next time, so not that old school.) Because I made him stop doing what he was doing and he was embarrassed by his mistake he lost it. Then, so did I. Here we are standing in the middle of a 40 acre woods him screaming he’s the worst and me screaming back louder, ‘Just stop! Take a freaking breath!” (effective right?) I am sure the distant neighbors could hear and were super glad we moved in. Once I could see myself through his eyes, the person who is supposed to fix things is standing there yelling at him shouting directions that feel impossible, I realized how my response escalated the whole thing.

So yes, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride but I am so grateful for each and every minute of it. Daily life never ceases to amazing me as the blessings and lessons just seem to fly in from every angle. I’d bet you’re already conducting your own experiments, make something of them, learn from them, grow from them. You don’t need a fancy conference someplace warm to develop into the person you’re becoming, work with what you have. A few lessons, and gratitude, I picked up from my experiments:

  • I am thankful that I was able to implement a new solution with Tim. Jury is still out on if it will be effective but at least I’m not doing the same thing and expecting a new outcome.
  • I am thankful that after a day or complaining I saw the impacts that was having on me, my relationships, and my output. I was able to put a cap on it once I realized.
  • I am thankful I can discern lessons from Agatha without going through that myself. I learn a lot from my own mistakes, it’s sort of refreshing to learn from others’ some times.
  • I am thankful that I can still learn from an elementary school student. He doesn’t mean to hold up a mirror but he’s great at it. I may not win mom of the year but I’m getting better every day.

Using the Why to Drive Solutions

I think I’ve mentioned this a time or two, or maybe in every post, but I have three kids all little dudes and they have a lot of similarities but are very different. I love them fiercely and part of that is encouraging them to follow their passions, build on the skills they have, and understand their own needs and tendencies and how they drive their behaviors.

My middle insisting on making dinner with me rather than playing outside.

Our oldest has a mathematical brain. Now let’s be clear, he doesn’t want to do math, that would be torture. He wants to build forts with functioning garages and toss a hat at the exact right angle to land perfectly on his brother’s head. He wants to learn the best speed to hit a jump so you ‘get air’ without going ‘endo’. My middle man is very relational. He is the life of the party and the center of attention in a crowd. He wants to be your best friend and make sure that everyone knows he cares about them. (Until you cross the line, then you are dead to him. He will, with concerning amounts of specificity, wish death upon you.) He will hold your hand, articulate that he needs more one on one time with a person, and ask to do basic things like run errands or do chores so he can do it with you. My littlest dude is incredibly independent. There is no reason he should have any help or handicaps to do things that his older brothers can do. Yes he is in the toddler ‘I do it myself’ phase but it’s more than just frustration with people taking things away to help him. He will spend exorbitant amounts of time working and playing on his own without asking for help or for anyone to play with him. He is perfectly content playing with his brothers and friends and if they don’t want to, no problem, just more toys for him.

Just a baby man. Being his own delightfully strange little person.

So why am I bothering to tell you that? I mean I’m sure you find it mildly amusing that my kids are all different and the baby is the most independent which is not the norm but so what? The reason I bring it up is that I wonder how often we do this with our kids. We spend a ton of time thinking about and telling our kids to excel in a sport, get an education, learn domestic skills that will serve them later in life, spend time outside, and the list goes on and on. How often do we stop thinking about what they need to be best equipped in this world and start thinking about how to foster those natural tendencies. For example, maybe your kid picks an iPad over a book because they’re more like my oldest and want to watch videos on how a ball can bounce 7 times before hitting the target dead on rather than read a story about a kid befriending a creature. Perhaps your kid joined baseball and begs to go to every tournament and clinic because they need the comradery that comes with a team. Maybe your kid retreats once they start to win because they can see you gave them an advantage that they didn’t want to have. When you understand the why you’re better able to have empathy for the cause which in turn allows you to create the best solutions to the problem at hand. For example, he needs to stimulate his mathematician side and uses YouTube to do it creating excessive screen time. Rather than just taking the screen away I can encourage him to do his own ball bounce thingy.

Finally got the big one to read, because the book includes jumps and intentional ‘endos’.

Finally, when was the last time you analyzed this for yourself? You already know you need to work hard, fuel your body well with food, water, and rest, get active, build relationships. Our list goes on and on too. So why are you working too many hours, eating too much junk, spending so much time on social media, or distancing yourself from your partner? When was the last time you stopped checking the boxes to equip yourself, giving yourself space to think about your own needs and tendencies? Understanding the why will allow you to solution better for yourself too. It isn’t any more complex for us because we’re adults, we’re just in it and it’s harder to see what is surrounding you. Perhaps you’re someone who thrives off of order and predictability (most of us are). You don’t feel like you have enough of it in one area so you hold as tightly as you can to another. For example, I need to feel like I can control something so I guess it will be hours logged on to work. Once you understand that it is a need for control in one part of your day you can refocus it in another area. For example, I need to feel in control and am working excessive hours to feel that. Rather than just saying ‘log off’, I can create a schedule that focuses on allowing me to control my time in the evening even if it isn’t for work.

You could absolutely start paying more attention to what your kids passions are, how they are driving behaviors (both those you want them to have and those you don’t), and develop more compassion and empathy because of knowing the why. You could use that understanding and compassion to improve the behaviors too. I think, more importantly though, you could do it for yourself.

This is the Time

We’ve had a couple of good days with beautiful weather recently. The skies have been blue, the breeze has been warm, and birds and squirrels have been chattering away. Snow, in our corner of the world at least, is becoming spring snow. (Yes there is a difference between winter and spring snow. It’s to do with the moister content, density, and crust.) It’s just the start of the transition of the season, there will be more winter weather in store I’m sure of it, but you can feel spring is hot on winter’s heals.

You can see it in nature but you can also see it in kids. Mine always love being outside but they are dying for the sun now too. They are going out with less clothes on and soaking up any rays they can find. They also are more in tune to breaking up their habits and being more productive and more relaxed in their play. Let me explain, a few weeks ago and throughout winter truly, they would have followed the same routine. Get all dressed up to play outside, go to the garage, get the same toy they’ve played with the day before (and the day before that) and play in the same way they always do. Now, on the early spring days, they want to walk back to the field and check out how the snow is melting. They find ‘comfy’ spots in the snow to recline and feel the sun on their face. Try new tricks and build jumps, forts, and set up courses that will take them through the best mud puddles on their bikes. I came outside yesterday to Daddy recording a jump off of a large piece of plywood that nearly caused my biggest guy to go over the handle bars. I just smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Set a goal, come up with a plan, and push the boundaries kid. You might break your arm but Daddy is there and ready to get you to the ER. (That’s the kind of mostly supportive little bit of snark mom I am.)

Looking good, feeling good in his shades, jeans, and kitty mittens.

I can feel it too. Not only am I excited for the things I’ve been working toward all winter but now I’m thinking about gardens where will have the best sun? What should I plant this year? Should I have more than one? How many fruit trees do I need and how far apart should they be? Will they support the honey bee population in my area? I can’t wait to forage for fiddle heads! What else I can find this spring to harvest right off of the land? I can also feel a renewed power in the goals I had set. That race that I had signed up for and ‘forgot’ to train? Well you can bet I now think I can set a personal record on my time. The trip I have been waiting for with my husband? I absolutely was online looking at options.

Not the clearest of pictures but I even had the ambition to do a video to encourage getting out while running in my snowshoes.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Make it one of your favorite times too. It is a reset from January where we have more energy, more excitement, and more daylight, literally. (Who decided that right around the darkest day of the year was the best time for starting a new endeavor anyway?) So I challenge you to do an assessment right now of your own intentions. What goals have fallen by the wayside? What passions that you’ve done nothing with (either by force or by choice) have started rolling around in your head again? What is tugging at your attention right now that you’ve been trying to push out of your brain? Write that down. Then, put in your schedule.

This is the time for setting intentions, forcing yourself to take hold of a big dream, or starting something new. This is the time for brushing off whatever chains were holding you back. Remind yourself of all of your passions and run toward them with a strategy and renewed focus. This is the time make the time for you and step into what you can, and deserve to do.

Leadership as a ________.

For years I have loved snowmobiling. When I was a tot that meant sitting in front of my dad (or with my sister in a sled being towed behind) riding around our field at our house. I would scream with excitement and sing almost continuously while riding. When I got a little older it became one of the few things that I exclusively did with my dad. We did lots of stuff as a family and my sister and I had some traditions of our own and us with my mom but this one was special for just my dad and I. Imagine my delight turned to annoyance when my boyfriend, soon to be husband, was even more excited about snowmobiling than I was (yay!), but asked to come with Dad and I (you gotta be kidding me). It was a big step in the relationship and I nearly said no. (I mean I wasn’t going to deer camp with him what place did he have snowmobiling with my dad and I?!) I did eventually let him come and my mom started riding with us too. It has always been a great way to enjoy nature and see the world from a different perspective. There are times you’ll ride for what seems like hours through winding wooded trails only to come out and cross the same road that you know is only a mile or two from where you started. It is “sitting all day” that I swear is a workout. I am a pretty active person but you put me on a sled for a day and I’ll be sore from my hands, to my arms, to my shoulders and back, down to my legs. There is no way to be “productive” as there is nothing to accomplish except the ride, so my mind has a chance to be free and creative.

Every year I give the boys their first rides of the season.
And I mean every year, before they are walking, they are riding.

That last one is where the inspiration for this post came from. I have played with this idea for years while riding and have always wanted to write a book on the subject though, it would be an extremely niche market. Leadership as a trail ride. I know, I can see the smile and eyeroll you have now. This girl sees leadership in literally everything, you’re not wrong, but go with me.

Choose your riding style. It is rare that when I say style I actually mean style of clothing but this time I do. Some people would prefer to wear 25 layers of grandma’s scarves and tried and true long johns that have been passed down through the generations. These folks may know their outdated but they take pride in their 1988 Polaris jacket and brown coveralls underneath. Other’s want the newest technology with the best in lightweight insulations and jackets that literally have battery packs to not just keep you warm but actually heat you. Some are going strictly for the look. Their jacket coordinates with their helmet which matches their pants. They might even wrap their sled, or buy one with the right colors, to round out the whole ensemble. Others still, myself included, want some basics but would rather have some room to move even if it means getting a little chillier on the trail. All of these styles (like your own personal leadership style) are ways of expressing yourself. You do you but the key is flexibility. You can know what you gravitate toward but understand what the conditions require and flex and change to meet the needs of those conditions.

Know who you’re following. In the instances that I ride with only women I ride in the back to make sure we don’t lose anyone and help if there is any issue on the trail. Otherwise I, always without a doubt, follow my husband or my dad in a ride. I don’t care if it is just the two of us or a group of 12. I want to follow people I know have their heads on straight and I can trust to learn from. I want to drift through the corners where they do, lean as hard as they lean, see if they slide on ice so I can avoid it, and jump the snowbanks when they do. The person you follow is sort of your mentor on the trail, you want to have someone you can learn from. Someone that will inspire you to push your limits just enough to improve your skills without getting dangerous.

I don’t know that I personally would follow this particular driver, but his big brother appears to have all the confidence as he sits on the back.

Appreciate your machine. I started out riding a Polaris Indy 2 up (probably circa 1990 in 2005 I would guess). It was heavy and stable and it was difficult for me to maneuver at a high rate of speed. So, it was great for a beginner who didn’t really need to ride at a high rate of speed. I progressed to a 2000 Skidoo MXZ in 2011 which I was incredibly excited for but it was so squirrely I was all over the trail and rolled it no less than 5 times. I have since moved up in the world a bit but my general sentiment remains the same, respect what you have and it will do all you need it to. I put hundreds of miles on those snowmobiles. It didn’t matter that my sled was “old” or that it didn’t have all the bells and whistles; I just needed to work with what I had. Whether your team is tenured or full of newbys you need to understand and appreciate what you’re working with. Each group and the dynamics within the group will bring their own strengths, challenges, and opportunities. On your own you can only get so far but with a strong and successful team you can really go places and have the time of your life doing it.

Understand the trail conditions. There are rare occasions when you get to a trail and see that the groomer has just gone through. Flat, pristine trail lay ahead of you with nothing but your own skis and track disturbing it. More often though, there are deep grooves from other’s snowmobiles, a little dirt coming up to the roads, heaps in the corners that force you to one side of the trail, or ice that seems to have a total mind of its own. On those perfect trails, you call all the shots and your machine just floats where ever you point it. On anything else you’re basically recommending a direction and have to release control and work with the the conditions you have. The conditions of your organization are no different. Hold too tightly to every detail and work to make your way work regardless of the path ahead, and you’re bound lose control in other ways (I imply that my crashing the MXZ was because it was squirrely, and that was certainly part, but also I hadn’t quite learned this nuance yet.).

It’s a little grainy but this is one of my favorite pictures. The groomer coming down a beautiful trail on a crisp snowy morning.

So this is all applicable, and a little silly. I still feel like I could write this book I have so many more descriptions and analogies to make. It would be a short book, and yes, a little cheesy. My point is that leadership is universal and that running it parallel to examples you already understand can make some of the things that are so simple their missed, resonate better. Let’s take one simple example, I knew coming into a leadership position years ago that I needed to flex my style to meet the people where they were at, but I was coming at it more philosophically rather than tactically. Then I thought about what I wear riding and how my fewest layers possible mentality was uniquely me, I did make changes based on if it was 20 degrees or 10 degrees below. If I know to flex the style when it exclusively impacts me, then obviously I need to flex my leadership style, while still being true to myself, when it impacts the whole team.

So what is your thing? I mean, I’m sure these examples hit home with a couple people but for most, snowmobiling is not their go to hobby. What is yours? Fill in your own blank. How can you reflect on it help you better understand other areas of your life? What nuggets can you pick out that will propel you forward at home, in the workplace, while connecting with your spouse, or anywhere else. You have the knowledge, find it and apply it everywhere you can.

Willing and Prepared

What is your first thought as you read these statements? Family comes first, count your blessings, make time for self-care, eating for fuel, move your body, the list goes on and on. To me these are all pretty annoying, though I do use at least one of them every day I’m sure. They are all phrases that make really cute hashtags to add to the end of social posts or to use as justification when you do something out of the norm and want to make clear that you’re not feeling guilty about it. For example, there is a lot on your plate at work but your kid has a big game this afternoon, so you put in about 8 and a half hours of feverish prioritization pumping out as much production as possible and then apologize for leaving “early” but note, family comes first, as you head out to get to the match with not a moment to spare. Or perhaps you have way too many irons in the fire and you’re at your breaking point, feeling overwhelmed, snapping at everyone, so you lock yourself in a room with Netflix and your guilty treat of choice while you tell yourself you’re making time for self-care.

Work from home means days start early. Family comes first means I sometimes have a cute assistant.

The problem with these, and every other example of when people use these little phrases, is that we wait until we’re at the end of our rope to invoke the one trick, the one skill, the one resource we have. If you’re needing to declare family comes first while dashing off, heart either racing or sinking, trying to think if there was anything you forgot to do, then you’re not really living out that family truly does come first. You’re not setting yourself up to support the fact that your priority really is family, above all else. Likewise, if you’re locking yourself in your bedroom demanding not to be disturbed or crawling into a hastily made bath on the verge of tears, you don’t make time for self-care. You are waiting until the last possible second, or maybe the moments after what should have been the last possible second, to deploy the one resource you can think of in your frazzled state. I can’t help but think it would be the same as if Mario, without so much as a red topped mushroom, went rushing into Bowzer’s lair calling out, “It’sa me, Mario!” Just like all the other catch phrases, it’s technically correct but at the same time couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We, myself absolutely included, are wasting everything available to us up until our breaking point and relying on our own strength when we have nothing left. So how do we change that? How do we go from using those phrases as statements we’re trying to convince ourselves of to true mantras we live our lives by? I like to think of this like the old Super Mario Brothers games, yes I’m sticking with this reference, go with me for a minute. There was always some bad guy at the end of each world that needed to be defeated. If Mario went in blind and without any power up’s you could make it, in theory, but man, you had to be on your A-game and the deck was stacked against you. BUT if you picked up a feather, or super star, or jumped on a Kupa shell and sent it careening toward your enemy, you were in much better shape. You had to be aware of what skills you might need and pick them up along the way. You had to look for resources in the situation you were in and make the best use of them that you could. Prepared or not, Mario was marching forth toward the goal (save the princess) under threat of death. Death was just a whole lot more likely if he was unprepared going into battle.

Photo by Pixabay on

For those raising an eyebrow at my Mario example and looking for something a bit more classical, I give you Nehemiah. (Yes this is likely the only blog that uses classic video games and books of the Bible as parallel story lines.) Nehemiah had an end goal in mind that was pretty simple, build a wall. He could have just run off tools in hand but it likely never would have gotten finished. He started by praying (started there, not as a last resort), then he sought support of the king, he enlisted help, and he recognized the immediate and future opposition and organized people to work against it. Nehemiah never gave in to the nay-sayers even when he felt his life depended on it.

So I ask you, what are you chasing after? Be it princess or the rebuilding of a wall or anything in between, are you both willing and prepared to chase after it? Take a moment, or a few of them, to understand what you’ll need in what you’re going up against. What skills do you need to sharpen? What are your resources do you need to organize or find? What is literally laying around (stones and rubble or an old Kupa shell perhaps) that is just waiting to get discovered? Finally, are you seeing it all the way through. Like all the way. Mario just ran left to right straight head on into whatever came next, picking up all he could along the way until or unless he literally died (little extreme but a nice illustration none the less). Nehemiah didn’t come down for anything. When he was enticed he said no, what I’m doing is more important. When he was in pain, he asked God to strengthen his hands.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

At the end of the day, could you make it through most of your situations surviving on determination and adding a fun hashtag afterward? Most of them, sure in theory, and the deck will be stacked against you. If you take a note from Mario and Nehemiah however, and prioritize what is truly important to you and set yourself up for success by relying on the skills and resources throughout, you’ll be much better prepared to take on what comes at you in the end. You’ll accomplish your goal without compromising your priorities and be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Why You Take the Picture

I went through a phase growing up, a long one like maybe age 10-16, where I never wanted my picture taken. I would hide, whine, fight and then pout in the picture. Super cute. I was totally against them. After that though I was happy to take them if other’s wanted but I was not going to suggest it. When I got to college it seemed like every girl I saw had a phone at the ready to take a picture of food, friends, the events we were at, how we looked at any given event, and then would chronical our whole lives through their lenses. All the while I was thinking, can’t we just do the thing? Can’t we just enjoy the dinner, hockey game, or night out instead of documenting who sat next to whom and what they wore? I wanted to enjoy the time with friends and family not capture it for the future. Then I got married. For our wedding I wanted to be sure there were impromptu pictures, yes you need to take the grandparent pictures and the poses with the combined families but I went with the least expensive photographer I could find and took her smallest package. My biggest concern was if she would take day after photos of us playing in the woods with our wedding clothes on, she did and those were perfect. I have all of them on a flash drive somewhere but I think I printed 10 total pictures and some of those were wallet sized.

These are the pictures I’ve made a habit of saving. Nothing perfect about this one. Just two crazy kids who drove their truck in the reception hall.

All of that made me enough of an oddball when it came to photos but nothing compared to when I became a mom. Did I take pictures of my Wallace Shawn looking newborns and text them to friends and family describing how perfect they were? Yes. Did I do it half as much as other mom’s? Not even close. I just didn’t want to watch my children through my phone or camera lens. I wanted to actually be in that moment with them. I didn’t want to be the one at the family gatherings constantly running around going, “get together” “ok, look at me” “just act like you’re having a conversation”. (We all were together and having a real conversation until you came along wanting to take candid looking posed shots.) I didn’t really have time for the intentional, professional ones either. In the ten years my little family has been in existence I had wedding pictures, a set of church directory pictures, and a few from a gift we gave to my parents a couple years ago.

Photo credit to Nikki Oelke Photography

Then, my little men discovered slideshow mode on my iPad. I started to realize the pictures weren’t just for me. All of those moments that were messy and silly and funny, make them roll on the floor laughing. All of the posed pictures of us together make them recount how much they enjoyed that event or holiday. All of the family members that, to my utter shock and dismay, did not defy the odds and live forever come alive again through the pictures I can share with those little dudes. I have the pictures of a great grandmother holding her newborn grandson. All of the generations huddled around grandpa at a holiday. I can see the light in their eyes as a toddler wraps his arms around an auntie or uncle’s neck and the love and connection they share.

You know what else I realized? All of the pictures that I was taking, I was typically not in. Mom wasn’t the one playing catch, building the fort, making the cookies or anything else as far as the pictures were concerned. I was always the one behind the camera. To be honest, I wasn’t capturing my husband in too many of them either because I was focused on the kids or the people we don’t see often enough being with the kids. Having a good photographer who is able to capture it all, is essential. Someone who can pull out those messy, silly, and funny moments and capture them while you’re all there, all together, (while the big guys have combed hair and the baby is wearing pants) is such a blessing.

Photo credit to Nikki Oelke Photography

Truly what I’m saying (to myself as much as you) is take the pictures, ask people to take your picture, find your local photographer and take the pictures. I still want to be in the moment with my family and friends. I want to be invested in what we’re doing and not watching it from behind a lens. I am also to the point that I appreciate having them for all of the memories they provide, and for the new memories made while we enjoy them and reminisce together.

Taking Care of #1

I used to wear my feverish work pinned on my shirt like a medal of honor. I told everyone about how blissfully busy I was and recounted all of the things that made me that way, some of which were a bit of a fish story if I’m honest. To clarify, I wasn’t actually burnt out, I was zealous. I wasn’t the type of person who used how busy I was or how exhausted I was as an excuse or a complaint. To the contrary, I was so proud of who I was and the work I did in all facets of my life. I was excited and feeding off of the state of chaos I was living in. One day I was asked what I did to turn it off, which was a completely foreign concept to me. I didn’t want to turn a thing off just crank it up! How could I brainstorm while I was cooking dinner? Could I strategize while on snowmobiling in the winter or out by the lake in the summer? Could I develop the constructs and values that would propel me forward in my career in all of the places that inspire me so that I could spend work time doing the “real” work? (Now I know I’m a recovering workaholic because even as I’m writing this I can feel my heart rate elevate and my mind start to rationalize why all of that is still a great idea.)

I was hungry for the challenge and I was doing a good job. I was meeting deadlines, accomplishing progress, managing change, empowering those around me, making some mistakes and improving everyday. I was also, gaining weight, praying less, losing time with my husband, losing time with my kids, and when I was with everyone my mind was constantly multitasking back to what was easy for me to become enveloped in, work. I was relying all but exclusively on my own abilities and getting praised for it so the rest I just figured would work itself out. Then, in an abrupt about face, I was not praised for the work I was doing, I was questioned on the validity. I wasn’t encouraged to expand, I was told to stay in my lane. I wasn’t allowed to share my plan and vision (all the strategy and constructs I had conceptualized), I was told vision would follow the chain of command. I tried to put in more time and effort but was maxed out. Further, I was no longer getting that fuel from crushing it at work but didn’t know how to be fueled by the other aspects of life. Effort running on empty is then, burnout.

Actual footage of how I looked to my team…. not exactly the lady you’re raising your hand to get behind.

As I typically do, I started to think about what got me where I was. After blaming everyone else didn’t really yield results, I started to understand it was because all of my eggs were in that one basket. I wasn’t fueling myself in any other ways. Getting praise for good work is, well good, but putting sole stock in a few key roles, key people, assigning your value is unhealthy and a recipe for disaster.

Once I realized the problem was me and where I was looking for my worth, I could take the next step to determine where that worth would come from in a perfect scenario. Instead of looking out at everyone else to tell me about my value, I went back to basics and looked up and within. It was like an epiphany, when I realized there was no reason to care what everyone else thought. I mean I know we all know that and I certainly did too but to know it and to understand and embrace it were two different things. Do the job I’m asked to do and if the skills and talents that I know I posses aren’t useful or requested in that scenario, this is not my problem. It does not make those skills less important or less useful. Because those are the things that fueled me and had propelled me forward for so long, I didn’t want to lose them. I didn’t want to let that muscle lay dormant without the ability to work, make mistakes, improve, and grow. So I found other avenues to flex in. I joined clubs, I volunteered, I found areas of the business where I could still grow and connect while staying in my lane and following chain of command. I learned to “turn it off” too. I learned that laptops actually close for a reason. I learned no one dies, or even gets maimed, if you don’t respond to an email or set up a meeting at 9 pm. I learned that some of the mistakes we were all trying so desperately to avoid might happen and we would all laugh about them in about a week and made no difference to anything in about a month, sometimes it took longer and the scar was more pronounced, but often not.

I got to the point that resting up to achieve someone else’s dream just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Now I had a better handle on the the thing that was easiest for me to control, work, so I started looking at other areas of life too. I mean, I had all of this time on my hands after closing the laptop, I might as well. I started eating to actually fuel myself (rather than stress eating peanut butter and salami everyday). I started setting goals outside of work like places I’d like to take the family and I bet I could master side crow (not yet but some day). I discovered I like reading (something not a single person I know, including me, saw coming). I created a morning routine because I am incredibly introverted and I need some time alone (sure it started as 5 minutes, but it grew to 90). I started a practice of thanking God for my husband (it is really hard to be mad at your spouse for anything that happened the night before if you start your day recounting 3 ways he was a blessing to you). I added strategic times of prayer throughout the day (That sounds fancy but it was like a minute or two on the way to work, at about 2, and on the way home. It obviously added a little prayer back in my day but also forced me to stop, slow down my mind, and refocus on what was important.).

The look of my morning routine.

That is my story of how I started taking care of me. How I started putting myself first. Reading it all in one sitting with your coffee or lunch might feel like it was a quick change, I mean I used the word epiphany. It was not. This took literal months probably more like a year or more and came about in iterations with two steps forward and one step back. It was a lot of hard work and to be honest would have been easier to not do it. I could have just blamed everyone else, quit what I was doing, found something else, and chalked it up to bad things happen sometimes going on to relive the cycle with different scenery. That would have been hard too but easier than doing all of the work on myself. It just wouldn’t have yielded the results. I’m a healthier, wiser, more effective version of myself than I was. I’m better not only in the areas that I had previously neglected, but in the one area I was so focused on in the first place!

So if you’re feeling stuck ask yourself, how am I contributing to this? Where am I getting my worth from? What is one thing I can do to improve the situation? Keep asking this last one and implementing until you get where you want to be.