Captain’s Log Stardate 1827.
Captain’s Log Stardate 1827.
Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, all of these things are a confusing mix of emotions after we have “lost” a dear one. Shayna’s 20th birthday was a day that brought a feeling of dread as it loomed larger and larger on the calendar. Starting last week, well-meaning parents in Helping Parents Heal began offering sympathetic messages to me. I couldn’t ignore the day. I knew that I would have to go through it.
I woke up yesterday morning with a download of information from Shayna, an idea for a podcast to explain to others what these birthdays are like. As much as my approach would be to make it a day like any other day to forget it was Shayna’s 20th, that’s not possible. I knew I would be getting messages from people all day long. I steeled myself to face the day and to try to simply endure it.
After I posted the video, the responses started coming in. People were sending me love and support. But, as nice as the messages of “Happy Birthday” to Shayna were, what was uplifting were the messages from people saying how much my sharing Shayna had helped them. I was overflowing with gratitude all day long for all of the support from my friends. And, in case you have lost touch with your family through your loss, I want to add this. All of this support came from people not related to me. None of it was from my family. As I was telling a client last week “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The bonds that are forged in our bottles are the bonds that endure.
I couldn’t have been down if I had wanted to. I felt lifted up all day long. I knew Shayna would find a way to get a message to me. She did a trick on my phone (which I posted about yesterday). She also delivered a hand-written message through my friend Claudia.
In case you can’t read the note, it says:
Hi Shayna, How wonderful to be born in January 2000! I was hoping you might have a message for your Mom + Dad. Love, Claudia.
To my dear mother + father + sister.
I’m all over you. I mean I got this. You guys got a problem- I’m on it. You’re worried about something? I’ve already taken care of it. There’s nothing to worry about anymore.
Dad- what are you gonna do with all that extra time? LOL. You could probably rebuild the catacombs or something.
I do love you all- And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love me.
There’s nothing I’d rather do today than share cake with you- chocolate this time!
There is so much joy here- and I am learning how to share it! Even with you sour pusses. 🙂
I do miss the eye rolls and the protests because “There goes Shayna again.” but that’s just sometimes you forget I’M RIGHT HERE.
I love you all and I’m so proud of you all. I point you out and I say “That’s my family.” and they are all impressed.
Behave yourselves and have fun- or I’ll spook you!!!
Happy Birthday to Me
Love you Bunches!
Tywana and I went out for pizza to our favorite pizza place. We came home, had some champagne (one we hadn’t had in nearly 20 years. Someone sent it to me a few months ago and I was waiting for an occasion to open it). We had tuxedo cake (chocolate). And, I watched the National Championship game.
Thank you to everyone who helped me more than endure the day. Thank you for making it a magical day. And, most especially, thank you to my baby, Shayna.
Today is Shayna’s 20th birthday. When I asked her for a sign this morning, she reminded me she had given me a sign last night. The Alexa in our office suddenly and inexplicably stopped working with the bedroom lights. Just as inexplicably, it started working again.
This morning, I made a YouTube video using an image I use as my screensaver as the still shot for the video. I posted it to Facebook.
A friend asked if anyone knew a life coach she could refer people to. I replied with a GIF of Will Smith raising his hand.
Someone else replied to her post. So I got a notification. I went to look. What I saw was the still image I had used for the YouTube video. As I looked at it, it changed into the YouTube cover image I had used- right in front of my eyes. Then, back to the still image.
This is NOT what I replied with. But, it’s what I was able to screenshot.
I shut down Facebook and reopened the app on my phone. This is what I had actually replied with.
I have no idea how she does this.
Happy Birthday, Baby!
Many times over the last nearly fifteen years, Tywana or I have uttered that phrase. “Zoe is the best dog ever.” Zoe was a 60-pound retriever mix. God only knows her true genetic background. She looks most like a flat-coated retriever. We got Zoe in February 2005, only a few weeks after our fur-baby Chloe made her transition. The hardest decision I ever had to make was to let Chloe go. We had decided to wait until at least spring to get another dog so I wouldn’t have to train a dog during the winter. But, a few weeks after Chloe transitioned, Tywana and the girls were on the internet combing shelters looking for our next baby.
The shelter where Zoe was born named her “Curly Girl” because of the curly hair on her ears. The girls wanted to name her Princess. But, since I was vetoed from using the name Zoe for Kayla, and Shayna, and since Tywana had named Chloe, I insisted on naming her Zoe, which means “life”.
Zoe, from the start, was the easiest dog to train. She has always been eager to please and mellow. The only problem with Zoe is she’s too friendly. She loves people, preferring them to dogs. At the dog park, she’d rather play with the people than the dogs.
Zoe was never much for chasing frisbees or balls. She never liked toys. Stevie brought toys back into the house after Chloe passed. Zoe ignored Stevie’s toys. Zoe just wants to lay at our feet.
Six years ago, when Zoe was nine years old, we got Stevie. Zoe was nine and a big dog. I didn’t anticipate she would be with us for very much longer. The girls wanted a little dog that they could cuddle. Zoe took Stevie under her wing like one of her own children. They have been inseparable ever since. They’ve never spent a night apart and on the very rare occasion when Zoe leaves the house and Stevie is here without her, Stevie watches the door and cries waiting for her return.
Zoe, finally began showing signs of aging a couple of years ago. I remember taking her to the vet when she was ten. The vet went on and on for about five minutes for how great she looked for a ten-year-old. Eyes clear, good teeth, not much gray. I’ve been preparing myself for her transition. But, she was showing almost no signs of aging. The last couple of years the gray has been coming in faster and faster. She’s been losing muscle mass. The cataracts were noticeable. And her hearing was not what it was. Zoe still had the heart of a puppy though. She still wanted to run.
I think the signs of aging are a grace given to us to let us know it’s almost time to move on from these mortal bodies. The walks with Zoe stopped a couple of years ago. She would get exhausted and overheated. Stevie is a terrible walker without Zoe. She learned from Zoe and when Zoe’s not there, she’s not interested in walking. Looking into Zoe’s eyes, every time I can see the years have taken their toll. The hearing loss, the lack of ability to get up and down the steps on the deck, these things let me know the day I dread was coming.
When my grandparents crossed over, I mourned but they were old and it was expected. Even with the signs of aging, I could never accept that Zoe was old. She will forever be my baby. She still wanted to run. She couldn’t get up and down the stairs to the deck anymore. She would go down the deck stairs sometimes. But, she would walk around to the front of the house to be let in. She took the steps back into the house with a little leap though, right up until the end.
Two weeks ago Zoe started showing signs of weakness and dizziness. There were times when she cannot even stand. She would collapse to the ground unable to get up. Zoe slept in our bathroom. We had a morning routine. I would go in to get dressed and she would look up at me, usually not even moving a muscle. I would check to make sure she was still breathing because she would be laying so still, it was hard to tell. As I would put on my clothes, wash my face, etc. she would just lay there. When I turned on my toothbrush is when she would come alive. She would walk over and I’d rub her behind the ear for exactly the two minutes it took my toothbrush to go through its cycle. This was the only time Stevie would allow me to pet Zoe without complaining. She knew this was our time. When the toothbrush would turn off, Zoe would obediently walk over to her bed and lay down, all without a word from me.
The last few mornings she was not able to stand through the whole two minutes. She would either go back to her bed or just lay down on the floor next to me at my sink. Our last morning together, yesterday, I went to her with my toothbrush, sat on the floor, put her head in my lap and told her it was the day she was going to be with Shayna.
Thursday night, two days before we put Zoe to sleep, Zoe was so weak I thought maybe I was watching her last moments. She’s been spending all day in her room because we can’t trust her to make it up and down the steps. Zoe would normally spend the day in the basement with Tywana and Stevie while Tywana worked. I cried for a week knowing I was going to have to make the decision with her that I made with Chloe almost fifteen years ago.
Finally, on Friday we made the call to the vet. It was time. I was having to carry Zoe in and every time she had to go outside. Zoe, always, attacked her food with gusto every single morning and evening meal. She was barely eating, finally losing interest in treats, even. When I would take her out, she would do her business then, just look back towards the house, not making a move to try to get back up the stairs, I assume because several times she had collapsed and rolled over onto her side in a seizure just making that small effort.
The vet had an appointment for Saturday morning. Tywana wanted to try to wait until Monday to see if Zoe would go on her own. But, we decided, with Kayla to do it Saturday morning before we moved Kayla into her new house.
I barely slept a wink on Friday night. I wanted to believe I was making the best call for Zoe, not for me. I would live with any inconvenience I needed to make her happy. I would give anything to cure her. I couldn’t believe she had deteriorated so much so fast. We took her to vet just on Tuesday and even though we agreed the day was coming very soon, we knew Tuesday wasn’t the day. I didn’t expect at that time the day would be Saturday.
I did my meditation Saturday morning then went downstairs and sat in silence, still not believing the day had come. When the time came to get Zoe, I went upstairs to pick her up and bring her down. As I went to reach for her, I had a pang of guilt and burst out in tears. I couldn’t do this to my baby. I couldn’t take her and watch her die in front of my eyes. But, I knew what had to be done. Zoe never liked being carried much and never by anyone other than me. She didn’t trust anyone else. I knew I couldn’t be there to carry her in and out every time. And, she couldn’t go on much longer without eating. I didn’t want her to starve to death.
I put Zoe in the car and we made the twenty-minute drive to the vet’s office. They were incredibly kind and understanding. They offered us options for the disposal of her body. Kayla had already made it clear she finds cremains in the house to be “creepy”. I was surprised when she said she wanted Zoe’s ashes back to spread under Shayna’s tree. So, I suppose we will have a ceremony for Zoe then. Tywana found meditation music on her phone and we played it while the procedure began. Zoe was always excited about going to the vet because…treats. But, Tuesday, she didn’t even nuzzle the doctor’s lab coat looking for treats in the pocket. So, I was surprised that when I opened the bag of treats they said I could give her, she popped up and eagerly gobbled several down. I thought for a split second that maybe I had made a mistake. But, then her legs collapsed and she went to the ground. She couldn’t stand for more than few seconds.
They administered the first drug which is an anesthetic. So you know in case you ever have to do this, they don’t feel anything once this kicks in. They kind of go to sleep. But, their eyes remain open. They remain open the whole time. After the anesthesia does its thing, the doctor returns to the room. It takes about ten minutes. Then, they give the drug that stops the heart. I could not even tell exactly when Zoe crossed over unless it was when I experienced a pang of emotional pain so intense that I cried out “O God!”.
I take solace in the fact that Zoe will get to meet Chloe, her older sister that she never met. That morning, as I came down the steps and greeted Shayna, I told her that she better be there to welcome Zoe. I knew she would. But, I wanted to be sure.
I know Shayna was there when Zoe crossed. I had prayed for a shared crossing experience. I wanted to see Zoe running into Shayna’s arms. I didn’t get that. But, there was a shared crossing experience. Someone in the room saw Shayna there, waiting, as Zoe was going through the process of shedding her body. I am so grateful for that. I baby my dogs just like my biological children. Someone has to be there to baby Zoe.
I am happy that she’ll be healthy and able to run again. I cry not for her but for me. In spite of all my grief work, in spite of Zoe trying to prepare me by showing me her age over the last couple of years, it still hurts like hell. I tell myself to focus on the positive, to reframe her passing. Instead of focusing on the pain I’m experiencing now, I’m trying to focus on the nearly fifteen years she brought joy into my life on a daily basis. Not many people get that long with their dogs. Other than Tywana and Kayla, no one else got that with Zoe. I am overflowing with gratitude for our time together.
The tears are flowing and will continue to flow, I’m sure. A friend said that Zoe was lucky to have us as her human family. I am blessed indeed. Zoe is the best dog ever. She will forever remain in my heart. She will remain a part of our family. It’s good to know that on the day I see Shayna again, I’ll also see my other baby.
p.s.- I happened to see that Susanne Wilson was doing a Zoom meeting today, the day after we transitioned Zoe. I had the opportunity to ask Susanne a question. This week I re-listened to the reading she did with me three years ago as the run-up to Zoe’s crossing. It brought me comfort as her predictions were spot on. I know that she’s an amazing medium.
I asked if she had ever communicated with a pet who crossed over and was met by their human. She said absolutely yes.
She asked if I had seen Zoe’s soul leave her body. I didn’t see Zoe leave. But, I felt like I felt her passing through me; which is the way Susanne described it. I felt it as intense emotional pain for me though.
She also said she saw Shayna with a dog and Shayna was rubbing her braids across the dog as it lay in her lap. Lastly, she said that Shayna was there with us when we were there with Zoe. She was standing in the corner of the room! This is exactly as reported by someone who was in the room. Shayna was there in the corner. Shayna set this up, knowing I would be on the meeting with Susanne today to get validation.
Thanks to everyone who thought of me today and reached out. It’s gratifying to know how many remember. Today is Monday, June 24th, the fourth anniversary of Shayna’s passing. As I head out for my walk this morning, it’s a day very similar to that day four years ago when I did the same thing. I now know that as I walked, Shayna was in her bed, spirit already gone from her body, and I wonder how I could have taken that walk without knowing, without somehow sensing that she had slipped away.
I’ve received cards, calls, messages from many people. People continue to remember and honor Shayna and I am proud and humbled at the same time. Many of the parents I know say their families and friends don’t acknowledge these days and they feel alone because of it. They are not alone in this regard, not a single biological family remember has reached out to me. My family doesn’t read my blog. They don’t listen to my podcast. They don’t even comment on my Facebook posts. This isn’t uncommon. We have to find our new tribe. We have to focus not on the friends we have lost and the family that has either forgotten or finds it too uncomfortable to reach out. I choose to concentrate on the blessing of my new friends, my new non-biological family like the members of Helping Parents Heal and Voice of Our Angels.
I try to tell myself that the 24th of June is a day like any other day. It’s just one of three hundred and sixty-five on the calendar every year. Ty has put it on the calendar this year. I don’t need to have it on the calendar. I know June 24th as well as I know January 13th, the day Shayna joined us on the planet.
Last night as we were heading off to bed, Ty said to set an intention to have a dream of Shayna, a sign that she’s still here with us. I don’t think any of us had a dream with Shayna in it. But, I had two dreams that were heavily influenced by her.
In the first dream, Jay Leno is at our house interviewing us. For those of you who are a little younger, Jay Leno had a late night talk show, like Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon. Jay was asking us about Shayna and I remember him saying, “It’s so great that you keep her memory alive.” I replied, “It’s not just her memory that’s alive, Jay. Shayna is still right here with us.” He said, “Well, it’s cool that you believe that.” And, I came right back with, “I don’t just believe, I know. Shayna existed before this universe began and she will exist after the universe stops. I don’t know if the universe will exist another day or another trillion billion years. But, I know that consciousness is fundamental and precedes the material, as Max Planck said over 100 years ago.”
The scene shifts and I’m in a large room sitting at a soundboard like in a studio. I’m preparing for a radio broadcast. Someone walks up with a t-shirt that says “Anon Bible College”. It’s a misspelling of Aenon Bible College, a college co-founded by my grandfather, in 1940. When I wake up, I remember that my father and my uncle used to man the sound booth on Sunday mornings, recording Pop’s sermons for broadcast and I think of how, due to Shayna’s passing, I’m following in his footsteps with the launch of the podcast.
Thursday and Friday of last week I recorded two interviews for my podcast. Friday, I spent three hours with Sandra Champlain, one of the first people I listened to after Shayna’s passing. Two hours were me sitting in on a demonstration of mediumship. The third hour was me being interviewed for her show. I’m on We Don’t Die as a guest! Over the course of the past few days I’ve listened to podcasts with Susanne Wilson, Suzanne Giesemann, and Elizabeth Boisson, all Sandra’s guests and all people I know very well now and I think of everything that had to happen over the last four years to bring me to this point.
The image that headlines this post is what I think of when I think of Shayna. She was two years old when I snapped this. I walked in to see her making this phenomenal tower. We knew the first day with us she was going to be special, determined, focused, and indomitable. The nurses at the hospital told us. We had no idea we’d only have 15 years with her here, physically. We knew her life would have an everlasting impact. We did not know how.
As I reflect today, four years after her transition, I am awed by how her ripples continue to spread.
The year Shayna passed, someone put purple bows on the stop signs in the neighborhood. By the first angelversary date, the ribbons had become tattered and faded. Then on June 24, 2016, they were replaced. They were replaced again in 2017 and 2018. One year, I know they will not be replaced. Maybe this will be the year. As I leave the neighborhood, before seven AM, the old ribbons are still there. That’s OK. Then, as I’m coming home, around 8:30 AM, I see this sight.
There is a group of girls that played a big role in Shayna’s life. They call themselves the Shayna Six. They graduated from high school last year. They are off at various colleges and in the military. They’ve made it a tradition to come by the house on her angel date. Again, I know one year this will stop. But, yesterday, Taylor comes by to pay her respects. She apologizes that she can’t come on the anniversary day. But, she has to be back in Columbus on Monday. This evening, the other five come by and spend over two hours at the kitchen table talking to Ty and Kayla, telling stories about Shayna and wondering where she’d be right now had she stayed with us.
As happens so often, this morning a song came to mind as I thought about this day. After all, it’s just another day, day number 1461 without her to be precise.
It’s another milestone along the road Home. I am proud of Tywana, and Kayla for how far we have all come with our little angel leading the way back. It’s not just another day. Each of these milestones shows just how far we have come. They are times to reflect and to celebrate our resilience.
When you come home
I breathe a little faster
Every time we’re together
It’d never be the same (it’d never be the same)
If you’re not here
How can you stay away (how can you stay away)
Away so long
Why can’t we stay together
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
I, I don’t wanna say it
I don’t wanna find another way
To make it through the day without you
I, I can’t resist
Try to find exactly what I missed
It’s just another day without you
It’s just another day oh
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, a day to celebrate the woman who brought you into the world. Or, if you are fortunate enough to be a mother, a day to celebrate you.
But, for millions of mothers, Mother’s Day is more bitter than bittersweet. For mothers whose children have preceded them in death, Mother’s Day can be a cruel reminder of what you are missing. If you’re a mother whose only child has passed into eternity, you might feel like you’re not even a mother anymore.
I’d like to give you a different way to look at this Mother’s Day. In fact, this is a different way to look at every holiday and even every day of the year. Yes, I know I’m not a mother. But, bear with me.
I look at life as a long hike. The people in my life are on this hike with me. We are all walking each other Home. Each day is another step along the road to our common destination. I walk 11,000 steps every morning. As I walk, I think of each step as another day in my life. I know that if I continue to put one foot in front of the other, I will get to my goal.
For those of us whose children are no longer in the physical world, our children have run ahead of us. It’s just like Shayna to do that. So, it’s not a stretch for me to picture it that way. Shayna has finished the race and is waiting for me at the finish line.
As you’re on a long hike, you’ll pass milestones, occasionally. If you’re running a marathon, you’ll pass mile markers that indicate how far you’ve come. When you see those mile markers you rejoice. You’ve put another mile behind you. You have one less to the finish line.
Now, I want you to try an exercise. Close your eyes and imagine you and your family, including your child who isn’t with you this year. You’re holding hands and walking along a road. She drops your hand and runs off ahead of you. You know she’s OK. She’s just going to meet you at the finish line. You continue your walk, enjoying the scenery. Every so often you pass a mile marker. The mile markers in this analogy are birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries and Mother’s Days.
Tomorrow, celebrate your child, as they are celebrating you. Celebrate yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back. You child is proud of you for making it another year. They want you to be happy and continue to enjoy the walk. And, as you continue to put one foot in front of the other, covering the miles (years) between now and the time you reach the finish, you grow closer to hearing the cheers as you cross the finish line. Enjoy the hike and take everything in as you cover the miles.
Happy Mother’s Day!
I’m going to pat myself on the back here. Not even two months ago a friend suggested I take a life coaching course. I had never spoken to her about life coaching. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. I took this as a sign of something I should do. Within a couple of weeks, three or four more people would bring it up- after I purchased the course. The course was about twenty-five hours of material. I set a goal of finishing it within the month, and I did. I started working on my website. And, last night I had my first paid client meeting.
I had given my new client an introductory half hour session to be sure that they knew what they were getting into. I gave them some homework that we went over in that first session. When they said they were ready to book a paid session, I nearly panicked. The free meeting wasn’t threatening. Taking money makes this for real though. I have to deliver. As the time for our appointment approached, I wondered what we’d talk about for the full hour we had booked. I think I’m a pretty decent conversationalist, but I’m not a natural born bullshitter. Besides, when I decided to do this, I committed that I would never waste anyone’s time or money. If they’re not getting value out of our sessions, I’m not going to do it. I was over-the-moon happy when a couple of day after our first session, my client emailed me and told me they had begun exercising regularly again, prompted by our conversation.
Still, there was this niggling feeling in the back of my mind about doing this work. No one in my family has mentioned it, even though I’ve been posting it on my blog. In my family, no mention is equivalent to disapproval. If they support something, they might say it. If they don’t, they’ll just stay silent. Tywana has been very encouraging. Strangers have been encouraging. My mentoring group has been very encouraging. I’ve got to draw confidence from myself and ignore what others say or don’t say.
When the time came for our hour together, I was prepared to talk about the second homework assignment that I had given them. But, first I wanted to touch base with how things had gone since our last talk. My client is new in sales and is doing great in her new job. They were hoping for a promotion, and the promotion came through since our last session. However, there were going to be some issues with the transition into the new position. This is something I felt very comfortable helping with since I was a sales professional myself for over two decades, trained by IBM, Sun Microsystems, and others. I was able to offer advice that, if it pays off, will smooth the transition right out. We also came up with two backup plans. I felt like I had earned my hourly fee many times over and that feeling of having deserved my money several times over is what I hope to feel like after every client session. I didn’t feel like the imposter I felt like at the start of the hour. I felt very comfortable with what I was doing. Our conversation continued touching on a couple of other areas of their life, and we made plans to talk about some other things in later sessions. We barely touched on the program I had planned, and it was just as it should have been.
I was pumped up when I got off of the call. Maybe not Tiger Woods winning the Masters pumped up, but pretty pumped. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was doing what I’m meant to do in terms of earning money. I’ve heard it said that the ideal job is one that doesn’t feel like work. This doesn’t feel like work at all. Even preparing the materials and building the website are things I enjoy doing. All of those years in training, all of that experience, all of the grief, all of the hardships, are tools I can use to help others and I’m more than happy to do that. I’m ready to see where this goes.
It’s April 7th and spring has finally arrived in Ohio. Tywana’s out of the country on a cruise. So, I have a lot of solitude this weekend. This morning I’m up early out for my walk because I have a full agenda. The temperatures in the morning are above 50º, warm enough for me to go without a jacket. There are buds of leaves on the trees. The daffodils are in bloom. The birds are chirping and waking me up with the sun. And, it feels good.
I’ve always loved spring, maybe even more than summer. I am definitely a summer kind of guy. But, there’s something magical about spring. The death in winter, in contrast to the new life of spring, makes spring all the more special. Seeing the Earth wake up after that sleep is a reminder that nothing truly dies. Living in Ohio and Kentucky all of my life, I’ve always experienced four seasons even though I have no love for winter. Fall only reminds me that winter is coming. So, I don’t particularly enjoy autumn. But, there’s an added bonus to spring now. The change of the seasons is a reminder that everything changes. There are times in the winter when it seems it will never end. There are gray days end on end. I find myself looking at the long-range forecast for an appearance of the sun. I search for that day when the temperature will finally climb above 32º and melt and snow. And, I often wonder if I can make it through.
This change of season let me know I’ve hit another milestone. I’ve made it through another winter. The gray and cold can’t last forever. The times we look forward to that sometimes seem like they will never come, always eventually come. Time’s inexorable march goes on. If we hang in there, things will change.
As I walked this morning, I had to listen to George Benson’s “Everything Must Change” which was released in 1977. I was sixteen years old when I began listening to this song. Of course, I could not appreciate it at sixteen. Tywana, Kayla, and Shayna weren’t even possibilities to 16-year-old Brian. I was just learning to drive, I hadn’t even begun shaving. I had no idea that 42 years later I’d be listening to the song again, and how these lines would have so much deeper meaning now. I am the old, mysteries have unfolded and 42 more winters have turned to spring. This wounded heart is healing. As humans, we tend to resist change. We want to lock in and stay wher we are. Some will find this song melancholy. Not me, not anymore. Bring on more change.
The young become the old,
Mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged.There are not many things
In life you can be sure of.
ExceptRain comes from the clouds,
And sun lights up the sky,
And hummingbirds do fly.Winter turns to spring.
The wounded heart will heal.
Never much too soon
Everything must change
Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I’ve dealt with the imposter syndrome my entire life. It was only in the last twenty years or so that I learned there was a name for it and others feel it as well. It’s common. Maybe everyone has experienced it at some point. I think it hits perfectionists and high achievers more than others. It manifests as “The Voice”. The first time I can recall this was back in my early days of Christianity. I was told that God had created me defective and hated me for it. He wanted to torment me eternally. The only way to escape this fate was to love him and obey his every command. I pretended to love him. But, how are you supposed to love someone who only loves you for what someone else did (Jesus)? I was terrified of being exposed as an imposter for the next thirty-five years. The Voice told me I would be exposed soon.
Then, there was my career in sales. I’m naturally shy, or so I thought. I took up a career in sales to make more money and to force myself out of the shell I found myself in. I was good at it. I made the 100% club every year I was at IBM. I left IBM and made even more money. But, every time things turned for the worse, which they will in any long sales career, The Voice said: “Maybe I was never any good. I’ve been faking it. Now I’m being exposed for who I truly am.”
As an entrepreneur, I started my own company from nothing. It’s sustained our family for seventeen years now. We’ve gone from selling other people’s products to developing our own line, to (finally) landing our first distribution deal. Yet, I often feel like I really don’t know anything about running a business.
When people started suggesting I consider life coaching all I could think of was what a joke life coaching is. Life coaches are for wealthy people who have too much money and too little self-esteem. Then, I saw a couple of life coaches and realized the value they could have. A few sessions helped me tremendously. But, could Brian do this? My whole life I’ve felt drawn to the ministry. Pop, my paternal grandfather, was a pastor. His parents were pastors. It runs in my family. I didn’t have the traditional Christian beliefs to serve as a pastor in a church. That was out. When Tywana and I did pre-marital counseling at the Vineyard and I stood up in front of people about to get married teaching them the skills that would improve the odds for a successful marriage, I felt right at home, much more than I ever did in sales. That’s a form of life coaching and I loved doing that.
Can I charge people for what I do for friends for free? Isn’t being a life coach a bit like being a prostitute? You charge people for what you’d give away in a relationship. I gladly spend my time helping people. I’d do it for free, for anyone, anytime, anywhere. The problem is, in this world, you need money to live and no one’s giving away money for free. We have to charge for our time.
I started to reflect on much of my typical day. People call me for advice all the time. As an example, just yesterday, I spent over an hour on the telephone with one friend who was so pumped up they just needed someone to listen. I got in a few “Uh huh”s. But, it was really about them getting it all out. Another friend sent what had to be over a hundred Facebook messages as I’m being a sounding board for her. A third friend and I had a long conversation when they needed some advice on something of a spiritual that had just happened that they didn’t understand. For her it was a brand new thing. After the years I’ve spent studying this, my expertise was valuable to her. Hours of my day are spent helping people out, being a sounding board, giving advice, sometimes frankly Googling things they could Google themselves.
Six weeks ago I took the plunge. Five people had told me I should do this, including three people who are already life coaches. I purchased a life coaching course. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I was going to educate myself. I set a goal to have the course completed in a month. I completed it a week before my self-imposed deadline. Then, it was time to work on the website. I decided to build it myself. It’s not nearly complete. But, one of my friends saw what I was doing and asked about my new business venture. She wanted to hire me. Then I felt it again. Imposter syndrome. The Voice started. “Who are you kidding? You’ll never get this website finished. You can’t build a website on your own. What do you know about advising other people? You took a course now you’re an expert on life? What will we talk about? Will she find any value in our conversation? You should just stop this now before you embarrass yourself. You know people will think you’ve gone off the deep end completely” I thought about calling her and telling her “Nevermind. I’m not doing this.” Besides, I wasn’t ready. The Voice started whispering excuses “The website’s not nearly finished.” But, the purpose of the website is to let people know who I am so they’ll hire me. It doesn’t need to be ready. “But, my scheduling system, I haven’t even started on it. How will we schedule the appointment?” We schedule it the old fashioned way. Pick a date and time and put it on the calendar. “But, I haven’t organized all the materials from the course. I want to re-write all of the material and put it online so my clients can fill it out on their computers.” The answer to that was to just send her what I had. The next client can get the re-written, automated stuff. I told myself to stop making excuses. Everything is good enough now. We can continue to work on perfecting it.
I pressed forward. I told that inner critic to shut up. If I set my mind to this, I can do it. I’ve been doing it for free most of my life. There’s nothing wrong with charging. I spent two or three hours yesterday helping other people out. This is time that I’m not working on my own business. I have to make money. There is nothing wrong with exchanging time for money, as long as the person paying the money finds value in it.
As the time for our appointment approached yesterday evening, the nerves came back again. The Voice, starting to give in said: “At least I’m not charging her for the first session. If she hates it, she can make up an excuse and we’ll just pretend it never happened.”
When we got on the call, it started coming naturally to me. I scheduled a 30-minute initial consultation to get a feel for what she was seeking in a life coach and for me to explain to her what I think I can provide. 40 minutes into the call, I started to wrap it up. I did a very soft close. “Should you choose to work with me, these will be our next steps… Just take some time and think about it and let me know.” She said she definitely wants to go forward and would contact me in the next week or so.
After the call was over, I felt fantastic. And, I was proud of myself. Six weeks after setting the intention, I had completed the course, started the website, and taken my first appointment. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m equipped to do. I’ll continue education to learn more techniques. But, it’s really about communication skills, empathy, and life experience I think. I have all of that. I can help people and I can make at least some money along the way. The Voice telling me I’m an imposter will have to just shut up for a while.
One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.
I’m sorry, Albert. Brilliance in one area doesn’t equate to brilliance in all areas of life. Setting only lofty, long term goals without a step-by-step plan to get there is a recipe for disaster. You’ll end up frustrated on a daily basis. Worse yet, you might simply give up because you feel like you do nothing but fail.
My philosophy is taken from the movie “What About Bob?” If you’ve known me for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me say it “Baby steps.” Life is all about baby steps. Set short term, achievable goals that are strategic and lead to mid-term goals. Those mid-term goals will eventually get you to the lofty heights Einstein was talking about.
A football team doesn’t try to take the entire field on every down. Touchdowns are normally achieved by a series of first downs. Woody Hayes, the venerated Ohio State University football coach, loved to say “three yards and a cloud of dust”. The offense has a strategic plan, taking what the defense gives, and eventually, they score touchdowns.
Today marks several milestones for our family. Kayla has her biggest job interview to date. She graduates in a few weeks. She’s been admitted to grad school. The interview is for a job in counseling this summer, her first professional job. These achievements are a result of years of getting up and getting done the tasks before her for that day. I’m incredibly proud of her for continuing on despite setbacks and hardships.
Yesterday, I got the final-final purchase order for the distribution deal I have been working on for Treasured Locks. I started working on this deal nearly a year ago. There were many roadblocks along the way. Back to the football analogy for a moment, there were many times we were sacked. There were a couple of fourth and longs. There were requirements I thought we couldn’t possibly meet. Last fall, I gave up. I told them we could not do the deal. But, we recovered that fumble and continued the drive. Next week, we will finally ship our first order. Even this first order is just another beginning.
Two days ago I started construction on my Grief 2 Growth website. Six months ago I began saying affirmations that I intended to lead to new business opportunities. I didn’t know what those opportunities might be. I created these affirmations to lay the groundwork. Through a series of events, the vision started to come into focus. About a month ago someone suggested I take a life coaching class. It was about 20 hours of material that I needed to try to somehow fit in with the daily operations of Treasured Locks, volunteering on three different projects, and my part-time consulting work. It was a lot to ask of myself. The instructor likes to say “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I set a goal to finish the course by the day of Shayna’s Shamrock Shuffle, the second weekend in March. To achieve that goal, I broke the course down into chunks and tried to get in a couple of hours every day. After I’d finish my session working on the course, I’d look at how many hours I had left, divide it by the number of days remaining to my deadline and set a new goal for how many hours I had to do each day. I finished it the Friday before the race. I wanted to start on the website on the first day of Spring. To get there, I needed to choose a platform and learn about it. This required doing some research and finding a consultant to work with. All of these were short term goals, some that took less than a minute. But, they led to the mid-term goal of making that launch date. Wednesday was the first day of Spring and that was the day I bought the template for my site and began construction.
“Einstein was wrong” is a catchy headline. I have a confession to make. He wasn’t totally wrong. We can reach for the stars. We should bring out our highest potentials. We are capable of things that many of us don’t dare dream of. We will never achieve these goals without doing the hard work it takes to get there, a lot of it is not glamorous. There are times when we will feel like we are running in place. There will be times when we will suffer setbacks. Make a plan. Know there will be adjustments. Make course corrections. And, never give up. You’ll get to where you want to go or at least to where you were meant to be.