The last day of innocence was an ordinary day. It was May 19, 1988. It was my mother’s birthday and I brought my two children, ages 5 and 6 to my childhood home to celebrate with… More
If you’ve ever traveled the tube in London, you’ll hear an automated voice say, “mind the gap” when the door opens, reminding passengers not to fall into the crevice, that space between the train and the platform.
Today’s special guest, blogger Elizabeth Martin, from mindingthegaps.life, talks with Vivian about the opportunity she had to take a “gap year” many years after getting married and having a family…
An inspiring story of taking the difficult path, letting go of many material things, and re-locating to a new part of the country for the pure adventure of it. Learn about her gift of inspiring and leading others in the non-profit arena which led to an award at the White House. By her own barometer, Elizabeth is exactly where she needs to be, has no idea what happens next and is as happy as she ever has been. Enjoy the episode. She is amazing.
Gap year? Sabbatical? I think this is yet another opportunity wasted on young people who cannot possibly appreciate the decadence of time off from routines and responsibilities. Midlife is when a gap year has the greatest impact and the most valuable rewards.
Elizabeth Martin and I talk about her decision to take a break and how she spent that time.
My first morning in rural Italy started with walking the goats. My job today was to photograph the 500-1000 different plants for documentation. The food fresh and amazing. A book to edit. Art in every room. Is this supposed to be Ellyn Ruhlmann’s internship?!
Happy (complicated) Graduation Day.
Although you are graduating at a very difficult time in society and the economy, you are also graduating on a day where everyone you love is still safe and healthy. That is what is most important.
May you know how deeply you are loved and understand how many sacrifices were made to ensure you had the opportunities to attend a great school and earn a good education. Education is the key to a career and to opportunity. It’s up to you to put the key in the lock and open the door to your future.
May your perspective on life be shaped by gratitude for this, and all the other stars that aligned for you to graduate from college today.
May you give away more than you take or earn starting with love, followed by time and money.
May you know that there are times to ask for advice and there are times to ignore advice and learn to trust your instincts. You ignore them at your peril.
May you also remember to put your faith in something bigger than yourself. We are all connected and there is a force much bigger than us that you must trust in–whatever you choose to call it.
May you always take the road less traveled, choose the harder thing to do. It will make you stronger, more resilient and that is your continuing education that comes free. You can always go back and take the easier road, but it very difficult to go from easy to hard.
May you know what we know about you. You are a good, kind, and loving person. You have worked hard and it was worth it. Now it’s time to get creative about how you move forward. Creativity is something to draw on for the rest of your life. Creative solutions will carry you farther than giving up when things get hard. On the road you chose.
May you know that children don’t come with a handbook on how to operate and that your parents did the best they could. It wasn’t perfect, may you take the good and learn from the bad.
And may this timeless prayer guide you for the rest of your days.
God, grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Joseph Campbell summed it up my past two years best when he said: “we must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Two years ago this week I took a last look around my sweet house basking in spring sunlight and closed the door on both the house and my old life and started on a journey not realizing I was playing out an old story, a hero’s journey taken by many in midlife when as Campbell also describes beautifully.
“Midlife is when you reach the top of the ladder and find out it was leaning against the wrong wall.”
Since that auspicious day, I’ve tangled with rattlesnakes, hiked mountains, traveled the world alone and spent meaningful time with friends and family. More importantly, I assimilated many valuable lessons and learned to live in a new way. 10 pounds heavier, but so much lighter in spirit and stuff (although there is that storage locker, ugh). Some of these lessons I’ve teased out through this blog, some I still have to document, many I’m still working on.
But here are my takeaways after two years.
- Being alone is not lonely
- It was not about travel, It was about leaving.
- My story might be someone else’s guide.
- My feet are now firmly on the ground, but my head remains in the clouds.
- Living betwixt and between sharpens the senses
- I am now the planner of my life, not the editor.
- Important to move from theoretical to action.
- Use outlines, not detailed action plans.
- Deconstruct before you build.
- Everything I need fits in the car, including a 70-pound dog.
- Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold
- Community is fluid and always available.
- Where you focus is where you go
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
- Living in an abundance mindset is so much better than a fear mindset
- Liminality is reality
- Resilience if forged not found
- Homefree is more than a state of mind.
- I don’t want to do what I’ve learned. I want to learn what I can do.
- I have become the central character of my life
- Home is in me, not outside me.
- I have been forged in fire. Tempered by experience
- The journey was to myself.
Last, but not least, I’ve learned to trust in faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
P.S. Tag–you’re it Ellen!
“A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next. ‘
It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.
Liminal space is where all transformation takes place
if we learn to wait and let it form us.”
Two years ago this month I chose to knowingly create a way of living that was unexpected for a mother of five and grandmother of five more. I moved from my house and home, my community and work into the unknown. More importantly, I also left my family. I only knew where I’d be living four months in advance and it was never in my own home.
- I did not know how I would generate income in the future.
- I did not know where I would end up living.
- I did not know how I was “going to make it.”
- I did not know my purpose.
I now understand that I was choosing to step into the central character of my life’s story. That my adult years up until my children were grown and flown were spent being a supporting character, and rightfully so. And that I had an unprecedented opportunity, to be brave and jump into a new life or be scared and burrow deeper into safety and security.
I now know that I was seeking transformation by entering a liminal space. And now, the rest of the world has been forced into this liminal space. Welcome.
- You may not know how you will generate income in the future.
- You may not know where you will end up living.
- You may not know how you are “going to make it.”
- You may not know your purpose.
I can tell you that the times I was most fallow and unproductive ended up being the most productive. That reading and reflecting were the most important tools I had for personal growth. That is was not about the destination, but the journey, and it’s not over yet.
I can tell you that it was the friends, coaches, and sages that kept me moving forward one day at a time. Only one day at a time. When I was most fearful they stopped me and encouraged me to feel those feelings and then use them to create something new for myself.
I can tell you that liminality is both extremely hard and very easy. That eventually if you embrace this space energy will flow easily, if you fight it you will drown in feelings.
If you embrace it you will wonder each morning what the day will bring and embrace whatever happens– recognizing the synchronicity in what unfolds and use it to your advantage.
My best advice, avoid generativity and embrace rest and recovery, building reserves for what will come next. And learn to love liminality.
I served in the Brownies as a child–which I think has been replaced by Daisy’s. Not sure why there is name change but they no longer are required to wear brown uniforms as if they were in the service–just sweet blue bibs.
As an introvert (yes, I was an extremely introverted child) Brownies was hell on earth–all that mingling, selling cookies and the campout–hell. Weekly they pulled names out of a coffee can for duties and my name was not called all year, which meant that it was pulled for the final duty of the year. Carrying the American Flag in the Memorial Day Parade in Northbrook leading the troop. An existential nightmare for a seven-year-old introvert.
But I did love the handbook, badges and the songs. The verse that has stayed with me my whole life is “make new friends, but keep the old–one is silver and the other’s gold.”
This verse has been playing in my head off and on for the past two years as I uprooted my safe and comfortable life to take my hero’s journey into my unknown life. A journey I was not forced into but chose of my own free will–and equal parts terror.
I could not have done this without the support of my dearest friends–both old and new–who spent long hours on the phone with me, propping me up, asking me deep questions, providing advice and bearing witness to my personal growth. They held my hand.
I was able to step onto the path when I realized I had made some dear new friends in the year before I left. That it was easy to keep making new friends and this would serve me wherever I went.
I’ve made so many new friends since then in my new home and I realized something very profound. Throughout my life I have not made friends, I have recognized them long before the friendship. That my instincts told me immediately that they were to be part of my life–or their instincts told them. These women saw me through marriage, raising children, divorce, success and failure at work, and finally cutting myself loose from all that was comfortable and seeking new experiences in the world. Each of them profoundly impacted me, arrived just when I needed them and moved on when it was time, which is another important part of friendship.
Sometimes I pursued the friendship, sometimes they did and I recognized them. Sometimes the chemistry of friendship was immediate, sometimes it took longer.
Friends are the most valuable currency, aside from my family, for my life. With them, I can afford to take chances, take deep breaths and keep moving forward. I can afford my choices.
They are my silver and gold.
When I was a child I had the bedroom of dreams, with a balcony off the bedroom that was all mine. I spent a lot of time out there feeling like a princess, staring at the treetops and feeling the warmth of the sun.
I also spent time going over the wall of the balcony to sit on the ledge that was on the outside that skirted the entire bedroom. Sitting on the edge, dangling my legs was dangerous, even more, dangerous was walking along the ledge which was about a foot wide to the front of the house and sitting there. My poor mother said she used to come home to children sitting on the house instead of inside the house. Most dangerous was sneaking out at night in high school from the balcony–but that’s a whole other story.
Last night I dreamt I moved from a room full of people whose company I was enjoying to a ledge outside the room where many people were sitting facing outwards. I found myself asking to pass them, much the way you do when entering a row of theatre seats and everyone has to shift to let you go by.
I then found myself around the corner and now I was actually climbing the building horizontally, one handhold and foothold at a time. Terrified by determined to stay steady. As I was heading back to the relative safety of the ledge, I looked down–always a mistake! It was too far to fall or jump, but I realized I didn’t have to go back, I could just as easily go down, one handhold at a time. Focused, trusting.
I soon found myself on solid ground, confident and calm knowing I made the right decision. And then I woke up.
Reflecting on this very powerful dream I realize it is a metaphor for the past two years of my life. I stepped out on a ledge and walked away from safety, security, comfort and began a journey one handhold at a time having no idea if I would be successful or where I would land.
Two years later, I find myself in a new community, with multiple consulting projects, a part-time job offer, new friends and a much more active life. I’ve landed and am calm and confident that I made the right decisions.
All that said, I’m never, ever going to try rock climbing! But I would take these chances again, and I would highly encourage others who are wanting to step off the ledge to do it and build your wings and your courage on the way down. There will always be hands to hold, including mine.
What is Grace? A granddaughter’s name. A state of being. So hard to define. You know when you are in it and you miss it when you are not. It is “amazing.”
Most of my life was lived in the grace of family. The business of daily life. Now that my children are “grown and flown” grace is about solitude, quietness and the time to create.
I’ve spent the last year and a half living in a state of grace and have come to realize that not all time is linear–often it is divine timing. Adjusting to this way of measuring time requires recognizing the power of synchronicity and gratitude.
In order to co-create the life you want, you have to have faith in the power of setting intentions and not being attached to the outcomes. Creating space for grace to fill.
How does one manage all of this? With patience, practice and creating habits that instill stillness. Meditation works–some days. But sometimes meditation is in movement–walking, yoga, skiing, and hiking work for me. Journalling and a gratitude practice foster it. It is found in listening instead of talking–a practice for me!
These lyrics have spoken to me my entire life for different reasons at different times.
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home…
Grace has lead me home, to myself, a journey that is far from over that would not have been endurable without the divine timing of grace.
It’s been two years today since my father’s passing. It was not a sudden death. We were blessed in a way with his diagnosis of cancer a year and a half before that to realize fully the fragility of life, and then with his remission, the ability to take it for granted again.
On top of that, he hovered between life and death for a week in hospice, primarily in a coma, which allowed our family to come together in communion and community, to reflect upon his impact in our lives, acknowledging the easy and the hard parts.
Loss shapes us, but it does not destroy us.
As I check in with myself today in meditation I find that I am not in mourning. I no longer feel grief–a complicated prism of emotions that where many truths are held in one container.
Today, in a sense, I feel closer to him. I now feel like I can talk to him anytime I want rather than having to pick up the phone or stop by the house. I never knew when he was alive whether I was going to get the brusque busy man or the Irish storyteller. But now I always get his measured advice as I interpret it. Do as I did, not as I said is the one that comes through the most often.
It is his stories I miss the most, for holding valuable lessons. Sometimes not at first but in reflection.
My father was an organized man, a planner. Several years before he died he began to prepare me for the inevitability by stopping by my office unannounced to discuss his wishes upon passing–and a list of who to call and when and what to say–underlined in red pen. He loved his red pen.
I was out of town planning a move to Colorado when he received his diagnosis of lung cancer. I immediately dropped my plans with the intention of being on the support team for his illness–which never happened as he took care of it all himself for as long as he could, valuing his independence and still working every day at age 86.
Upon my return from Colorado he called me over to the house and I assumed we would be revisiting the final plans but I was wrong. We sat across the dining room table/office desk and he pushed his watch which was a fixture on his wrist across the table towards me. “This is yours now,” he said.
I was confused and surprised assuming something that personal would go to his namesake and my brother, but I am the eldest child in the family. It was not the watch that held the power of the gift, but the symbol of the watch, and the story of how he got it that had the lesson and the message.
The watch was a gift from his enlisted men on Christmas Day in 1954 on the island of Okinawa, Japan. While the inscription is factual and brief–it is the back of a watch, after all, it was why he received it that mattered.
Machine Guns Dog Co
2nd BN 95H Marines
3rd Mar Div
My father went into the Marine Corps as an officer straight out of college during the Korean War. Shortly before his deployment to Japan, the conflict had ended. Many of the men in his platoon Had just seen battle in Korea and had the scars, both outward and inward, to show for it as well as some Purple Hearts.
He told me that he felt as the leader it was not his job to punish but understand when fights broke out or the men got drunk and disorderly that compassion and practicality were a better way to deal with the situation. He would often find a jeep and bring the men back to the barracks and let them sleep it off rather than put them in the brig. My use of language here in regard to the Marine Corps may be inaccurate but my audio recording of this story was lost when an iPhone fell into a puddle and the details with it.
On this particular Christmas morning in 1954, after inspecting the barracks, one of his corporals stopped him and told him they had something for him–the watch. Later my father was told that enlisted men rarely give their officer a gift and that he must be doing something right to earn their respect.
He had their back. He let them make mistakes. He understood where they were coming from and that judgment and due process are not always the remedy. He led from behind. He respected that they had endured the horrors of battle and he had not. That is was his job to protect them as much as it was to lead them.
At 24 years old he had mastered the most important lessons of leadership.
My father later became a salesman, a good storytelling one. He never managed a single person and for most of my life, I did not see him as a leader. The watch taught me that he was always a leader and that leadership starts at home.
The watch was a symbol for me to remember that it was my turn to have the back of my family. To lead from behind, let them make mistakes, honor them and try to understand them before judging the situation.
Although it no longer works, I wear the watch often, as a reminder that grief passes, leadership is quiet, stories hold lessons and time does stop ticking for all of us.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
It was a dark and stormy night when my journey started.
It seriously was an ice storm in central Wisconsin on February 18, 2009, at 2 a.m. I know this for a fact as it was the day my first grandson came home from the hospital. I was unable to sleep so I started reading an Oprah Magazine (I’m not a fan) and there was an article with Maria Shriver interviewing the poet Mary Oliver. To be clear I’m also not a fan of poetry so it shook me to my core when I read this poem, ironically entitled The Journey–which I did not realize until this year.
This poem spoke to me so deeply that I knew my life was about to change, but I had no idea to what extent. I tore it out and took it to work and kept it in a manila file folder. I don’t remember what I named the file but I know it’s content ended up being my divorce file. But that took another two years to realize. There were two more significant events before I actually took the first steps to save my life.
The next event was the birth of my granddaughter, Adele. It was a hot and steamy night in Chicago two months before her due date and she was already in a long surgery to save her life that night. I was again shaken to my core. I had not even come to terms with my own impending death, let alone my children’s or their children’s. Again, it was clear that I was not living an authentic life and changes needed to be made but I was in another crisis for a brother and there was no room for my life, I was fighting and praying for theirs.
Once life returned to “normal” I knew the time as close. Deciding to take my mother and daughter on discover our roots trip I was using the time to reflect on my internal strife when my daughter looked at me with no knowledge of my thoughts and asked me what I was going to do about my marriage, and walked away.
It was time to save my life. I could never have anticipated all the highs and lows of the next eight years. Buying and selling my dream house to live “Homefree.” Winning an award for my work at the White House and a year later in the worst job of my career. My father dying and my grandaughter thriving. Traveling and moving to Colorado. Moving from my role of daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother to role model of someone living their life fully and from a place of joy and abundance.
I undertook a hero’s journey to save my life and I don’t regret one step of the way. I had no way of knowing that my journey would take 10 years. And now, I feel inspired to inspire others. To be honest and authentic about my journey to save the life of another.
The goal of Hide and Seek and other beloved childhood games to get Homefree or to Homebase. It is the place of safety where there are no surprises. It is the end of the game.
As adults buying and owning a house and a home is the ultimate goal. Of course, this makes sense from a financial point of view and provides stability for our families. A house can also be a safety net, but is the game over once we get the house? What about when the children leave and the family no longer requires that stability? What happens when they get their own houses?
Several years ago, post-divorce, I bought the sweetest little house and it meant all of those things to me–I felt safe, and that I was creating stability for my children, and decorating filled my time.
In the spring of 2016, I took an online financial coaching class that had us take a serious look at how we spent our money. It was a different way of looking at our income and spending than a financial advisor would have you do. As I went through the course I realized two profound things.
- I was deferring my lifelong dreams of travel and independence for safety and security.
- Most of my disposable income was spent post-mortgage payment–on the house upkeep and taxes.
I began to see the possibility of achieving dreams by letting go of safety–and the house. At first, I called it the homeless plan, it was later suggested that I call it the Homefree Plan. I dreamt if I were truly brave, I would try living “home free” for a year. This would require selling the house, quitting the job and leaving my community and more importantly, my family.
So much fun to dream about and tell everyone–but internally I had no intention of pursuing it. Here is the big lesson. If you make plans with the universe and go so far as to set dates when things will happen with your coaches, guides and accountability partners. They will happen whether it is your way, or whether it happens to you. The Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell can be a call to action or a call to adventure, but it will happen over and over again. It is much more exciting to heed the call to adventure.
In the summer of 2017, one of my guides told me the travel was inevitable and that I should go home and pack up the basement and prepare the house for sale. Three weeks later the basement flooded–and no I had not heeded her advice. As I watched bins float by with no idea what they contained except burdens to move, I realized I was ready to let go of homeownership. Several weeks after the basement was restored, I found myself telling a friend the house was hers if she wanted to buy it. Surprising myself most of all.
Still, I was not committed to the plan internally, only externally. Yet I was working with Holly Bull of Center for Interim Programs, making serious plans to leave, but was terrified. I was a responsible child. I was a responsible parent. Yet, things kept happening to keep me on track. In January 2018 I learned that the foundation I was working for was merging later in the spring.
Now the house was sold and the job was ending and I found myself torn between making safe plans and taking a journey into the unknown.
I was blessed to have a friend call me out, she knew my heart’s desire and she knew I was scared. What she didn’t know for sure is that when challenged I will rise to the occasion and seek the truth and the path less traveled.
And so I did. I’ve now been home free for a year and a half. Everything I own fits in a storage unit and I live in a different state and have traveled easily, alone and with friends. I now have a home base instead of a home and it is all I need for now. I no longer need to seek safety–but sometimes still wobble towards it. I am blessed to have many guides who keep me on my path.
And while Eat, Pray Love may have become trite, I find this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert to be so powerful.
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.”
Many truths have unfolded for me including a knowing that safety can keep us small. That journeys can be chosen or thrust upon us. That we grow by letting go. That we can play roles, or be role models. And freedom comes in many ways when we play the game of life.