We Belong Wherever We Are

Image

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.

“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

Dear Dean of Clinical Psychology,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter regarding my experience in the interview process. I am very happy to know that you and the admission committee in the Clinical Psychology Department reviewed my application and found my experience, academic qualifications and submissions at the standard for admission into the University. I do find it curious that a few Regional Professors could have a different philosophy on a successful applicant than the University.

One of the topics that have come into our collective consciousness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is why women do not lean into promotions and more responsibility in their professional pursuits. Ms. Sandberg speculates that women do not lean into promotions, new careers, or assignments unless they are positive they have the wherewithal and all qualifications are fulfilled, whereas men just go for it and see what happens. When I walked into Judith’s office in Vancouver I was fully prepared to start the PhD program. My basis for this confidence was my career in the pharmaceutical industry and my MBA which I completed while working a minimum of sixty hours a week, traveling, sometimes internationally, and launching a program with a $30 million budget. I am in a position where I know what it takes to be successful and this knowledge is why I have waited until now. I did not take this decision lightly and, in fact, it has been a three-year process of deliberation considering the ages of my children, my husband’s career and my future aspirations.

I am sure that I have a very different background than most of the applicants into the Clinical Psychology program. When I submitted my application to the University, I was sure, beyond any doubt, that I was ready for the academic rigor of a PhD program, the hours that it would take as a volunteer, the struggle in pursuing a research project and a dissertation. I was ready to tackle six years of hard work to reach my professional goals. Maybe I was naïve to believe that my experiences are valid, that my academic and professional achievements would prove my perseverance, my intellectual capacity, and my dedication to excellence. As I think about the people that have made undeniable changes in our world, I can’t think of one that didn’t start with a sprinkle of innocence, of naiveté. Dr. Kill-Your-Passion has forgotten that there are many paths to making a difference in the world and just because someone doesn’t follow yours, it doesn’t mean they will fail to be successful.

In the interview I was asked why I want to pursue psychology. As I wrote in my eight-page Statement of Purpose, I am passionate about understanding how all of us make our way as individuals and as a collective humanity. I want to be a therapist to help women in their relationships with their selves, children, spouse or romantic relationships, family and friendships. This understanding of my purpose in life has been hard won by trials in my life and a deep understanding through analysis of my own heart.

I have been fully, unapologetically in life. I was a child of divorce and am a motherless mother. I have a wonderful husband but experienced a divorce of my own. I have been at the table in the boardroom in New York City and the lonely salesperson on the road to approval. I have been there for my own family grappling with the devastation of Alzheimer’s and the heartache of a dying child. Friends have suffered mental health diagnoses that changed the course of their life forever. Autism, bipolar, depression, OCD, head trauma, learning disabilities, ADD, anxiety, suicide, aging parents, cancer and it’s effects on mental health, are just some of the difficulties that happen in real life; the life that I am in. I do not have ‘formal’ mental health training that Judith could verify and easily pass along for admittance into practicum. What I do have is connections with real people whom are in my path. People who might not have anyone, but for me, to pull him or her out of the abyss they are in, right before it is too late. This is the ‘formal’ mental health training that I have now as a forty-three year old, married mother of three that I did not have when I was young and willing to do whatever someone told me to do, so that I could be worthy, good enough to wear the halo they set upon my head.

Other goals that I will fulfill in my life are to do research, probably more qualitative, and to write a book or maybe several. I want to be an advocate for women, for mothers. Our country needs people who are grounded in understanding and compassion; to be in communities, at the ready to both make things happen for them and to help them understand they need to make things happen for themselves. My passion, my understanding of humanity is what will help others believe that they are capable and are whole just as they are. These goals have nothing to do with a PhD in Human Development. That would never be a viable option for me.

My first choice in fulfilling this vision was to go to your University. However, your professor’s demeanor and condescending discouragement of my application was arrogant and insulting, not to mention a waste of my time and money. She did not know anything about me, nor did she have any intention of learning. There are many paths and I have options with my time and with my resources.

I do appreciate the offer to interview with another faculty member of the school. However, sometimes a bad first impression can taint an entire endeavor and I think that is what has happened. Judith has tainted the entire school and when I consider the number of hours that I would spend to fulfill a PhD, not to mention upwards of $150,000, I don’t have the time to prove my worth to someone who will never see it. It wouldn’t make sense for me to be in a Cluster in another area, as one critical piece in my decision to go back to school is to be among like-minded, passionate people that I would have lifelong connections with. When people do things that don’t make sense, it automatically makes that person suspect. I want to study with others from the Northwest and I don’t want to have to explain myself, especially when there is negativity attached. Staying in the NW, while Judith is the main link to the school would not work out based on how she treated me in the interview. I used to accept this kind of behavior when I was in the corporate world, when I was much younger, but I am wiser now that I am a mother; instead of breaking down walls to be regarded as an equal, I will look for an environment that is accepting of different paths and views in the world.

This year I will work on the requirements for admission for several programs to apply for the fall of 2014. If there happens to be changes at the University, then I will consider applying again.

Thank you again for your letter and offer to move forward in the interviews. This process has succeeded in doubling my conviction that I am working toward the right goals and purpose in my life.

Best regards,

Janna Bushaw Crist

What happens when a mom has the audacity to think she can make the world a better place. An interview with a vampire…

“Do you have any formal experience in a mental health setting that you can think of?” Judith asked as she pulled a piece of her short-gelled hair and adjusted her scarf. I am thinking about the eight-page Statement of Purpose that is sitting on her clean, glass desk situated to take in the breathtaking views of the Vancouver, British Columbia Harbor. My first paragraph states that I have no experience as a mental health counselor, volunteer or otherwise. Instead, I have a graduate degree in business and all that goes with a successful career in sales and marketing, I have been fully immersed in the messiness of life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, granddaughter and person in communities. I have paid attention to the infinite longings of the human heart. I am a motherless mother. I have studied psychology since my early twenties and read textbooks for my understanding of how we all think, feel, love and suffer. I finally tell her, “I do not.”

“What about research?” she continues. I feel myself being pushed further and further from my dream of calling myself a clinical psychologist. The University has accepted me but the woman sitting in front of me would be my link to the school, my mentor for the six years it would take to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology. I can see that she was not privy to the selection process and she wants no part of being responsible for a mother of three young children ‘who has no idea what she is getting herself into.’ The University representatives have told me that the student body are mature adults who are either advancing their careers or starting a second career and formal education or experience are not prerequisites.

Judith’s questions are getting lined out like an easy to-do list on Saturday morning. She is not interested in a project no matter what “life experience” or passion I have. My lack of “real” credentials are going to be difficult in a year when she is expected to find placement for the practicum requirement of the program and licensing. I am pretty sure this is part of her reluctance to even consider my application. I can hear her thinking about the difficult road I present for her. She begins to persuade me that this idea of being a psychologist is not a good idea for someone in “my position (i.e. mother of three young children.)” She thinks it would be a good idea to volunteer in a crisis center for a year or two and then begin because with a family it would be just too demanding to work as a volunteer and complete the rigorous load of study that is required from the program. “It may have been acceptable in the past but the program has become much more rigorous,” Judith warns.

I can feel myself going under but continue to try swimming against the residing current. “I was working sixty hours a week in the New York Metro Area while getting a masters in business at night. I traveled all over the world, planned a wedding and was promoted three times,” I hear myself protest, grasping at straws. I could tell she wasn’t buying it. Her eyes looked at me like my idea of a therapy session was a coffee chat with moms in their Lulu Lemon wear and rocking the stroller. The  familiar feeling of the relentless pursuit of a challenge starts to cloud my thinking. I can do anything I set my mind on and I will prove it beyond the doubt of anyone who tells me I can’t. This time I hear my wiser, motherly voice respond with, “Yes, but do you want to?”

“What do you want to do when you complete the program?” It doesn’t matter what I say because she has another program within the school that she thinks “Would be perfect for you because it has all the elements that you want to do but doesn’t require practicum, research or even meeting with a professor,” she offers and hands me the name and number of another Judith. She had made up her mind before  she read the first paragraph of my essay that states that becoming a mother changed everything for me. She has not allowed herself to visit this other universe of compassion, love and dreams. This other world without words or rules, resumes and credentials. She doesn’t know this other world that flows with the human heart.

I realize that the Judith sitting in front of me is not just challenging me to reveal my true commitment capacity; she really doesn’t believe I am capable. I finally ask if she is saying that she will not recommend me for the program. She says, “That is not what I am saying. You aren’t hearing me.” I listen.

The salesperson in me understands what has happened. Judith is not interested in what I am selling. I hear her saying that she is very upset with the Admissions Office and will promptly call them about this recommendation that is clearly wasting her time. It doesn’t matter that I am fiercely passionate, smart (at least before I had children) and was accepted to the school with my application, Statement of Purpose, and Critical Thinking writing sample. Judith doesn’t want to take me on because it will be too demanding, rigorous for her.

She can see that I am not fazed by the workload and continues with the fact that I very well may need to move my family’s residence to do a two-year practicum (i.e. experience) and that probably won’t work with three children and a husband. Never mind that the school is the only one of its kind with a “distributed education model.” The school’s sole competitive advantage is that mature, sometimes second career adults can get a PhD without disrupting their lives by moving near a traditional university.

I stopped. Nothing I could say was going to change her mind. I told her that I appreciated her candor because I certainly would not want to start something and not be capable of success or even finish. Working with this woman would not be a hospitable environment to work, study or be inspired. This woman would suck my energy and passion dry and at the end of the day she would prove (to herself) that she had been right by discouraging me to pursue something that in her mind I didn’t have a clue. I needed to get out of there before I was beaten with ‘experience.’

Judith escorted me out of her office and through her personal art gallery into the hallway of her high-rise condominium. I jump into the taxi waiting outside to start my eleven-hour journey back to Central Idaho.

As I walked out the door all I could think of was how much new material this woman had given me. This is a perfect example of how women are systematically excluded from leadership positions. This woman really believed that pursuing a PhD with small children at home would simply be too challenging for me. She had absolutely no basis for this belief except that I had stepped off the train of progress and challenge to pursue the more simple matters of being a mother.

Letting Go of My ‘Before Children’ Life

I leaned hard into my career at one time. I loved working as a marketing director close enough to NYC to enjoy the skyline. I got so angry when a coworker (male) would tell me that I wouldn’t want to come back to work when my child was born. Determined to prove that I was not the ‘typical’ woman in the workforce, I doubled my efforts. My daughter was born, we moved back to the Northwest and my beloved suits got relegated to the top bar in my closet. I am reposting this Blog now that I have read Lean In and getting ready to go back to school for a PhD. in Clinical Psychology. The grit that I once had and needed to survive in the business world has been replaced by self compassion, intuition and the love I feel for my family, for my three daughters. Maybe I will Lean Into my career in psychology once my girls are on their way. For now I am learning to lean into my own voice of understanding what will work for me. I say this because of my personal journey in this world and know that all women forge their own. Love that!

Love is all we need...

Image

I had about 50 suits hanging in my closet for TEN years.

They were beautiful, they were (mostly) a size 4, there were skirt suits, dress suits, pant suits and even fancy dresses that I wore to big parties in NYC. I loved how I felt when I wore them. I can still feel the ‘flow’ of being at just that place where there is enough adrenaline to work at your peak but also enough calm to be comfortable in those high-heeled shoes. I loved who I was when I wore them. I remember buying each of them and I remember being in them when speaking to large groups of business people. I LOVED my suits.

I had just finished three years of graduate school while working sixty hours a week and was preparing to receive my MBA when my husband and I were going to have a baby. I…

View original post 655 more words

The Power of Nature. The Power of Us

IMG_2349

The absolute power of the ocean waves takes me by surprise as soon as I reach the end of the trail. The waves crashed on the hard surface of the lava rock at the same time as the soft, malleable sand beneath my feet. Every breath of the salty air, heavy with moisture grounds me a little more. The sound of the waves so loud that I have to get closer to hear the voices of my children. You can feel the sheer power of nature standing on an island beach in the Pacific Ocean. The waves collide with the earth, while the aftermath trickles in covering and taking anything left behind.

In the Rocky Mountains of the West, there is another example of nature that appears more delicately but equally powerful. Springtime brings new life into the hills, only a few weeks ago covered in snow and ice. On a recent hike I was struck by the familiar scents of summertime. Sage plants have new growth to which I pluck a small piece and rub between my hands to release the vibrant, invigorating smell that I have come to love so much. At the top of the mountain, smooth silken grass has muscled its way through the dense, rocky earth to bask in the rays of the afternoon sunshine just as I am. This power is slow and steady. A person cannot witness the formidableness of these tiny plants coming to life from a meer seed but instead we can imagine the potential of what is to come. A seed was planted and had to wait in the frozen, rocky ground through the unrelenting winter months until the temperatures rose and moisture was able to penetrate the earth. Only now can we witness it’s sheer potency.

I have recently been learning about Ayurvedic Medicine and went to a conference led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil. “Ayurveda is the most ancient natural healing system of India . The word Ayurveda means the science of life. It is to do with healing through herbs and natural means. This system is a part of Vedic science and goes back to more than 4000 years B.C.” (http://www.ishwarcenter.org/) We, as in all of us on earth, are a part of the natural ecosystem, we are powerful in our own right. Although sometimes (or quite often) our inner voice gets drowned by past scripts playing through our minds, marketing campaigns aimed at convincing you that you need something to be who you already are, and even our friends and acquaintances at the ready to recommend what worked for them. We have forgotten that we already have all that we need, that our grandmother’s wisdom and remedies are our most important methods of healing, that we are whole. But we have to pay attention because rarely is our power as obvious as the crashing ocean waves but instead it is the potentiality that exists within us and that requires patience, strength and fortitude, just as the mountain grasses coming to life in the springtime.

To be continued…

I am grateful to receive a SMILE

I recently had a conversation with a friend about Givers and Receivers. Of course my friend and I were both Givers. The alternative seems so selfish. This concept has perplexed me because we need both in life don’t we, as who would Givers give if there weren’t any Receivers receiving? Yet we do not want to think of ourselves being a Receiver, of being selfish.

Actually, I believe we all have the potential to be Givers and Receivers and it is a continuum that should have fluidity to go back and forth. Another bell-shaped curve. The happiest among us are able to freely move within the bell-shaped curve to Give and Receive and to reside in a neutral position on a daily basis. However, we are not a world or even a country full of shiny, happy people are we? In fact, there are many that really are just Givers or just Receivers and they usually attract each other.

I am learning to reside in the middle, at neutral and not to be only a Giver attracting only Receivers. Once again we learn how to Give, Receive or reside in the middle by our families of origin, by our parents. Our attachment patterns when we were younger provide a framework for us to connect with others. When we become aware of our own patterns, we can be more fluid in how we reach out or accept others who might be reaching out to us. We can feel comfortable that by residing in neutral position we can still connect with others in a more flexible way.

My family and I just moved to a very small town in the mountains of Idaho. In the past I would have been very motivated to connect with others by being extra friendly and outgoing even though my core personality is more on the introverted side. I now understand this knee-jerk reaction that I have and am free to choose how I will connect and with whom to connect. Being friendly is still very important to me as I have figured out that with a smile and a hello to a passerby I am BOTH giving and receiving. I am in neutral and within the bell-shaped curve. But I can choose to be friendly to strangers AND choose to connect with those that are important to me – like my family. These two concepts are separate. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It is healthier to reside in the gray area.

I went trail running yesterday and about six women in their mid-forties came racing down the mountain on bikes. As each one went by me they had big smiles and said “Hello”. Wow. It felt so good to be the receiver of friendliness. I, of course, smiled and said, “Hello,” back. Later I passed another woman mountain biking where I was the one who smiled and waved. She didn’t smile or say hello. I smiled again.

I am grateful for the little people in my life

Image

I am grateful for the little people in my life.

Their sense of adventure, curiosity, exuberance, innocence, happiness, creativity, emotion, tenacity, sensitivity, empathy, strength, vulnerability, presence, joy, delight, their love. Really, I love it all.

Please add your words to my list of reasons that you love children.

I am grateful for all the children in my life, but especially my three beautiful girls.