2023 Personal Retreat

Was everyone driving with their brights on? I covered the sharp beams with a gloved hand and mellowed my walking pace. Funny how easy it is to misstep when the dark of early morning is suddenly illuminated, rushed, accelerated. 

I’ve lived like that before. Always wanting to be first to the office. To get a good parking spot. To be the guy who turned on the lights. To start the coffee. I am grateful to have changed things. My inability to imagine working in an office again is both terrifying and motivating. 

I u-turned at the bottom of Smith Level, took a sharp left onto Culbreth, and met a small, tailless cat at the Cobble Ridge intersection. It ran towards me, meowing, and was purring before I’d even started petting it. Clumps in its fur felt like protruding bones. Had it not been wearing a fancy collar, I might have brought it home. Though easier said than done.

I doubled back when I hit Columbia and made it home just as my watch hit one hour. One of the lilies in the vase on my worktable had opened up over night. Such transformation in a short amount of time. And also, this week is the equinox. And a new moon. Both obvious markers for rebirth and change. Neither detail, however, was a consideration when I planned my at-home retreat for this week. But I know better than to call it dumb luck.

After my daily thirty-minute yoga session and some breakfast reading, I turned on a low-fi music station and nosed into my mentors’ responses to three pre-retreat questions:

1. Do you use any particular strategies to stay aligned with your desired trajectory? Any practices that help keep you true to your vision?

2. Please help me hold up a mirror: What do you clearly see about me? What are my blind spots? What do you imagine for my future?

3. Any useful advice someone has shared with you that continues to guide you? Please share.

I transcribed their thoughtful answers to easel-sized Post-Its and identified themes:

How do people stay true to their visions? Routine.

How do they see me? As an adventurous creative who understands people.

Where are my blind spots? I’m always striving rather than fully enjoying.

As for their advice? Well, each bit was worth sharing, but the ones that resonated most were these:

Work to create options, then do the work to figure out which ones are good options.

Resiliency is greater than happiness.

Take time to feel what you’re actually feeling.

I took everyone’s words to heart. Some bits resonated more than others, but every answer offered insight in one way or another. And, side note, it’s such a gift to better understand how others witness me in the world. I’d never know if I hadn’t asked.

This activity opened the floodgates for deep self-reflection and I spent the next few hours digging in. Strengths and weaknesses. Fears and dreams. I made a list of what my intuition tells me about the future. I brainstormed ways to give voice to what makes life worth living. I bundled all this up, then spitballed what my future could look like. I strongly believe that dreaming gives us the first glimpse of our future’s reality.

As my living room walls started filling up with colorful pages of disparate thoughts and doodles, I realized that I already know most of this stuff. I’m pretty damn tuned into where I’m going. I know what I want. Shoot, I’m even pretty doggone aware of what’s in the way. I can give myself props, and can also see where I’m falling short.

Still, dedicating time to make it all visible offered a clarifying refuge. A tightening down of truths. A relief.

While reading someone’s imagined vision for my future, I broke down crying. They wrote, “You are as writer and occasional teacher, with a close community of friends and artists, at peace with yourself and your body, engaged in a lifelong process of discovery.” It wasn’t so much what they said that got me—after all, others made similar statements that were equally as accurate. The sudden awareness that all these folks see me, like, truly see me, was enough to put a beautiful crack right down the middle of me.

After lunch I took another walk followed by some meditation (and a short nap). Then I spent the afternoon dialing in specific actions to align with a rapidly evolving statement of purpose. A.K.A. my why or mission statement.

Frankly, these trendy terms don’t feel right when I apply them to my life. They’re a bit too jargony for my taste. I like to think of my purpose more as my driving force. As in, what drives me towards living? My answer sums both my personal life and my professional platform—I explore, discover, guide, and inspire in order to relentlessly nourish my or another’s personal or professional growth.

After filling another poster page with goals and the specifics of those goals, I put the cap on my marker and slumped in my seat. I looked around me and took a deep breath, feeling satisfied. Feeling exhausted.

I then preheated the oven and made a salad. And while I waited for my frozen lasagne to cook, I finished a book I’d started the day before. Stay True by Hua Hsu. A coming of age memoir filled with loss, change, and growth. And though the details were very different than my own path, the story buzzed with a relatable energy. Gosh, we are all so similar. Our desires generally come from the same place.

After dinner I prepped for day two. I figured it would be more of a focus on the specifics of my professional pathway, but I couldn’t imagine it being much different than today. After all, my professional world is an extension of my heart. And I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do what I do for a living if this weren’t true.

8:00 p.m.—my agenda said it was time to get to bed. I chuckled at the light still lingering outside. The sound of squirrel footsteps on my rooftop. The low and muffled rumble of my neighbor playing video games.

Before I got too comfortable, I sat up for a sip of water. Dang, I’d left my water bottle in the kitchen. I kicked away the sheets and stepped into my slippers. Shuffled through the living room whose walls were now blanketed with a zillion fresh ideas.

I grabbed my water, and on the way back I noticed the bouquet of flowers had changed. At least two more lilies had opened up. They were beautiful before. But now—now they were breathtaking.

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