Here’s Your Sign

Here’s Your Sign

Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

(Author unknown)

A few days ago, I was stuck in my head. You see, I still don’t have a job. I’ve applied for about twenty jobs and not a nibble. I’m trying to be pickier than I have in the past, because I want to do something that will be interesting, challenging, and/or fun. Apparently my résumé doesn’t have the keywords for the fun, interesting jobs. My résumé only shows that I have experience at jobs I don’t want to do anymore, which makes me either over-qualified or under-qualified for all the jobs I’ve applied for.

My goal is not to dwell on the lack of job, but to do things I enjoy doing, so I’ve been working on my photography skills, remembering how to play the piano, and doing a little reading. I’m doing what makes me happy in the hope of bringing more enjoyment into my life, including a fun job. Like begets like, right?

However, sometimes my brain gets stuck in a downward spiral of fear and gloom. When that happens, I go for a hike. (I’ve been hiking a lot lately.) Luckily, hiking takes me out of my head and into my body, which, I have to say, is much more level-headed and intelligent than my brain. I should spend more time there.

I was following a moderately easy trail which begins with a long, slow, steady incline and doesn’t let up until you get to the top. I spent most of the way up talking to the universe. I explained to the universe that I know it gives us signs all the time, but I can’t see any signs, because my fear of scarcity, money in particular, blinds me to any signs the universe may give me. I told the universe it was going to have to make my signs a little more obvious, maybe a big flashing neon arrow pointing HERE’S YOUR SIGN because apparently I’m missing them all.

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When I got close to the top of the incline though, my mind started to slow and my body took over. Lack of oxygen will take you out of your head every time. As I focused on my breathing, I watched as my feet moved steadily along the trail, one step after the other, in rhythm with my breath. I noticed then that I had a bit of tunnel vision. I wasn’t seeing anything other than the trail right in front of me. So I decided to look up, when suddenly a flash of color caught my eye. It was a line of tiny yellow flowers.

 

The flowers weren’t on the main trail, but on a steep side trail. I had to scramble a little bit to get to them. As I headed up, I also noticed to my right, a tiny lavender flower growing all by itself. I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to flowers. My eyes get wide and I even giggle a little with glee. (There’s a reason I’m called a plant nerd.)

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It was then that I realized that these flowers were my sign. I had been so focused on what was directly in front of me that I almost missed it. Come over this way. Look at this beauty that was right here the whole time. Go see what’s at the top of the hill. Turn around. Here’s a view you never would have seen if you hadn’t followed the signs. I reveled in the beauty and gave the universe a big cosmic hug and a thank you.

What was the sign, you say? Stop following someone else’s path.

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I’ve never been one to enjoy the well-beaten path. I’ve tried my whole life because I thought that’s what I supposed to do, but there’s a reason they call it a well-beaten path. It’s already trampled down and smoothed out. It’s been walked by billions of other people. I’ve felt like a failure my whole life, because I couldn’t stay on that damn well-beaten path, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve come to realize though, that the people who move society forward and make a difference in the world are those who create their own path. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Most of the beauty is off the beaten path. It’s where the wildflowers grow. It’s where the extraordinary view is. There may be big boulders on the path, but it’s kind of fun to figure out how to get around them. Should I go this way through the brush? Should I go that way through the water? Or should I try my hand at bouldering and just climb over?

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We all have a choice. We can choose the smooth trail with most of the obstacles worn down or removed, where we simply have to put one foot in front of the other to get where we want to go and that’s okay. Or we can choose to head off onto a side trail even though we’re not exactly sure where it’s going. Perhaps it’ll end up somewhere amazing and give us lots of fun and interesting challenges. Perhaps it will take us somewhere the world has never been. Or perhaps it will lead us back to the well-beaten path eventually, but life is an adventure and that’s what makes it fun.

I’m accepting that I actually like my little side trail. It’s helped me to heal. It’s helped me to help others to heal. It’s led me toward self-acceptance and dare I say, a wee bit of confidence in who I am. It’s led me back to who I truly am. It’s shown me my soul.

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

I want to be a photographer. There. I said it. I try to keep my deepest desires close to the vest, because I don’t want anyone to tell me the “reality” of trying to break into the photography biz. How “everybody’s a photographer” or how their brother has 15,000 followers on Instagram or how I’d better have a back-up plan. I’m not confident enough for that yet.

My goal is to quietly teach myself the art of photography. I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now, but I’ve been living in my comfort zone of landscapes and macros of flowers, so I started a 365 photo challenge in the hopes of breaking out of my rut. I’m posting them on Instagram (@stefaniejones365), but I’m not pushing the hash tags. I’m doing this project for me, to challenge myself and to have a record of my progress. And it is challenging me. It’s not so much a technical challenge, but a composition challenge. My ultimate subject is people. Hopefully, somewhere along the way during this challenge, I’ll get over my fear of photographing people which I know will open an avenue to the real purpose of my photography. That, however, I will keep to myself.

I get a lot of my learnin’ from YouTube and a vlog I particularly like is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. Ted is a true lover of photography and has introduced me to tons of photographers I’ve never heard of. The video I watched today was called If Ansel Adams Used Instagram, in which he spoke about being a part of one’s time. Adams was an innovator in his time. He was doing things no one else was doing and pushing the boundaries of the technology of his time. Ted says (and I would agree), Adams would surely embrace the technology we have today. He would have been one of the first to try drones and the latest camera technology and would still make amazing images. So, yes, everybody these days is a photographer, but not everybody is an innovator and making unique and interesting photos. As with any art, you have to think outside the box and more importantly in photography, you have to learn to see.

Peter McKinnon is another vlogger I enjoy. His videos are mostly concerned with teaching technique and how to do cool things with the latest technology, but today he posted a video called Stop Taking The Same Boring Photos. In this video, he encouraged people to delve a little deeper in their subject. His example was a salad. You could take a picture of the finished salad and that would be okay or you could take a photo of the prep work or the ingredients before it is all put together or present it in a wine glass or even show the empty bowl with a little dressing and tiny bits of salad leftover. Those images are far more interesting than simply a picture of a salad. In order for your work to stand out, you have to do it different. (See what I did there. Maybe I should rename this blog “Doing It Different”). You have to give your viewer or client that little something extra, so that they’ll be more likely to use you again or recommend you to their friends.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Learning to see more, to see differently. My challenge is definitely a challenge and sometimes I fear I won’t be able to come up with a decent image, but that’s what trying new things is all about. My photos may not always great and my ideas might flop, but it sure is fun trying.

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This photo accidentally turned out to be even more interesting than I first thought. Instagram wasn’t interested, but I love it.

I Got Triggered

I Got Triggered

 

I’ve been having a hard time lately. This whole “do it different” thing isn’t working as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s not easy to change who I’ve been for longer than I care to admit.

Yesterday, I got triggered and I reacted in the same way I always have:  with a bout of kick-me-in-the-gut, spit-in-my-face depression. I’ve been trying so hard to believe that you get what you most desire if you stop doing the things you do that stop those things from coming to you. It seems so easy for everyone else. Since I’m “doing it different”, I thought that surely I would  get at least a little bit of what I wanted. However, I’m not and someone else is and it feels as if the Universe is refusing to conspire to help me.

Disappointment is the catalyst for my depression. If I have a big desire, I expect the Universe will help me get it. Instead, the Universe gives it to someone else or at least doesn’t give it to me. Then I become deeply disappointed which leads to a big depression and then I give up. I announce to the Universe-very dramatically I might add-that I’m done trying, hoping, wishing, and expecting for anything to get better for me. I feel like I’m the cosmic joke. I want something. The Universe holds out its hand, offering me what I want. I reach out to take it, then it yanks its hand back and yells, “Psych!!” and laughs in my face. I’m pretty sure this is an accurate description of what happens.

Now, I don’t really believe this is how things work. I believe that the Universe has my best interest in mind, just as it does for all of us. I don’t believe in a vengeful Universe. I know it’s me that keeps me from getting what I want, but it seems like there are rules to life and no one gave me the rule book. And certainly no one taught me how to play the game.

I’ve found that movement, be it yoga, biking, hiking, or even weight lifting, is the only thing that helps when I am in deep despair. It helps take me out of my head for a while. Luckily, I live near the mountains and have access to some great hiking trails, so to make myself feel better, I went for a hike. I took the hardest trail the park has and walked without any plan, except to knock the edge off the sadness. I ended up taking a trail that went higher into the hills than I have gone before. I put in my earbuds and listened to Abraham for some words of wisdom. I took pictures of the pasqueflowers that were blooming along the trail. I caught whiffs of the warm pine scented air I love so much and most importantly, I breathed deep and hard.

After walking as far as I felt like going, I turned around and headed back toward the parking lot. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention and found myself on a side trail that seemed to go nowhere. Just ten feet away, I saw the easy trail. It was flat and smooth and wide. No boulders. But I was doing the hard trail, dang it, so I backtracked a little and got back on the trail. Soon, I was off in the weeds again and there was the easy trail right in front of me. Again. This time, I started laughing. I realized that that is what I do in life. I choose to do it the hard way. I force and push. I demand that the Universe give me what I want. I cling stubbornly to how I think things are supposed to go, even though my way has never worked before. The easy path is right there for me and yet I turn away because life isn’t easy, right? It’s supposed to be hard and we’re supposed to work for everything we get.

Well, this time, I gave up and took the easy trail for a while. When I came upon a crossroads, I knew that I didn’t have to choose to go the hard way. I knew it was okay to keep taking the easy way, but I also knew that sometimes the challenging way is more fun. Knowing that I could choose which path I wanted to take, I decided to take the more challenging trail, not because I needed to prove something, but because it was more fun.

I don’t know what taking the easy path in life is supposed to look like, but I do know that when I give up the struggle, things tend to go smoother. I’m going to take the pressure off myself, not try so damn hard all the time, and quit trying to tell the Universe how to do its job. The Universe knows what I want and it knows the easiest, most fun way to get it. I think I’ll try that for a while.

 

I’ll Run Naked Through The Sprinklers If I Want To

phoeberuns

I have a confession to make. I’ve forgotten how to have fun. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe I have fun and don’t know it. At any rate, I want more fun in my life.

It’s said that midlife is where fun goes to die, but I don’t think that’s totally true. I know people who have quite a lot of fun. Maybe it’s just me.

fun: noun – enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.

I enjoy things, like surfing the internet or watching TV, but I wouldn’t call that fun. I’m often amused by things, like when I saw a deer trying to put her front hooves on the swinging bird feeder and sticking out her tongue trying to reach the seed. It was funny, but I wouldn’t call it fun.

I guess when I think of fun, I think of running around screaming and laughing, climbing trees, playing red light/green light, and running through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. When I think of fun, I think of friends and play.

play: verb – engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

In other words, fun equals play. Have I forgotten how to play or has my idea of play changed now that I’m well past the age where running around screaming and playing tag is acceptable?

I know what I consider fun: drawing, taking photos, hiking, reading (Most of my reading, however, is for learning, which, while fun, tends to make me a little bit obsessive. So much so, that I have to stop reading altogether for a little while). I also put a lot of “serious and practical” on it. I’m not just doing it for fun. I have an ulterior motive. How can I make money doing something I feel is fun? Money takes all the fun out of everything. I don’t do anything for the pure enjoyment of it and that may be why I don’t feel like I get to have any fun.

So I did a little research. (PS I enjoy researching things, so I’ll consider that fun. I’m winning already.)

Why do we need to play?

The National Institute for Play – yes, there is such a thing – studies the transformative power of play. Turns out, play isn’t just for kids. As adults, we need play to help us maintain our social nature, which in turn keeps us from feeling lonely. It also helps us build community. And as a bonus, it’s good for our brains.

“What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,” [says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the institute.] “You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.” (See full NPR article with Dr. Brown here)

The opposite of play is not work, but depression. – Brian Sutton-Smith

Aha! So that’s why I’m a boring old sad-sack who never feels like she has any fun. I am play-deprived.

So, what constitutes play?

According to Dr. Brown, “Play is something done for its own sake, [. . .] It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Play looks different to everybody. What I consider play, like trudging up a 14,000 foot mountain, may sound like torture to others. However, when I’m hiking up a mountain, I enjoy it so much that I make it a point to be present for every moment. I want to enjoy the lack of noise, the smell of the pine trees, the sight of a lone raven playing in the thermals. I even want to enjoy the fact that my legs are completely spent from carrying me up and down the mountain, my lungs are working hard to keep the oxygen flowing so I don’t die, and my heart is pounding so loud that I often wonder if someone is walking behind me, beating a drum. I am most certainly proud of making it to the summit, but even if I have to turn back early due to weather or sickness, I enjoyed every part of the journey and that’s enough.

So how do I work more fun into my life?

It caught my attention when Dr. Brown said, “it takes you out of time.” I took a drawing class not long ago and when I worked on homework, I lost all track of time. After a while, I would look up and notice that the sun had gone down and wonder how the heck that had happened. It felt like I had just started working even though six hours had gone by.

The same thing happens when I go out to take photos. At one point, I was taking photos of old churches in town. I find the architecture profoundly beautiful and I’m intrigued by how the style of architecture changed as the city grew west. I would start out with one church, then remember another up the street and go photograph it. Then I’d drive toward a steeple I’d see off in the distance, but also stop to photograph the churches along the way. I’d spend hours “chasing churches” and then wonder where the time went. (FYI, the architecture gets less interesting and the churches more utilitarian and sprawling much as the city sprawled. However, I still find chasing churches interesting. As I drive through rural America, I can spot the towering steeple of a church that was built on the highest point in any small town. I’ll go miles out of my way to take a look and I’m never disappointed.)

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Hope Lutheran Church, Westcliffe, CO

As we grow up and enter the adult world, life gets serious. We have careers to manage, homes to keep up, and kids to raise. But we were kids once and believe it or not, we remember what it feels like to have fun. Maybe we aren’t going to invite the neighborhood mom’s and dad’s over for a rousing game of freeze tag, but we can find something we enjoy, that takes us out of our heads for a few hours, and that is not time wasted.

The most important part, I believe, is to recognize and appreciate when you’re having fun and let yourself be okay to play for a little bit. You don’t have to run through the park like Phoebe did in the Friends episode “The One Where Phoebe Runs” (but why not?) And you don’t have to run naked through the sprinklers (but why not?) All you have to do is decide what you consider fun, whether it be golfing with your buddies or quilting with your girlfriends or mountain biking with your girlfriends or playing scrabble with your buddies. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re having fun, because life really is supposed to be fun.

I Thought I Knew It All But…

I Thought I Knew It All But…

 

Today, we had the most beautiful, heavy, wet snowfall and I couldn’t resist the urge to go out and take some photos. Luckily, today was the first day of my 365 photo challenge and I knew just where to go to capture my first prompt, which was “tree”.

I grabbed my camera and checked the ISO to make sure I wasn’t going to have a bunch of blown out photos. I’m not technically savvy with my camera yet, but I know enough to check the light. I was wanting to capture the falling snow, so I set my shutter speed low and started snapping away. Half way through, because I don’t look at every shot right away, I discovered that all my photos looked like they had white streaks. Not exactly what I was going for. So then I moved my shutter speed up and voilá! Snowflakes instead of streaks. I felt pretty stupid, but that’s what practice is all about: learning from your mistakes.

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Before I figured out that I needed to adjust my shutter speed.
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And after. Much better.

I’ve been a know-it-all most my life. Not that I know it all, really. I am, as they say, “A Jill of all trades, master of none.” I know a lot of little things, but not a lot about anything. A lot of it comes from being the oldest child, however, I also grew up in a chaotic, insecure household and I felt it was my duty to try to make everyone happy and fix things. I had to know things in order to fix things.

This need to make things better or to help people has carried over into the rest of my life. I’m not a know-it-all to be right or prove how smart I am. I’m a know-it-all to try to fix things for people. If someone is talking about a problem they have, I will offer what I know about the subject and if I don’t know, then I’ll research the heck out of it to find something to help.

When I started working at the lab, I discovered that I was not the only know-it-all. In fact, most of the people working there were know-it-alls and they were also smarter than I am. I’m fine with people knowing more than I do. I’m not competitive like that. However, it felt like every statement I made was challenged by one person or another. I couldn’t often back things up with more facts off the top of my head, because I am a big picture person. I don’t do details, but these people were scientists and they want everything to be backed up by facts and data. So, feeling insecure, I’d either Google it to back up what I said or else I’d simply drop the subject. More often than not, I’d just walk away. I’m not much of a debater either.

And it’s not just the scientists that do this. It seems as if everyone has done everything and they know more than I do about virtually everything. Every time I find out something new I like to share – because that’s how I roll – but it always seems to be met with indifference and boredom, as if I’m an idiot for not knowing that already. People’s disinterest in my newfound discovery diminishes my enjoyment of it. I wanted to tell someone my story about the shutter speed fiasco, but I knew that, if I mentioned it, I would be met with a blank stare and some statement about how they had that same problem a long time ago, when they first started doing photography, but now they are so far beyond that. So I kept my mouth shut. (Until now. You guys don’t sass me much.) And it dawned on me that that’s how I made other people feel with my own know-it-allness. I diminished their feelings with all my “help”.

Native medicine people never offer unsolicited advice or offer to perform ceremony for a person, even if they know they’re suffering. Part of the ceremony is in the asking. If someone needs help, they take tobacco to the medicine man and ask him for what they need. I’m no medicine person, but that’s what I’m going to do from now on. If someone wants my advice or help, I’ll let them ask.

Remember how proud you felt when you were little and you figured something out all by yourself? You ran as fast as you could to tell somebody, usually mom or dad, and they pretended like they didn’t know this new thing you discovered and praised you for being so smart. It’s the same when you’re an adult. It’s fun to figure things out on your own and it gives you a sense of pride when you worked hard and did it yourself. People simply want someone to listen and not belittle their feelings or diminish their sense of accomplishment.

I may know it all, but I’ve decided to quit being a knowing it all. Half the fun of life is discovering new things and I want everyone to have as much fun learning as I do. I’ll no longer be doling out unsolicited advice, so if you want my opinion or words of wisdom, you’ll have to ask me for it.

 

 

No That’s Not A Mugshot

 

As you can plainly see, I’m not comfortable in front of a camera, but I’ll sacrifice my dignity for you, my dear reader.

As you may know, I just relocated to Colorful Colorado. It was great the first few weeks, when I was brand new and everything was exciting. I went out scouting for a good bike shop and to find where all the natural foods stores and yoga studios were. I suppose I was trying to bring back a sense of security. When I found those places, I would feel more at home.

It worked, too, until I hit a snag. I spent eleven days in a wheat-induced depression. Yes. I accidentally ingested a small crumb of onion ring coating and spent the next week and a half in a dark funk. That’s what wheat does to me.

During those eleven days, I went from feeling like I was getting a fresh start at a new life to feeling like nothing would ever work out for me. To top it all off, I had to start looking for a job and that’s never fun, even on a good day.

However, on day twelve, I woke up feeling like someone had lifted all the wet wool blankets off my shoulders and just like that, I felt good again. Thank goodness, but I still had that pesky job to look for.

At this point in my life, I don’t want a job. I’ve it with toiling day after day doing something I don’t like to do in order for some old man to grant me some peanuts so I can have a place to live and food to eat. As I’ve said before, I’ve hated virtually every one of my jobs. It would be so much easier if I were a massage therapist or an herbalist or a yoga teacher or an acupuncturist. I were a “something” it would make those job search engines work better for me. But I’m not a “something”. There is no job called “I just need a job, man.”

The one thing I might be is a would-be entrepreneur. I have a ton of ideas for businesses, but nothing’s really stuck yet. Besides, I have no money, no connections, and I’m a big fraidy cat when it comes to selling my ideas to strangers. Those are all excuses, I know. I have an Elizabeth Gilbert quote on my wall that reads

“You’re supposed to start before you’re ready and before you’re good at it and that’s how you get ready and that’s how you get good at it.”

It takes a lot of courage to start before you’re ready. People tell me that they think I was brave for picking up and moving to a new place just because I wanted to. I don’t necessarily think it was brave. It’s taken me years to actually move. I finally told myself that I had to shit or get off the pot and I’m never one to back down from a dare, but I had to tackle a lot of demons before I was ready. So after several years of therapy and with demons mostly tackled, I moved. I still have a few straggler demons to slay, though, and they’re big and mean and really strong.

One of them rules over my work life. It looms dark and menacing over every bright idea I come up with. It snarls at me, “You can’t make a living doing that. You’ve got to get a job and work hard. You’re not talented enough or smart enough. You’ve never been very good at any of your previous jobs, so you won’t be any good at this either. What if you fail? There’s nothing left after that. Better just stick to what you know.” (My demons talk a lot.)

I know, though, that in order to diminish this demon, I have think different. I can’t go about finding work and thinking about money in the same way I always have if I want things to be different this time. So, as I said in my previous blog post, I’m not going to look for a job. I’m going to let it come to me.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah right. People just come to your door and hand you a job.” That’s not what I mean. I mean that I’m going expect the right job (or a giant wad of cash, which would be even better) to come along at the right moment. I’m not going to worry or stress about it and I’m not going to take a job that feels wrong in my gut just because I’m scared. I have faith that the Universe will bring me an opportunity that will make me say “Heck yeah!” instead of, “It’s better than nothing.” It’s a relief to hand the management of my financial life over to the Universe. It has a lot more resources at its disposal than I do.

The other demon that still has its claws in me is the one that tells me that I’m not creative, that I will never be able to make a living doing what I love. (And of course, the only reason to do anything is so that we can make money from it, right?) In the past couple of years, though, I’ve allowed myself to delve into what I love – art. I’ve taken several graphic design classes and a couple of art classes and they have given me so much joy, it makes me cry. (Like right now, I’m literally tearing up.) I stress myself out a little, because I don’t want to wait until I get good enough to make it part of my résumé, but at this point, I’m really not good enough. I don’t have the portfolio and that fear of never being good enough has stopped me from even working on one right now. I can’t get myself to draw or paint or work on my logo or even do tutorials off of YouTube. This demon will not let me play.

However, the demon will allow me to write this blog and practice my photography. I don’t know why. Perhaps all that other stuff is simply play for me – and there’s nothing wrong with playing. What I truly love to do is write and take photographs. Maybe my love is stronger than that nasty, ol’ demon and that’s why it can’t stop me. So instead of fussing over finding a job, I’m making writing and photography my focus. I’m going to be more consistent with my blog and perhaps even up my blog game with a wordpress upgrade.

I’m also opening a new Instagram account within the next couple of days that will be devoted to a 365 photography project. I’m excited to watch the progression of my photography over the next year and I hope to finally find my “voice” (or is it “eye”). I’m going to step outside of my comfort zone of landscapes and flowers, and bring more of myself into my photography. (And nothing is more out of my comfort zone than a selfie. See above.)

I’ve been focused on this concept of “doing it different” for some time now, but I didn’t quite understand how to do that. Now I see that doing things different requires a shift in perspective. I can’t see and think about things in the same way I always have and expect different results. Isn’t that the definition of crazy? I have to approach my life and how I think about things in a different way. They talk about the shift in consciousness that’s going on in the world right now. I believe that shift in consciousness starts with each of us. I’m happy to have finally figured that out and I hope that my shift adds some momentum to the big one that’s underway.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I work my way through doing my life different. If you find yourself “doing it different” as well, I hope you’ll share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear all about it.