Student of Life

It’s so much easier to present my well-learned lessons and post crash-test thoughts after the shit-has-hit-the fan, not while it’s currently flinging around my head. Who wants to be exposed, unsure, and irresolute in front of anyone, let alone the online world of wonder? On top of it, I do this for a living.  That is, I help people navigate their careers and life decisions; and I am currently wiping down a daily mess I might very well be making myself.

The past year of worldwide travel was everything I would have dreamed of and more. Not only did I connect with my family on a deep and meaningful level, I have never felt more connected to the global community. We made friends in many languages, cuddled street animals on tiny islands and in dusty cities, explored remote places with no map or GPS, and touched deeper places in ourselves with daily practices of gratitude and acknowledgement.

I miss the freedom some days and other days, I am just as happy as can be, making my daily lemon water, followed by tea with nice, filtered water from my own kettle and mug. There is peace and joy in both ways of living.

I am still in transition from a world of free time and exploration, alarm-free mornings, daily exercise, and marathon training to self-induced structure and a new commitment. My favorite Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön’s, words keep running through my head, “the most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves”. True to historical self, I have taken on another challenge—which seemed like a great idea while we journeyed, drop-jawed at times, somewhere between Bhutan and Madagascar, determined to protect these incredible cultural and bio-diverse places on Earth.

My girls have been begging me for years to not work so much, and I loved (almost) every minute of free family time with them. But, I have to be honest; something deep drives me. I want to serve. I do serve. I serve beyond my family and have a great pride in this passion and purpose—and sometimes I am torn. I am torn between being ever-present pancake making, cupcake baking, fresh-food gardening, afterschool softball and boardgame-playing mom and, quite frankly working my ass off for some unknown, exact outcome of success.

As I was getting ready for this trip more than a year ago, I spoke to an old college friend and confided that while I was super excited and ready for this world-journey with my family, I was also scared. I had never spent every day, all day and night with my family without the release of work, nonprofit boards, and a socially active community. I told him it was going to be hard. He asked me, since when did you ever shy away from hard?

So, here I am channeling that willingness to go beyond what I think I can do. This time, not to prove a point, but to deeply invest in a world of knowing and learning that intrigues me, and gives me hope and inspiration to leave this world a better place not just for my children, but for the citizens of the world I have yet to meet, and the seven generations to come.

So, what is this thing I’ve committed to?

Beyond writing more curriculum for Wellfit Girls and mentoring and training our leadership team while I traveled this past year, I read, researched, and watched every resource that came my way to become a more impactful leader for our organization. I became increasingly interested in nonprofit and grassroots organizations working to restore, protect, and/or regenerate the environment and empower women and girls in places we visited. I want my lifework, and the impact of Wellfit Girls, to make a difference.

How can we raise global citizens?

How can we empower and inspire a next generation of eco-socially engaged leaders?

My daughters and I spoke about the inequities we were seeing and experiencing around the world. We talked about what it means to be a global citizen, all the while knowing we were coming from a place of privilege, choice, and freedom unlike the families we were meeting around the world. How could we become friends beyond the moment, supporting and honoring their needs and the over-looked true costs in the modern race to more growth, more development, more, more, more…

I woke up one day in Nepal and decided getting my PhD to engage more deeply in learning and challenge myself to innovate and grow was to be my next move. Let me clarify, I didn’t really decide, I woke up with a calling, an intuitive message taking me in that direction. While I swore I would never go back to school, I feel I had reached a plateau in my work. It was time to dive into a community that would push me, excite me, and inspire me. It was time to up-level my game.

It was so exciting back in February when I decided this. It was so exciting back in late April when I finally got the news that I had been accepted. It was so exciting to meet my amazing and accomplished peers—Cohort 12—when I first started the program in August. It has not been so exciting the past six weeks, doing the work. It’s been hard. Yes, interesting, yes inspiring, but really, really hard to balance this new addition in my life.

I hadn’t told very many people that this was an endeavor in which I am embarking, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hack it. I promised my daughters that I wouldn’t work so much when we moved, that I would meet some of their friends’ moms (I would have mom friends), that I would not travel as much, and would be on their schedule, a student, just like them. Since their school started 3 days before mine, I have worked around the clock, not met any mom friends, and many days don’t get dressed beyond my lounge/school attire. If I put a pair of jeans and shoes on they ask why I am so dressed up.

Why am I revealing all of this?

Because, I miss you guys. I find myself writing so much for scholarly purposes, I am missing my own rambling, authentic, messy self.

I have had several moments of being done already. I don’t quit, though. I do hard things. I am learning, growing, and inspired, if not tired, scared, and overwhelmed. But, I am also tenacious (I keep telling myself).

I am committed to the higher purpose. We must connect with the longer vision in our pursuits or it’s too easy to abandon ship. One of my greatest goals in this PhD journey is to capture real statistics and research the successful outcomes of our Wellfit Girls program. We have three years of our signature 5-month program, and just this fall launched Beyond the Summit, a curriculum I wrote in a state of flow earlier this fall. The girls, alumni from the past three Wellfit Girls years, continue where they left off, deepening their empowerment journey and developing their focus and skills to become social change-agents. We know our program works. Now, it’s time to prove it in the research.

Connecting to the Source

When I get tired of waking up 7 days a week at 5am to get work done before the day begins, I think of the Wellfit Girls and what we are doing to incubate social change leadership in our program. I think of the families in tents who live simply so we can live our complicated lives of consumption. I think of growing beyond my comforts to serve. I think of things I don’t even know what might be. In the pursuit of knowledge and growth, I think we are all capable of doing more than we think we can.

What challenge have you been putting off in your life that you are ready to overcome?

What keeps you motivated to continue when you’re not sure you can?

In loving-kindness,

6 Comments
  • Jackie Sereno
    Reply

    Wow! You continue to inspire me.

    October 11, 2016 at 7:30 pm
  • Paula Koenig Ellison
    Reply

    I have read this several times today and each time I get some new take away. You truly are inspiring and congrats on your new venture! You keep inspiring me to grow and to Let Go. Thank you Jill!

    October 12, 2016 at 1:47 am
  • Amy Voelkl
    Reply

    Exciting and vulnerable. How fortunate I am to have a friend and leader like you.

    October 13, 2016 at 7:06 pm

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