“That’s called ‘hope,'” she said.
Hearing her voice – always inviting like gooey cinnamon roles – had been my lifeline over the years. She was an executive coach, supposedly teaching me how to be a leader, but often teaching me how to be a human.
“Well,” she said, “Having something like writing that you look forward to at the end of the day… Megan, I hope you see how hopeful that is. Your job is in transition, your life is in transition, you’re not sure what the next step is…but there is joy at the end of your day when you pick up that pen and start writing. Do you know how much people need to just have hope, Megan?”
Like Barbara Walters with her interviewees, Ann always brings me to tears. She reaches through the cyberspace between us and overwhelms me with compassion. Some days, it is the simple act of telling me that what I am doing – learning a new job in a new place – is tiring.
“Megan, I hope you see how much energy it is taking to learn these new skills. You are learning new personalities, new names, new group dynamics, new politics…it’s just as draining as starting a new workout plan. What you are doing is building new muscles. Don’t forget to let your body rest in between.”
I can’t explain how relief seeps into my muscles (and leaks out my eyes) when Ann extends this incredible compassion towards me. I am a life long over achiever. Actually, I don’t usually think of myself as an over achiever, but I place the expectation to overachieve on nearly everything I do.
One of the most revolutionary acts of self compassion I’ve done was taking up ukulele playing with the explicit goal of becoming a mediocre ukulele player. Never in my life have I set a personal goal to be anything less than exceptional. I push myself and push until muscle tweaks and gut issues have me crouched over in pain and sleep eludes me night after night.
The ukulele idea started with a crush. I went on a river trip with a girl who had a ukulele. Only 17, she sang every night to us with a head lamp on, bent over her 3-ring binder of music, and fumbled through chords and high notes without apology. For a month after the river trip, all I could think about this ukulele – its curves, its sounds. I finally surrendered to my instrumental crush and went to the music store and came home with a Lanikai tenor uke. I plucked around on those nylon strings and listened to the sound resonate in the warm wooden box. Instead of going out to drink or dance with friends, I stayed home in the golden light of my apartment and learned chords to songs by Is, Jason Mraz, Johnny Cash and Nirvana. (I guarantee I’m the only ranger you know that can play Smells Like Teen Spirit on a tenor ukulele.) Time would just disappear. I wasn’t sitting at home thinking about work or wondering when the love of my life was finally going to come find me or stumbling through a conversation with some half interested hippie dirtbag.
For a year, I played that sweet ukulele almost every day. The day I played an Ingrid Michelson song while strumming AND singing was one of the most glorious moments of my life. Trying to get over the hump of strumming a rhythm, fingering a chord and singing at the same time was not a pretty process and took forever, but even a mediocre uke player needs to be able to do this; I had to keep at it. That night I stared at Ingrid for hours, strumming with her YouTube self and growling in frustration. But then this right brain revolution overtook my body and without conscious thought I found my right hand keeping a rhythm to my sweet folk-singing voice. I squealed and danced around the living room like I had someone there to celebrate with.
Ann’s interpretation of hope isn’t what I normally think of as hope. I normally think of a literal version of wanting the best to happen. But she is right. Hope can also be pleasure. Hope can be finding the thing that you love so much that time disappears while you do it and all those thoughts that assault you, telling you that you should, you need to, you’re not enough, you’ve got to remember to… Those are the things that squelch hope. Writing, mediocre ukulele playing, playing bad softball with your kids…those are the things that birth hope.
May you find something that you so desire to be mediocre at doing that the rest of your pressures and hope-squelchers subside in its shadow.