Looking back, planning forward: a recap

Although none of us know how long we will live, some days it surprises me to be closer to the end of my life than the beginning. This past year I have thought a lot about this: how do I want to spend my time? What do I want to let go of? What has been most important to me in my life’s journey?

Last month at the Oregon Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference, GOSH, I was invited to share a keynote for ASSP’s Women in Safety Excellence Common Interest Group. While I have given talks throughout my career, this time I chose a new topic to address– Looking Back, Planning Forward: Growth, Satisfaction and Well-Being. As I prepared my talk, I pondered the serendipitous intersection of my musings on life, writing and work. Yes, when we pay attention to well-being we understand how doing so connects all of our moments, the good, bad, sad and joyous, work and home –and everything between.

I was astounded at the feedback I received following my talk, both from people I know and others I had never before met. I too received a few emails, and even scheduled a meeting with someone, each person telling me how much what I said spoke to them especially at this time in their life.

I notice these days how I am among the oldest at many work events and meetings. For decades early in my career I was younger than my colleagues; now so many of those folks have retired. Having made an unexpected job change a few months ago forced me to peer deeply into myself. Where have I come from and why? I thought about my journey to where I am today – the curves and sometimes difficult things, along with the celebrations. We each have these, creating both roadblocks and opportunities.

I thought I’d share a bit about all this from my recent talk.

Our journey and the power of using our strengths

What are my strengths and what do I love doing? I look back on my professional journey and recognize strengths I hold, how I have been supported to develop them, and how sometimes they’ve been stalled and how that made me feel. Research outcomes informed me what my heart already knew: a connection exists between strengths, passion and well-being. Opportunities to use our strengths can lead to improved health and wellness: we experience less worry, stress and sadness when we have work that utilizes our strengths. Yes, we also often need to do things we dislike and work to improve skills important to the job. And yet – are we given support to truly develop our strengths in a way that too benefits our organization? We talk a lot about job crafting in today’s world of work, but how often do we do it from the “bottom up” to find the size that fits the uniqueness of each of us? And to recognize how our needs, desires and abilities can change over time. I do recognize the privilege I hold based on my education, income and opportunities I have received in my life, and my greatest hope is for worker well-being to be valued to be essential for everyone in the workforce, not just those privileged like me. (See more: Defining how we show up.)

What do I like?

In regards to my work journey, I’ve thought often about what I care about and who I like working with. These factors have influenced the type of jobs I accepted, where I was happiest, and provided new opportunities to learn more about myself. I would never have expected early in my career to have developed so many close friends from within my technical profession. Now in the rearview mirror, I feel grateful and advise others to think about who their people are while also remaining open to new people, new ideas. Pursuing writing, even outside of my day job or career, has allowed me to welcome new pursuits and strengths while also opening me up to friendships with a whole new group of folks. We can help ourselves grow by testing new ideas, new challenges, new skills and hobbies, and new contacts and friends.

About joy

What brings me joy, the small bits and the large. To be at our best and healthiest, we must be able to create space and passion for life outside of work: the best employers get this. Although we may feel we don’t have enough time for all the things that are expected of us, look for moments to find joy. Small windows (like for me doing Wordle and Quordle each morning with my cup of English Breakfast tea) and those that feel larger: a kayak paddle or hike, browsing library shelves, catching up with dear friends and family members, vacations: only you know what those things are that bring you joy. Prioritize identifying and finding ways to add them in. Employers, supervisors, managers: understand how essential it is for those you work with to be supported to have life outside of work.

And remember compassion

How do we get there? Foster connections, trust our knowledge and heart, be brave and take on one thing – not everything. Be compassionate and patient with ourselves. Big changes don’t often come all at once. Different stages of life give us different priorities, we each walk differently through life: be gentle with ourself and others.

While preparing for the talk, it was serendipitous that I too am finishing my next memoir. (Catch up with Marching ahead; glimpsing behind.) My mom was an important model for many other women, and although she may not have felt she was brave as a young woman she touched others at midlife, all who recognized her courage. In a previous blog I shared the talk she gave at her 50th year Oregon State University reunion. I particularly love this quote she shared then:

The great thing about getting older is that we don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

Madeleine L’Engle

Yes, all those things in our lives. The things we are proud of, those we are too embarrassed to tell anyone else. The events we regret and those we miss. The people we have met along the way. Each feeds into who we are and, when we give ourselves permission to listen, question and change: help us become what we hope to do or be next. And although our strengths may not change a lot after early adult-hood, because of adult neuroplasticity we can deepen and widen our strengths throughout our life. I do believe my mom taught me to be gentle with myself: and for that I am grateful. And that is what I share with you my friends and followers; self-compassion, patience and open minds.

Check out my upcoming events!

4 thoughts on “Looking back, planning forward: a recap

  1. Very powerful. Thanks for sharing.
    I remember “it’s not over till it’s over “
    How do we take our lessons of life and use them as much as possible in this time of our lives?
    How do we take responsibility for making each day, each moment, great?
    Thx Dede


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