Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Take charge of your own life. #ShePersisted No 47

No 47 #ShePersisted Series
Mixed Media on Watercolour Paper
11 x 14″
2019 Louise Gallagher

Sometime time ago a friend asked me to join her and other women in creating a book of wisdom for a niece who was turning 13. Ultimately, after writing my list of “10 Things I would tell my 13 Year-Old Self if I could change her life”, I discovered that what I would have told myself then is really, what my 60+ self still needs to hear and know and breathe into everyday.

This post originally appeared on my blog in May 2014 and then Sept. 2017.  As I was contemplating what went with No 47 in my #ShePersisted Series, these 10 things came to mind. The 11th would be, “You are responbile for your own happiness. Do not abdicate your responsibility to someone else. Take charge of your life.”

Ten Things I would tell my 13-year-old self if I could change her life.

  1. There is no such place as forever. Nothing is forever. This too shall pass. Whatever you are experiencing, the trauma, the angst, the joy, they are all illusory. Transitory. Ride whatever is happening hands free, barefooted, body wide open to the experiences of life. Now is not forever.
  2. You’re okay. More than okay, you are amazing. Just the way you are. There is no fashion too out there, no style too wild if it is what you want to wear. You are not too fat, too skinny, to short, too tall, too under-developed, over-developed. You are who you are, how you are. And that’s amazing.
  3. You are worthy. This is a tricky one. Your mind wants to steal this one away and hide it because to know your worth, you must risk — the unknown. the perceived impossible. You must risk the ups and downs, ins and outs, overs and unders of life. To know your worth, you must know there is nothing, noone, no way anyone can steal it from you. It is your birthright.
  4. Believe in you. Really, really believe in you. Don’t question your right to be. Don’t question you’re right to go anywhere, do anything, anyway you choose. Be you. Everyone else is taken. Wear your hair up, down, wild, straight. Colour it pink, gold, orange or green. It’s your body. Your hair. Your skin. Your life. Your right to believe in you and be you just the way you are.
  5. Be kind. People will say mean things. Do cruel things. Be kind. Like you, they struggle to know their worth, find their place, feel their feelings. Like you, they are taking this journey of life without a manual, unable to control and predict everything life will throw at them. Like you, they are sometimes scared, sometimes silly, sometimes confused, sometimes wise. And like you, they too are looking to fit in, to belong, to be part of something bigger than themselves. Be kind, no matter how they act. Be kind.
  6. You don’t have to find your meaning. You are your meaning. Live it with your whole heart wide open to life. Your meaning is not in wearing the latest fashion or having the coolest stuff. Your meaning is found in how you approach every moment, engage every person from that place where you know, no matter what you think they think about you, you think and know you are amazing, just the way you are.
  7. Seek magnificence. Don’t go looking for mediocrity. Seek to be known through your magnificence and seek always to know others through theirs. Don’t look for fault, seek the lessons, seek the knowing, seek the value in all things.
  8. Risk often. Life isn’t a predictable series of events over which you have ultimate control. The only person you have control over is yourself – and even then you’ll sometimes doubt just how in control of yourself you are. Risk anyway because, if you’re involved with others, there will be lots of messy, sticky, unexpected and sometimes painful things happening on your journey. They’re just things. It’s all just stuff. You are amazing  – I know, I said it already – it’s true. Believe it. Risk living from the place of knowing you are okay, you are amazing, you are magnificent. Risk living as if it’s true — because it is.
  9. Smile often. Laugh lots. Dance always. And when you cry, cry out loud. When you laugh, laugh out loud. And when you see injustice, ask what can I do to change it, and do that thing with your whole heart and know, that is enough. You are enough. You don’t have to have all the answers, you only need to learn the one’s that will allow you to make the difference in the world you want to see and be. And that’s enough.
  10.  Get creative. Don’t go looking inside boxes for the recipe for life. Live it not knowing what’s next. Live it expecting the unexpected. Live it free of holding onto hurts and pains, sorrows and regrets. Live it up. Fill it with joy. and always, always SHINE! Because you are amazing. You are worthy. You are magnificent. And that’s the only truth you need to know to live your life fearlessly in Love with all of you.

 


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The presence of the present.

Tables turn. The world spins and life goes on.

This morning, Alberta awoke to a new political landscape.

Election 2019 heralded an upheaval for the reigning NDP, with Jason Kenney’s UCP stepping to the forefront with a crushing win.

Yup.  It’s politics.

And I do not write about politics.

So what do I write about on this morning when the river flows past my office window and the birds chirp in the trees lining the riverbank unmoved by the upheaval in our Provincial political landscape?

Maybe… there’s nothing to write about but the presence of the present.

Maybe it’s a day to breathe just as every day is a day to breathe.

Maybe all I can do in this moment is, to pause. To take in the quiet of this morning and savour the sun’s rays peeking through an overcast sky tinting the horizon in hues of pink and golden amber.

Maybe it’s a morning to simply be present, without searching for meaning, a message, a grand idea to inspire minds, open hearts and set spirits soaring.

Maybe it’s a day to simply be.

And in ‘being’, to set my intention to weather whatever changes are on the horizon with grace. To embrace what is present with acceptance. To breathe into all that is without judgment.

A new day dawned this morning. Behind grey clouds lying low on the horizon, the sun still shines. The world still turns and life goes on.

I am choosing to step into to this day, without carrying anything but the joy of being open to its possibilities when I turn up with a loving mind and open heart to the grace that is present in every moment.

Namaste.

 


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I am releasing.

Alcohol Ink on Yupo Paper
5 x 7 “
2019 Louise Gallagher

The sky is clear this morning. Blue infinity soaring forever.

My mind is fuzzy this morning. Restless sleep stirring my mind.

And softly, the sun rises. The river flows.

There is within me a quiet stream of contentment  Flowing.

I am releasing.

For the past few weeks I have been practicing releasing. It’s a simple process. A continuous statement of “I release.” Sometimes, I add ‘me’ to the end of the sentence. Sometimes ‘you’. Sometimes I get more specific, naming the thing/feeling in that moment which I am carrying and want to let go of.

There is a story of a man who travelled across a great desert, fearing for his life. No water. No food. Nothing but a desire to reach somewhere that was not desert.

Finally, it happened. Just as he was about to give up, he crawled to the top of a giant dune and on the other side, spied a mighty river flowing. He was elated. Not only had he found water, he discovered a land on the other side of the river that was rich and verdant. Beautiful and lush.

With the last of his strength, he eagerly scoured the river bank, searching for wood to make a raft. At last, his task of building a raft to carry him to the other side was over. He set sail and made it to the beautiful lush forest that was once a mirage as he crawled through the desert and was now his reality.

Elated to have reached such a place of bounty, he decided to explore. He hoisted his raft onto his back and began to walk. Eventually, the raft grew heavy but he could not put it down. It had carried him across the river to this beautiful place, what if he needed it again?

And so he travelled onward, each step becoming more and more laborious as he struggled with the weight of the raft on his back.

So often in life, we become like that man, carrying the hurts and pains we’ve gathered up throughout our journey through time, as if our lives depended upon them. Even though they are heavy. Even though they weigh us down, we dare not let them go. Doesn’t carrying the weight of our dark days mean we’ve learned the lesson? Doesn’t their weight keep us grounded? What if putting them down leaves us naked in the light of today?

And we forget. The lessons learned are always with us. It is our choice whether they are a light on our path or a burden on our backs.

I have worked in the homeless-serving sector for over 13 years.

It has been a rich and humbling experience. I have met amazing people. Walked alongside incredible leaders. Shared highs and lows with others who like me, want to create a world where everyone knows they are valued, just because they are here.

Throughout that time, I have been blessed with the opportunity to tell the stories of the people who travel the streets. Of those who carry all they own in a backpack on their back or sit leaning against walls on busy sidewalks, asking for coin. I have told stories of those who work alongside the travellers. Of those who support and care and struggle to create space for those with nothing, to find something to hold onto in the dark bleak corridors of homelessness.

I have been changed.  By everyone I’ve met. Everything I’ve done. Everything I’ve written and every story I’ve told.

I am releasing.

Setting down the weight of this work to release myself to dance in other spaces. Other fields of possibility.

And, just as a river finds space to flow free of its banks when it reaches the sea, I am finding my heart breaking free of where I’ve been, how I’ve been, who I’ve been as I continue to release myself from this work that has enriched my life so much and given me so many opportunities to find my voice, share my stories, create a difference in this world

I am releasing.

And in that release, I feel lighter.

In the lightness of being unburdened, I am releasing.

 


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And so it is. Beginnings. Endings. And in between transition.

And so it is. An ending. A beginning. And in between, transitions.

An ending:  I am no longer the Interim Executive Director of the family homeless shelter where I work.

A beginning.  Still unplanned. Unscheduled. But it is there. Simmering. Shimmering. Quivering. The space of the unknown. That place of possibility. Dreams. Vision. That place where my creative expressions unleash my psyche to dance naked in the light of each new day dawning. Where my soul knows I belong. Where my heart knows its home is right here, within me.

More than knowing what it will look like, I am beginning this journey with how I want to feel. How I want to be. Excited. Challenged. Creative. Inspired. All jazzed up. I want to wake up each morning and leap out of bed, imagining that I am stepping onto creative landmines that explode with opportunity, that challenge my concepts of who I am and propel me into being all I am when I am living within the fires of creativity unbounded.

And first, the transition.

I am spending the next six weeks supporting the new ED and finishing off a couple of projects.  No title. Just ‘Consultant’.

More transition.  I’ll spend the summer, unplanned, uncharted. Except for a trip to the coast to spend as much time as possible with my grandson and his family, and on the way, a stop-over to visit dear friends in the Shuswap and to take in some wine tasting.  I’ll hop on over to the islands to visit my sister and her husband. Maybe even visit Tofino, but I may save that for C.C. and me in the fall with Beaumont!

The beauty of unplanned time. Anything is possible.

As I sit at my desk this morning, watching the river flow past, the sun-bruised morning sky begins to lighten. Cars intermittently travel across the bridge from the west towards the east, where the downtown waits. A bird chirps in a tree, welcoming the morning.

And I am….

I am me.

And I feel….

Now that’s the question for the day. How do I feel?  I feel a mixture of anticipation. Joy. Sadness. Uncertainty.

How will I be with this new person walking into my old role? How will I respond?

Over the past few weeks I have been practicing, ‘releasing’. Letting go of any expectations I might have held that I could stay in the role longer. Releasing any hurts and sadness I’m not.

In releasing, space has been created for this new way of being in the same place to arrive and enliven me with its sense of anticipation and possibility for my uncharted future.

As I drifted into meditation this morning, I asked myself two simple questions to set my intention for this day, week and the weeks until I completely transition out of being here to being in the next as yet unmapped ground of being somewhere else:

How do I want to feel?

I want to feel grateful. Gracious. Calm. Inviting.

I want to feel that feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing it was, a job well done.

That feeling that says, ‘my time here is done, and that’s perfectly okay with me now.’

I want to feel complete.

What do I want to create?

I want to create a space for the new ED to feel like this decision she has made to step into this role is the best decision she’s ever made in her life. I want to create a space where she feels my support and the support of all the leadership team. I want to create opportunity for sharing, of ideas, knowledge, experiences where she can learn of ‘what has happened in the past’, so that she is free to create an exciting new future for the organization, the families we serve and all the staff.

I want to feel like I am not ‘in the way’, but part of a transition that is creating better for the future, for everyone. And, as I near the end of my transition time, I want to feel like letting go is the most natural thing to do. That letting go is all there is left to do to step away and feel, ‘complete’.

I have awoken to a brand new day this morning. I sit at my desk where I sit every morning at this time and watch the river flow past. Right now, there are no cars on the bridge. No people walking or biking. Ther is only the river flowing past, the trees struggling to find their springlike finery. There is only the sun-bruised sky lightening and the birdsong calling me to awaken.

There is…. only Love.

I am grateful.

Namaste.


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On leadership and letting go

As I prepare to transition out of this role of Interim Executive Director at the family homeless shelter where I work, I am excited by the possibilities and the mystery of being ‘me’ in a space that is undefined, fluid, open. It’s a space where I carry:

No formal title.

No 9 to 5 schedule.

No expectation of having to turn up anywhere but where I choose.

Today is my last day in this role. I’ve learned and grown a great deal over the past 8 months, both personally and as a leader. I have been blessed and gifted with this opportunity to stretch and grow. Some of my learnings on leadership are:

 1.  Build a team you trust. 

Leadership is not a walk in the park, It’s a constant race to get it all done. Inevitably, there’s never enough time in a day to get it all done and that’s okay. Being able to prioritize is vital. Having a team you can count on, and that you trust, is essential.

2.  There is no such thing as ‘perfection’.

The need for perfection kills creativity, innovation and passion, in yourself and your team.

Expectations of being or getting it ‘perfect’ are self-imposed limitations you set on yourself to avoid turning up authentically in every situation. They are founded in insecurities and act as a smokescreen that interferes with your capacity to assess, evaluate and determine next best steps without fearing you’re going to get it wrong. Sometimes, you will get it wrong. It’s okay, as long as you create an environment where people do not fear making your mistakes. And when you do, it’s vital you own your mis-steps and create opportunities for those around you to grow through them with you.

3.  People will give you a chance if you consistently speak the truth and treat them with respect.

People want to believe in their leaders. They want to trust them. Being consistent in who you are and how you are is essential to build an environment founded on trust. A space where people feel they can believe what you are saying and doing because they trust that you are always coming from a place of authenticity.

We all have a natural ‘sceptic’ within us. We all have stories of times where people betrayed our trust. For a team to truly trust their leader they must see that no matter the circumstance, no matter how challenging the times, the leader does not sway from their values and principles. They do not compromise on the truth and will inevitablly choose to ‘do the right thing’  — which means, if you are known as someone who is constantly getting angry, flying off the handle, making rash decisions, being unpredictable, you are constantly undermining trust.

4. Trusting and believing in yourself is vital. 

It’s human to have moments of self-doubt but it’s not effective nor reassuring for staff to see you constantly doubting yourself and your capacity to lead. In a study of what makes good leaders, it was determined that a willingness to ‘be vulnerable’ is essential. However, that vulnerability is about your shared human condition, not your weaknesses as a leader.

Self-doubt undermines trust. You may not always get every decision right from the get-go, but you can get addressing mistakes with honesty and forthrightness right every time when you trust yourself enough to turn up, pay attention, speak the truth and stay unattached to the outcome.

5.  Learn first. Do second.

It’s easy to convince yourself you need to know it all, right from the beginning. That’s just not realistic nor possible.

It’s vital to learn first, do second. Too often we get it backwards. We do and then learn from our mistakes. While mistakes are inevitable, avoiding some is possible when you take the time to ask lots of questions, listen deeply and strive to understand situations from all perspectives. It’s vital to ask questions, lots of them, before making any judgements, decisions or course changes.

6.  Communication is key. 

How you communicate is as important as what you communicate.

There are many paths that lead to achieving what you set out to do. Knowing that your decision is ‘the right one’ is different than believing it’s ‘the only one’. Providing people enough information to understand the thinking behind the decision goes a long way to helping them cope with the change that every decision brings. Even a decision to maintain ‘status quo’ comes with change, particularly when the decision is based on investigating the options before making the status quo decision.

7.  Create space for greatness to appear.

Being a leader isn’t about being great at everything you do, it’s about creating space for greatness to appear in everyone around you so that great things can happen. It means sharing the glow of achievement with those who did the work because when they shine, you shine too.

And finally, my key learning over these past few weeks of transition is:  It’s okay to let go. Because, knowing when it’s time to let go is as important as holding on. For me, it’s time to stop holding on to what I was doing to create space for what I can do when I let go of needing to hold on.

I am.

Letting go.

Releasing.

Breathing.

Namaste


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Heeding the Muse’s Calling.

Alochol ink on Yupo paper
5 x 7″
2019 Louise Gallagher

I created yesterday. Spent the day in my studio immersed in colour and texture and tone and joy. I gave way to the muse and let my senses be inspired by the calling of the wild.

Originally, I had planned on taking Friday off in preparation for the Art Show I’m in May 10 – 11. And then, a couple of meetings got scheduled that I needed to attend in preparation for the new Executive Director’s arrival at the family homeless shelter where I work, and I decided to switch up my schedule.

I’m grateful I heeded the guidance of the Artist’s Way Creativity Card I pulled in the morning, “We must have the patience to listen to ourselves carefully.”

In the past, I probably would have just let my day off go. I would have told myself, “It’s okay. Work comes first.” It was easier to give into the belief “I need to be at work” than to ask myself, “What do I need?”

Yesterday, even though I was up and getting ready for my day, I decided to stop and listen. I took my day-off yesterday.

It was soul-enriching.

The beauty of coming to the end of my tenure in this role as Interim Executive Director, and of having my ‘rejuvenation through retirement’ on the near horizon is that I am continually working on releasing.

Releasing my need to be involved in everything.

Releasing my compulsion to think about work 24/7. To check emails on weekends and the evenings. To respond to phone calls out of office hours, unless it’s an emergency.

I am releasing.

It is a process. One that I am consciously engaging with in order to ensure that as I transition from 9 to 5  to I’m on my rejuvenation time, I am building my resiliency muscles in preparation of open space.

It is something I’m learning I need to do as I listen deeply to the messages within me that percolate into consciousness as I explore what it means to be leaving the full-time workforce for this yet undefined space of retirement.

I think, buried deep within me, is the fear that with open space I’ll do nothing with my life.

And doing something with my life has been a life-long driving force within me.

Which makes me smile and do a little happy dance as I acknowledge the dichotomy of that belief! I love living a life of purpose. I just don’t think it’s healthy to believe, as I have tended to do, that living ‘on purpose‘ is what makes my life and me, have meaning.

My purpose isn’t to make meaning or even to give meaning to my life. Every life has meaning because every life is important.

The purpose of being alive isn’t to live each moment on purpose. It’s to be purposeful in living each moment, taking each breath so that we can each live, actively engaged within the light and darkness of our lives, savouring the ascents and descents, the intricacies and simplicities.

Sometimes, my capacity to be actively engaged will be at 3. Sometimes at 10. And that’s okay as long as I am consciously living my 3 or 10 with love.

Ultimately, life’s meaning is not found in what we do. Its richness is discovered in the love that fills our hearts as we live each day.  It’s the how not the what.

We do not need to give meaning to our lives nor make meaning happen in our lives. The meaning is already there in our human presence.

As I’m learning as I journey along this transition road, life isn’t about filling each moment with things to do. It’s to be conscious of the value of the things I chose to do and to cherish the joy of being present in doing them.

Namaste.

 


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All Our Emotions. #ShePersisted. No. 35

No. 35 #ShePersisted
Mixed Media 11 x 14″
2017 Louise Gallagher

Years ago, when I was a newly minted manager of a communications department in a start-up tech company, I struggled with keeping my emotions in check when discussing difficult topics. During meetings with my boss, an A-Type personality, I would sit and try to explain what I was dealing with while he paced his office, continuously pitching a small rubber nerf ball into a basketball hoop he had set up on a sideboard.

I knew it was not okay to cry, but the more difficult the problem I was trying to sort out, the faster he would pace and the more unnerved I would become. Unnerved, my tears inevitably followed while I tried desperately to stuff them back down my throat.  He’d get upset by my display of emotion. I’d get upset with his rapidly escalating pacing and my inability to stop my emotions from stealing my voice and self-esteem.

It was not pretty.

One day, when I had to discuss a very challenging problem and needed his guidance, I knew the past would repeat itself if I did not do something different.

I took my own box of kleenex into the meeting.

In essence, I told him that my tears were simply part of my expression just as his pacing and throwing the ball into the hoop was part of his. At least this time he wouldn’t have to go searching for the kleenex box he kept in a drawer. I had my own.

The meeting went much better. He still paced but, having given myself permission to cry, my frustration eased and I was able to get through the meeting with my composure intact.

It was a great lesson, though many years later, I have still not perfected the art of giving myself permission to be okay with my emotions and how I express them. I still attempt in times of stress or discord, to control my emotions by stifling my truth.

The art is in giving myself permission to breathe and consciously invite myself to ‘open up to expansion’ so that I can express myself without censuring my truth, and thus my emotions. When I speak from my truth, without being attached to the outcome, I am free to express my thoughts without igniting emotional outbursts that undermine my power and presence.

Card No 35 #ShePersisted
All My Emotions

We are conditioned to think of some emotions as ‘bad’ while others we deem ‘good’. As we ‘grow-up’ and become more mature, we are counselled to not display too much of even those emotions deemed as good. All things in moderation, my dear. Don’t make a scene. Don’t be too emotional. You’ll make others feel uncomfortable.

There is no ‘good and/or bad’ in our emotions. There are just our emotions. How we express them is up to us.

We can’t control our emotions, but they can control us, when we do not heal the broken places within so that our emotions are expressed in safe and loving ways.

Anger, like laughter is simply an expression of how we are responding to the situation we face, in this moment right now. When our expression becomes radically greater than the moment in which we stand, our anger, and our laughter, are signs of something deeper within calling us to explore unhealed places. Pushing them down, ignoring their call, makes our angry or hysterical responses fight harder to be heard. In their fight for expression, we become a target of their need to act out, undermining our capacity to be fully present in the now.

This card is inviting you to explore your anger and laughter. Ask yourself, “Is my anger present based, or does it constantly simmer, just below the surface of my thoughts, waiting for opportunities to erupt?”  “Is my laughter genuine or am I hiding behind my ‘shadow laugh’, that nervous, automatic response I give when I am uncomfrotable, don’t know what to say or am telling myself I don’t belong. I am unworthy. Nobody likes me?”

Ultimately, expressing our emotions in loving and kind ways creates a world of loving kindness. When we allow our emotions to have unconditional reign over our lives, we are not present to ourselves or the moment. We are acting out from past hurts and pains, and letting ourselves off the hook of being accountable in the present.

To be accountable, we must face the darkness we fear within, and turn up in the light of today, expressing ourselves with loving kindness. Fully present, acting in all things with integrity including how we express our emotions, we create a world of peace and joy all around us.