*Author’s note, 1/7/21: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly attributed these words to the Sufi mystic poet, Rumi; they are historically attributed to the Persian poet, Hafiz, another favorite Islamic poet of mine. I apologize for my confusion.

When I wrote to you last, we discussed how the words we choose, think, and share guide our ideas, beliefs, and intentions.

As the great Islamic poet Hafiz once said, “The words we speak become the house we live in.” Our words build the invisible, emotional space in which we reside, day in and day out, in this journey called life.

In that story, I invited you to choose 2-3 words to represent your “reset” intentions for the remainder of 2020. I received so many beautiful responses.

Here’s a snapshot of what you shared with me:

– Mindfulness and Gratitude (Charmaine L.)
– Walking with Spirit (Angela J.)
– Expand and Create (Kristen W.)
– Sthira and Sukha (Mary S.)
– Build Momentum to Change (Sam R.)
– Letting Go and Thriving (Jodie N.)
– Amen (Patty R.)

Thank you for sharing your “words” with me! If you didn’t get around to it already, you can still click Reply to this email and send me a short message with your words.

I’ll keep sharing them with our Self-Storied community as long as I keep receiving them.

Today, I thought I would offer a more personal check-in with what my life has been like so far in 2020 and what I’ve been up to since the pandemic unfolded in the spring of this year.

2020: “A Year for Breath and Breathing”

When we began 2020, I had selected the words “Elevated and Expanding” to represent my intentions for all facets of life, from business and relationship to creativity.

As I looked into 2020 from January, I desired “elevated” experiences and “expanding” opportunities. The energetic feel and vibe I craved was “upward” and “outward,” like a gradual but certain ascent. The words I chose represented feelings like newness, more-ness, and enough-ness in work, play, love, art, travel, and beyond.

Ironically, my chosen words for the year have also mirrored other themes of 2020: breath and breathing.

While I first used “elevated” and “expanding” to represent better quality of experiences in life, it struck me recently that “elevated” and “expanding” can also represent the physical motion and sensation of breath filling the lungs.

Breath and breathing have, of course, been persistent and gravitational themes throughout our world and our society this year:

  • The virus behind the pandemic afflicts the lungs and respiratory system of the body, literally robbing the body of breath.
  • The tragic last words of George Floyd, whose murder under the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer in May — and which sparked a renewed global reckoning with race and systemic discrimination in our society ever since — were, “I can’t breathe.”

As the year has unfolded and these world-shaking issues connected to breath and breathing have permeated all facets of life, I’ve been paying closer attention to my breath and my breathing.

When I used to teach and practice yoga, I was often reminded of how easy it was to take the breath for granted. We breathe instinctively and, most of the time, unconsciously. But, the practice of breathing deliberating — and giving thanks for the breath — is a wonder, a privilege, healing, and therapeutic.

As a person of many privileges — from white privilege to economic privilege to privileges of health and access to healthcare — I’ve never had or felt the experience of being robbed of breath, whether literally or figuratively.

In the last six months, I have wanted to honor, thank, and respect my breath, more frequently, and more sincerely.

Personal Practices

As a result of honoring the breath more deliberately, I began two new personal practices this spring that mirrored themes of strengthening, respecting, and nurturing my breathing.

First, in March, I decided to rethink my mantra-based meditation practice and switched instead to breathwork.

Specifically, I began to practice the infamous breath-retention technique of Wim Hoff, the so-called “Ice Man”, a multiple world-record-holder who advocates breath work (and cold water exposure) for their therapeutic qualities.

The practice begins with 30-40 seconds of active multi-part breath — strong inhales, strong exhales — through which you “charge” the body with excessive oxygen.

Then, you exhale the breath and hold your exhale for as long as you can. My best was reaching a 3-minute hold, but I usually prefer to casually hang out around the 1- to 2-minute marker these days. I repeat anywhere from just 3-5 rounds on a given morning and have maintained the practice almost daily for the last 120 days.

Second, I began another breath-based practice this year — one that I’ve always resented and resisted, and let slip from my health routines nearly a decade ago: distance running.

Without access to a gym or strength training since March, I first found myself walking, then jogging, then running three to four times per week since April. I’ve kept up the routine and have continued to run around three miles at least two to three times per week. I also completed a socially-distanced 5k charity fundraiser for Feed America with my best friend, Coral, in May.

Have you also been thinking about, nurturing, or giving thanks for your breath and breathing in 2020? If so, how?

Relationship and Inner Work

Earlier this month, I marked the 1-year anniversary of my first date with my partner, B. Throughout 2020, my relationship with B has held a really special place of importance in my life. Our partnership has been fueling my personal growth, emotional growth, and intellectual growth all year long.

But, at the beginning of 2020, I was still unaware of some lingering shadows — or, unconscious patterns and self-limiting beliefs — that were still affecting my outlook, self-perception, and interpretations of some aspects of relationship, all based on my prior relationship.

In that relationship, which I had ended in 2018, my former partner was dealing with some undiagnosed issues that, unbeknownst to me, were prevalent throughout the entire time of our relationship.

As a result, I had been deceived, emotionally manipulated, and gaslighted over much of a two-year span.

It was a painful burden that only a couple of people in my life were aware of. I tried to support my partner to get the help that she needed for most of a year. But with all trust broken between us, our relationship was destined to fail.

As a result of that toxic relationship, I had grown extremely sensitive to any perceived half-truth, lie, or manipulation. I would get triggered and become extremely self-protective, defensive, and closed-off if I perceived I was being misled or lied to in the slightest.

Thankfully, this year, I was able to register awareness for this subconscious self-protective response and immediately work on it.

I shared what the experience felt like for me with my partner, B, who was extremely understanding and supportive (she’s awesome). I also began to see a psychotherapist for the first time this year to help me treat those old stories and shadows, as well as to proactively support my mental health for the long-term.

I’m proud and excited to now have a burgeoning relationship to psychotherapy, and to be in the healthiest and most mature romantic relationship that I’ve ever been in.

Business Growth and Abundance

Another focus of my 2020 has been on my business — and, for the first time, falling in love with working for myself and running a business.

As you may know, I quit my job in 2009 with the dream of becoming a writer and author. But it wasn’t until 2012 that I actually began to (reluctantly, resistantly, hesitantly, haphazardly) stumble my way into running a business. I told myself it was only ever to support my dream of writing and authoring books.

What I didn’t realize those 8 years ago?

A slew of shame scripts, self-sabotaging behaviors, and an overarching “fear of success” (rooted in low self-esteem) were holding me back from fully committing to my business and what it means to be a business owner.

Part of me always hoped I’d fall face-first into a ton of money so I wouldn’t “have to” run a business or work for myself.

But I see now that that wasn’t a real hope or dream, it was a way in which I was trying to “skip ahead” of hard, uncomfortable, difficult learning curves. Deep down, I was worried I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to succeed in business.

Today, I’m proud to report that my business — which, borrowing the name of my first book, is called Lead Without Followers, LLC. — is more profitable than ever.

Better yet, I have a vision for growing it into something slightly bigger than just being a business that’s entirely run and operated by me.

Best of all, I’m actually loving being a business owner for the first time in my life!

As a result of having taken a very, very slow road to developing a profitable and sustainable business — and making countless mistakes along the way — and turning things around for the better,

If I had quashed my own insecurities and low self-esteem sooner, I might have gotten a lot more of the help that I needed to learn how to run a business and support myself fully.

But, over the last few years in particular, I’ve been facing that avoidance and have totally turned around not only my outlook but my reality.

I know that a lot of creatives dream of living with more meaning and purpose are similar to how I once was: struggling to honor their desires to share their voices and be of service in the world, while somehow still managing to pay the bills and live beyond the poverty line.

That’s why I’m now considering writing more about business and entrepreneurship from a perspective of encouraging and supporting your self-storied journey.

For example, I’m considering writing more about topics like the abundance-mindset, how to tactically escape cycles of scarcity (including debt and bad habits I’ve seen countless creatives engage in), and how to earn more from creative side-hustles like writing and freelancing (without selling out on your purpose, mission, service, or dreams).

I would love to start sharing principles, practices, concepts, mindset-shifting prompts, and practical tools that have helped me redefine my story around money, worth, abundance, and earning.

My hope is that they could also help you shift your relationship to earning, income, and financial solvency.

My newsletter and my work will not suddenly “only become about making money” or any other departure from what you’re used to.

Think about this subject matter as a potential addition to the curated resources and self-guided approaches that I already write about: the skills, practices, and mindset to support your self-storied life.

What do you think about this idea? Do you have any interest in stories, resources, and guidance around the abundance mindset, financial well-being, etc.?

Please hit reply to this email and let me know that you’d be interested in those stories!

(And if you’re not? Tell me that too. I want to know, and why!)

For me, being free and self-guided in this life is only as good in theory as it is in practice, and if I can help support your business, side-hustles, and debt-free life, I would really love to.

2020 So Far, In Summary

It’s been a challenging year for so many people. I consider myself to be one of the privileged and the lucky. I have been graced with fantastic coaching clients all year long. I am in the healthiest relationship of my entire life. I am healthy and well.

Even still, I have felt the weight of the challenges and anxieties of this year.

I have felt really dismayed, scared, frustrated, and depleted. There are days when I think to myself that I’m losing faith in the goodness of people, or worry that the weight of the issues our world is facing is too great.

But one of the greatest privileges of my life is writing to you. And your presence here, your messages, and your readership are one of the things that continually reaffirms that the world is full of amazing people — the overlooked 99.99% of goodness — and that we’re all doing our best and trying our hardest, even if it can seem like otherwise.

That’s why I’m working harder than ever behind the scenes to keep serving you, and my clients, and my own little corner of the online world with more, greater, and better resources, stories, programs, and supports.

“Elevated and expanding.”

In light of what 2020 has been so far, and no matter what may come of the rest of this year or any of the years that follow, I am more determined than ever to support your journey.

I believe in your self-storied life.

I believe that the story you tell becomes the life that you live.

I believe that the story that we can tell, collectively, together, still holds the most profound potential for healing, for growth, for abundant living.

Breathe deeply, breathe steadily, dear friend.

This story that we are telling together has only just begun.


PS — Don’t forget, I’m still accepting new coaching clients, but spaces are limited for the rest of 2020. Check out Writer’s Group of Two, creative coaching and peer review for writers, and The Self-Storied Life (formerly The Unavoidable Life), where life coaching blends with shadow work to inspire integrated, illuminated growth in career, relationships, and creativity.