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Downward Spiral

Have you ever had one of those moments where reality doesn’t match your expectations? Sometimes when this happens it’s easy to get stuck in a downward spiral. This happened to me recently. I was so excited to be accepted to present at the annual MEGT conference in Brainerd, Minnesota at the end of January. I know it seems strange to be excited about driving up to Brainerd in January, but this conference had been an annual event when I lived in Minnesota. It was a time to gather with my gifted colleagues and learn, chat, and socialize. I have great memories of this event. One year my kids came with and had so much fun ice skating, snowmobiling and swimming while I was at the conference. So I decided to invite my son to go with me. I figured it would be fun to have some company on the drive and we could also stop and see some old friends in Maple Grove. He could also film my presentation to create a speaker reel for me as part of his film studies project.

It didn’t take long for my perfect plans to begin to unravel. My son’s girlfriend is on the cheer team and he has become the team photographer. Of course their sectional competition just had to be the Saturday before my conference. Instead of being able to get to Minnesota early and have time with friends, we’d only have time for a quick stop on Sunday. We wouldn’t be able to snowmobile on Sunday either.

Making the best of it, I set up plans to have lunch with our friends in Maple Grove. Then came plot twist number two. Just as I was planning to head out, our clear skies turned into a winter warning. Snow shot at us from all directions as we slowly made our way up to our halfway point in Wisconsin. A trip that should have taken two hours, took four. Rather than being a time for leisurely conversation it was a stressful, white knuckle drive. The snow was still not completely cleared in the morning, adding to our travel time. Our lunch date with friends was shortened.

Fortunately, by lunch, the roads cleared, the sun shone and we had a great drive up to Brainerd. Things were looking up. I had my presentation ready, the car was packed with boxes of books to sell and I was ready for a great conference. I had high hopes of being able to connect with so many of my colleagues and share my story. Unfortunately the snow and other factors had impacted the conference planners' hopes as well. They hadn’t been able to get the number of attendees they had hoped for and the conference was small...really small.

Still, I set up my booth with enthusiasm. This was another great opportunity to meet people and share my story. The day was slow. I connected with a few people and sold a few books but my heart was heavy. I had spent way more to attend this conference than I was going to make. My vision of coming home with empty boxes was replaced with the reality that I would once again have to cart heavy boxes back to the car. My presentation went well, but not as I had hoped. I struggled to hang on to the enthusiasm I had during my planning. Time clicked by slowly as we sat idly at our booth. There was still the evening social so I had some hope left.

But then the final thread unraveled. As my son checked in with what he had missed at school, he found out a test had been scheduled in his AP psych class. This was not a good thing to miss. We had a long drive home and needed to leave within the next half hour to make it back at a decent time. There would be no evening social or last opportunity to connect with my colleagues at the conference. We quickly packed up, carted out our full boxes and headed home.

Feeling pretty discouraged, the first part of our drive was quiet. I reflected on my downward spiral as my son slept. When he woke up and was ready to take his turn driving, I decided to turn things around. I took a long, slow, deep breath. I decided to let go of any expectations and just enjoy the opportunity to talk with my son. I dropped my agenda of wanting to talk about college selection and decided to just listen. And that’s when the whole trip became worth it. Along the dark back roads of Wisconsin, we talked. Actually, he talked and I listened. Really listened. We connected and added nourishment to our relationship. I let go of the day and leaned into the opportunity in front of me at that moment.

As I shared with a neighbor my adventures, I felt good about my conversation with Ben, but I was still spiraling downward a bit about my conference. Always one to put a positive spin on things, my neighbor reminded me how lucky I was to have met with the people who were really committed. Now I could focus on connecting with people that could really use my story. I now had an opportunity to reach out and make meaningful connections which wasn’t as easy to do with a large crowd. She also reminded me that instant success takes about 20 years. In just a few minutes of listening to me and adding encouragement she helped me turn my focus around. Just a few minutes....

One of the things I learned in my story, Because of 4, was the importance of a few minutes and being in the moment. My mindfulness practice helped me be fully present when a student needed me. Sometimes it’s tough. Things happen and we get discouraged, we get stuck. But as my mom always says, “this too shall pass.” Mindfulness can help us get through difficult moments and recognize that they are just one moment in time. This weekend conference experience reminded me once again of this lesson. For most of the weekend I let my vision of how things had been in the past and my future visions consume my thinking. I wasn’t fully present in the moment. As a result, I probably missed some opportunities to connect and inspire others. It wasn’t until I slowed down, took a breath and focused on the present that I was able to truly appreciate the moment before me. I plan on taking some time to reflect on my reactions and how I let my emotions drive me off track. Mindfulness is a great tool for refocusing and finding balance again. While I wish I had done better, I gained some valuable lessons and insights about being in the moment.

Is there something that’s not going your way? Is something keeping you from being in the moment? Take a breath. Find a friend who can spin your downward spiral the other way. Take a few minutes to recharge yourself and allow yourself to let go and be in the moment.

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