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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

What If....

This was a week of both beginnings and endings - sometimes difficult to discern which was a beginning and what was an end. It’s Labor Day weekend, so that’s both an (unofficial) end of summer and back to the equilibrium that autumn brings with it.

Back in February, which feels like a lifetime ago, I posed a question on a Facebook women’s networking page asking if anyone had recommendations on who could design a logo for me. I had a kernel of an idea I wanted to bring to life in Virginia. I received numerous recommendations and then someone whom I worked with before made a recommendation.

I spoke with her recommendation on March 3rd - explaining I was moving and would regroup. I moved as COVID spread - lives tipped, shifted and upended. Ass over tea kettle. On April 15th, we learned that a bear had been spotted in our neighborhood and on June 5th, our backyard camera picked up a bear in our yard. On June 7th, we spotted a bear roadside. Andrea’s colleagues, some of whom had lived in Virginia their entire lives, exclaimed that they had never seen a bear - and here we were, 2 sightings in 2 days. A Facebook friend commented, “A bear must be your spirit animal!” I laughed but would find my thoughts returning to that comment.

A bear must be your spirit animal

I’d turn that phrase over in my mind until one day, I caved to the curiosity I googled to learn what a bear spirit animal represented. I learned what you might expect - that the bear represents strength. I also learned that the bear is symbolic of grounding & transformation. I also read…

When Bear comes wandering into your life, there are several things this Animal Spirit may be trying to tell you. Bear Spirit provides us with strength in times when we feel weak or helpless. Life can prove challenging, and Bear is up to the task – no matter the source. If you have been swallowing your words and compromising your vision, Bear’s message is, “Stay true.”

Sometimes Bear asks us to accept an authoritative role, not only directing our own lives but guiding others. Think of the height and weight of the Bear – it demands respect; this is not the time to “play dead” but rather engage and inspire!

Meanwhile, the COVID world spun on. I’ve often been asked many times in my human resources career, “What if?”

What if I have that difficult conversation with someone and then, this happens…

What if they get upset?

What if they quit?

I never engage in this - I say, “Well, we’ll talk about it when that happens.” Not to be dismissive of the person, but because I’ve never had what they’re worrying about happen.

In my mid to late 20s, I was gripped by crippling anxiety. I couldn’t extricate myself from it. Nothing worked – certainly not drowning it in alcohol, in spite of my best efforts.

In 1999, I heard a song by Baz Luhrmann called, Wear Sunscreen. I was transfixed by this verse:

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

I looked up the song online and learned that Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote it in 1997. I realized that worry was a waste of time but I couldn't quit worry.

Now at work, and in the world, the shape of worry took a new form.

What if I get COVID? What if I expose my family to COVID?

What if our employees get sick?

My answer didn’t change but I thought, COVID is the real trouble that never crossed our worried mind, the kind that blindsided us on an idle weekday afternoon. I also thought I needed a better answer.

I thought back that he dark time in my 20s when anxiety gripped me and I wondered how I could help people - how I could give them a better answer. I thought back to that kernel of an idea and it shifted and transformed. In early July, I was beginning a mindfulness based stress reduction course. My motivation was to help others – only, I’d strayed from mindfulness a bit and it turns out the class helped me. In mid-July, I reconnected with Morgan and I told her the story of the bear. My spirit animal. And how I wanted a bear to be my logo. I told her how I was going to get certified in coaching and incorporate mindfulness into it. Morgan didn’t laugh although it probably sounded a little crazy - well, the bear part anyway. Instead she was excited and she brought my idea alive in the form of a logo.

I learned of mindfulness during that dark time when I was trying to free myself from the grip of anxiety. Someone introduced me to the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. I had what they refer to in AA as “the gift of desperation” which meant I was willing to try anything – even if it meant getting very familiar with a Buddhist monk who lived a world away from me, near Bordeaux in southwest France.

I went to therapy where I learned boundaries. Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours. (Schmich)

I went to AA.

I meditated.

I read many, many Thich Nhat Hanh books and whatever AA told me to read. I read a book called Worry by a man named Ed Hallowell (who ironically lives in the metrowest area of Boston and runs a clinic there) and learned that we have a small window of time where worry is just about to take off and we can slam the window shut on it. I put that little mental image into a metaphorical tool kit that I assembled for use whenever "what if..." creeps in. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday (Schmich)

I respond to worry quickly, before it can take root. I frantically paw through that metaphorical toolbox. Sometimes, I go to a therapist for what I call a “tune up” – mainly because I sometimes have difficulty in distinguishing between “normal” worry and “holy shit you’re a fucking mess! Get help!” worry. I blame this confusion on what I went through in my 20s, my half sister long dead from suicide and my old man who died too young because his toolbox was filled with really bad beer.

Coaching is not therapy. Neither is mindfulness or meditation. But it’s a way to hone the answer to the “what ifs”. To respond to people in a helpful way. The past ten days – I got my pictures taken, gotten them back and the amazing Morgan Morgatize’d them and my website. I’m not quitting my day job – I have work to do there and am learning new tools to help enhance the work.


To become certified in coaching, you have to coach. A lot. I hope to do it at both at work and in my new community. And maybe, I can do it with you? We can build your tool kit together.

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