Author Archives: Alexandra Levin
Author Archives: Alexandra Levin
A fellow blogger asked us to participate in this quiz (see Saddles to Shorelines for her answers)…so I’d better get my answers out before I get too much into this New Year!
I’ll share my thoughts from the Alexandra side of the Founders of The Back Forty Fliers…and you can see Darrell’s here.
One of the biggest highlights of 2016 for me was moving into and settling in our new condo (affectionately called Home Sweet Play Pad), after spending a year creating, manifesting, and finding our perfect home. It has become the oasis of joy, coziness, and endless view of the Pacific Ocean.
Another great highlight was getting our Professional Certified Coach certification from the ICF after completing 2 years of preparation and study.
I will always remember 2016 as a year of manifesting and moving into our home.
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.” – Iain Thomas
We don’t make resolutions, instead Darrell and I have our Created 2017. We spend (as we always do) some good quality time in December creating our intentions and results for 2017. Darrell and I have plans for the growth of The Back Forty, deepening of our relationship, and our individual personal and professional growth. Also every year I create a theme for the year and 2017 is the Year of Joyful Expansion. I am very excited to see what that will bring.
With new friends and neighbors, and great music, drinks, food, and watching fireworks over the ocean.
Expansion of The Back Forty, deepening of my relationship, and personal and professional growth.
Anyone is welcome to join in, and share your answers to or thoughts about the above questions.
As we were settling in into our new condo, Darrell and I decided to buy a little corner bar. One of those cool pieces that look built in, only they’re not.
Purchasing most of the other furniture came easy: we researched, found what we wanted, and bought it.
After two months of relentless searching for the right one, it was nowhere to be found. We spent hours searching online. We looked at several dozen different models. We went to stores and talked to salespeople. Nothing worked. Nothing came close to what we thought would be perfect.
I was resigned that we wouldn’t find the perfect piece. Darrell was frustrated that nothing we saw was good enough. Actually, truth be told, Darrell is a bit less particular than me, and could have been satisfied with a lot of these earlier options. I’m more of a stickler for the exact fit.
Last week while taking an evening walk, we talked about our seeming inability to find just the right bar.
I said, with an intention to make us feel better, “It’s ok. I always thought that the bar would be hard to find, and that it could take a lot of time and be pretty expensive.” That was true – deep in my mind I was always convinced that finding the perfect bar would be a difficult and time-consuming project.
Darrell paused…and said, “Do you know, with that belief, it is no wonder we can’t find anything that will work for you…”
In that moment, I got it. He was right. In my mind, I created an idea that the perfect bar would be hard to find and expensive. Therefore, the Universe was proving me right: it was. With that mindset, no wonder we couldn’t find what we wanted.
“Would you be willing to give up the idea that it will be hard to find?”, Darrell continued. Convinced as I was in the rarity of the item in question, I was willing. I do enjoy a good game of mind control and miraculous manifestation.
That night, after his regular few minutes per day of searching for a perfect bar, Darrell showed me a picture of something that looked ideal – a perfect fit, and at a fraction of the price I had expected to pay. Although it was about an hour drive from our home, we decided to call them up and discuss it.
With what sounded like a description matching the picture of perfect fit, we gambled with renting a truck and drove up the next day.
It turned out to be true: the only bar in two months that came even close to what we wanted.
As soon as I gave up my (very unhelpful) mental idea, we found a perfect piece…easily and somewhat effortlessly.
This gave me another perfect opportunity: to look where else is my mindset in the way of my getting what I want in my Back Forty, my second half/best half of life.
Regular practice of meditation has become a norm for many people – it is no longer the “strange” practice “strange” people talk about; many people meditate in the privacy of their own home. The benefits of meditation are so well and vastly known, that there’s no need to rehash them here.
But what about meditating in the camaraderie of the company where you work? What about using the insights and awareness to be gained from meditation for professional and organizational growth?
“Let me tell you what I got while meditating today…” was a phrase frequently heard from a CEO I know during his executive team meetings. It’s an unusual phrase to hear at a leadership meeting, but what if this became the norm? What if we tapped into this intelligence as organizations, not just as individuals?
This might be a part of creating The Back Forty of an entire organization, vs the second-half-of-life transformations that only individuals now enjoy. What if organizations as a whole could create a radical and purposeful future distinct from their past and access yet untapped potential through conscious practices such as this?
More and more companies are starting mindfulness programs. Google, Aetna, Target, and General Mills are among the organizations encouraging employees to meditate while providing environments and programs to support mindfulness. Even the United States Marines introduced “M-Fit” – a military initiative that teaches Marines secular meditative practice of mindfulness in order to improve emotional health and mental performance during combat.
The most important key to success for such an initiative is not just buy-in from the top, but total ownership, direction and guidance from the organization’s leadership. Leaders can’t just say “Ok, let’s try it” without a whole-hearted dive personally into the world itself.
For an organization with the type of leadership that has the eyes to see and the ears to hear, these are 5 simple ways to bring meditation into your organization.
For those employees that have not meditated before, here is a way to start. Sit up straight in your chair, straighten your back, put your feet flat on the ground and your hands on your lap, and relax your shoulders. Take 10 relaxed, deep, slow breaths, and focus on the breathing. Everyone will report feeling more refreshed, recharged, and clear after taking on this practice.
Of course, if someone has their own office, they might close the door with a little note saying “In for Meditation: Refreshed in 5 Minutes!” If in the middle of a big, open cubicle set up, perhaps either ear plugs can block out the ambient noise or there might be a conference room designated for only meditation breaks and “No Chit Chat Allowed…Except Within Yourself”.
From years in the corporate world, we all know how much time is wasted in meetings where, instead of moving towards the organization’s vision and addressing challenges, only more stress and frustration is created.
Giving an entire group a moment to “check in” with themselves and the intent of the meeting can serve for improved focus and initial alignment.
Sounds weird? Rethink, and trail-blaze. My invitation is to start now – the results will speak for themselves, and it will sound less weird next year. Before you know it, it will become a common practice across the corporate world and your organization will have benefitted the most and earliest.
Implementing a regular practice of starting the meetings with a one-minute meditation will help create a sense of teamwork, collaboration and partnership, as well as increase focus and effective decision making. The result will be shorter and more productive meetings.
Success begins with the CEO. Be bold.
It can simply be a small office in a quiet area. There are abundant conference rooms – why not have a meditation room?
By offering a space to meditate, companies can empower employees to manage their own stress and well-being, and offer a quiet space to those employees who do not have a private office, or who would prefer to meditate someplace other than their office.
This can easily be accomplished with a variety of available guided meditation resources and music, utilizing the audio equipment owned by most companies
I spoke with Darrell W. Gurney, a career and executive coach (www.CareerGuy.com) who recently worked with two executives dealing with stress and personality conflicts with other employees and clients. Highly valued employees, yet both were close to losing their jobs because of their behavior. As part of working with them as an executive coach, Darrell taught them to meditate.
Darrell says both executives resisted at first, but as they gradually began a practice, their transformation was abundantly evident. Their meditation practice created an internal shift, which impacted their behavior for everyone to see.
As a result, both employees demonstrated completely new attitudes and got back onto productive paths noticed by both co-workers and clients. According to one of the executives, this transformative work “opened my eyes to an entirely new level of self-awareness which has enabled me to lead a more fulfilling life. From learning to take more responsibility for my actions to learning way of finding inner peace.” The CEO said “it was like a 180-degree turn-around.”
Bringing meditation to work is easy. Don’t complicate it. Start anywhere from the above points 1-5. Just pick your favorite and go from there.
As we finish putting away everything we didn’t know we needed but bought for Christmas or Hanukkah, we realize that – ZOOM – New Year has come up FAST and, with that, our habit of making New Year resolutions.
Lots of people make New Year resolutions. Many are addicted to making New Year resolutions because they make us feel good…even if only for a few fleeting moments. Also, we engage in this antiquated practice because we really, really… like REALLY want to have them accomplished.
We get excited, even giddy… and start making plans. Then, when we outline our perfect goals, objectives and execution plans, we get more excited still.
Finally, eagerly and impatiently, we wait for Jan. 1 to come so we can start to make things happen. Now THIS will be a really great year!!!
Coming back to Earth from Cloud 9, here are some interesting statistics…
What is it that makes New Year resolutions fail so massively and miserably (No Go)?
And more importantly – what can YOU do to make sure YOUR resolutions become realities in 2017 (Go)?
Here are 6 choices you can make immediately – NOW Resolutions, “no optimistic waiting” until Jan. 1 – to make 2017 a radical, purposeful, and successful Back Forty year.
Go: Get crystal clear on what did and did not work last year, what “mistakes” you made in the past, and glean everything you can from them. Mistakes = Learning Opportunities…no more, no less. Do it The Back Forty way – use what you have learned to grow your success. Then put the past in the past, so that the road to a successful future is wide open and clear.
Go: Create your future in an empowering context, a future that enlivens, inspires and lights you on fire. Having a strong, fit, and fabulous body for that vacation on St. Thomas is much more inspiring than working out 3 times a week – don’t you think?
Go: What works is having specific structures breaking down your major objectives into goals, plans, and specific measurable results you intend to accomplish, all scheduled in your calendar with specific dates and times. Also important is taking into account and planning for the resources you’ll need to accomplish your goals. (Want to learn to play the piano? Make sure you plan for getting a teacher, instrument to play, time to take lessons and practice, necessary funds, etc.)
Go: Get FULLY in the game – not 100%, but 200%. Being committed and making promises – and keeping them – work. Remember Martina Navratilova’s clarity on this: “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” Commitment is key to having your second half of life being the best half.
Go: Get an accountability buddy! Someone you talk to every week or every day. Make promises to each other and hold each other accountable for keeping those promises.
Go: If you are REALLY committed to fulfilling on your New Year resolutions – get a coach. Achieving your resolutions will require you to create brand new habits and practices, and to see yourself in a brand new way. Coaches are experts in supporting you in doing just that, keeping your promises and realizing your goals. In the words of Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys football coach, “a coach is someone who makes you do what you don’t want to do so that you can be who you always wanted to be.”
Shortly after moving into our off-white-walled condo, Darrell and I decided to have a Paint-cation. We wanted fun colors and faux finish on our walls without spending tons of money on hiring someone to do it.
As soon as we moved in, I kept talking about how we could – with no problem because I did it 15 years ago – paint and faux finish our small condo ourselves…so we decided to take the Thanksgiving holiday to do it! (Luckily for us, my amazing mom hosted Thanksgiving dinner, so all we needed to do was to show up for a few hours).
Darrell and I spent four 16-hour days prepping and painting. Here’s what I learned from our Thanksgiving Paint-cation.
John F. Kennedy made famous a story told by Irish writer Frank O’Connor, where he and his friends “would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they would take off their hats and toss them over the wall – and then they had no choice but to follow them.”
We got our supplies, painted color samples on the wall, and picked our colors.
Then I tested my faux finish technique… and it sucked!!! Doubt crept in… should I have kept my mouth shut? Should we have hired professionals? Did I get us in over our heads? Were we now papered and taped and all dressed up with no place to faux?
Doubt is a familiar guest in my mental household, and by now it was having a party with friends.
So, fueled by the amount of time and money we already spent on this project – as well being committed to vibrant color on our walls – I gave myself a pep talk and set out to watch every Faux-Finish How To Video I could find! I then practiced diligently on large planks of cardboard harvested from a big screen TV box in the dumpster.
After multiple attempts and lots of forgiveness, I mastered a technique that ended up turning our bedroom alive! Purple is my favorite color, and ragging purple glaze over deeper purple base on the bedroom walls was probably the most fun I ever had painting anything!
I committed blindly and without knowing all the particulars…and found a way to get to the result.
Taping is the most boring part of any painting project. I thought it would take me half a day to tape out our place before starting to paint.
On the contrary, it took three times that amount…hours and hours of tedious, never-ending, detailed, and annoying work. It delayed the start of our actual PAINT-cation by 2 days!
The ever-present self-critic reared its ugly head again in this case as well. It said “You should have known better. You messed up the schedule. How in the world will we get it done on time now?”
I’ve learned to unlearn all that built this inner critic: the childhood pressures to be good, look good, be nice, do things right. So, I set out to forgive, forgive, forgive…and kept my fingers working.
In The Back Forty we “play first”: GO FOR IT without having everything worked out or having all the answers ahead of time. Figure it out as we go. So that’s what I did. And, though it didn’t fit my preconceived pictures or timeline, it all DID get done anyway!
Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing in the middle of the living room, with glaze in one hand and a sea sponge in the other, about to start another faux experiment that would shape the whole experience for people walking into our home…when once again I was paralyzed by my frequent visitor – doubt!
“What if I mess it up? I did the bedroom ok, but everyone sees the living room. Should I use the rag here too since I know how to use it better, even though we wanted to sponge for a different effect? Oh my god, what did I get myself into!!!”
Then, just when I could use some outside-voice interruption, Darrell said: “Don’t worry about it, babe. We’re doing this for us. Have fun. Go play with it.”
Something shifted on a dime. The wall became a playground with the glaze and sponge simply toys. I became an artist playing with color, moving along the wall with my sponge to the beat of the music playing. I became an artiste’!
Our rooms are fairly small as we bought the place for the high-rise view of the ocean, not the size. By choice, the colors on our walls are rather deep, which can close down a smaller room even more.
At some point in the middle of our project, a dear friend suggested that we add painter’s sparkle to the walls for added effect and to make the rooms feel lighter.
Sparkles!!! I had never heard of painter’s sparkle, but you didn’t need to ask me twice. A little research – again thanks to YouTube How Tos – and a trip to the hardware store resulted in Darrell with his roller adding a coat of sparkle on top of the paint in both rooms.
Sparkle on our walls was the best unexpected outcome of our Paint-cation…and I get a twinkle every time I see what our Thanksgiving Paint-cation taught me.
The point of it all: In our second half of life, it is so easy to not take risks, not play first, and stay in our easy, well-worn comfort zones of doubt, second-guessing and need to “look good.” Yet, I find that I get the most juice in life when I DO step out, take risks, and play first ANYWAY.
“Oh… so you are an empty nester…” (sad face).
Well, no. Actually, I am a free bird!
That’s a choice I made when my daughters were both about to move away to college at the same time.
I’ve listened to friends lament on how empty their house feels with their kids in college: their childhood rooms vacant, the void in their life, unfulfilled expectations on children coming back to visit, returning phone calls, etc.
I realized this very clearly: I was NOT interested in living my prime years as if the best of life was behind me, nor burdening my kids with any expectations that somehow they were responsible for my joy, happiness, or fulfillment.
Eeeeeew! Not my cup of The Back Forty tea!
We’ve all heard “Let them fly” said as a consoling and empowering way to hold our children growing up and moving on. So, I say this to us: “Let US fly!!!”
Therefore, as my daughters spent a year designing their college career, I spent a year creating what my life will look like after they move out! Where do I want to live? What environment do I want to live in? What will I do that will be an expression of my passion and purpose in this next/best half of my life?
Two months after they moved out of our 14-year family home, I moved out too. Together, we had ALL set out on creating the next era of our life.
This Thanksgiving season, I am profoundly present to my deep gratitude for my daughters, our relationship, and the deep love and appreciation we hold for each other. I am immensely grateful for their opportunity to go to college and their freedom to build a life of their own design, unconstrained by external expectations and unencumbered by feelings that MY happiness or satisfaction depends on them.
Do I miss them? Of course!!! Do I delight in seeing them every chance I get? Absolutely!!! I cherish every moment I get to spend with them. Yet as part of giving my daughters the space to spread their wings and fly free, I created the same kind of freedom for myself and my own second half/best half of life. Just as they are creating their life and future, I am overjoyed that I get to create my Back Forty Future of my own design…with the zest an excitement of a twenty-year-old!
When my daughters return a phone call or text, and when they work out coming home from college to join our family for Thanksgiving dinner, it is a gift, a joy and a blessing – not an obligation or dutiful fulfillment of an expectation.
I am blessed. I am deeply grateful. And I have a kick-ass playful, passionate and purposeful Back Forty ahead of me! Rock on radically free birds!!
I’ve gotten divorced twice…and twice found myself facing the same curious situation.
All of a sudden, many of the people I’ve been friends with for years just drop off. We didn’t get into a fight or disagree. We just stopped spending time together. I have wondered ‘why’ for years, and I think I may have finally figured it out for myself. Can you relate to my own answer?
Part of the reason for my second and more recent divorce, in particular, was that my then husband and I had grown and changed in ways incompatible or inconsistent with continuing the marriage. Sometimes society calls it “growing apart.” Even the path itself, leading to the difficult and final decision of divorce, was for me a path of massive growth and change. I looked the same, but I was not the person I used to be – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My evolvement in becoming more and more of who “I” am — as an individual — was afoot, and probably became pronounced in my ways of being in the world.
I realize now that it must have been very challenging for my longtime friends to have found, all of a sudden, that the person they used to be friends with (the married Alexandra) didn’t live here anymore. I look the same, but something was significantly different, and they can’t quite put a finger on it. This must be tough…to see somewhat of a stranger inhabiting your once-known-friend’s body.
So, it gives me peace-of-mind to now understand that it isn’t like my friends no longer want to spend time with me: it’s simply that the Alexandra they used to hang with left town and there is a new and evolved “me” they have the opportunity (choice) to now meet and know. Like a very real budding friendship with someone new, they probably simply feel a bit apprehensive and in heightened-alert.
Thank God for those willing — after many years of what, in the first half of life, can become same o’ same o’ relationships — to explore a Back Forty of getting to know and grow with the new beings we all have the opportunity to become. Some have come around, and some (God bless them) may not. Using words from an unknown author, whether old friends or new, “let the friends be the friends of your deliberate choice.”
I’ve been sharing with you that I am in love with my wrinkles. Here’s how I got to fall in love with them…
It all hit me one sunny Sunday morning as Darrell and I were making our way through Los Angeles traffic. I thought about how I have been transformed by the gift of my life’s challenges, wins and losses, and how much I love the older and wiser version of my Self that I have become. I saw that my wrinkles are not only part of the package that came with those life experiences, but they were the very stripes and awards earned due to them. I realized that who I am today is inseparable from the wrinkles that formed me.
Every wrinkle, every experience, every lesson I learned and challenge I faced, contributed to making me exactly who I am today. All the gifts and talents I now possess and use to create my life according to my own design, to live it on my own terms, and to contribute to others are represented in those wrinkles. Because of everything I claimed along with the territory of those wrinkles, I am now creating my own inspiring, playful, passionate, and radically purposeful second half of life.
According to the Ancient Art of Chinese Face Reading, when we erase our wrinkles, we erase our gifts. Our wrinkles show how we have lived our life and even what we are designing in our future. Horizontal lines on the face are signs of lessons learned in life when we experience challenging times. This philosophy states that, if we remove those wrinkles, we lose the lesson… which means we may encounter the same challenge again to re-learn the lesson. Now why would we want to do that!
My wrinkles remind me of my growth, the path I have traveled, and who I am becoming. They serve as road signs alerting me to utilize my choice of who I want to be. They wake me up daily to the power I have to transform who I am as a matter of my word and commitments.
In The Back Forty, we propose that we have all chosen the specific experiences and events of our lives to create a laboratory for research and development which, when assessed, allow us to discover what we are really here to do.
My wrinkles remind me of the lab experiments I chose to conduct in my life to gain the gifts, the learnings, and the growth I now possess.…which give me the keys to an exciting, joyful, and radical Back Forty – my second half – and to living it on my own terms.
I am in love with my wrinkles.
And I invite YOU to fall in love with YOURS.
Click here to read part one.
As I mentioned before, I am in love with my wrinkles. I have shared a couple of my favorite wrinkles with you, and here are a couple more…
I earned another set of wrinkles when, at 25, I found myself in a lifeless marriage with my first husband and the father of our daughters. Married for eight years, I had tried everything I knew to make the marriage work.
The wrinkles started to appear when I felt like I had to choose between my daughters having their parents together or me being happy. More showed up when I finally chose to get a divorce.
What I learned with those wrinkles is that I deserve to be happy, and that I am the only one responsible for that happiness.
I’m keeping that batch of wrinkles for sure.
More stripes were earned a few years ago when I found myself at the end of a 14-year good (second) marriage gone bad. I had been stuck for the last three years, married to a man who turned emotionally unstable and verbally abusive. I doubted myself and my value. I questioned the viability of my gifts and talents. I forgot how capable I really was. He had me convinced that I would not survive without him…and told me so regularly.
Those wrinkles emerged as I went through the eye of a needle to find the keys to getting unstuck. Why was I staying stuck in a marriage that I really wanted to be free from? I found the answer in the process of reviewing a manuscript for a then friend of mine, Darrell Gurney. He had asked me and several others to give him feedback on his unpublished manuscript, The Back Forty: 7 Critical Embraces for Life’s Radical Second Half.
Take a peek at what I saw:
I am 19, on that plane out of Russia… I am scared and alone… wondering if I will ever see my parents again… wondering if I am making a mistake… and I am on my way to the freedom that our family so sorely dreamed of for 13 years… yet, I am afraid of going out into this new free world by myself… I am actually afraid of freedom.
To that 19-year old, freedom looked scary. At that moment of realization, I saw clearly that what kept me stuck in the marriage was a 19-year-old, scared of the freedom she wanted so badly. However, now I was no longer a scared 19-year-old. That story was complete… so I put it back where it belonged, in the past.
Becoming freed up from this past-based fear of freedom, within a day I told my husband that we would be getting divorced and declared that it would be amicable. Within a few months, I was out of that that marriage… as well as that mindset of fear around my own freedom.
What I gained along with those wonderful wrinkles was the confidence that I can not only survive, but thrive on my own. I wasn’t sure how I would make it at first, and yet I knew that I would. Within a few short months, I realized that I could stand financially and mentally on my own two very capable feet.
We all have wrinkles. We can choose to hide or get rid of them, or we can choose to embrace them. Here is why I am in love with some of my favorite wrinkles, and why I invite you to fall in love with yours.
I got my very first wrinkle at 19. I was an only child of doting Jewish parents, both a mama’s and daddy’s girl at the same time. I was protected and taken care of. Our family had attempted to leave communist Russia for 13 years (since I was 6) and the government consistently refused. Twice a year we applied for exit visas, and twice a year we were denied. Then, at 19, I was unexpectedly given permission to leave Russia… but on my own, without my parents.
Fast forward three months, and I find myself on a plane leaving Leningrad. I was 19, feeling desperately alone in the world, terrified, and not knowing if I would ever, EVER see my parents again.
That is how I obtained my first wrinkle. What I got with it was the gift that, at 19, I learned how strong I really was: that I was capable beyond my own imagination, that I could do anything. I received THAT learning and lifelong insight out of the most devastating experience of my teenage years.
I am definitely keeping that wrinkle.
More favorite wrinkles formed when my 20-year-old daughter was planning to travel to Israel right in the middle of a war. Everyone in my family questioned me as a mother for allowing her to go, and demanded that I stop her.
I did a lot of soul searching. How would I live with myself if I didn’t stop her from going and yet…? I could not even let myself think beyond the yet. Scary. What if everyone was right, and I was wrong, and it was my job as a mother to stop her? What if…?
Yes, of course, I wanted my daughter to be safe, and yet I also wanted her to know that she is free – given our family fought so hard for our freedom. What lesson would my daughter be learning if someone else (even her mother) had more power over her choice than she did? After all, I had been given the gift of a tough choice myself at about her age. Then I made a decision: I told my daughter that I trusted her to choose for herself and that I would support her in that choice. My daughter chose to go.
This sweet basket of wrinkles revealed themselves when I took that stand for my daughter and her right and ability to make choices in her own life.
Because of those wrinkles, my daughter went to Israel and had the most profound experience of her life. It formed within her a passion for travel that now has her just returning from her second summer-long backpacking trip to Europe, writing a travel blog, and making spectacular travel videos.
At age 20, my daughter learned that she can trust herself with life-impacting decisions… and, more importantly, that she has a voice and a choice.
That is a bunch of wrinkles I wouldn’t trade for anything.