January review/February preview

At the beginning of January, I posted about upcoming projects. At the beginning of February, I posted this on my Patreon! If you’d like to see what I’m up to in a more timely manner, I definitely recommend the Patreon. One of the benefits is you’ll see posts theoretically a week early, but actually more like a week and a half, since I am forever struggling with herding those to-doodles. This version of the post is updated to add details that have developed in the last 12 days. Phew! What a moving target life is.

One reason I’m going to keep up with the review/preview posts through 2018 is because I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself, not attain those unrealistic goals, and then feel like a failure. I would like to start documenting my goals and my work, so that I can bring my goal-setting more into alignment with my actual available time, energy, and financial resources.

This will be particularly important in this upcoming year because my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program starts this month. (Yes!) Update: Today! It starts today! Once I hit publish on this post, I’ll be hopping over to the UofMelbourne site to get started on my readings!

I work with people to help them develop sustainable self-care strategies and to help them make progress on the goals that are important to them. I want to help myself in that way, too. And the first thing I tell almost every client is – start noticing. If a client came to me with my life and asked for help, I would say – Notice what you’re asking of yourself, notice what you’re accomplishing, notice how it feels, notice what choices you’re making to support and care for yourself. See it, name it, make space for it.

So that’s what I’m doing in these monthly posts, and I’m hoping to keep that up throughout this year.

So here’s what I accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) in January, and what’s on tap for February.

– The Caring for Neurodivergent Kids book club has soft-launched. The Facebook group has been created, and the first book has been chosen. We’ll be reading No You Don’t by Sparrow Rose Jones, the author of Unstrange Mind. There is still space available in the book club, so if you’re in Calgary and interested, let me know! Our first meeting will be happening at the end of February. If you’re not in Calgary, or not able to attend, I’ll still be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on the blog. Update: mid-March for the first meeting, so that we have time to read the book, which hasn’t arrived yet.

– The Extroversion and Self-Care/Mental Health resource is progressing slowly. We ran into a few hiccups with scheduling because January was full of migraines and illness for myself and the people I was trying to coordinate with. It’s progressing, though! And there is definitely still opportunity to get involved, if you’re interested. Update: I had an absolutely fantastic interview with someone for this project, and have a refined vision of what kinds of issues to include in the resource. Namely, the expectation placed on extroverts to be perpetually resilient and constantly available.

– The collaboration with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, has a name. Well, This Sucks will be a resource to help support that self-care and recovery process for folks following sexual assault – both the survivors and the people supporting them. I’m not 100% ready to reveal the major changes to the plan but trust me when I say… it grew exponentially. It started as a plan for a downloadable resource, similar to other resources I create on specific topics, and over the course of this month, during discussions between Domini and I, and one really fantastic interview with a community member, it grew. And it grew in ways that made my therapist say “wow, that sounds really exciting!” Domini and I are heading out of town for a day of planning, budgeting (yes, it has become a plan that requires a budget), and preliminary-outlining. I’ll have more to share after we get back! Update: Ye gods, is there a lot to share. This will be a whole post. 

– The Bad Gender Feels resource is also slowly progressing. Very slowly, but that’s okay.

– The January Possibilities event was great, and the Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers resource was posted earlier this week. In February, we’ll be talking about Self-Care in Queer Relationships. I think the upcoming discussion and resulting resource will be important, and I’m really excited about it.

– The February Self-Care Salon will feature Rein Sastok presenting on self-care for teachers and other child-centric professionals, with the conversation also extending to parents, stepparents, and other carers. To be honest, I have been struggling with the Self-Care Salons – attendance is low, and I have yet to cover the costs of renting the space and paying the guest speakers. Update: This was cancelled. We are still going to generate a resource, to be completed in May, with companion modules for professionals and parents/stepparents/non-parent carers.

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care has launched, and I am really happy with how it’s going! I also had the realization, as I finalized the Week Two content earlier this week, that once I’ve run each of the four core courses this year, I will have 200+ pages of work, which could form the backbone of a book on self-care. That’s not something I’m committing to, it’s just sort of floating around in my head as a thing that could happen.

– Speaking of books… the 100 Love Letters book is… still going to be happening. I did make some progress on it this month – I won that package of coaching sessions for writers back in December and I had the first coaching call on January 18. I’ll be slowly (emphasis on slowly, and on low pressure) moving ahead with this project.

– I haven’t made a ton of progress on pulling my work off of Facebook and onto the blog more consistently. For some reason, that extra step just feels overwhelming. I am considering figuring out some kind of content management system that will let me cross-post to multiple platforms at once. But I’m not 100% sure when I’m going to do that so… we’ll see. But I do know that many of my favourite people have fled the mess that is the books of face, and I want to stay connected. It’s simmering in the back of my head. I’ll figure something out, but I’m not sure what or when.

– I started working on the disenfranchised grief project(s). There is a set of grief-related projects that are coming up. One is a resource on sibling loss, and I’m collaborating with a new friend, who has lost a sibling, on that project. We’ve started pulling notes and resources together. Another is on the loss of someone who is addicted or street-involved, because that grief is so complicated by our victim-blaming culture. And the third is a project on anticipatory grief. This is all in the preliminary stages, but I’m including it here because it’s been floating to the front of my mind pretty regularly this month and I’ve spent time and energy on it.

– I’ve kept up with the Tender Year posts, and am posting those on my personal facebook page (almost) every day! I’m really proud of this project, and of the fact the three of us collaborating on the project have stuck with it for 120+ days so far. I don’t know what will come of this work, but I am excited about it either way.

And in terms of new goals and projects for February.

– That Master program thing. I’ll be doing a lot of reading in February, but I won’t have my first written assignment due until early March. Would patrons be interested in hearing about what I’m reading and learning? I will definitely have to slow down on the output of my other writing (look, aiming for sustainability!) and this would be one way to keep up my end of the Patreon deal. (I will still be producing the Possibilities resource and the Patreon reward posts each month, and I’ll still be working on the other resources, just a bit more slowly.)

– I’m going to take one day off every week this month. That’s not an “output” goal but I think it is important to take note of. I had hoped to do that in January and it just fell apart after the … honestly, I only managed it one week in the whole month. So, I’m putting it here as part of the accountability part of this project. Update: Lol. BUT! I am trying. This week, for sure. For sure!

– I have two outstanding Patreon reward posts for January, and one Patreon supporter whose birthday is in February who has asked me to do something super terrifying rather than write them a reward post. So, I’ll be catching up on those two posts and also considering the absolutely mortifying idea of setting up some kind of crowdfunding for the financial gap I’m looking at over the course of this year. I will, even if I don’t set up any crowdfunding, definitely be writing about the process. I think that money shame is a topic I’ll be tackling in February. (And by “tackling” I mean “sidling up to slantwise and with much trepidation.”)

– I’ll be hosting another Smutty Story Circle facilitated writing group for the Calgary Centre for Sex Positive Culture on March 2. (I know that’s not February, but I’ll be doing all the prep in February.)

– I’ll be meeting with a professional grant writer this month to talk about finding some funding for the (suddenly enormous) collaboration with my sister, and possibly for some of my other work. Update: Wednesday! Wish me luck.

And, of course, continuing to post about self-care, including Stick Figure Sunday and Woodland Wednesday, on the Facebook page.

If you want to be involved in any of the collaborative projects, let me know! And if you have any feedback on the projects, or other projects that you’d like to see added to the slow-moving list, let me know that, too!

I really could not be putting as much energy, time, and effort into creating the self-care resources without the support of my Patreon patrons. When I get discouraged, and feel like my work isn’t making a difference because the world is just so sharp these days, the fact that people consider my work worth supporting keeps me going.

Two more updates: First, I lost one of my paying jobs. This is a big deal, because I was already facing some challenges on that front. I’m applying for more editing work, and renewing my focus on finding ways to get the word out about the coaching business. And second, I am launching an exciting new tarot project. It’ll be separate from this work, so if you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll connect you with that!

Building self-care kits

Building self-care kits

Image description: A grey-haired person (me!) holds up a card that says “You’re a Tea-rrific Friend!” and a box that is labeled “Letters to Myself” – these are items from the self-care kits described in this post.
I spent a bit of time today putting together the self-care kits for the Bridge-building Giveaway and the Boundary-setting Giveaway. I’m happy with how they’ve come together, and I think the winners will be getting something worthwhile.
 
But I found it interesting how much easier it was to put the bridge-building kit together and how few people entered that giveaway, in comparison to how difficult it was to put the boundary-setter kit together and how many people have entered (you can still enter until 9 am Sunday! Just poke through the pictures on my Facebook page to find the giveaway).
 
There is a lot of external support for bridge-building – card sections, books about friendship and the value of social support, gift books about friendship, a TON of books about romance, heaps of books about family connections. If you want to build bridges, it seems like there’s an almost infinite amount of support.
 
And although there are folks working on boundaries, and there are books about boundaries, there is just not the same range of material available. And most of the stuff that I would recommend is not easily packed up into a gift box.
 
I sincerely believe that the bridge side of social self-care is critically important – the willingness to be vulnerable, to ask for support and connection, to reach out after an absence, to recognize our own needs and honour them by seeking connection, to learn what meaningful connection means *for us* and work towards it.
 
I think this is just as important as the boundary side of social self-care – knowing our limits, recognizing and communicating where we end and others begin, allowing ourselves to step into the risky space of saying “no”, setting limits that allow the kind of expansiveness, spaciousness, and generosity that can only happen when we feel that we have agency and choice.
 
But I think that it is much easier to talk about building bridges than it is to talk about setting boundaries. I think that we sort of gloss over and ignore the sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that we feel – it doesn’t feel as important to build bridges because, really, there ARE all those books out there, and anyway, what is the point of a bridge when our boundaries are being trampled every single day?
 
But as I put the kits together, and as I worked on the course content for Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care, which is starting on Monday, I felt sad about this.
 
I know that in my own life, both bridges AND boundaries are important. I spend so much time not knowing how to connect meaningfully to my communities while operating under the pressures of capitalism, the stress and pain of chronic illness, the fog of depression and anxiety. I do need boundaries, but I need bridges, too. And although there is a wealth of material available, so much of it feels trite, superficial, and steeped in ableism, heteronormativity, and the casual assumption that we are all part of the (vanishingly rare) middle class.
 
Bridge-building is a skill. Maintaining (and finding!) friendships and other meaningful connections takes effort, and has to happen in combination with boundary work, so that our bridges are safe and life-enhancing. It’s a skill that many of us struggle to learn, because as often as we walk past the card section, how often do we actually feel confident in reaching out to our communities, in being vulnerable, in establishing intimacy that is consensual and brave?
 
It’s harder to talk about boundaries much of the time, because boundaries are tangled up with feelings of shame, obligation, attachment, fear, and vulnerability. Some of us struggle more with boundaries than bridges. Some of us struggle more with bridges than boundaries. But I think they’re both so important for our social wellbeing, and I think that often when we struggle with one, we’re also struggling with the other.
 
Hopefully, the course will offer support for both!
If you want to sign up for the 6-week online course, the cost is $150 ($75 for Patreon supporters), and you can sign up by emailing me.
 
(Among the boundary supports I would recommend, which are not easily packed up but thankfully ARE easily shared –
Witch cabinet: a cauldron for radical femme magic‘s course Hawthorn Heart, and this blog post which is a masterpost of resource links and suggestions
Rest for Resistance‘s amazing article Washing the Salt Out of Shadow Wounds 
Jane Clapp – Body Intelligence for Trauma & Mental Health‘s post on Property Lines and Self-Care)

January Preview

I’ve spent the last couple days mapping out my immediate upcoming projects. It’s pretty exciting, and there are many things coming up that you can be part of!
Check these projects, collaborations, and events out, and get in touch with me if there’s anything that piques your interest.
  • I’m launching a book club for parents, stepparents, and caregivers of autistic kids. We’ll be reading books by autistic authors, and recentering the conversation about what autistic kids need away from neurotypical experts, to autistic experts. I feel like this is a critical counter to the standard approach, and it’s important to me because both of my stepkids are autistic. I want to do the best that I can for them, and that means listening to autistic adults. You can get involved by sending me a message and letting me know you want in. Unlike most of my work, this one will be in person. We’ll be meeting once a month-ish at my home, so space is limited. However, I’ll be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on this blog.
  • I’m collaborating on the creation of a resource for extroverts, addressing self-care and mental health, since so much of the available self-care and mental health writing assumes introversion, or assumes that being outgoing and social is incompatible with depression or suicidality. You can get involved by sending me a message. Our first in-person round table discussion is coming up on Saturday, and there will be a second in-person round table discussion later on. You can participate online (in text or skype interviews), in person (in one-on-one interviews or round table discussions), or some combination of these. I am particularly interested in talking with folks whose experience of extroversion has been impacted by cultural norms that don’t leave space for extroversion. (For example, autistic folks are assumed to be inherently introverted, and so are many Asian folks, while Black and Indigenous women are interpreted as “angry” or irrational if they’re extroverted, and women in general often find it difficult to be accepted as extroverts without being shamed for being “gossipy,” “loud,” or other unacceptable things.)
  • I’m collaborating with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, to create a resource for survivors and supporters following sexual assault, to help build and sustain networks of support following a crisis. You can get involved by sending me a message. We’re meeting with people one on one to chat, and also talking with folks online. This is going to turn into a zine (or similar), with stories, resources, and action plans for survivors and supporters following sexual assault. We noticed a pretty big gap in the available resources, and a lot of “lean on your community” without a lot of insight into what that looks like, how to ask for what you need, how to keep boundaries between yourself and your supporters. And for supporters, a lot of “believe them, be there for them” without a lot of information about how to do self-care during the crisis so you don’t end up burning out (or worse, turning around and leaning back on the person who has just been through a trauma), how to maintain boundaries with the person you’re supporting, how to reach out for your own support in safe and respectful ways. We’re going to attempt to fill that gap a bit. I’m also interested in talking with professionals who would like to contribute. (This one is coming up quickly, so get in touch asap if you want to be involved.)
  • I’m working on a resource to help folks navigate those “Bad Gender Feels” days. This project is in the germination stage, but I am starting to meet with folks to talk about what would be helpful and what they’d like to see included in a resource like this. This resource will also include information for parents and other supporters of trans and gender non-conforming kids who want to help them get through those dysphoric days.
  • Possibilities Calgary events are running on the third Tuesday of each month at Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village, and are always free to attend. Every month has a theme, and our in-person discussion becomes the framework for a shareable, downloadable, free resource booklet. You can participate at the conversations, or by sending your ideas or suggestions once the monthly topic is announced. (January is Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers.)
  • The Self-Care Salons are running every month on the first or second Sunday at Loft 112 in the East Village. The cost is $50, sliding scale is available. Every month includes an in-depth conversation and a resource book. 10% of the profit from the Self-Care Salon goes to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge. (In January, Vincci Tsui, RD will be facilitating a discussion about food, health, and bodies that is size-inclusive, anti-diet, fatphobia-challenging – Self-Care Salon: Bodies, Food, and Health.)
  • Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care will be launching Jan 22. It’s a 6-week online course focusing on building tools for social self-care. The cost is $150, sliding scale is available, and it’s going to be awesome. You can sign up by sending me a message.
  • You can also get involved by supporting my Patreon. And at the $10/month level, I’ll write you a post on the self-care topic of your choice. My Patreon supporters are the reason I’m able to put so much time and effort into developing resources that are comprehensive, inclusive, and available for free.
  • And, lastly, my self-care and narrative coaching (for individuals and relationships) is on sale until the end of January. You can check out my services on my Facebook page (I’m in the process of updating this website to be up to date), or you can just send me an email! A single session ($150) is 10% off, a package of 3 ($400) is 15% off, and a package of 10 ($1200) is 20% off.

There are other projects coming up that aren’t collaborations or events, too. Blog posts and other plans for creating new work, mapping out my content focus for the year. 2017 focused on wholeness and integration, and 2018 will focus on hope. I’m in the process of figuring out what that means, and how to bring that focus into my various pieces of work.

I’m also working on pulling some of my work off of Facebook and making it accessible elsewhere. I’ll be shifting my Tender Year posts into a new blog (and cross-posting with Facebook), and once that’s up and running, I’ll share the link here. I’ll also be posting more of my self-care content onto my Tiffany Sostar blog so that people can read it without being on Facebook.

And, perhaps most exciting for me, two major projects are lurching up to speed:

  • the book I’ve been talking about and writing about and thinking about for ages is happening and I’ve started to pull the content together for it, so watch for updates on the 100 Love Letters book coming throughout this year, and,
  • I’m 83% certain I’ll be doing the Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community Work this year at the Dulwich Centre (I’ve been accepted into the program, and now I just need to sort out funding – yikes!)

And one major project is just starting to simmer more assertively:

  • I’m putting together my speaker event wish list, and starting to think about restarting the UnConference Series and bringing people in for events (Avery Alder is at the top of my wish list, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring her in for a weekend workshop on transformative gaming sometime this year).

2018 is going to be about continuing to do what I love, learning how to do it more sustainably and effectively, and working with my communities to develop strategies and resources for resilience and hope. It’s going to be good.

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care

Image description: Across the top of the comic is the title Bridges and Boundaries.
In the first panel, a stick figure stands beside a box labeled Tools. There’s a little hammer and a few other items sticking up from the box.
The second panel is split horizontally. In the top panel, a stick figure stands on one end of a bridge, with a stick figure on the other end. The first stick figure says, “Do you want to come over?” In the bottom panel, a stick figure stands on one side of a double-dashed line (a permeable-at-will boundary), and a blurry figure stands on the other side. Text reads “Those feelings aren’t mine to manage.”
In the third panel, a stick figure stands with a double-dashed boundary on both sides and two bridges. Text reads “Connected AND Protected.”

2018 will be the first year that features all four core self-care courses – Emotional, Mental, and Physical Self-Care (which ran in 2017 with a focus on wholeness and will run in 2018 with a focus on hope), and, new for this year, Social Self-Care. I am so excited about the fourth and final piece in the quartet – it is one that I have struggled with personally, and the long process of planning and researching for this course has been such a valuable journey for me. I am excited to share what I’ve learned.

Social self-care is all of the self-care that we do around how we engage with other people.

It’s the self-care that happens at our points of connection (both wanted and unwanted) – those situations where our bubble bumps up against someone else’s bubble, voluntarily or not.

We engage with a lot of different people, and our self-care toolbox needs to be ready to handle them. The people who love us, and people who hate us. People who help us, and people who harm us. People who buoy us up, and people who weigh us down. People who sometimes are one, and sometimes are the other. People we wish we never had to speak to again, and people we wish we could speak to just one more time.

Social self-care is heckin’ hard.

Any of us with trauma histories, histories of abuse, or socialization to be the “good” whatever (the good girl, the good fat person, the good Black woman, the good crip, the good queer – any of us who have been socialized to shrink ourselves for the comfort of others) – we often struggle with boundaries.

It’s hard to know where we end and to advocate for what we need – to establish the boundaries that clearly outline where the other begins and where I end, and the boundaries that will keep us safe. Maybe we’ve been punished for trying to establish boundaries, or maybe we’ve learned to keep ourselves safe by keeping ourselves available. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will love us if we establish boundaries. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will be willing to help us.

And, similarly, we often struggle with bridges.

It’s hard to know how to reach out. If we’ve experienced abandonment, humiliation, abuse, or neglect, it’s hard to trust. It’s hard to let ourselves be vulnerable by reaching out, offering a connection that might be refused.

But it’s possible to learn how to build both boundaries and bridges. It’s possible to be connected and protected.

That’s what the winter online course is all about.

During the 6-week course, we’ll talk about:

  • Self-awareness and self-compassion. Knowing ourselves, knowing our needs, naming our fears and desires. Before we set up boundaries and extend bridges, we’ll work on what we hope to accomplish with those two critical social self-care tools. We’ll also talk about attachment styles, and bring that lens to our social self-care work.
  • Self-differentiation. We’ll talk about how to recognize where we end and others begin. Some of the challenges we run into in setting up boundaries and bridges have to do with differentiating ourselves from the people around us. Inner stories like, “they need me more than I need me,” “they probably hate me anyway,” “everyone feels the way I feel,” and “there’s no point, they won’t respect my boundaries/be interested in building a bridge” can stop us from even trying. We’ll talk about where we might be over-empathizing, projecting, or struggling to self-differentiate.
  • Trust. We’ll talk about how to build (and rebuild) trust, earn trust, and determine trustworthiness. (We’ll be using a lot of Brené Brown, as well as the Gottman’s work!)
  • Companionship. Finding it, caring for it, remaining whole within it.
  • Isolation. When we choose it, when we feel trapped in it, how to challenge it.
  • Involuntary social groups. Families of origin, workplaces, classmates, roommates, extended friend groups – sometimes they’re awesome, sometimes they’re not.
  • Voluntary social groups. Chosen families, partnerships, collaborations – even when we choose it, we have to look after ourselves within it.
  • Social self-care in crisis contexts. How to ask for help and how to offer help in an emergency.

Sounds great, right?!

Sign up!

When: January 22. 6-weeks.
Where: Entirely online! Work at your own pace, in your own space. Optional weekly Google Hangout.
How much: $150. $75 for Patreon supporters. Sliding scale available.
How to register: Send me an email!

Self-Care and The Most Adult of Adulting

Self-Care and The Most Adult of Adulting

Image description: A screenshot of a text post. Text reads: In order to become the supreme adult, you must perform the seven wonders:
· Public speaking
· Not being afraid of teenagers
· Calling the doctor yourself
· Taxes
· Arguing without crying
· Having a normal sleep pattern
· Having an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’

(This is a Patreon reward post for Dave. At the $10 per month support level, I’ll write you a yearly post on the topic of your choice, too! Patrons at any support level get access to many posts about a week early, and are able to offer comments and suggestions, and see my, sometimes meandering!, process in action.)

This text post floated across my newsfeed again, and I laughed, as I always do when I see it, because it feels so true. But I didn’t share it, because it also feels deeply ableist. And, when thinking about it, isn’t Supreme Adulting an exercise in ableism, with its demand that adulting involves navigating capitalism and passing as neurotypical and normatively abled? The infantilizing of any of us who are neurodivergent or disabled certainly lends some weight to that theory.

The reason I saved the post today, rather than laughing and scrolling past, is because of the last point – in order to become the supreme adult, you must have an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’

Months and months ago now, Dave said that the topic of his Patreon reward post should be “self-care and figuring out what you’re going to do with your life.”

Great, I thought!

“Great!” I said.

A month or so later, I sent him an email and told him it was going really slowly. I was running into internal friction. It’s a big topic! What you’re going to do with your life? HUGE! It had felt like a quick and easy topic, as these reward posts often do, but then I scratched the surface and got stuck.

He said not to worry. I kept thinking about it.

A month or so after that, I sent him another email with a proposal – how about “self-care and job hunting”? But he wasn’t feelin’ it, so I came back to this.

And every week when I wrote out my To Do list, “Dave’s Patreon post” showed up.

And every week, it didn’t get written.

This friction… I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was it friction because I worry about what I will do with my life? Was it shame or anxiety over the fact that I’m trying to build a new career for the third time in my life? Was it worry about giving directives to other people, taking on a role of expertise when I truly believe that we are each the experts in our own experience? All of those, but also not quite any of those. There was something else there, and all I knew was that I was stuck. I have learned (painfully and only with great effort) to trust the stuckness. When I’m stuck, there’s something there. It’s worth honouring the friction, even when I find it frustrating.

And then this text post floated across my newsfeed and, and the stickiness resolved, and I thought yes! Now I can write this thing, at long last.

Because what this post highlighted for me was the ableism and the individualism and the capitalist expectations buried within the question. That’s what I had been sticking on.

Because the struggle is not figuring out how to answer ‘what do you want to do with your life?’

We can often answer that.

If we let ourselves, we can often close our eyes and imagine a life that sounds good – maybe a life full of family? Maybe making art? Maybe gardening? Maybe building community? Maybe making music? A life of long walks, or mornings spent writing, or caring for younglings or oldsters? A life spent researching the Great Questions? A life of learning? A life of teaching? There is so much that we might want to do, and many of us can, if we let ourselves, answer that question.

If we let ourselves.

Which we often don’t, not past childhood, because that’s not actually the question being asked.

The question is usually not ‘what do you want to do with your life?’

The question is ‘what do you want to do with your life that will pay your bills, position you as a productive member of society, and fit into the (unreasonable) expectations of the society around you?’

And the reason I couldn’t write a post about how to answer that second question is because I think it’s a garbage question. It is inherently harmful and violent.

‘What part of yourself will you cut off in order to fit into this shoe?’

So, instead of offering suggestions for how to answer that question-within-question, I will offer this –

Yes, the pain you feel when the question is asked is real, and valid. Even if you know what you want to do, even if you have a vocation and a career in mind, the pain can still float up because of the uncertainty of our current economic climate. We are supposed to have aspirations, but not unrealistic aspirations. We are supposed to reach for success, but not overreach. It is an impossible balancing act. So, yes, the pain you feel is real, and valid.

Yes, it is unfair that the adultier adults in your life keep asking it.

Yes, you’re right that there is often something wounded behind the eyes of the people who ask the question. It is an unfair question for all of us, and the process of answering is often a process of self-negation.

Yes, your anger is justified.

Yes, your fear is valid.

Yes, your uncertainty is legitimate!

Of course that question hurts!

You are being asked not only to disclose (and decide) how you will fit your life into capitalism but also how you will devote your entire life to capitalism.

As my good friend put it, you are being asked to assimilate, to become Borg. And that threat of assimilation is hidden in what seems like an innocuous question – what do you want to do with your life? What a lovely question, what an expansive question, what a perfectly innocent question… except not.

Our current economic climate means that the idea of vocation, of career, of calling – the idea of one job that provides a stable base from which to launch your life – only exists for the very privileged few. And you’re probably not one of them. And some part of you knows it. And it hurts.

So, what do you want to do with your life? Choose, and then be prepared to choose again, and to choose again, and to choose again, and to be pitied and rejected when you’re between choices, and to feel yourself segmented into selves who inhabit jobs but not careers, and not jobs that feed your heart but jobs that feed your body, to choose between those selves, to always be fragmented and unintegrated. What violence!

Our looming societal collapse means that many of us, Millenials and Xennials and later generations, are not planning much into the future. How can we? We are racking up student debt that we’ll never pay down. We are living with our parents and being slammed for it in article after article. We are eating too much avocado toast and we are failing at Supreme Adulting. And it is not our fault.

Truly, it is not our fault. The question is flawed. The system is hostile. There are rarely right answers because the answers that feel right don’t often answer the real question.

So, that’s not hugely helpful for those of us who need to answer the question.

(And, as I format this post to share publicly on my blog, I feel a flicker of anxiety about admitting that not only do I not have easy answers for anyone who comes to me for coaching help, I just straight up do not believe that the easy answers exist. What kind of coach am I, anyway?! The self-doubt is real, and it’s worth acknowledging. Here, and always, I lean on G. WIllow Wilson’s wisdom – “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward.” I am not the coach who will get you out of the struggle, I am the coach who will help you find ways forward through the struggle.)

The fact is, we do have to answer the question of how we will fit ourselves into capitalism, even though it’s a garbage question.

Even when we know the answer is not going to be right, because there are no longer any right answers, still we have to come up with it. We do have to find our way forward, because we have to eat, because we have to pay rent, because we have to make our way through this world even though the system is hostile, and it is often easier to move forward when that hostility is acknowledged and our struggle is honoured.

(And to support the idea of no right answers, look at burnout rates among doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, and other professional careers that were previously considered the adultiest of all. Who is more adult than a lawyer? Nobody! And so, then, why are so many young lawyers burning out? Maybe our ideas of what it means to be “adult” – where adult is code for “productive member of capitalist society” – are fundamentally flawed.)

Let’s detour for a moment.

For a moment, consider the surface question, the first question, the better question – ‘what do you want to do with your life?’

Consider answering it from your heart rather than from your fear. Imagine a future where that is possible.

Consider this section from Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble:

“Vinciane Despret thinks-with other beings, human and not. That is a rare and precious vocation. Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting. Despret listened to a singing blackbird one morning – a living blackbird outside her particular window – and that way learned what importance sounds like. She thinks in attunement with those she thinks with – recursively, inventively, relentlessly – with joy and verve. She studies how beings render each other capable in actual encounters, and she theorizes – makes cogently available – that kind of theory and method. … Her kind of thinking enlarges, even invents, the competencies of all the players, including herself, such that the domain of ways of being and knowing dilates, expands, adds both ontological and epistemological possibilities, proposed and enacts what was not there before.”

Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting.

Imagine, just imagine, if we could answer that question with our vocation, with our calling, with our calling out and calling in, with our calling as if the world mattered. If we could go visiting into various ways of being and doing, and if that could be a beautiful part of the process rather than a painful destabilization.

Just thinking about it opens me up in the way Haraway describes.

I want that kind of thinking.

I want to answer the question with that expansiveness, that generosity, and that space. Rather than an ableist question which demands that the answerer fit into a mold that is no longer (and honestly has never been) compassionate or helpful, I want to answer an anti-oppressive question that expands and creates competencies and potential, that brings curiousity, playfulness, and companionship to the table.

And then let’s come back to the question under the question – not ‘what do you want to do with your life,’ but rather ‘what will you do to fit your life into the system?’

Here are some self-care ideas for navigating that process:

First, allow yourself to answer the surface question. Let yourself answer, even if you know you won’t be able to act on the answer. Do you want to spend your life in service? Do you want to spend your life baking pastries? Do you want to spend your life in gardens and on nature trails? Do you want to spend your life writing? Raising children? Raising goats? Raising the roof in party after party after party? Raising awareness? Raising each other up? Answer. Don’t worry if there’s no way you’ll pay the rent with that answer.

(And for the record, although we do have the persistent cultural myth of the self-made person who “trusts their heart and the money follows,” I think that it is mostly bullshit. Especially in the current economic and political climate. Especially for those of us who are marginalized or multiply marginalized. So, it may happen. You may answer that question, find a vocation, follow it, survive. I hope that you do! That’s what I’m hoping for myself, too! But if you don’t, that is not your fault. It is not because you weren’t positive enough, passionate enough, persistent enough. It is because the system is hostile.)

Second, allow yourself to dodge the question. When people who expect you to #adult ask how you’re going to do it, avoid/subvert/challenge the assumptions. What are you going to do with your life, they ask, as you enter your final year of your undergrad degree, fully cognizant of the lack of jobs in your field? “Well, I was thinking I would bake a pie this weekend!” You don’t owe them your answer.

Third, allow yourself to answer the question-within-the-question with whatever emotions come up for you. Bitterness? Yeah, fucking definitely. Anger? Yes. Fear? Yes. Curiousity? Yes! Excitement? Absolutely. Apathy? For sure. Whatever comes up for you, comes up for you. You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel.

And finally, know that you’re not alone in not being able to answer the question. It is an impossible and hostile question. It is cruel. It is unfair. If you don’t have an answer, that is okay.

Take a deep breath.

Stay hydrated.

Keep looking for ways to tether yourself to yourself despite all of the alienation and distance that capitalism enforces.

I believe in you.

You will do so much with your life, and not all of it will be Supreme Adulting, and all of it will be yours.

December Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care

December Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care

Image description – The green leaves of a succulent with a pink flower. Text reads Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care. Dec 10 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, Loft 112. RSVP today.

Welcome to the Self-Care Salon!

Each month, we’ll meet for tea and snacks and discussion – an opportunity to take a deep dive into a specific self-care topic, with space for your questions and insights.

Each self-care salon will include a short presentation by a community expert – someone who can speak from their own experience about a self-care related topic. “Expertise” in this context is a broad and inclusive word, not limited to folks with letters after their names or professional designations, and recognizing the expertise that we each gain over the course of our lives. If you’re interested in presenting, get in touch!

For our inaugural Self-Care Salon we’ll be talking about “narratives of self-care” –  what the common perception of self-care is, how it’s discussed in mainstream culture and in activist circles, how marginalized communities can practice self-care and what our stories of self-care include, and what narratives of self-care we’d like to see more often.

Following the presentation by Tiffany Sostar, we’ll have an hour for discussion, including any questions you have about the topic (or about other self-care topics), and then time to chat, network, and work on our self-care plans. Each month you’ll get a resource pack with worksheets, suggestions for further reading, and a self-care plan for you to fill out for the coming month.

These workshops are intended to be as accessible as possible. The space is wheelchair accessible (through the back door), with a separate space for folks who are experiencing sensory overwhelm to chill out, and gluten-free and vegan snack options.

The cost for the workshop is $50 or pay-what-you-want. Nobody will be turned away for financial reasons. The first two workshops will be offered at a discount, because the holiday season is often a time of financial strain even for those of us who are not dealing with economic insecurity. Tickets are available here.

Sustainable and ethical self-care is not possible without intentional and compassionate community care, and the Indigenous communities whose land we live on are often forgotten. These workshops take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

10% of the proceeds from the December workshop will be given to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge.