Symbolic Power For Every Day

What do these symbols mean to you?

Symbols, symbols everywhere.

Chances are for many of these images you don’t just see a picture with your eyes, you had an emotional response. Pride, fear, love, hope, anger. Symbols are powerful. Symbols can enrage or inspire. We can use our own personal symbols to help keep us at our best, or we can drag them around with us in a way that holds us back.

I’d like to tell you a tale of two symbols in my life.

The first symbol is a ring: a gold ring with a small diamond…my first wedding ring. Have you ever done something knowing full well that you were making a mistake? Yeah, that was me on October 6, 1995. I said “I do” while thinking what the hell am I doing?

What I was doing was escaping. I was running away from something instead of running to something. I was trying to bury my angry teenage years and get the heck out of town. Well, I got myself out of one proverbial hole and into another.

As the next two years passed that ring’s meaning changed. I repeatedly had to get my ex out of trouble, only to come home and be subject to his abuse. The ring came to symbolize not love and commitment, but a terrible mistake. Every time I looked at it I felt shame, regret and suffering. The ring told me I valued myself so little that I couldn’t even listen to my own intuition when it was screaming at me.

After my divorce I went to pawn the ring. The pawn shop told me they would give me $25 whole dollars. What?! I said. It’s gold and diamond, it has to be worth more than that! No deal!

So I took it home and put it in my jewelry box. There it was every day when I opened the box to pick out what to wear that day. Every day that reminder sat there accusing me…shaming me. Without me even realizing what was going on, every single day I got a quick emotional dose of that nightmare.

One day I opened my jewelry box and realized what was happening. Things were turning around in my life. I was a whole new person and yet I kept this dark memento of my past. So I took it back to the same pawn shop. This time I was offered $20.


I walked out realizing that I was right the first time. The ring was worth more than that. Not in monetary value, but in experience. Lessons. It represented a transformational time that I needed that could never be bought at any price. But that time had come and gone, and it was time to let it go.

Fast forward about ten years and I’ll tell you about another symbol.

Something I had always wanted to do from a young age was to learn martial arts. Not just any form, either…I wanted kung fu. Growing up in a sparsely populated area, my opportunities to learn kung fu were limited to the movies. But when I ended up in the Atlanta area I had options! One day I visited a kung fu school and was practically signing up before I walked through the door.

My favorite teacher, Sifu Kent, was the first person I met at the school and he became my mentor. This proud redneck kept me motivated, inspired and laughing over the next four years until I tested for my black belt, which was one of the most stressful moments of my life.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not a great martial artist. In fact, I kind of suck. Lucky for me, they reward hard work, determination and sheer guts with a first degree black belt.

I drove home from the test but it felt like I flew. I did it. I did it! I spent the whole next day staring at my belt. It’s just fabric with some tape wrapped around the ends. But it’s a symbol. A powerful one. It means that I showed up. Week after week, month after month, year after year. I put in the work. I sacrificed. I bled kung fu for four years and dammit, I won. For my countless hours of devotion, I became the proud owner of cotton and plastic.

When I showed up for my first class after my test, I put on my crispy new black gi and with a deep breath I tied my black belt around it. I was lucky enough to test at a time where my first black belt class was called black belt conditioning. Pretty much it’s doing calisthenics in a weighted vest until your muscles fail or you puke. But I wasn’t concerned about any of that, because the moment I stepped onto the floor in my belt, all the lower ranking belt students stopped what they were doing, turned to me and bowed before returning to what they were doing.


That was what I had worked so hard for.

It’s just a belt. But it’s a symbol…a powerful one.

We all have a choice every day as to what symbols we are going to give power to. Some help us and some hurt us. For far too long I gave power to a symbol that robbed me of respect, then I found one that restored it. You have these symbols in your life too, I guarantee it. Think about the things in your environment that give you an emotional response when you see them. They are your symbols. Are they empowering? Or do they remind you of loss, guilt or regret?

Which symbol are you carrying with you right now, either literally or figuratively? Is it a ring? Or is it a belt?


A Tale of Two Burgers

The question of what to eat used to be simple. The food that nature provided to us was all we had, and we ate it. But today the question is not so simple. In fact, it’s deceptive. It’s confusing. Two food items may look identical and yet be very different at a fundamental level.

The subject could never be fully addressed in a single, brief blog post so I’m going to focus on beef for now. When it comes to beef it boils down to one question: what did this cow eat? Did it eat grain or did it eat grass? The answer to this question makes all the difference in the world.

Let me briefly describe the lives of these two cows. The grass fed cow is out on pasture its whole life. It eats grass and clover and whatever else happens to be growing there. It moves about in sunshine and fresh air and experiences life the way nature intended. The grain fed cow lives in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). It is packed in closely with other cows, fed grain which fattens it up (grain is not a natural food for a cow), and wallows around up to its knees in mud, urine and feces.

Even if you are not concerned about animal welfare, it should be of interest to you that the conditions these animals live in drastically changes the makeup of the resulting beef. While a pound of CAFO ground meat and a pound of grass fed ground meat may look the same, they are actually quite different.

Grass fed beef is lower in overall fat and calories than CAFO beef. Grass fed beef is higher in Omega-3s than its CAFO counterpart; two to four times higher in this essential fatty acid! Grass fed beef is also three to five times higher in conjugated lineolic acid (CLA), a powerful cancer fighter. This makes the cow who ate grass the clear nutrition winner – grass fed beef is just better for our bodies.

Grass fed is also better for the environment. CAFOs produce huge amounts of manure, which is typically spread out over land to decompose. In small amounts, manure is a great fertilizer. In large amounts, it results in water and soil contamination, particularly with excessive nitrates. This can be poisonous, especially to babies and small children. The contamination also harms and kills aquatic life. Surface water contaminated by hormones fed to cattle have also been shown to alter the reproductive habits of species living there. (Think about that the next time you hear about someone who is having trouble having children.)

Air quality is also impacted, primarily with methane, ammonia and particulate matter (that includes dried pieces of manure). Research has shown that the closer children live to a CAFO the greater their risk of developing asthma. Up to 30% of CAFO workers experience asthma, acute and chronic bronchitis and other air quality related ailments. Just in case you think this is a smear job by PETA or the Sierra Club, all of the pollution information I just shared is from a report from the CDC.

Because the number of animals is much smaller and the amount of land much larger on grass fed operations, there is no such contamination risk. In fact, farms that allow the movement of cattle to follow the natural course that they would on their own achieve fertile fields, a healthy ecosystem and natural biodiversity.

Even if you don’t care about your health, the environment or the health of the people who live near and work for CAFOs, there is one last component to consider. Because animals are kept in such close proximity in an unsanitary environment, sickness abounds. To combat having so many dead animals, CAFO owners use feed containing antibiotics. Therefore the cattle are fed antibiotics day in and day out. It is no secret that this is creating antibiotic resistant bacteria. The CDC and even the CAFO industry itself freely admits this fact, yet the practice continues and is completely legal. (Some recent changes have been enacted to prevent the use of “medically useful” antibiotics in feed, but this to me is a bit like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.)

Antibiotic resistant bacteria sicken more than two million Americans and kill 23,000 every single year. The more we abuse antibiotics the greater the risk will become. At what point will we decide that being able to kill dangerous bacteria is more important than cheap meat? Every time we buy a CAFO burger, we are contributing to a future devoid of useful antibiotic drugs. Will the next victim be someone you know? Someone you love?

The main objection people have when it comes to making this choice is cost. The purchase price of grass fed beef is just higher. However, when you buy grass fed you are paying the full cost of production at the time of purchase. With CAFO beef there are numerous hidden costs – ill health, environmental damage and antibiotic resistance. You may not be paying that cost when you buy CAFO meat, but understand this…the cost you do not pay when you buy it will eventually be paid by someone.

When you consider the cost of heart disease or cancer or asthma, or attempt to calculate the price tag on cleaning up polluted soil, air and water it should give you pause. What is the cost of the average hospital stay of someone fighting for their life due to an antibiotic resistant bacterial infection? All of this makes spending $6-$9 per pound for grass fed ground beef seem like a bargain.

I could go on forever about why grass fed beef is superior, but to keep it simple just remember that grass fed is better for our bodies, better for the environment and does not contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Two burgers may look identical, but the differences you cannot see are life changing. Grass fed is the First Class choice!

Grass fed or grain fed?

So how do you know if your beef is grass fed or CAFO? To be honest if you aren’t sure, you can safely assume it’s feedlot beef. If a store or restaurant is selling beef that’s grass fed, they are going to label it as such so you understand why there is a price premium. Personally, I prefer buying my beef in bulk from a local farmer. It’s significantly less expensive, I know exactly where it came from and can see the grass fed operation myself (no sneaky slight of hand to pass off CAFO meat as grass fed) and I help support my local economy.  Here are a few resources to help you find local grass fed beef in your area:

Remember…grass is class!


Resources used in this post:


How to Raise Your Vibration in 40 Seconds

“Well, this day sucks.”

“I never should have gotten out of bed.”

“This day just keeps getting better and better.” (Heavy on the sarcasm!)

Most of the time when we have a bad day, it’s because we feed that negative energy with low vibration emotions. Fear, anger, frustration…these are just a few of the negative vibes we throw at a “bad day” which turn it into an even bigger mess. In order to avoid this chain reaction, we need to raise our vibration. The best way to do it that I know of is to replace those low vibration emotions with high vibration emotions: love, peacefulness, hope, joy and thankfulness to name a few.

A few months ago when my son was sick I was in desperate need of a vibrational boost. I could feel myself beginning to spiral down into the dark place of helplessness and fear. Something had to be done. I sat down at my laptop and prayed for some inspiration.

Part affirmation, part gratitude, the resulting poem which I also view as a prayer has become part of my daily morning ritual. These verses never fail to help put me in a better emotional state no matter what. In the 40 seconds that it takes to read it (I strongly recommend reading it aloud), you can start turning your day around. I hope that you find these words a blessing; feel free to add them to your life on a daily basis and see if you can ward off a “bad day” in less than a minute.

The Abundant Life

My life is filled with radiant good health
Blessings abundant and endless wealth
My family prospers, my joy overflows
Because energy flows where attention goes.

My mind is a spring; I have boundless creativity
Success is easy; I have effortless productivity
I am helping others I have never met
And blessing their lives with purposeful intent.

Thank you, thank you for showing me how
My world is abundantly blessed right now!
Let my gratitude pour forth like a fountain
Let my immovable faith move a mountain.

I have only love, goodbye to fear
My life gets better year after year
Because thoughts held in mind
Produce after their kind.


Leave a Message, Leave an Impression

I have a love-hate relationship with voicemail. It means that I don’t always have to take a call, but it also means that when I dial in to get the message I may be about to encounter voicemail hell. You may be familiar with these demons:

The Ghost. “Hey, it’s Mike. Call me.” Mike who? Call you at what number about what? Delete.

The Speed Demon. “Heyit’sMikecallmeassoonasyoucanit’surgent!” Head. Spinning.

The Snail. “Hey, um, it’s Mike. Glad we talked last about [insert lengthy recap of a discussion you were present for]. I wanted to get some more details about [insert lengthy details about what details are desired].” BEEP! Voicemail full. *yawn*

The Last Minute Rush. “Hey, it’s Mike. Good to talk to you last week. I’d like to get some more details, though. Call me at [blazes through phone number so fast you can only get the first digit].” Beats head on desk.

The very worst offender is The Snail-Last Minute Rush combo. Yikes!

Leaving a voicemail should be a simple task, but it seems that many people just don’t know how it should be done. A good voicemail has all the pertinent details left in a manner that is both clear and respectful of everyone’s time. Here’s an example of a First Class voicemail.

“Hey, it’s Mike Jones, 123-456-7890. Thanks for going over invoice #12345 with me yesterday. I have another question about item #15. Please give me a call at 123-456-7890 when you get a chance. Have a great one!”

As long as this voicemail is left at a reasonable speed, it’s absolutely perfect. It clearly states who is calling and the phone number right off the bat as most people are poised to take notes when they are listening to a message. The phone number is then repeated at the end so the recipient can double check what they wrote down. (If I’m calling someone I don’t know or rarely speak to I’ll repeat my name at the end as well.)

The detail is specific enough to allow adequate research to be done prior to returning the call. This avoids wasting everyone’s time during the call back as one person has to dig through files or emails looking for something that could have been done beforehand. It also ends with a well-wishing, just to make sure everyone knows you’re not angry…even if you are.

If the whole world started leaving messages like this it would spare countless hours of wasted time and frustration. When you leave a voicemail it isn’t just a message about what you want, it’s a message about who you are. Do you want to be known as vague, annoying or disrespectful? I’d much prefer to have a reputation for being clear, respectful and precise. Don’t be a voicemail demon…leave a message with class!

Two Words That Can Change Your Life

There are two words in the English language that we use together all the time, usually in a manner that is disempowering, defeating and unproductive. But we can turn those two words upside down and in doing so harness the power of unlimited possibilities in our lives.

When we experience the only certainty in life – uncertainty – it’s easy to slip into a cycle of life-robbing anxiety. We ask ourselves WHAT IF. What if I left the iron plugged in and my house is burning down? What if this pain I’m having is something serious? What if something bad happens to someone I love? We humans have an amazing ability to visualize things that are not real, and far too often we use it to create a horrid future full of traumatic events that are extremely unlikely to ever happen.

Instead of torturing ourselves over a non-existent future, WHAT IF we started changing the way we use the words WHAT IF? What if today I changed the way I respond to this frustrating situation I keep finding myself in? I could eliminate it forever. What if I reached out to that lonely person at work? I could make a friend or even save someone’s life. What if I gave my full efforts to this project that has been on my heart? I could realize my dreams. What if I stopped this destructive behavior? I could replace it with a good one and add years to my life, or at least add enjoyment to my years.

As a mother, I am very experienced in the area of worry and anxiety. At a time in my life when my worry had become all consuming, my best friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. “You worry because you love him. Love is rooted in passion, and we know that passion can become something twisted.” She was right. My love for my son and concern for his health had turned into a twisted mess in my mind. Now when I feel that suffocating anxiety surfacing, I remember her words. It helps me ask more useful what if questions. What if he’s not getting sick, he’s just being a moody three year old? What if my concerns right now are more about me than him? What if I turn this worry into education instead?

What if we all used WHAT IF to explore our own potential?

What if we used WHAT IF to forgive others and overcome obstacles?

What if we chose love over fear?

What if today could be the day that two words change your life?

Depressed? Pop a Pill….No Really….

Some people struggle with depression their whole life, and some people get smacked over the head with it when they never thought it would happen to them. Feeling in the dark, helpless and hopeless is no way to live. Some people need antidepressants to help them see the light, but many others can be helped by making conscious choices to help change the internal problems that are causing their depressive episodes.

I’m one of those people that never thought it would be me.

Having a baby changes life a lot and it also changes a woman’s body chemistry. This is why postpartum depression is so tragic and dangerous. While I did not suffer from postpartum depression, during the tumultuous toddler years I have been challenged in ways I both expected and did not expect and a number of life’s curve balls all hit me at once.

In the span of seven months we lost our two cats that we’d had for 12 and 14 years, leaving us petless for the first time. My husband also was laid off from his job. The winter months were tough, with sickness abounding. When my son and I both had the flu at the same time in March, I thought I would die.

It was a dark place. The things that used to bring me joy were no longer interesting. I would cry two or three times a day. Sometimes I would start to cry and not be able to stop. I felt like I was failing my son. As my husband prepared to returned to work, leaving me the sole caregiver of our almost three year old for sixty or more hours per week, I was terrified. I knew I needed to do something. Fast.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I’ve dealt with being depressed so recently since I did write a book on happiness last year. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the research I did creating that book, I would be on medication. Instead, I decided to take my own advice.

One of the chapters in my book discusses supplements that help balance moods. I decided to try S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e). Here is an excerpt from my book:

“SAM-e is created by your body when the essential amino acid methionine is metabolized. Due to age and diet, this molecule may become depleted. This is problematic because SAM-e aids the body in important work such as regulating hormones, neurotransmitters, the nucleic acids in DNA, and more. When these functions are disrupted, it can result in difficulty responding to stress and an all around poor mood. Supplementing it has been shown to boost mood by improving the balance of these critical brain functions. Studies have shown that people taking SAM-e experienced mood improvement in as little as seven days (sometimes up to fourteen days) and side effects generally are none. A mild upset stomach that goes away as supplementation continues may occur for some people. As with any supplementation, if you are pregnant, nursing, have bipolar disorder, or are taking antidepressants, please discuss SAM-e with your doctor before beginning supplementation.”

I started taking SAM-e, and within three days I felt a difference. My situation had not changed at all, but my head was clearer, I had more patience and was finally feeling positive about the future. The longer I took it the more balanced I felt until at last I started feeling like myself again.

The difference has truly been night and day. Since I started supplementing with SAM-e my crying spells are drastically reduced. I feel like I’m back in the driver’s seat of my own life instead of having been run over by the bus. If you are experiencing some of the same feelings I had and are trying to avoid antidepressants, SAM-e may work for you. It can’t hurt, and it may give you your life back.*

This is the brand and dosage I take. I take 800mg per day, but I started out with 400mg each day as suggested by the manufacturer. Your personal needs may vary. The maximum recommended dosage is 1600mg per day.

As a side note, many people are very good at hiding depression. There are very few people who knew I was struggling. Everyone else still saw the same look-on-the-bright-side person, positive Toastmasters club president. I kept working, and my life continued to function as it always did. Just because someone seems fine to you does not mean they are not at war with themselves inside. Please share this post because you really never know who needs to hear this.

You can find more information on supplements for happiness and fifty-two other ways to boost your joy in my book, Happy Now! 53 Ways to Be Happier Today.

*This is the part where I have to have a disclaimer. *sigh* No, I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. This is MY personal experience and I share this with the hopes that it may help someone else. PLEASE do not stop taking any medications you’re on for depression to try SAM-e without talking to your doctor first. It works really well for me, but as they say your mileage may vary. Be smart about your mental health and if you have any concerns please do speak to a professional – they are there to help.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission when you buy through my links with no additional cost to you. I thank you for your support!

Book Review: How to Live Like a Millionaire When You’re a Million Short

I recently finished reading How to Live Like a Millionaire When You’re a Million Short by Marilyn Anderson (Potpourri Books, 2017).  Everyone wants to to live the good life, right? But who wants to pay full price? Nobody! This book shows you how to eat a slice from the cake of the wealthy without having to buy the whole thing.

This book covers how to get freebies and discounts and well as tactics for getting great things and experiences for less. Topics include entertainment, clothing, shoes and bags, dining, personal care, travel, home furnishing, living in amazing places and more. I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I picked this one up; sometimes “discount” advice requires far more work than benefit in my opinion, or it only applies to a small segment of the population, or it just requires an incredible amount of good luck. While some of Anderson’s tips do fall under these categories, I was pleasantly surprised by the good amount of suggestions that can be utilized by anyone. Her writing style is fun and filled with often cheeky humor which I enjoyed quite a bit.

There was an extensive section right away in the book about getting into Broadway plays for less. We all know these tickets can be astronomical, but even with the huge population of New York City most people do not live there. I am also not a huge play buff. So this section didn’t do much for me, but if you live in or near NYC or travel there often and love plays, this section of the book alone will probably be worth it for you.

I found the shopping and eating sections to be most interesting. The author offers a wide variety of ways to obtain (even for a short time) some pieces from top designers at a fraction of retail. I’ll definitely be investigating some of these. Yes, there are some obvious suggestions, like thrift shopping, but even then there is a tactic behind how and where to shop to get the goodies.

Anderson also offered some interesting ways to get restaurant discounts and freebies. (She did talk about the Entertainment Book, which many of us are familiar with. I find this discount book to be really great for some people and almost worthless to others. You really need to check out the offers before buying the book. Funny enough, though, she also shares a way to get the Entertainment Book at a discount. Ha!) Some of the other techniques she suggests are things that I myself have done (offering praise instead of just complaining, for example) and others that I had never heard of or even thought of before. If you love to eat out, this section will be very valuable to you, especially if you are willing to be a bit adventurous.

The travel section was also very thought provoking. Air BNB and couch surfing, while discussed, is not for everyone. Luckily Anderson has some advice that anyone can use. While much of this section I cannot use at this point in my life due to family obligations, I wish I’d had this information when I was a single traveler years ago. If you are a solo traveler, have a flexible travel schedule or are willing to do a bit extra you can travel the country and the world without ending up in debt. There were some very interesting tactics included here. Who knew that there are ways to get a free European vacation simply by speaking English?

Chapter 12 is “Rules to Live (Like a Millionaire) By” and I thought this was a great summary of the general mindset of getting great for less. Her #1 rule is ASK, which I love and it reminded me of my own blog post a while back about the power of asking. Her nine rules are not only a great way to live the good life on the cheap, they are also a great approach to life in general. Seize opportunities, make friends, use your imagination…you can live like a millionaire every day by keeping that type of attitude.

In my opinion, the rest of the book is great and filled with fun and adventurous ways to save money on great experiences, but the end of the book is where the real gems are. A bargain is a one time event, but once you have your head on the right way it sticks with you all day every day. The last chapter on how to FEEL like a millionaire could have been fleshed out a bit more; it’s rather like an outline of what would have been an awesome chapter. It is great where it is, but I’d like to have seen a little bit more here because I’m all about having the right the mindset. Even so, the end of the book is golden so be sure to read to the end and not just get caught up in visiting the websites and such that she shares.

There are a lot of suggestions in this book that I simply cannot use as the mom of a three-year-old. (Maybe Anderson can tell me how to win a top notch nanny!) But even so, I can see great value in her advice which has clearly been gathered through years of experience and my son will not be a toddler forever. I can see myself looking back at this book in a few years as my lifestyle becomes more flexible and taking advantage of all the opportunities around me.

How to Live Like a Millionaire When You’re a Million Short is a fun, eye-opening book that can help anyone learn to spot opportunities that will both be quality and rewarding without costing a fortune.


How to Give to Panhandlers Without Worry

It has happened to almost all of us. A bedraggled looking stranger holds their hand out to us or we see someone holding a sign asking for money along the side of the road and we wonder…if I give my money to them, will they use it to buy alcohol or drugs?

Some sidestep this worry by giving food or low-value gift cards to fast food restaurants. Others don’t give at all, paralyzed by the fear that they could be contributing to someone’s demise by fueling their addiction or poor lifestyle choices.

But the question in my mind really comes down to this: why do we give? Is it for them? Or is it for us?

Before you answer obviously, it’s for them, think again.

I once saw a woman begging in a grocery store parking lot. I felt moved to help her, but I was late and in a hurry, so I did not. All these years later I remember her and how I saw her need and did nothing to help her. It may be low-level guilt, but it remains an unpleasant feeling none the less. It’s pretty safe to say that I am not alone in these types of feelings; when we believe we should do something yet do nothing, the resulting emotional discomfort (a form of cognitive dissonance) takes its toll.

And it’s not just to avoid guilty feelings. We also experience joy from helping others. One of the few things that happiness experts agree will re-set your “happiness point” higher is being of service to our fellow man. There is also a universal law at work here; Deepak Chopra calls it the Law of Giving, or the Law of Giving and Receiving. The idea is that by joyfully giving we open ourselves up to receiving. If we fail to give, then we close ourselves off from receiving.

So yes, we do it for them…but we also do it for us.

When I recognized this, I stopped worrying about if this person was going to take my money and use it to buy drugs or alcohol or if it was a “scammer.” If someone is on the street asking for help, they have a need even if it is an emotional or spiritual need. If they take my five bucks and buy a bottle, maybe they will meet the person who helps them turn their life around on the way out of the store. If it’s someone who has no physical need but is just trying to get money for nothing, I will still receive the benefit of my own giving and I am confident that they will learn one way or another the lesson that makes them stop being deceitful.

I stopped making it my job to judge them and their situation, and started using these events as an opportunity to bless others and feed the cycle of giving and receiving. 

I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said give to anyone who asks of you (Matthew 5:42). He didn’t say give them money and he didn’t even say give them what they are asking for. Maybe what this person really needs the most is an encouraging word, the number to a local battered women’s shelter or the spare umbrella in your trunk. Sometimes I give money. Sometimes I give food. Other times I give a blessing. It just depends on what I feel led to do.

What I no longer do is judge, worry, or walk away doing nothing when I feel that I should have. It’s very liberating to give in this way. Try it – it may be for you.

Nurture Your Nature (Or What My Little Ponies Taught Me About Myself)

The impact of our biological make up versus our environment (nature vs. nurture) on our personalities and lives has been long debated by both science and philosophy. Why would two siblings raised in the same environment choose drastically different paths in life? Why do people with completely different backgrounds choose the same profession?

Studies about these questions fill volumes. The question of whether nature takes more of a role or if nurture takes the lead may never be fully answered. We can be content to leave the studying to the professionals, but there is one person that we can and should attempt to answer this question for, and that is ourselves.

Why does this matter? I believe it’s important to examine this question for ourselves because if we can identify and work with our nature instead of fighting against it, we will be able to enhance our lives faster and easier than ever before. Here are two examples from my own life.

I am naturally an introvert. This part of my nature is not in question. I used to joke that people thought I was mute until I was 24. Being introverted means I think a lot. This is great for writing, but I also live in a world filled with people that I need to talk to. This is why I joined Toastmasters. When I first started giving speeches at club meetings I was absolutely terrified. But I was determined to overcome this fear in order to improve my life.

At first I fought against my nature. I tried to be an extrovert. I can actually pull off an extrovert act for a while, but it is very emotionally draining. Eventually I realized that my introvertedness gives me a gift: I never run out of ideas for speeches. I have so many ideas I could never give them all. So instead of trying to be something I’m not, I embraced my non-stop thinking and applied it to my speaking. Some Toastmasters who are naturally extroverted have trouble coming up with speech topics – not me! I have enough for me and to share with my fellow members. I may never be Tony Robbins; honestly, I don’t want to be! I want to be me and share my own unique style with my listeners. With practice, I learned to overcome my fear in order to offer my audience my perspective on any number of topics and hopefully inspire someone out there to make a change that is good for their life.

One of the quirks of my personality is that I love to keep track of things. Lists, spreadsheet and charts fill my computer. I thought that this was something that had become part of me due to the type of work I have done for years, but a recent surprise from my mom made me think again.

Who doesn’t love My Little Ponies??

In a blast from the past, my mom mailed me an old coloring book I had when I was ten years old. On the inside of the front cover was a list keeping track of how many pages I had colored on what date, and an exclamation point for the date I had colored all the pages in the book and completed my project. It made me laugh, but it also made me think. Perhaps my need to track, chart and measure progress is actually an innate part of my nature, and not something that was “nurtured” into me.

Historical records documenting my need to document.

Since discovering this I no longer feel silly keeping careful track of how many words I write, how many words are in each of my books, etc. It motivates me, it allows me to measure my productivity and pinpoint at what times I am most efficient in my writing. I am nurturing my nature, and it is helping me grow!

Perhaps many of us would be better served by recognizing traits that are just part of who we are and using them to nurture whatever project we are working on instead of being embarrassed by them or fighting against them. We each have our own unique abilities; let’s embrace them. Nurture your nature today!

The Dirtiest Job

For a long time there was one subject I desperately wanted to write about, yet every time I tried it didn’t come out right. There was so much I needed to express but apparently it just wasn’t the right time for me to write it. That subject is my dad.

Our family picture, circa 1977. I'm the little shrimp.
Our family picture, circa 1977. I’m the little shrimp.

Those in the know are aware of my fan crush on Mike Rowe, jack of all entertainment trades and most well known for his role as the host of Dirty Jobs. Mike can appreciate an honest hard day’s work, especially when that includes the need for a long shower at the end of the day. So I decided to pay my tribute to my dad in the form of a letter to Mike.

I think I finally got it right. Here is my “Dear Mike” letter.

Mike Rowe
Mike Rowe

Dear Mike,

I’m sure a lot of people write to you for a lot of different reasons and you end up deleting a lot of emails. This is the only email address I could find on your website, so I’m hoping this reaches you. Today I’m writing to you because I know you like a good story, and I think I have one. I’d like to tell you about my dad, Lyle Borseth, and hope that I don’t end up going directly into your spam folder.

I’d love to be telling you the story of a man who is about to turn 80 who lived the last 22 years of his life the way he lived his first 58: as captain of his ship, fearless and capable of fixing anything you put in his way. However, he passed away suddenly of a heart attack on January 20, 1995, just one week after I completed my last day of high school.

So instead I am going to tell you the story of a man whose legacy is so strong that 22 years after his death, his life and the 17 years we had together continue to guide me and teach me as I head into my 40’s.

In 1964 my mom and dad packed up their vehicles with everything they owned, four little boys and a dream too big to fit in the trunk or tie to the roof. They left behind sunny California and drove to northern Iowa where my dad was born in order to start farming. The naysayers were a dime a dozen; you will fail, they were told. Do you know what your odds are? Not good.

But Dad didn’t care about the odds. He cared about laying the foundation he wanted for his family; the independent and hardworking life of a family farm that creates strong character, healthy kids and a sense of freedom that can’t be achieved in any other way.

My parents did get their farm. They raised corn, soybeans, cows and more little boys. Eventually they did get a girl, then another one. The last girl ended up with a passion for writing; hence you are receiving this letter.

Beating the odds, the often harsh winters and the insane antics of seven sons, Dad never let an obstacle stand in his way. He learned to fix just about everything from farm equipment to cars to buildings to teenage boys and girls with attitude problems, all without the benefit of Google or YouTube. He built just about everything, including a reputation as an honest, reliable and trustworthy man. He was a mechanic, a carpenter, a veterinarian, an architect, a roofer, an entrepreneur and an environmentalist. He loved organic before it was cool, he ran for public office (and lost with grace, a valuable lesson for me) and he was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

As a man of faith, he was always ready to lend a hand. When an African American man showed up in our very, very white rural area wanting to start farming, he went around to other farmers looking for advice and help. Everyone laughed at him and told him he was nuts except for Dad. Dad and Ross ended up becoming good friends as well as neighbors, and I like to think that my dad was instrumental in the great success that Ross became in our area. This was just one of many times that Dad expressed his love for his fellow man by freely offering his knowledge, expertise and two calloused and weather worn hands.

As a farmer, Dad was no stranger to dirty jobs. From helping deliver calves to cleaning out the manure filled gutter in the barn, there was no disgusting mess that Lava soap didn’t clean up. Dad did what needed to be done, but still found time to build me a little log cabin (which still stands more than thirty years later) and a jewelry box (which I have carried with me through every move since I left home at 18). Dad was often stern and no-nonsense and could easily put the “fear of Dad” into us, but he could also make me laugh by speaking to my cat in Spanish or asking me if I had changed the oil in my car (haha – I did not inherit his mechanical skills).

In 1987 the tides had turned strongly against the small family farm. After years of barely making ends meet, an auction ended our full scale farming operation. Dad was a wise man, and he knew when it was time to make the tough decision. The sale of the equipment didn’t mean the end to his independence, though. Dad continued to build, grow, create and repair as his own boss, just in different ways. He was a stickler for detail, and a job done by my dad was job done right.

It turns out the only thing Dad couldn’t fix was his heart. Just a few days after telling his doctor, “I was born with this heart and I’ll die with it,” he did. My brother Eric said that when he heard Dad had died his first thought was that God must have needed something fixed. With my dad on the other side I’m sure everything is running smoothly now.

I learned a lot from my dad, but little did I know that the lessons would keep coming long after he passed on. As I grew up and created my own life, things that I didn’t understand when I was younger began to become clear to me. When I need strength, I remember how strong he was as we shipped my youngest brother off to fight in Desert Storm. As a parent now, I can’t imagine the heartache my parents experienced knowing Joe was in harm’s way, or the enormous relief they must have felt when he returned in one piece. When I need to stand up for what I believe in, I think of the extra expense and work he went through to avoid chemicals that harmed the earth at a time when “going green” was hardly en vogue and people must have thought he was a little off his rocker.

As my life progressed, I could see more and more all that he and Mom sacrificed for us. They worked with their hands, hearts and backs to provide us with the opportunity of a lifetime: to grow up on the freedom of a farm, strong and independent, owners of our own lives and calling none master. Some of us have channeled the entrepreneurial spirit Dad and Mom imparted to us, but even when we choose to work for someone else, that self-ownership and workman’s pride carries through, making us dedicated and honest employees.

Farming is a dirty job, but sometimes I think that raising nine children was the dirtiest job of them all. Dad got all nine of us through high school and showed us that we can and should pursue our dreams with discipline and integrity, even if it means shoveling a little manure. And then he left us, his final job completed.

Thanks, Mike, for letting me share with you about my dad. You would have liked him, and he would have liked you. If he’d been around for it, I can easily imagine him sitting in his recliner after a hard day’s work enjoying a cold one and an episode of Dirty Jobs.


Joanna Borseth-Ortega