Make your next step attainable

In 2013, I was fired for the first time. From a job I loved and which was a huge part of my life. A job of passion, making the abysmal pay and insane amount of work worth it. I had 5 supervisors in a 3 year period, with each one acting increasingly colder towards me. The organization is amazing – teaching girls ages 5-18 valuable life skills that challenge gender stereotypes and empower them to break down the patriarchal systems of oppression they were born in to. Yet, my supervisors could not handle the fact that I was smart, confident, and willing to question things for the betterment of the organization. The fact that I was fairly young for the position I held, combined with my tendency to challenge authority, meant that my communication style at the time was not always well-delivered nor well-received. But, regardless – I had good relationships with my co-workers and the numbers showed I was skilled at my job. I would have thought that this would have caused my supervisors to at least give me the time to express my thoughts and ideas, because I had proven myself.

But, no. The fifth supervisor was a passive-aggressive Southern woman with less fundraising experience than me and absolutely no experience working in this town. She didn’t like that I was not willing to engage in idle chit chat, when I had a task list stacked high on my desk. After I learned in a board meeting that she was considering cutting my support position and a major event, I said it would have been nice if we’d talked about that first. This made her scream at me in front of board members and co-workers like a frustrated and unskilled mother screaming at a toddler. I set up a mediation with a HR volunteer so we could find a better way to communicate. How dare I?! Two days after that mediation, I was sent packing with a whopping one week of severance (after almost 7 years of service and having raised many millions of dollars.) No thank you. No good bye. Just “get the fuck out.”

This callous act crushed me. I carry more trauma from that time than from the sexual assault I experienced in collage or the physical/emotional abuse from my partner last year. I didn’t realize just how much trauma I carried from that experience until earlier this year when things started to get stressful at the current job and I had some freak-out triggered moments.

Once I was fired, my low-level depression started to become a very serious problem. My confidence was destroyed. I didn’t feel smart enough, talented enough, hard-working enough. I felt unappreciated, judged, and shunned. I felt too out-spoken, too rigid, and too challenging. All these traits that I had previously seen as strengths and defining attributes of my character suddenly seemed to be major faults. I felt like I created the situation and I deserved what I got. I was broke and felt alone. I lost co-worker friends because my hurt and anger wouldn’t allow me to hear their perspective or even see that they felt bad. I isolated myself from other friends. I didn’t feel the same ambition when applying to new jobs, and I believed my desire to leave fundraising/non-profits would just fail. So, I found a job at a small non-profit in San Diego. And I ran away.

While I was in San Diego, it was like everything I had been experiencing before but ten-fold. I was literally isolated, working in an office by myself a block away from where programs happened. My boss and the board members couldn’t communicate with me. My body, my clothing style, my tattoos, my red hair… even major donors looked at me with a side-eye. They couldn’t understand my method of fundraising, and I was not interested in the ass-kissing charity style they were used to. I had no friends and was struggling to meet people. Dating was a joke that actually just made me feel worse about myself. And, I was sponging off my aunt. (Thank God for her.) Why did I have to choose the most conservative, most shallow county of California to relocate to? Because I didn’t think it through. I just ran away.

I did meet a volunteer through work who was a life coach. She could see I was struggling, so she mentored me for a short bit. She showed me the tool “Wheel of Life.” I thought it would be perfect for me – I naturally compartmentalize things. But, so much shit was going wrong, this simple tool that was meant to make things more manageable felt overwhelming, hi-lighting all the things wrong in my life. I looked at it once and never again.

That is, I didn’t look at it again until years later when my therapist showed me the same tool. Now, with my depression not nearly as bad and things feeling more level in my mind and heart, I have been able to use it as intended. I’ll walk you through how I used it, and some of the things that came from this valuable exercise.

Wheel of Life

I got the above version of the Wheel of Life from toolshero. They give a good break-down of how it works, and I like how they designed their pie. There’s lots of versions you can use, though. Posted a Word doc you can download on the Tools page.

We’re meant to assign a different aspect of our life to each pie slice. The above version has sections for Career, Finances, Health, Family & Friends, Romance, Personal Development, Fun & Recreation, and Contribution to Society. I created a piece with more slices, including:

  1. Creativity
  2. Home
  3. Finances
  4. Physical Health (Fitness / Nutrition)
  5. Spiritual
  6. Confidence
  7. Family
  8. Friends / Social
  9. Work
  10. Mental Health
  11. Service / Volunteer
  12. Relationship

Once you label your sections, without giving too much thought, rank your level of contentment with that area of your life, with 1 at the center of the circle (super bummed out about it) to 10 at the outer edge (pinnacle of perfection, the ultimate goal). Draw a line at that number. When you’re done, you have a visual as to why life seems overwhelming or out of sync or just plain shitty. Imagine having a tire that looked like that? Fred Flintstone couldn’t even deal!

The next step is to come up with a simple thing you can do to improve each ranking by one level. If you scored a 2 in one area, don’t focus on what it will take to get to 10. Instead, how do you get to a 3?

One reason I lose motivation and stop working towards a goal is because I am always looking to the end and measuring my progress against that. Shit starts to feel slow, and the changes that happen seem inconsequential. The point of the Wheel of Life is to come up with ideas for how to improve in each category – enough to get to the next level higher. Focus on the next step, and you won’t get overwhelmed.

My Ranking

This was how I ranked each pie-slice:

  1. Creativity (1): I was creative when young – playing multiple instruments, winning awards, kicking ass – but, as an adult, I allowed the opinions of artist-friends to taint my opinion of myself and my own creativity.
  2. Home (5): My home needed some love following the demise of my relationship.
  3. Finances (3): My finances were in bad shape.
  4. Physical Health (5): Even though I’d lost 45 pounds over the previous year, I still wanted to eat better and workout more.
  5. Spiritual (1): I’m very pragmatic and was feeling disconnected from any personal spiritual path, and tended to associate spirituality with the church.
  6. Confidence (7): I still felt I need to rebuild my confidence following the slump of 2013/2014.
  7. Family (7): I have solid connection with family, but our interactions were few and far between.
  8. Friends / Social (7): same as family
  9. Work (8): While I love my current job environment, I have had a desire to change paths from non-profit fundraising to something else – I am tired of helping other people effect change through their job; I want to do that direct good work.
  10. Mental Health (7): Mental health is obviously a major focus right now.
  11. Service (7): I have volunteered since I was a teen, and have been on non-profit boards since my 20s. But, I stopped doing anything like that while I was dealing with my depression and unemployment.
  12. Relationship (1): My relationship had just ended and I am not ready for a new one, but I want to gain a better understanding of what boundaries, desires, and needs I have and what kind of partner I want/need.

I made my priorities Creativity, Home, Finances, and Physical Health, followed by Spirituality, Confidence, Family, and Friends. I kept racking my brain for ideas on how to incorporate creativity into my life; they all felt forced and foreign, so nothing panned out. Improving my home was easy – early Spring cleaning in January and February, purging my ex-boyfriend’s items, reorganizing, getting some chi flowing, and planning for Spring gardening. I started to evaluate my debt and research options for a long-term plan, while saving and paying off as much as I could (super stressful, but at least it was forward motion.) I started back on my regime for daily vitamins, increased water in-take, and walking more each day, even signing on to help walk a friend’s dogs at lunch a couple times a week. I was afforded the opportunity to dive into my personal approach to spirituality because of my own processing of grief, seeing friends processing and navigating the impending death of a parent, watching the new movie on my hero, Fred Rogers, and sharing my thoughts in therapy. I texted friends more often, and relied on my sister for guidance and support as I began the healing process following my holiday DV-induced “break-up.”

Baby steps.


I decided that I would re-evaluate my Wheel of Life every 3 or 4 months. I found that all of the simple action items I had assigned for each category were fairly easy things to work on; I could see growth in each area, but, I still felt stalled out in several. My motivation was lagging. I wanted change and I wanted change now!

Then, a couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany as I experienced a sort of convergence of several pie-slices. A close friend was in the process of putting her dog down, and she and several friends were grieving this difficult decision. (You will learn, as this blog progresses, that I and my friends love our pets as if they were our children.) As I was driving to her house to say my goodbyes and to show my friend love and compassion, I remembered when Violet first came into our lives. This silly half-Pit-half-Basset was a character, and I would joke about someday writing a kid’s book about her.

Then, it hit me – I WOULD write that kid’s book. I shared my idea with my friends that evening, and their response affirmed for me that it was a good idea. The lessons Violet would teach through these stories would be the same lessons I was learning with my therapist. (Seriously….what I am learning at age 42 should be things we all learn at age 4.) This would be an opportunity for me to do good work as I translate the things I learn for a child to understand; to see if I am cut out for a career change as a therapist; to potentially make some money; to acknowledge my creativity as a researcher, writer, and educator; to regain my confidence by doing a project all my own (rather than helping manifest someone else’s project) and hi-lighting some of my strongest skills; to find a meaningful way to connect with friends and family (as I interview them to learn more about their beloved four-legged companions who would become characters in the book); and, to explore all of the 12 areas of my Wheel of Life in the stories I tell.

This book idea was possible because certain aspects of my life were always on my mind, being given thought and intention throughout the day, and because I had set manageable steps to improve each area as I slowly progressed towards my ultimate goals. And, because I have seen just how quickly measurable growth can occur just by setting intentions and simple action plans, I am confident that it will be easier for me to maintain motivation and continue developing this project, as well as continue to improve all aspects of my life.

Oh yeah…because of the boost to my confidence and my desire to explore therapy as a new career path, that’s how this blog was born. Bonus!

One thought on “Make your next step attainable

  1. Pingback: Ancestral Guidance – Ik pim anukfila / Let us be mindful

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