A Short Story on the Value of Taking Risks

Risking by Patty Hansen

Two seeds lay side by side in the fertile spring soil.

The first seed said, “I want to grow!  I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me, and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me . . . I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring . . . I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!”

And so she grew.

The second seed said, “I am afraid.  If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark.  If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts . . . what if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them?  And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child may pull me from the ground.  No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.”

And so she waited.

A yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.

MORAL:  Those of us who refuse to risk and grow get swallowed up by life.

Play Therapy for Adults

Think for a moment about children at play.  They are often creative, happy, laughing, less inhibited, more daring.  Play can be good therapy for children as well as adults.  Do we grow out of being playful as we age?  Do we learn to become so overly cautious and self-conscious that we forget how to free ourselves from our adult responsibilities just to have fun?  Wouldn’t it perhaps lift our spirits to go run in a park, plop down on a swing and soar into the sky, propel on a scooter, or play a lawn game?  Whether you are around kids or not, challenge yourself to join in the fun, letting your body feel free, your mind be unburdened by responsibilities just for a few moments, and your chronological clock to run backwards a few years.  Enjoy the moments, and seize the day.

SMART goals

Goals are excellent for us to have.  Goals can guide us toward our future, toward changes we want to make, and toward accomplishments we wish to achieve.  Creating a SMART goal has five essential parts.

what is a smart goal?

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Reasonable or Realistic

T = Time-limited or Time-specific

For example, someone might have a goal to get a new job.  Without a reasonable plan, it might seem daunting and frustrating on a daily basis to think and dream about that new job, but not know where to start or have any progress toward it.

A “smart” goal sounds like this: “I will submit 1 job application each week, and accept all interviews offered even if only for the experience.”  Notice that the goal isn’t focused on the outcome of getting the job, but on the steps that are under your control.  The goal is specific in terms of the action, measurable (1 application per week), achievable based upon the time and energy available to do a job search, reasonable, and has a timeframe.

When you set goals for yourself, try using the acronym above to guide you toward setting goals that are SMART.  Good luck!

Relaxation in three minutes.

Margaret Townsend is a certified breath work practitioner in Portland, Oregon who shares this three minute relaxation exercise for wellness [this exercise was originally printed in Real Simple magazine, August 2015].

Investing three minutes each day can help you feel more centered and energized.  Try it first thing in the morning when you are still in your pajamas.

Stand with your feet apart, a bit wider than hip-width, and imagine little springs in all of your joints: ankles, knees, hips, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders and jaw.  Bounce a bit into these “springs,” then begin to shake your whole body in a comfortable but vigorous rhythm, allowing your shoulders to move up and down, your head to bob, your hands to flap, and your breath to be free.  Keep this going for a whole minute.  When you stop, just be still for a moment and feel the natural movement of your breath; notice how alive your body feels.

Now sit down on a comfortable surface.  With your jaw relaxed and your chest and belly soft, take an inhale, feeling the breath flow in, bathing your body and mind in refreshing, cleansing energy, then falling freely into an exhale.  Allow the next inhale to come like a gentle wave rising, so there’s a nice, soft, circular feel to the breath – no break between inhale and exhale.  Continue this connected flow for about two minutes.  Then sit for a moment, breathe naturally, and enjoy being awake and feeling whole.

The path to recovery.

What does the path to recovery look like?  I like to conceptualize it as a process, not a destination.  During the course of treatment, it is anticipated that there may be times when progress is stalled, or even reversed as set-backs are faced and hurdles are numerous.  Ideally, we’d like to think of treatment as a steady progression toward the goal.  Yet that is not realistic.  Going a few steps backwards may be difficult and frustrating, yet it also can provide valuable learning and growth opportunities as long as you are still facing forward.  By facing forward, I mean that you are focused on getting better, improving your life, and achieving a better place for yourself.  It’s when you turn your back on trying to get to that better place that significant problems can arise.

There’s a quote by Vincent van Gogh that seems to speak to this lesson:

Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

Making a Difference, One Starfish at a Time

A client recently remarked to me about how long and overwhelming life’s list of tasks can be.  She was starting to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worthwhile – – that for every one thing she might work on, several more crept up and perhaps it wasn’t worth trying anymore.  Her despair and fatigue were palpable.  I asked her if she knew the story of the Star Thrower, which she did not.  I share it here as inspiration for us to continue on, even when life seems daunting, because we can make a difference.

The Star Thrower (adapted, by Loren Eiseley)

One day a wise man was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself, to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up.  As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, “Good morning!  What are you doing?”  The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing Starfish into the ocean.”

“I guess I should have asked; why are you throwing Starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”

“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it?  You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves.  “It made a difference for that one.”

Taking Care vs. Caretaking

It’s not uncommon for me to hear people struggle with balancing their own needs and those of others.  Some err on the side of being highly self-focused, while others veer more toward being a caretaker.  But an extreme caretaking role can be a problem if you lose sight of the importance of taking care of yourself.

If you’ve ever flown in an airplane and listened to the safety instructions prior to take-off, you’ve probably heard something like this: “In the even of a loss of cabin air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.  Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.”  Essentially, this is stressing to us that we are less able, perhaps fully unable, to help others when we are gasping ourselves for air (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, overcommitted, stressed, physically or mentally compromised).  So, it’s important to take care of yourself — not only for your own good, but so that you can be available to help others as well.

Parents Make a Difference

In my discussions with parents, I often hear the distress in their voices, wondering if they are making a difference in the life of their son or daughter.  They ask questions such as how to help their child avoid substance use, handle teasing/bullying, feel confident and build solid self-esteem.  While the solutions to these topics may take time to implement, one thing remains true: parents can and do make a difference.  As we found in a 2006 study, adolescents who perceive that their parents (mother and/or father) care about them, feel as though they can talk to them, and value their opinions (even if they don’t heed the advice!) are adolescents who have stronger mental health.  These are the adolescents who are less likely to experience depression and low self-esteem.  They are also less likely to use substances, engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and attempt suicide.

Parents can make significant strides toward helping their kids feel valued by taking time on a regular basis to listen with full attention, making eye contact during conversations, and refraining from quick judgment or providing solutions to the problem.  Focus instead on holding a discussion in which pros and cons of many solutions to a problem are discussed, and seek to help the young person make an appropriate decision on his or her own.

Reference:  Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M & Perry C. (2006). Parent-child connectedness and behavioral and emotional health among adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30 (1), 59-66.  Abstract can be found here.



Perhaps you have heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Being vigilant and determined are significant factors in achieving growth and change in mental health.  If we don’t try new approaches to our life, different ways of relating, and changes to old habits, we can stay stuck and remain stagnant.  Although it may be a challenge to muster the courage to try something new, keep the following quote in mind . . . Triumph is just “umph” added to try.  Put some umph in your efforts today!

A Value Added Life

Can’t find the spring in your step?  Living a life that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? 

Consider adding something to your life that would increase its value.  Are you missing out in relationships with depth, in your spiritual connections, in giving to others or nurturing yourself?  Are you spending hours in a job that is inconsistent with your personal goals or morals?  Do you have hobbies and interests that you haven’t indulged in for a long time?  These value added life factors are important to life satisfaction.

The business world speaks often of “value added” in terms of production – – – at each stage of the production process, businesses want to understand what value is added at that particular time.  Consider the same for your life.  Given where you are in your life at this very moment, what is the next piece of value that you could add to your life?  Make sure it’s manageable and able to be accomplished so that you can glean from that value and move forward with a little more spring in your step.