Celebrating Strong Women: Letting Go of Certainty

unnamed-1Today’s Strong Woman is my friend, Anna Pantano-Cotman. Anna is a yoga instructor, life coach and has a Masters in Management International. Moving frequently as a military spouse with her husband and two daughters, she is on a personal journey to truly learn how to make the best of every situation.

Letting Go of Certainty

At age eight I got my first alarm clock after my Mom discovered I was awake at 2:00 a.m. worried about how I would know when to get up for school. It is safe to say my obsession with the future continued well into my late twenties and is something I still struggle with today. Although being a planner by nature can be beneficial, it has its dark side. It has cost me hours of moments missed because I was thinking, talking or making plans for the future. You would often hear me utter the words “when I get this job…once I am married…after I have kids…” all ending with some description of why life would be better.  However, as the years went on “when” never came. What I know now is that “when” will never come because our big opportunity to be happy is right now, in the present moment.

My first real wake up call happened in my late twenties. Three months before my wedding I broke off the engagement after he admitted he never wanted children and I was determined to have them. Ironically, by ending the relationship I faced the possibility of not having kids in addition to leaving the man I had known for twelve years. I was devastated, but I was also given something wonderful: the opportunity to learn to joyfully live in the present moment. After lots of counseling and soul searching the person who always was focused on the future, never happy with what was, started experiencing the pure joy that can only be felt when one is fully engaged in the present moment. In my late twenties, no relationship, very little income and having let go of the certainty of children I found myself happier than I had ever been.

What helped me make the change?

  • I figured out what inspires and grounds me in the present moment. Yoga, experiencing nature, connecting with my spiritual community and savoring the precious time I have with family and friends.
  • I gave myself permission to really be present with my sadness or anger when things don’t work out the way I hoped and then I let it go shifting my focus to what is possible now.
  • I frequently spend time with gratitude.  I tell others I appreciate them, write down what I am grateful for and make mental lists of all the blessings in my life.  I promise, the more time you spend in gratitude the easier it becomes to see all you have to be grateful for.
  • I practiced living in the moment. This can be done at anytime, e.g. when taking a shower feel every drop of water on your body, while with your children play even for five minutes undistracted completely engaged and when on a walk really listen to the variety of sounds that surround you.

Despite my years of practice I am still a planner by nature. I frequently have to stop myself as I try to figure out what decision I want to make five years into the future. I often spend my precious quiet time away from my kids enjoying the process of adding things to my calendar.  The difference now is my attachment to the plans and the understanding that I have no idea what will be best for me five years from now.

A little before I turned thirty I married the love of my life and he is an Active Duty Military Member. Three months after we married we moved to South Korea and moved five more times in the last eight years. With at least a few more moves, possible deployments and I guarantee many unexpected changes over the next ten years I am grateful for the lessons I learned during my late twenties. That experience is exactly what has prepared me to thrive not just survive as a military spouse. I now know each change in future plans is an opportunity to experience something new, a chance to meet someone so wonderful that your heart will break when you have to say goodbye and another opportunity to practice living joyfully in the present moment.

This brings me to the last thing that has kept me moving forward enjoying the life I have now. Don’t give up on making the best of every situation; every twist and turn that life throws you. Whether you find yourself physically moving or emotionally moving due to changes in your life letting go of what one thought should happen opens up a whole world of opportunities of what is possible. Most importantly change is another opportunity to spend time living with all the blessing you have now and enjoying them without distraction of past or present.

Brave

“The ship is safest when it’s in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”
Paulo Coelho

I’ve always had an adventurous streak. When I was 15, I saved my money and flew to Estonia to spend three weeks with family friends. In these early days of email, I sent maybe two messages to my parents. (These had to be word processed, saved on a disk, transferred to a work computer, copied into an email, and finally sent.) I had an amazing experience and I know my parents were confident in my safety, even without reliable communication.

A couple years later, they put me on another plane. This one was headed to Paris, where I spent my college years. Email had improved and I was able to keep in daily contact. Even so, an 8-hour time difference taught me to trust my intuition, even as I desperately wanted my parents’ advice and encouragement.

And again, a few years later, a trip to Kathmandu led me to three months of sketchy internet in the midst of a Maoist crisis. By this time I had learned to edit emails, to share details that put my parents at ease and saved the more intense stories for when we were safely face-to-face.

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Rafting in Nepal

Throughout it all, my parents trusted me and taught me to approach life and opportunities with courage and confidence.

Now, as a mom of a two-year-old, I see my daughter’s independence and adventurous spirit already emerging. In fact, one of her favorite questions is, “Should we go on an adventure?”

Backyard Superhero Adventures
Backyard Superhero Adventures

Even though we’re years away from kindergarten… And college… And real adventures, I find myself preparing for those days. I have a feeling my strong daughter will do life Big and it’ll be hard to let her go.

But, staying close, staying safe, isn’t who she’s meant to be. I don’t want to force her into a safe harbor – I want her to go out into this world. So, in the meantime, it’s my job to model and encourage bravery. Maybe it’s not in grand adventures, but in small moments: In letting her walk “by herself” to the park (some 20 feet ahead of me); In opening the back door and letting her explore without me in view; In trying new things myself – from a part time job to opening our home to new friends to taking a class to learn a new skill; In letting her see that courage doesn’t end as a child, but continues throughout life.

How are you living courageously? Any advice for letting kids go?

Perfect Timing

Sisters
Sisters

A few months after our wedding, Frank and I decided it was the perfect time to add a puppy to our family. We had talked about wanting to be a dog family before getting married and, since we wanted our puppy trained before tax season began in January, we decided September would be a good time to start looking. Right after our conversation, Frank noticed a sign in the coffee shop by his office. A backyard breeder on the north end of town had puppies that would be ready for a home in a couple weeks.

We made an appointment and drove up to look at the puppies. They were beautiful! Some sort of shepherd mix, we fell in love with a quiet female. She was old enough to go home right away, so we brought her with us and spent the weekend getting to know our newest family member. Frank’s office is in a Victorian house on a double lot with a large fence around the grassy area. We decided that we would train our dog to go into work with him. She would be a mostly outdoor dog, but we thought being with Frank and outside all day was better than having her stay inside.

Frank brought her to work that first Monday – before we had taken her to the vet or even gotten tags for her collar. After an unproductive morning of playing with her in the yard, Frank went in to meet with a client. He heard her whimpering and barking outside, but was told by a dog-owning friend to ignore her cries – paying attention to them would create a spoiled dog.

After his meeting, Frank went down to check on our pup, only to find that she had disappeared. There was no sign of how she could have gotten out of the fenced yard. We searched the neighborhood, made signs, and spent weeks visiting shelters after work. Our only thought is that someone heard her cries and came into the unlocked yard to take her.

It was our first tragedy as a young family and I wondered if we would ever get another dog or if we would be competent parents with our own human children. After lots of processing and finally accepting the reality that we had lost our puppy, we decided to start thinking about a new dog. The more pragmatic side of me wondered if we had missed our window of opportunity to train a dog before tax season. Frank, who is far more optimistic, said we would figure out the timing – we wanted a dog, and we should look for a dog.

Daisy's first day home
Daisy’s first day home

This time around, we went to Lifeline Puppy Rescue, where I fell in love with a bear cub-like, energetic, jumping puppy. Frank wasn’t as sure, but little Daisy and I bonded as she snuggled into my lap. We took her home with us that day and before we made it to our house, had stopped at Petsmart for ID tags.

Daisy Deux never went to the office. We kennel trained her to stay at home and she happily became a one-family dog. We did a puppy training class that ended a week before the craziness of tax season began, and now, five years later, I can’t imagine better timing for our first “child.”

The past few weeks have been a lesson in timing for me. I am reminded that any time I have made plans for the perfect timing of something, life happens and things usually don’t go the way I planned. From professional opportunities, marriage and family, to kids and pregnancy, opportunities and interactions come along that are completely out of my control. And, in hindsight, the imperfect timing of it all is actually more perfect than I could have planned.

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop planning my life – it’s part of who I am. But, I can learn to adjust as I go. I’m slowly learning to hold my plans loosely and to go with the flow when twists and turns occur. And as much as I love planning, I love looking back on the imperfections of my plans to realize how amazingly everything has fallen into place.

Are you a planner? How do you go with the flow?