This week Chicago had the biggest snowstorm in 5 years. Snow spun and swirled and piled and blew so fast in the wind I could hardly see in front of me. It was fantastic.
Snow plows created gigantic mountains of snow on the edges of sidewalks, parking lots and alleys. Kids climbed the mountains, toppled down, sledded their hearts out, shrieked and laughed aloud. Adults did too.
This whole week I keep thinking, this is just like the 90s! You know, when we used to have big snowstorms all the time? I’m a 1991 baby and grew up in Michigan. The photo above is my sister and I in a heap of snow in 1998. The entirety of our winters were snow on the ground and at least a few times per season, there was a knee deep snowstorm.
At school I would get into trouble for digging tunnels through the snow mountains and climbing through them. I was also pretty good at the game “King of the Mountain”. 2021 me corrects it to *Queen*.
Yes, I delighted in digging tunnels, tackling others and really just having a great time in heaps of magic snow. Not always safe or within the rules, and, so much fun!
This snow week has flooded memories into my mind and heart from the landscape alone. One specific memory has come to the forefront.
My Dad, my two siblings and I would always shovel our driveway and our walkway together. While not a huge driveway or brick path up the hill by country standards, people in the city would be shocked that we did that much with shovels. We were a farm family and comrades with physical work. We were a snow shoveling team.
My Dad would start and make one path right down the middle. Then we would split it into quadrants. Each of us was responsible for a quadrant and would start in the middle original path and shovel out to the edges. It was an efficient system and we would be done in a jiffy. Then after celebratory sledding, the four of us would barrel into the house caked with snow, bright red cheeks, making puddles everywhere and eager for hot cocoa with marshmallows.
As soon as each of us were big enough to carry a shovel, our Dad taught us this system. This is what we always did and it worked.
I vividly remember driving with my Dad one winter Saturday through a small town near our house called Prairieville. I’m guessing I was about 10 years old. I remember the sun bouncing off the snow and gleaming through the windows as we drove.
We passed a white house on the left hand side of the road that had a family all with shovels in their driveway. Some were in the middle, some were on the edges, some were circling, some were going diagonal as they shoveled.
There was no system.
I pointed and exclaimed to my Dad, “They have no system!”. Doesn’t that take them forever? How do they get every spot shoveled? Isn’t that stressful to not have a plan?!
I was utterly shocked.
My Dad proceeded to say something like, “Some people don’t think ahead or create a system. They waste a lot of time and don’t do as quality of work. Some people just don’t use systems.”
Coming from a house built on systems and structure, this was crazy to me. It was chaos. For whatever reason, that conversation remains clearly in my mind nearly 20 years later and has floated around me in the snowflakes this week.
As I’ve grown I’ve kept systems with me. While I’ve softened and evolved, systems in themselves remain a big part of my life.
Systems lead to peace and my success.
Systems and rituals help me be who I want to be.
To me, I don’t really care about something if I haven’t created a system or ritual for it. The things that really matter to me have a design and embodied way that I rely on.
What do systems do? They give me freedom, creativity and results.
When I have a process for something works, all I need to do is show up and do it! This is freedom. I do my steps and then what I want to happen, happens.
I have a system for joy - I do certain things to create it in my mind and heart, then joy appears and I get to experience it.
I have a system for practicing - I show up at my instrument, do my steps and my music gets better and therefore more easeful, fun and meaningful.
I have a system for writing - every single day I write first thing in the morning and every single Wednesday I write my blog. All I do is show up to the structure I’ve created.
I have a system for house tasks. When my clothes are in the washer, I can go to the grocery store and back in under 33 minutes. Then, I change over the clothes and unload my groceries.
Systems are a game I get to play that make me and my life better. Having systems frees my mind and heart - I show up, exist in the structure, follow the plan and things happen.
Systems and structures give birth to my creativity. How? I simply show up and then I get to play! It’s like a mental playground with fences. I’m safe to let loose inside and can’t be bothered. I set an intention, set a timer and then get lost in creation land - probably my favorite land of all.
In this land, I can soar.
The shadow side of my love of systems is that my flexibility muscle has been something I’ve needed to grow and expand. 2020 was great training for this muscle! I created lots of new systems and ways of being.
I've also grown to need and value “unstructured” time for myself. So, I schedule it. I give myself one day/week where I have no plan. Yes, I make a plan to have no plan! It works for me.
Mindfulness in itself has become a beautiful structure I exist in. It gives me the gifts of non-attachment, presence, conscious choice and so many other values that I live by. These values and practices of this system have simply changed my life for the better, which is why I care so much about paying it forward to others.
Perhaps the crux of it all is values. What are my values? What do I care about creating? And, what systems have a created in my life to support those values and creations to thrive and be embodied?
Whether it’s mindfulness, musical practice, daily habits or beliefs, these systems hold me high.
Something I love to do is to help people reach their potential and fullest expression of who they are. A lot of this comes down to systems and rituals people create based on three questions: Who are you? What do you care about? Why does it matter?
Then, together we create systems that nourish all three. I love supporting my students and my clients in designing what works for them.
It’s like a soul Tetris puzzle for me - winning means I’ve helped someone create a way to be more of who they are.
I send it to you, dear reader.
A message from the snow covered 90s:
What systems exist in your life?
What values are behind the systems?
Who are you?
What do you care about?
Why does it matter?
Then, make a system to support the values, results, person you’re becoming and the life you want to live.
Systems are a skill that anyone can learn and add to their life.
Here are ways to play "systems" with me:
If you’d like learn creation of systems and play “soul Tetris” with me through coaching, book a free call with me here. I’d love to explore and design with you.
If you or a kid in your life loves music and wants to learn it through mindfulness and tools like values and systems, reply to this email or reach out to me here. I’m welcoming piano students to Mindful Music.
Choose Joy Class!
In honor of my first year of entrepreneurship, I’m throwing a celebration class next Monday 2/8 at 5:30pm CST. It’s called Choose Joy! I’ll be teaching my system, rituals and way of joyful living. It will be a foundation of mindfulness followed by specific practices. You’re invited. Sign up here.
As I look out my window and see heaps of snow galore, I am grateful. I’m grateful for the messages from the 90’s, my younger self and reminders about how my roots help me create who I want to be each day.
I love that about the world and nature. Sometimes the most simple things are the biggest teachers and reminders. Thank you, snow!
If the 90’s had a message for you, what is it?
1) Connect to your values.
2) Create beautiful systems that work for you to embody them each day.
3) Show up for yourself and live in what you design.
In love, snow and soul Tetris,