Changing Places Workshop Backstory

LifeworkThis workshop came to me over many decades.  As a child, I accompanied my mother when she went into people’s homes to help them in times of significant life events.

My mother immigrated to the US from Scandinavia, where it is cold and dark for many months. During the dark months, people banded together to celebrate good fortune and handle challenges. These people are hardy, strong and resourceful. And committed to helping others.

My mom never fit in to the fast pace of life the US. She liked to sit and drink coffee with friends at 4 pm every day, as she did back home. Her accent, which I thought was beautiful and musical, identified her as a foreigner, and she interpreted that as being an outcast.

She coped by building community and giving back as much as she could to those in need. We shopped at sales, and Mom bought clothes to donate to people from our church and donation centers. Many people she tried to donate to were too proud to accept charity, so Mom and I washed these clothes many times and then beat them with large rocks so they would look used. Then when she donated the clothes again, these beat-up clothes were gratefully accepted.

She also gave back by visiting people who were going through difficult situations. She’d listen to them and, of course, make them coffee. After people were comfortable accepting help, we would do small things, like take out garbage and do a minimal clean-up. Our efforts were controlled and quiet. I knew not to make a fuss or a big mess, so people didn’t get overwhelmed.

Mom had a comforting presence, so after awhile, people would let us do work that was more involved. Mom sorted items with low-key speed. Decisions of keep, donate, fix, trash, recycle were efficient. Since Mom was from a hardy stock of quiet people, her questions were quiet and insightful.

Years of this work created my skills. In my teens, I opened my first business. I knew that people wouldn’t hire a teenager to organize, but they did need their houses cleaned. So I opened a cleaning and organizing business and word spread. I was busy and loved the work. I created order from chaos. Clients were happy. We developed systems together that they could manage on their own.

At the same time, I started mediating teenagers’ conflicts. Once again, I created order from chaos. I wasn’t afraid to speak to the conflict or the truth behind it. I received thank you notes and sometimes long letters from people whom I had helped.

I continued this work in my twenties. Graduate school and then law school added to my repertoire of skills, and I started helping people with uniquely complicated situations.

I worked in law firms and state agencies. Some of that work was gratifying. Some was not. Life gave me a series of opportunities for personal growth, and I used them to re-evaluate what I wanted from this very interesting life.

 I’ve been working since 2000 as an organizer with a small boutique law practice. I completed a program and was certified as a professional coach. I added the coaching piece to the rest of my work. I observed patterns and groups of tools and coping mechanisms in all of the work I did. Being a coach helped clients build systems they could use to get themselves out of old patterns and simultaneously build new ones.

Read the next three blog entries to read about the components of Changing Places.

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