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A Lesson From the Heart: Be Careful Where You Focus Your Attention, Lest You Make Yourself Miserable

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I've been a bit "emotional" lately. I usually share my ups and downs in my blog and newsletters, but in this case, I haven't. Quite honestly, it's all been a bit too close to my heart to wrap any words around the tumult of mixed emotions that have been playing havoc with my heartstrings.

But today I'm feeling brave. Sort of. Brave enough to share that my beautiful 16-year-old son Lachlan will soon be leaving our family nest to move across the world to finish high school.

You may be thinking, "Oh, is that all?" He's not dying. He's not on drugs. He's not refusing to leave his bedroom. Yes, I know. It's all relative, but for me, having my firstborn leave home at 16 to move to the far side of the world is a big deal.

Giving my four children deep roots and strong wings has always been important to my husband and me. Having spent 10 years of their childhood living in America (until two years ago when we returned to Australia), they have all come to see themselves as "global citizens." As we've relocated around the world, I've tried to nurture their passions, build their resilience, and grow their courage to pursue their dreams. I just hadn't factored in that my firstborn would be eager to do that at 16. And that doing so would take him 10,000 miles away. Ten-thousand-miles-is-a-bloody-long-way.

A few weeks ago I unloaded my tears on my friend Sue. As she gave me a hug she said, "So Lachlan is dreaming big and living boldly. Margie, did you seriously think the message of courage you write and speak about so much wouldn't filter through to your kids? Isn't Lachlan a product of the 'Culture of Courage' in your family that you espouse to leaders to create in their organizations?"

Ahhhh... yep, no irony lost there as I sobbed on her shoulder and wallowed in the size of the hole his departure would leave in the daily life of our family.

Sure I'm biased to the hilt, but I'm enormously proud of Lachlan. He is mature beyond his years, extraordinarily level-headed, hard-working, and largely unfazed by the miles that will soon separate him from those who love him most. Leaving his home, friends, extended family, and life here in Australia to move back to Virginia (where we previously lived) has been fueled by his passion for basketball and dream to one day play college basketball for a Division 1 team.

Of course, whether or not he will achieve his dream is far from certain. But to me what matters far more than that is the person he is becoming in the process, his commitment to striving for his best, and the purposefulness with which he is already living his life.

Numerous times over the last few months I've suddenly found myself breaking into tears at the thought of Lachlan leaving. In grocery store lines. Driving the kids to school. Standing in airport security lines. It can be quite embarrassing, really. But over recent weeks I've come to realize that if all I do is dwell on my loss, I will miss out on the mounting excitement surrounding all that Lachlan has to look forward to. Indeed I will miss out being fully present to him (and his three siblings) while he is still here!

So while I'm sure there are still more tears to flow and the thought of giving him that final hug goodbye turns my heart inside out, I have decided there is nothing to be served by focusing on what I am losing, and much to be served in celebrating the young man he is, the extraordinary man he is destined to become. That he will seize the most of this opportunity is in absolutely no doubt. Nor that he will make wise choices in how he spends his time and whom he spends it with. He's just that sort of young man. (Did I mention I am proud of him?)

Of course, while my circumstances are pretty unique, I know that all of us can fall into the trap of focusing too much on things that pull us down, amplifying our negative emotions and smothering positive ones from rising up. I know I'm not alone in sometimes dwelling too much on what I don't have, what I can't do, what is missing, or what I'm losing... on being complicit in making myself miserable!

It's not about white washing those things which need your attention. It's about not wasting your precious energy focused on things that fuel misery or breed anxiety. While we should never deny the harsher reality of our lives, or discount legitimate emotions, the deeper truth is that when we dwell on those aspects of our lives that give rise to resentment, sadness, frustration, victimhood, or anger, those very feelings can gradually grow to dominate the emotional landscape of our lives. This impacts not only our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, but poisons into our relationships, seeps into our interactions and limits our ability to take the very actions needed to create more positive outcomes.

The truth is that I have an enormous amount for which to be grateful. The truth is that you do also, despite all the things that aren't as you'd like in your life, the uncertainty you may face, or the loss you may have felt. We all do.

If there is some aspect of your life today that causes you angst or misery or frustration, then ask yourself where you've been focusing too much on what you can't do and what isn't right, rather than on what you can do and what is right. I promise you, making a shift will make all the difference.

What you focus on sets off a ripple effect in every area of your life, expanding outward and touching all areas of your life. So as you read this now, I invite you to be more intentional in putting your focus on that which lifts you and feeds you -- whether people, opportunities, or ways of thinking. That's what will grow your capacity to face the world with courage, optimism, and resilience, and that's what will expand in your reality.

So I encourage you to focus your attention on the things (and people) that lift you up, on seizing opportunities to forge richer relationships and nurture your spirit (rather than siphon your happiness!).

For me, that means not being complicit in my own misery, not dwelling on what I'm losing by having Lachlan move away, but on how much he has to gain and in turn, our whole family simply by knowing he is blossoming into the fullness of the person he was created to be.

Honestly, what more can any parent ever want?

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