Karen, of the fantastic photo and inspirational blog Chookooloonks, launched a new five week online course this Fall called Path Finder. Anyone who is in the midst of a life change and is looking for a new path would benefit from the personal work in this course. Karen herself changed her own life's direction from lawyer to photographer and the many steps that she went through to solidify her vision for herself are being shared in this course. It's an online, self-guided course which you can complete at your own pace. Every week there is a theme and each weekday we receive an email describing the day's task. We've completed two weeks and I've already learned so much about myself. Each day we are also supposed to write two "morning pages", adapted from The Artist's Way, create a daily to-do list and we are supposed to end each day by listing at least one good thing that happened to focus on what we are grateful for.

The first week was Introspection and we worked on a writing prompt that helped us identify the things that we loved doing. We then used that list to identify broad categories that represented those things we loved to do. Then the categories were refined down into groups and the ones that were the largest became our four or five words that represented the things in our lives that light us up the most. I had 9 pages of things I liked to do, 28 categories and 8 groups after the whole thing was done. Initially, the four words I choose weren't quite right, I kept revisiting it and thinking something needed to change. Finally though, I identified the words OBSERVE, REFLECT, DOCUMENT and CONNECT. These are my light words.

For me, OBSERVE is all about experiencing life. I'm a very sensory person and I love to experience life with all of my senses but my favorite sense has always been sight. I love to simply watch people, movement, or colors changing in the sky. It's all about what I can see. REFLECT is often what I need to do after I have experienced something. I can't just move on, I need to process my experience. Sometimes I process things literally when I develop my photos but it's also a metaphor for analysing my experiences and trying to glean some understanding and wisdom from them. DOCUMENT is why I take pictures, it's why I write. I want to freeze moments in time and remember them forever. It's what I do here on this blog. Finally CONNECT is all about you, the people around me. It's what happens when I share my stories, when I meet people and when I hear their stories. I want to connect with people, to inspire them and to help them share their own stories.

The second week was Visualization and I decimated dozens of magazines looking for images that represented my light words and the things that I would like for myself in the next year. Sorting though these images was similar to the work we did in the first week, but with imagery instead of words. In some ways it was more challenging to find the right images, but it was so satisfying when I would find the perfect picture. I created a vision board out of the images by arranging the ones that I loved the most on a painted canvas, gluing them down and adding some doodles. It makes me so happy to look at these images, it inspires me to work hard.

Our next task was to chose ONE WORD to guide us for this year. This concept was developed by Ali Edwards and she has a class you can join to work on One Little Word. Her group chooses a word in January, however, I love the idea of doing this in September, at the beginning of the school year. It's always been a time for new beginnings for me. After pouring over my dictionary and thesaurus and considering no less than twenty different words, I finally settled on ENDEAVOR. Initially I had thought "achieve" would be my word, but in reading about it I realized it was too focused on an end result for me and I wanted something that was more focused on the process of achieving, less about completing a goal and more about the journey I suppose. In addition to the word, we were also supposed to track down two or more quotes that illustrated our word. 

2011/2012 One Word: ENDEAVOR

Endeavor is... to strive to achieve or reach, to attempt by exertion of effort, to work with a set purpose, to make an effort, to work for a particular goal, try hard to do or achieve something, a serious attempt to achieve something, serious and prolonged effort.

Related to... Try, Attempt, Seek, Undertake, Aspire, Aim, Set Out, Strive, Work, Apply Yourself, Do Your Best, Give Your All, Do Your Damnedest!

"If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and ENDEAVORS to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." - Henry David Thoreau 

"Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative ENDEAVORS." - W. Eugene Smith

"No ENDEAVOR that is worthwhile is simple in prospect; if it is right, it will be simple in retrospect." - Edward Teller

Karen also suggested this one, "If you are trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it." - Michael Jordan

It's big work, this soul searching. It's self-indulgent and revealing and yet it's precisely what I need to be doing right now. It feels like school, it feels like work and it's just as thrilling and rewarding as both of those things were for me. Last year when I found myself wanting and ABLE to do something other than take care of my children 24/7, I knew I could do something interesting with my life, but with limited time and little guidance, I often felt like I was spinning my wheels, falling back into old habits or otherwise not making very much progress. At least I started though.

Last year my word would have been BEGIN. Starting with the art class I took last summer, over the last year I have been making purposeful steps toward SOMETHING. I started writing my blog again, I got a great camera, I began to paint again, I redesigned my blog and I bought photo equipment. More than anything though, I have been taking pictures and writing in a more intentional way. I've been busy this last year but it's time to "get dirty". (My husband suggested that should be my one word! Thanks hon!) With this course and two upcoming retreats/conferences in the next four months, I'm throwing myself into the thick of it.

I don't exactly know what will become of it, but I am determined to figure it out. I think the key is in my board. You see where it says, "Your Story?" I think that it might not be enough for me to just tell my own story. I think that I might want to help other people tell their stories too. I think that might be where I am heading. I want to be a Storyteller. I AM a Storyteller. I want to tell true stories, amazing stories, ordinary stories and timeless stories. Storytelling is a rich experience filled with insights. I don't want to just take posed portraits of people, that's only one part of the puzzle for me, I want to enrich it with writing and understanding. I want to preserve it, document it, and make something meaningful to hold in our hands. I want to shine a light on the deeper things in our lives; our possessions, our histories, our daily lives. I'm still figuring it out, but it's starting to become clearer.

In the last two weeks I have worked harder and learned more than I have in a whole year of trying to do it by myself. There is something to be said about doing these things in a group, with support, in a place where you can ask for help and get clarity. Besides the emails that Karen is sending out, there is a private section on her site where each email is posted and we are able to comment on each one, leaving notes about our progress, or lack of progress! Many of us are on twitter too and we've been posting there too. This group is pretty incredible. There are people from all over the world who, like me, are searching for a little more, a little guidance and some tangible definitions of ourselves. Not everyone is engaged with the group and Karen has set it up so you can be as private as you like about the work. There is no pressure to share at all. For those of us that like to engage and connect though, the experience has been incredible. If you are interested, check out the #chookfinder hashtag on twitter and you can see some of the comments people are making.

So, unless you are one of those perpetually happy people who loves every moment and every thing in your life, you would surely benefit from either taking Karen's course (she's offering a late fall session, registration will be mid-October, so keep an eye on her twitter or blog) or at the very least trying to work on a few of these exercises yourself. I think it would be easier in the course though, Karen's got tons of advice, examples and resources that really help you sort through this stuff and for me, it really helps to be on a deadline. I'll be honest, it's hard work and at times totally overwhelming, but it's so awesome to focus on myself and really consider what I am trying to do here. Once you get through the blocks, you come out on the other side and think, well, OF COURSE!! Life is short people, and we've got to get busy making our mark on it.

Full Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. I paid for the course myself and have been enjoying it thoroughly.