Five Stages of Grief and Change Management

five stages of grief
Photo Credit: eClosure

The Five Stages of Grief are simple: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance. But they’re also anything but simple.

Why am I talking about the five stages of grief today? Because they’re part of life and they’re even part of organizations. And this week I’m thinking particularly of the stages of grief in the context of change management. While we typically only use the word “grief” around funerals – it’s a valid label for the emotions we experience whenever and wherever we experience loss.

Loss happens in organizations and communities because things change. So part of effective change management means managing the grieving process.

The five stages of grief give us a map but with caveats. First, this is not a linear progression. People can start anywhere and circle through all the stages. We can go straight to depression or bounce back and forth between anger, bargaining and denial. Second, there is no time frame for each phase – you can’t schedule how long this process will last.

In the face of relationship loss, most of us assume acceptance just comes with time and that everyone will differ on how much time they will need. I see this assumption in organizations as well. “Just give them some time and they’ll come around” is a common attitude when people are resisting change. But I think there’s a lot more to it than that.

Managing Change in light of the Five Stages of Grief

Let’s say you plan out a grand new vision – great new things will come but it will mean cleaning house, reorganizing and streamlining. In an ideal world, you build consensus before implementing changes by gathering adequate feedback. You invite everyone affected to share in the vision by holding forums and discussion panels. You analyze what people will lose in the change, not just what they will gain. In this way, you make sure people feel valued and maintain some sense of membership.

This kind of process may allow you to avoid causing people grief all together. If they have had time to consider ideas before they’re set in cement, can help shape and design what’s coming, then the ownership and excitement they feel will mitigate the grief because they won’t feeling like they’re losing too much. Denial, Anger and Bargaining won’t even be necessary because they have ownership in the process. I think those aspects of grief often spring out of our sense of helplessness. When we realize how little control we have, we feel vulnerable and threatened. I see a correlation between these stages and our flight or fight response mechanisms when we’re in danger.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in the ideal world. Change is often handed down with little warning. All our defense mechanisms jump into action. The leadership can mitigate these emotions by implementing strong communications processes during the transition phase. People need to feel heard, valued and understood. They need to see that those in charge really understand how the changes will affect others – they need to know they still have a voice that is valued – they need to be given back some sense of ownership. Without these things, I think it’s almost impossible to get people to a place of acceptance and buy-in. And that can be devastating to the success of the vision.

Thoughts on this? How do you see change being implemented effectively or ineffectively around you? Have you experienced the five stages of grief? What kind of plan would you put in place to support grief during changes?

Is a college degree necessary for everyone?

college degree necessary

So I created My College IQ primarily to help students pick majors and figure out their career direction in life. But today I was in a meeting that made me want to rename my product. We were talking about the fact that a lot of our culture assumes the need for a four-year college degree. We push kids to go to college. And yet, what we really mean is that kids need to become “credentialed” in some way for their careers. And there are so many more options for getting credentialed than just a college degree. The above chart is from the Association for Career and Technical Education and I think it’s so helpful to give us that broader picture.


That’s what we should be talking about when we’re helping students figure out next steps. What if we talked about what “credentials” they’re going to get instead of what college they’re going to?

A lot of people should not go to a four year university. It sounds wrong to say that. As a society, we pretend that university is the answer to everything. We think it’s a requirement for a great career and more money. Meanwhile, we ignore the debt conversations. We continue to reinforce blue collar/white collar divides. We continue to rank manual labor jobs as somehow less worthy than mental labor positions.

But I know for a fact that plumbers make good money.

And many people thrive when they can see the work of their hands.

And many people struggle with depression and disengagement at their fancy desk jobs.

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If you want a good philosophical look at the value of manual labor or blue collar work, you should check out Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft. For me, it was an incredible reminder of the intelligence and skill required to do jobs we often look down on. I was reminded that we often learn so much more by doing than by reading. This is him discussing our push to get everyone to go to college:

“In this there is little accommodation of the diversity of dispositions, and of the fact that some very smart people are totally ill suited both to higher education and to the kind of work you’re supposed to do once you have a degree. Further, funneling everyone into college creates certain perversities in the labor market. The sociologist of education Randall Collins describes a cycle of credential inflation that ‘could go on endlessly, until janitors need Ph.D’s and babysitters are required to hold advanced degrees in child care.’”

Cultivation of Knowledge

College and university used to be primarily about cultivation of knowledge for its own sake. That’s why you still have Art History and Philosophy degrees. These are great and even necessary areas of study, but let’s not pretend that they make it easier for you to get a good job. While I think everyone should be required to take some philosophy classes, it’s often hard to Liberal Arts students to translate their college degree into a career outside of academia. And today most colleges are selling their ability to credential students for the workforce.

So let’s be honest about what we’re trying to achieve. For some students, a liberal arts college degree is exactly what they want. It’s who they are. They thirst for knowledge, primarily of the book variety. And for others, that’s anathema. They want to be out there doing something! In the end, what we really want students to do is get a credential that will help them get a job. And that means we should be exploring every credentialing avenue, not just the four-year college degree program. Community colleges, certificates, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job certifications – these are all great paths for students to figure out the next step in their lives.

What was  your educational path? Would you go back and do something differently today? What would be your advice to a junior or senior in high school?

How to figure out what you really value

core value exercise
image credit:

The other day I was leafing through some of my old workshop materials in preparation for my October seminar and I found a “Values” exercise. You might have done one of these before, where you look through a list of words like “Peace, Success, Wisdom, Integrity, Wealth, Time, Fame, Justice” etc etc. and you’re supposed to whittle them down to your top five values (here’s an example or this one). These top five values should then help give you direction in your big decisions. You’re supposed to remember them well enough to live your life intentionally aligned with them.

I look at it now and I think this exercise is flawed. It’s all well and good to think about what we value . . . but I think most of the time, we’ll end up choosing the words we simply like best (hey, these all sound good!). Of course most of these things we want to value. Maybe there’s no harm in that. Maybe it works as a list of values you aspire to.

To get a more accurate assessment of our top five values I think we need to be a little more realistic. My guess would be that if you briefly outlined where you spent your time every day for a week, you would see your top five values quite clearly. If not, maybe your spouse, roommate, sibling or parent could help you out.

I’m guessing this second list based on how we spend our time won’t be quite as noble-sounding as the first list but it will probably be a better starting place for understanding who we are.

For example, if you spend every evening watching shows and are always excited about finding a new series to watch, you value entertainment and relaxation. Which is great. I definitely value those things. I just think they wouldn’t necessarily show up if you asked me to pick my top five values out of a list. I don’t see myself as someone who sits in front of the TV every evening but the reality is that I do spend an hour most nights watching something.

Now, if you spend 80 hours a week at a job you hate, you might be thinking your time doesn’t really show what you value. Maybe not, but maybe it does. Maybe you simply value security or approval from your superiors more than you realize. Change is hard. Risk is well . . . very risky! Maybe you value loyalty so highly, it makes it hard for you to leave no matter how toxic the situation. If it’s paying you more than you could make in a job you would enjoy, maybe you’re staying because you value money or status more than you think.

So here’s an idea for a twist on this exercise: Do the first one where you pick them out of a list. Then spend a few days observing your daily schedule. Make the second list based on what your use of time says you value. Then compare them. Even better, compare them with someone who knows you well and can give you perspective.

  • Do they align?
  • Where are the discrepancies?
  • Are there steps you can take to move your second list into agreement with your first?
  • Is that even necessary?

Let me know what you discover! I’ll test it out myself over the next few days and let you know in the comments what I come up with.

A Pre-Marital Counseling Alternative

pre-marital counseling alternativeYou might be wondering why I’m thinking about pre-marital counseling when I usually write about work, faith, finding your calling etc. Well, this past weekend, we had a wonderful family wedding. The bride and groom were getting married outside of the state they lived in, and had met with the pastor who was officiating the wedding only about a week beforehand.

It reminded me of when John and I got married (eight years ago, yesterday!). We were attending one church near our university, were going to be married at his parent’s church in Seattle and neither pastor was going to officiate our ceremony. Our officiant was going to be my grandpa, who would be flying in from Canada the week of the wedding. What to do? We were lucky enough to get to attend a pre-marital counseling class through our college church as there happened to be several other engaged couples at the same time.

These days, we have many friends and family members who have been engaged long-distance, don’t have home churches, or don’t know any pastors and are planning to have a friend officiate their wedding. Where are they going for pre-marital counseling? We spend so much time preparing for a wedding that it’s easy to miss out on making the time to prepare for marriage in a formal way.

All of this got me thinking about . . .

A Pre-Marital Counseling Alternative

If you’re engaged and you want to build a strong marriage from the start, you should definitely be doing some kind of marriage preparation but maybe it doesn’t have to look like “traditional” pre-marital counseling. I’ve thought for a long time that the Birkman Method is a seriously great tool for couples. Why not use it as an alternative to “in-house” pre-marital counseling with a pastor?

While the language in the Birkman reports is primarily workplace-focused, most of the information easily translates into your home environment and your close personal relationships. Much of the information will be things you have already discovered or are in the process of figuring out. The Birkman can help you speed up that discovery process and also give a name to things you might sense but be unable to articulate.

One of the best things about the Birkman Method is how much it emphasizes the positive aspects of personality differences. The neutral language gives you a perfect platform to discuss behavior differences without attacking and accusing or feeling defensive and sensitive. The graphs are a visual reminder that both ends of the spectrum on any one component (say “prefers to work alone” vs “life of the party”) bring great strengths to the table, while the needs graphs give you a quick grasp of what’s necessary to work together most effectively.

The other great thing about the Birkman reports is that it does scientifically measure your needs – an area of life that we often have a difficult time discussing well with others. Sometimes it’s hard for us to articulate what we need. Sometimes we’re not even sure what we need. Sometimes we may feel that our needs are not valid. The information in your Birkman reports lends a conversation about needs some objectivity.

A quick Google search in the Seattle area showed me that there are a other pre-marital counseling alternative out there. We’re blessed to have John Gottman running marriage workshops (I wish I could go to that – I bet it’s fascinating!). You can also find regular counselors who specialize in pre-marital work. But you should definitely consider the Birkman Method if you’re dealing with any of the following issues:

  • long-distance
  • lack of time before the wedding
  • not having a home church/pastor you know well
  • not being comfortable with faith-based counseling options
  • not being able to afford a therapist’s session fee

So stay tuned, because I’m working hard on a discussion guide that can accompany your reports so you can turn pre-marital counseling into a series of great date night conversations. I will have more information about that for you soon!

If you want to contribute ideas to my project, please leave comments with your thoughts on a pre-marital counseling alternative, what you wish you had had or could find, how you went about the process of preparing for marriage etc. I would love your input!

What’s Wrong with Work Today: Time

You might faintly remember that I was doing a series on “What’s wrong with work?” awhile ago – well, I went back to check just how long ago it was and wouldn’t you know it, it’s been a WHOLE YEAR. I wrote about Money, Mastery and Meaning. In February I came back to the series talking about Management Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Is it irony that this last post is about time? We don’t have enough of it.

TimeIn my research into the nature of work, one of the aspects I found most interesting was the fact that we have changed from a task-oriented to time-oriented view of work. In the pre-industrial era, people worked on completing tasks: building a chair, tilling the field, sewing the dress, cleaning the stables. They probably worked the same amount of hours or even more than we do today but that wasn’t what their compensation was tied to.

Today, how many hours we put in can feel more important than what we actually accomplish during that time, which adds a new dimension of pressure to work.

Consider the billable hour. I worked at a graphic design agency where every 15 minute increment was technically supposed to be documented and billed toward the right projects. Design doesn’t work that way. Brainstorming and idea creation involve time to think. Some people mull through problems for a long time until they have everything thought out in their heads and then execute quickly. Others start doing right away and re-think as they go along. Thinking isn’t easily measured and don’t look “productive” from an outside perspective. 

Having to account for every minute of your day to show its productivity is enormously draining. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive he suggests that part of the reason lawyers are so miserable as a group is because of how minutely they’re required to track their time with each client, “For nonroutine tasks, including law, the link between how much time somebody spends and what that somebody produces is irregular and unpredictable.” While we’re obsessed with being more efficient and faster at everything we do, some work is seriously jeopardized when we try to hurry it along.

Sometimes, working fewer hours actually makes us more productive because we value our free time so much. In Joanne’s Cuilla’s book The Working Life she writes,

We actually have some record of what such a change [working less hours] might mean to a community: in 1930, in the teeth of the Depression, the cereal entrepreneur W.K. Kellogg put his workers on a six-hour day at full pay. Productivity increased dramatically, helping pay for the experiment. Meanwhile, the company town’s parks, community centers, churches, and YMCAs all flourished. Researchers who interviewed the townspeople found that their interests had grown and changed: they now asked themselves, “What shall I do?” not just, “What shall I buy?” (p. 115).

There are quite a few modern examples as well (Results-Only-Work-Environments are the most extreme version) and yet Americans still work longer hours and take far less vacation than most Europeans. And it’s not putting us that much farther ahead. Despite working fewer hours, the French are just as productive as the Americans.

There are all kinds of obstacles if you start trying to fix the time vs. productivity imbalance. Culturally, we’ve tied being busiest to being best. Touting the numbers of hours worked per week is a kind of status symbol (Maybe because so much of our work has lost meaning and time is the only “measurement” we can find to give us a sense of meaning?). Many people are doing the work of two or more people and no matter how long they work, can’t get through what’s expected of them. Some of us, if given the freedom to chart our own course, find it hard to self-motivate or learn how to work outside a 9-to-5 structure.

Have you struggled with living in a time-oriented vs. task-oriented culture? Have you struggled with the billable hour or with setting your own hours? Tell me about your experience.

Calling & A Meat Marination Stick

You’ll probably laugh about how much I thought about this story over the weekend! I read this NY Times piece on Thursday about a Christian lady who credits her invention of a meat marination stick to God. You should read it. And also watch the video of Mary describing her product. Go ahead, take a break, I’ll be here with my thoughts when you get back.

meat marination stick
Image Source: Cuisine Noir

Now if you’re like me, your first instinct when you hear someone say “God told me” is to tense up and wait for the crazy. And in fact, I likely read the entire article with a skeptical face. Sometime later in the evening, I realized I should know better by now. I’m always ranting and raving about how diverse our callings can be and about how we need to quit making secular/spiritual divides. I thought I’d already learned to appreciate how often God uses the material and the physical things of this world to shape, grow and bless us.

And I started thinking, What if God really gave her recipes? What if he really did give her a vision for this meat stick? Why not? I thought about heaven and considered the possibility that God uses material tools to create his feasts there even though I always picture it all appearing like magic. But what if God loves the process of cooking? What if he gave this lady a little gift from heaven to bless her family and church? Why not?

Maybe all that thinking is too crazy for you, but it totally reminded me again again that we tend to carry around assumptions and expectations about what makes a calling, or what work God is really trying to do, or how he wants people to serve each other. And these assumptions and expectations can blind us from seeing the work God is already doing in ours and other people’s lives. We can be so busy looking for what we think should be there, that we miss what really is. It’s another part of the reason, I really prefer to say that we recover our callings rather than discover them. Our callings are already present in our lives. Whether we can see them or not is the real question.

Have you had an experience like this?

Is being restless a signal?

Restless signalI keep thinking about how we hear our callings, the “signals” we get that move us in one direction or another. We talked about pain on Friday and that can be a very strong signal. But what about more subtle things? Is being restless a signal? Because I feel restless a lot . . . in fact, I was having troubles falling asleep thinking about what “restless” really means and how to be without rest actually sounds just as bad as being in pain so maybe it’s no less subtle a signal.

Webster defines being restless as:

  • feeling nervous or bored and tending to move around a lot : not relaxed or calm
  •  unhappy about a situation and wanting change
  •  having little or no rest or sleep

I can relate to all of those! In my own experience, feeling restless often precedes a call that I can’t quite hear yet. A general discontent settles over me, a scattering of ideas, my mind runs on and on and on and on at night. I’ve written before about how I often try to force the call – pick something, hurry up! But I’m slowly learning that the restless signal is a wake-up call for me to submit to listening rather than madly plotting my next steps.

If you feel restless with your daily life, it’s another good time to check in with yourself. Is it plain boredom, is a situation bothering you, do you want change just for change’s sake? It’s a good time to journal through any racing thoughts, to pray on paper, to sit in silence. It’s a good time to go out for coffee with a friend who can reflect on your motivations with you.

I think being restless with the way things are is a pretty normal human feeling. Sometimes it’s plain old envy or greed or lust for the things we think will make our lives better. Other times there’s a holy discontent where we know we’re not living in hope and trust, when we want more for our lives because we realize we’re just sitting around.

Pay attention to your own feelings of being restless this week. Where do you think these feelings are coming from and what are they trying to tell you?

You cannot serve both God and Money

Uh oh – it’s a rant. If you love rants, jump on in. In fact, I want your thoughts so please do read this and leave a comment.

Let me be clear up front: what I am about to rant about is language, illustrations, wording and the implications of how we say what we say. It is not about attacking people or their decisions.

I wish I had a snazzy term for what I am about rant about . . . missionary money guilt trips or biting the hands that feed us. Either way, here’s what happened:

image source:

Yesterday, John and I went to church and thoroughly enjoyed the service. There was a great testimony about God’s provision in desperate times and then one of our missionaries preached from Joshua 24. It was a great sermon on being faithful and how we have to remember God’s mercies and faithfulness to us.

But then it happened. The missionary gave a closing example of “serving the Lord” and it had to be this: his daughter who has just become a doctor gave up the top-dollar job offers she was receiving in the U.S. to serve overseas in a developing nation without adequate medical care. He quoted, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

You might be thinking, “What on earth is wrong with that? That’s so amazing that this girl is serving people who desperately need it.” And you would be totally right. Again, I am not questioning her decision at all. I think it’s wonderful that this is what she felt called to.

HOWEVER, this is a terrible terrible terrible story to preach to people. Here’s my opinion on why:

By implication you mean that any doctors in the congregation that work here in the Seattle area and make lots of money are serving money rather than God. If they were truly serving God, this kind of story suggests, they would all be in Africa. Are people in Seattle not in need of medical care? Does getting paid for the work negate the doctor’s ability to serve God by serving his people?

Even for all of those who are not doctors, it seems to tell us that we should use a kind of reverse logic and turn down big money job offers because only then are we truly serving God.

It can even teach people to think that the only way they can serve God is to leave their jobs and become missionaries. They discount the idea that God may have called them to serve right where they are in their engineering or accounting or programming jobs. There are people who have gone to the mission field who were not called to that work. Serving the Lord in missions doesn’t automatically fix all your questions about finding meaning in your work.

Lest you think I’m overreacting to a minor incident, this kind of teaching also happened at our church a year or two ago when another missionary shared in our Sunday school class. He shared how he gave up his business dreams to “serve the Lord.” Again, I’m not critiquing his decision to do what he felt called to; what I take issue with is the premise that you cannot serve God in business. He told us excitedly about how his own daughter is going into missions as well.

It happened when our church commissioned a couple going into long-term missions. All of us tend to revere the people who ostensibly, “give up everything.”

These kind of illustrations and examples become prescriptive rather than descriptive. We use the phrase “serve the Lord” in a horribly narrow way and it hurts our congregations because they fail to understand how their own work can also serve the Lord.

Yes, it is harder to love God when you have lots of money. We have had times of plenty and times of need and it’s definitely the times of need that force us into greater dependence and trust, that bring us closer to God as we see how much we need him. BUT . . . this does not mean that people aren’t called to the difficult work of serving God and making lots of money and still learning what trust and dependence looks like in that setting.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive to this, due to both growing up as a missionary kid and all the calling research I have done since, but I think missionaries need to be especially aware of their own tendencies toward these stories. In some ways, they’ve chosen a simple way out of the money vs. God struggle by taking up a life of radical dependence. Those of us who work and try to make a living have to wrestle with money and God in a different way.

And it strikes me as extremely insensitive when missionaries dismiss the money struggle for others, because it is often the doctors that stayed home who are financially supporting missions work overseas. Without wealth-generating church members, churches cannot survive and missionaries cannot be sent. These wealth-generating church members should not be told that the only way they serve God is by giving away their money. They should also understand how they serve God through their work itself (that’s another whole topic). Seriously, folks – we need to talk about this in church!

Ok – rant over. Your turn.

Talk to me: Am I just nitpicking details? Do you notice these kind of stories and what is your reaction? Have you ever felt guilt-tripped that your work wasn’t serving the Lord? How does serving God or Money play out in your life?


Have you heard of the Gallup Q12?

Gallup Q12I ran across the Gallup Q12 the other day. The Gallup Q12 is an employee engagement survey (the Q12 stands for the twelve questions). Why is it considered important to measure employee engagement? Because companies with engaged employees, “exhibit lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.”

Gallup uses these questions to measure the American workplace on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately most companies either don’t know about the Gallup Q12, don’t know how to use the information the Gallup Q12 provides to improve their employee engagement, or don’t care enough about employee engagement to really make an effort.

How do we know this? Because the most recent figures show that only 30% of employees feel engaged at work. You can download the most recent report here.

I want that to change. It’s a big amount but imagine if we could reverse that percentage? What if 70% of people loved their work? I think the only way to start is with individuals. Why? Because we’ve had corporate consulting, coaching and counselling on the scene for years now and it still doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent. We can’t wait for a top-down approach anymore. I get excited about helping individuals reclaim work as a good word. One-by-one, maybe we’ll make a dent in that percentage, no matter how daunting it seems.

Get yourself started by figuring out your own answers to the twelve questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my organization make me feel like my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a close friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
  12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

Are you one of the 30% or do you fall into the other 70%? Which factors would you say contribute most to where you would rate yourself? Are there items on this list that you can address with your manager?

Almost Walking

Almost WalkingCanon is almost walking independently. He has great balance. Give him something to push and he almost runs. He cruises all around our house holding onto walls and couches, doors, cupboards etc.

But stand him up by himself and suggest to him that he start stepping out on his own and he’ll protest, sitting down promptly. Or he’ll wait and put his hands above his head waiting to grab our hands before he starts moving forward. He doesn’t trust himself yet. Crawling seems quicker. Holding onto things feels safer even though it means going the long way around when he’s trying to get to the piano or the kitchen or me.

I keep seeing the parallels in our adult lives. Unsure of ourselves, not ready to let go, preferring to do what we’re already comfortable doing instead of continuing to grow. Protesting the push to try something new.

No matter how much we cheer Canon on, he won’t walk until he believes he can do it. It doesn’t seem to matter that we believe he can do it – he has to figure it out for himself. It just makes me wonder, how many times in life have I waited and waited to try something because I didn’t trust myself yet? How many times have I pulled back from a challenge even when those around me had full confidence I could do it, the encouragement sounding like gibberish or crazy talk in my ears?

And then I think about patience and letting him go at his own pace. I’m always there to offer him a hand if he wants to walk around, we don’t prod him too much. And if God is like a parent, think of his infinite patience with us. His desire for us to grow but his ability to wait for us as we learn at a snail’s pace, always there to offer us a hand as we test out our steps of faith.

Seriously, it cracks me up when I tell Canon, “You can do it – walk to me!” and he frowns and looks at me like I’ve made a ridiculous suggestion. He doesn’t know what I know – that walking will soon be his norm. He doesn’t see what I can see – that this phase of limited mobility is fleeting and he’ll soon be free to run.

God knows and sees so much more about each of us than I know and see for Canon.

He knows where we are headed: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6) and He sees our future without limitations: “ To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 1:24-15).

We’re all almost walking in this life. And it makes me so excited to learn how to run someday.