Episode 094: Lessons Learned in Iowa

In early August my Mom and I  took a trip to visit friends in Iowa. The trip brought me so many ah-ha’s about life priorities and living happier I wanted to share a few of the lessons I learned. 

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Hey friends. I am, as always, excited to be back. Today I’m talking about (I think I’ve promised this for a couple of episodes now)  my trip to Iowa, which was back in early August. I think it took me so long to talk about this trip because, A, it was impactful to me, and B, I couldn’t unpack why it was so impactful. And so it took me a little time to gather my thoughts and figure stuff out and be able to share it with you all in a somewhat organized fashion, so I’m going to try my best. I still don’t think I have it down, but I think I have the lessons synthesized and organized, so it’ll make sense to you, even though you didn’t go on this trip with me.

So back in early August, my mom and I headed to Iowa to visit friends of our family, and years ago, when we were little kids, we would go to Iowa every year and visit this family farm. And the husband, his name is Ron, served in the Army with my dad. They were close friends, and my dad loved being on the farm. He grew up on a farm and so, ironically, we would go to the farm, so my dad could take his “vacation,” working with Ron on a farm.

And we would go and hang out as kids and run around the farm, and my dad and Ron would work together. I have a lot of fond memories as a kid. I hadn’t been there in a long time. I mean, literally, I hadn’t been there since I was a child, so it was fun to go back in time and to see this place and to hang out with these people that I hadn’t seen in probably close to 30 years.

So the first thing I want to share about the trip was that the stereotypes of, “Hey, we’re going to Iowa.” And the number of people that said to me, “Oh, Iowa, wow. They must be huge Trump fans.” Or, “Be careful going to Iowa; you’re going into the Red State there.” I heard all these stereotypes about people in Iowa. And I just found that so fascinating, because when I got there and arrived there, they were just regular people who had … Some were Trump fans; some were not. And we had some great cultural, political discussions. And that was the first takeaway for me, was how quickly we are to judge other people, based on assumptions and based on stereotypes. And so, to check that. And it was a powerful lesson for me on that, is that we make up these stories in our heads about people and ourselves, and learning how to have some respect and curiosity about where people are coming from.

So that’s the first thing I wanted to get out of the way because I realized that people make a quick judgment when they hear Iowa, and so I challenge you to check that stereotype and open yourself up to some curiosity around that.

The second thing I learned and figured out while I was there was the number of things they did that just brought them joy. They did it for no other reason than it brought them joy. And this came as an aha to me because I realized in my own life how little I do that brings me joy. For no reason. It’s not helping someone. It’s not benefiting anyone. It’s just because I enjoy doing it. And one of the things that brought this to my attention was, they had a beautiful, I mean absolutely gorgeous flower garden that was just right outside their kitchen window. I was a gorgeous flower garden that Marilyn planted every year from seeds, and it was full of bees and butterflies and just so amazing.

And the first thing I thought of was, “Wow, if this group was younger, and they were big on Instagram and Facebook, this flower garden would be all over Instagram.” Like, “Look what I’m doing for the bees! And look how I’m benefiting the world with planting flowers, and I’m helping the butterflies.” And all of this “Look at me!” tendency about it. And really, they just planted the flower garden because they loved the flower garden. And yeah, they wanted to support the bees, but that’s just what they’ve always done, for 50 years, is planted this flower garden. And the bees came, and it wasn’t this big ecological, climate change, taking back the world kind of thing that we all get into, that even if we love doing something, we have to explain it as that it’s doing something better for people. It’s strengthening the world. I’m helping the world. I’m giving back. “Look at me! I’m giving back!”

Instead of just, “I’m doing this because this brings me joy. I’m making homemade muffins and homemade rolls because it brings me joy. It’s not because I’m going to post it on Instagram later and have everyone see how amazing I am in the kitchen. Or it’s not because I’m going to take them to all my neighbors and they’re going to tell me how amazing I am. It’s just that I like doing this because it brings me joy.”

So I want to challenge you guys, and I’ve been challenging myself, on doing things simply for the reason they bring me joy. And paying attention to that intentional joy that pops up in our life. You know, I talk a lot about being intentional, about our feelings, and feeling the sadness and feeling the anger. But we also need to be feeling the joy of the little things in our lives that we choose to do, whether that be spending time with family or planting a flower garden or baking bread or knitting or coloring. I don’t care. Anything that you can do that’s just purely for the sake of doing it because it makes you happy. And that was something I saw a ton of when I was visiting in Iowa.

The other takeaway I had was the clarity of their values and living them. I always say the test for, “Are you living by your values?” is if I was a fly on the wall, observing your life, could I find your values, based on what I observed, being the fly on the wall? And it was striking to me, the clarity of their values. They were very clear that it was giving back to the community. It was their religious beliefs. It was family. It was the farm. Everything was very simplistic. And so if it didn’t fit into their values, they didn’t do it. And they didn’t even question if they should have. They just were like, “Why would I do that? That’s not part of my value system.”

And so that piece of living their lives based on their values, in a thousand little ways, just brought so much clarity to me. And it was such a simple way of living. And they weren’t caught up in, “What should I be doing? What would so and so think of me doing this?” They were living by their values, and it was simple and clean. And so that was a powerful thing.

The other piece that I took away was the power of community. It was clear that community is very important to them. From their family to their larger community to the church community to asking for help and being there for others. They valued where they came from, and they valued giving back. And it was again, simple because “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m called to do this.” There wasn’t this over-arching feeling of “I should be.” Or “I’d be a better person if I.” Or all of that sort of stuff that we get caught up in. It was just very simple and values-based and was just so refreshing.

Ron was sharing with me about how he went out with his friends, and they would do these tractor rides, and just spend the day doing the tractor rides, and they stop for lunch one place, and you’d stop for a snack. And the joy on his face, of describing this ride, which honestly, to me, does not sound appealing. I don’t want to ride on a tractor all day, but I don’t have a love of tractors that Ron does. I didn’t grow up riding tractors and knew every in and out of a tractor and love the community and the people. And he just explained it with such joy. You had to love it too. You just felt that love for it.

And I think, “How often in my life do I not share the things I love with other people because I’m afraid of being judged or ridiculed or made fun of?” Or because I shouldn’t be doing that, I think in my head, because my Monger takes over. And so to recognize, I’m going to start talking proudly about the stuff that I value, what’s important to me, and sharing that with people. And that idea of, we need to stop editing ourselves so frequently. We need to stop dismissing ourselves and saying, “Well, no one wants to hear about that.” Or “No one wants to talk about that.” We need more conversations about what our passions are and what our joys are and what our values are. And what’s important to us. We need to be sharing that with each other, rather than the constant complaining about being hurried and rushed and too much to do and checking on that to-do list all the time.

I would love if my conversations were more about, “These are the things that get me jazzed,” and less about, “This is how long my to-do list is, and this is all the stuff I have to get done.” But more about the joys of our lives.

And then the last thing that I wanted to touch on that was key to this whole thing. I did a Happier Approach Book talk while I was there and I said to the group, “You know, I could get a bus and say, ‘I’ve figured it out. I’ve figured out where happiness is, and it’s in the middle of Iowa. Like Field of Dreams. And I’m gonna take you all there, and everyone’s gonna arrive, and they’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, this is it?'”

Because this life is hard. They were struggling, and they were in the middle of a drought, and they were struggling with water and getting their crops ready, and they were by no means rolling in the dough. They lived very intelligently and frugally and all that good stuff. And so it was hard. And it didn’t mean that living by what brings them joy and living the clarity of values and knowing the power of community, that didn’t mean their lives were easy. And that wasn’t my takeaway. Because they still had major Mongers showing up. They still were very worried about were they irrigating right? Were they irrigating wrong? Were they doing the right thing? Were they doing the wrong thing? Were they good Christians? Were they not?

And they still had all of their struggles, but at the end of the day, the piece that I found was comforting was they were very solid in how they knew what mattered to them. And so that solidness, that’s the only word I can think of to describe it, that total security in this is how we live our lives. These are the values. Returning to those roots, back again and again and again. That was the piece that I  took away. It doesn’t mean life is easier. But it does mean it’s more solid, and it’s more simple. And you know what’s important.

So those are some of the lessons I learned in Iowa.  I really wanted to share them with you, because you go on these vacations sometimes, and they’re wonderful, and they’re fabulous, and then you go on a vacation where it just uproots everything you’ve been thinking about and turns your head around, in a different way. And that’s totally what this trip was for me. So I’m still trying to process what I learned in Iowa and apply it into my life, but I  have been striving for slowing everything way down and checking in. Does this fit my values? Is this bringing me joy? Why am I doing it, then, if it isn’t? And being clear on what’s the priority here? Because I think it’s so easy for us to get caught up in “I should be,” and orchestrating our lives for social media or an imaginary audience. You know, I always joke the imaginary cameras in my house, that someone’s going to see if I’m doing it right or not.

So when we get stuck in that orchestration, to remember what’s most important here. Where are my values showing up? And what brings me joy? Gaining clarity on that is priceless, and I hope that I have inspired you to kind of look at your life a little differently.

And I want to say thank you to Ron and Marilyn for taking us into their farm and allowing my mom and I to crash at their house and spend the long weekend with them, and for being such amazing friends for our entire lives. And also just letting me see their lives in such a wonderful way. And I’m so thankful for that weekend. It has radically shifted some stuff for me. And I hope it’s given you some ah-a’s too.

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