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Ring the Bells that You Can Ring

In August, I had the pleasure of returning to Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp, where I've taught for many years. It felt miraculous to be there again, after all the months of deprivation from making music and art in community. One of the chants I led with my morning chorus class was an adaptation of an often-quoted Leonard Cohen lyric, set to music by Lisa Littlebird: Forget your perfect offering Ring the bells that you can ring There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in The second line is the one that has really stuck with me, in the weeks since then, as I've been feeling worn down by the delta variant and all the worries and uncertainties that persist. I keep bringing myself back to this question: What are the bells that can still be rung, that I can personally ring?

Mural by Lindee Zimmer as part of the FC Mural Project in Fort Collins.

This phrase reminds me to two ideas that come up often in coaching conversations: focus on what you can control, and build on the resources that you have. Taking a strengths-based approach to working with people has become commonplace in psychology, education, and leadership. A growth mindset has become an accepted lens for even the most ambitious among us to gauge healthy success and happiness. And even though these ideas make perfect sense, it's all too easy for our minds to focus on problems to be solved and righting wrongs, without paying much attention to what's already working well.

Collage by Marty Hill

Taking Inventory

When I initially think about resources, I think money and time. But resources can take a lot of subtle shapes: energy, skills, experiences, knowledge, living space, personality traits, and all the people who play various roles in our lives. I've been taking time to think more extensively about the resources I have at my disposal and how I can leverage them to build something good and ring those bells. Here are a few categories to help you take stock of your resources:


Make a list of all the people in your life who:

  • support you in some way

  • are supported by you in some way

  • give you strength or inspiration

  • make you laugh

  • trust you and enjoy having your company

Chances are good that you've amassed a whole lot of good will through those relationships. The mutual aid we provide one another is perhaps our greatest resource. Leverage it by going deeper, checking in more often, giving and receiving. Communities.

What groups of people are you connected to in some way? Examples might include colleagues past and present, neighbors, spiritual communities, family members, classmates past and present, and official and unofficial clubs of friends and acquaintances.


Make a list of all the skills you have, at work and in other parts of your life. These can be related to people, communication, ideas, making things, fixing things, documenting and organizing things, putting things together or taking them apart.


Consider all that you know, from your vast experiences, and from the media you've consumed over the years, too: books, movies, music, TV, art, sports, games. You are likely more of an expert than you realize, and no expertise is too trivial to be useful in some way!

Personal Qualities and Values.

What are your most important personality traits and values, and how can these best serve you as you ring the bells that you can ring?


How is your schedule organized, and what is possible within those pockets of time? At what time of day are you generally most alert and ready to take on challenging tasks?


What are the material things that you can leverage in some way: a living space for small or large gatherings, a garden that grows food or flowers, tools, equipment, technology, a car, truck or bike?


What are you doing to take care of the money you have? How are you using your money to reflect your values? I'm finding that the more I commit to building on what I already have and who I already am, the less I worry about what I don't have or can't do. It helps temper my perfectionism and my fear of falling short. When I leverage what I have and who I am, my work is cut out for me. The heavy load of navigating 2021 feel a little more manageable. And after taking stock of the community of people I have, I know that I don't have to go it alone, so long as I keep reaching out.

Your Playlist for Leveraging

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