The part we get to choose

“What we focus on, expands.” ~ Julia Fehrenbacher (and others)


Now and then, the simple truth of a statement like the one above hits me with the unexpected force of a sucker punch. It’s not that Julia’s observation is surprising, or at least it shouldn’t be. I know how powerful attention is. I relearn it all the time: when, in the eleventh hour of a deadline, I finally buckle down and do the work; when, in conversation, I stop planning my next statement long enough to truly hear (and then truly connect with) the person sitting across from me; when, on my yoga mat, I get quiet and centered enough to still the shaky instability of a challenging pose.

I understand the value of focus, but it was that other word that caught me off guard. The idea of expansion. The idea that things expand and contract – not just in my mind, but in my life – according to how I think about them.

That’s a powerful idea.

And it’s not what Julia and I had originally been talking about. Originally, I’d been telling her about a possible business opportunity. A woman on the other side of the country was interested in selling my yoga cards in her studio. I had no idea how to do that. True confession: I had to look up “wholesale.” And when I did, I was pretty sure that I didn’t have the margins to make it happen, hadn’t set up my tiny little heART-based business in a way that would accommodate that kind of growth. I was frustrated and felt like a failure. Already. Less than four months after opening my virtual doors.

Julia told me, in essence, to stop it. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing.) She said (very sweetly and as only she can) to stop focusing on what I lacked – business savvy, experience, anything remotely resembling a plan – and focus instead on what I really wanted and what I could do right now.

So I did. I buckled down. For a week, I focused on getting educated and taking action. I researched suppliers and shipping options, built a spreadsheet, worked out an inventory system. I don’t know yet what will happen with this first opportunity, but I know I’m ready for the next one. And while I was focusing my attention on making something good happen (rather than on how ill prepared and inexperienced I was), I thought of a whole bunch of other ways to expand my business. And my art. And my life.  It’s all scary as hell to me… the kind of scary that makes me know I have to try.

ExpandWhat we focus on expands, and…

“It’s a mistake to think you can limit and expand yourself at the same time.”

~ Lisa Jacobs


In the midst of all my panicky shenanigans, I came across a stunning video, based on David Foster Wallace’s quietly heroic 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech. In that speech, David Foster Wallace talks about the “boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life,” the parts when we’re standing in a slow-moving line, or dealing with a frustrating bureaucracy, or stuck in soul-sucking traffic. He says our tendency then is to see everyone and everything as an impediment, obstacles that stand between us and where we want to be. In those moments, we make a choice, he says, often unconsciously, about how we see the world and how miserable we let it make us.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

That’s heady stuff (and haunting, given it came from David Foster Wallace). I also think it’s true. And not only do I believe we can change our lives by changing how we think about them and what we focus on, I think we can change the world. Positive action has a domino effect. Love begets love. I believe that. Focus your attention on what is beautiful in the world, and you become part of that beauty. You expand it.

And before you tell me that being happy isn’t as easy as simply thinking yourself happy, let me say that I agree. It’s not. That said, every day we are surrounded by people who, like us, are going about the business of living their lives. That there’s just this one planet, and we all have to share it, is a given. We don’t have a choice in that. We  wake up, get out of bed, and launch ourselves out into the world, altering, however slightly, the trajectory of everyone we interact with. We can do it wrapped in our frustration, dread, and helplessness, or we can do it with a sense of humor and possibility.

That’s the part we get to choose.

What we focus on.

What we expand.


  1. julia on May 16, 2013 at 5:39 am

    I have goosebumps all over (she says while sitting here in her bathrobe/hair all wrapped up in a towel)…and I have to get my kids to school but, whew…as I go about my ordinary (making breakfasts/lunches, trying to get my kiddos to school on time), I will keep thinking about what you wrote here, J.

    I may not need to eat breakfast this morning because I feel all filled up by your words – by your way of seeing the world. I love how you think, dear J – how you love – how you express it all so beautifully and then share that goodness with us.

    I love you so…

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 7:17 am

      Aw. Thank you, infinitely quotable one. xo

  2. Karin on May 16, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Pretty amazing post. And as always, an awesome doodle.

    That’s pretty exciting that you could expand your card making! I think you should go for it.
    New opportunities are always a little scary, but having the door open wont do you much good if you don’t walk through it 🙂

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Thank you, Karin! And no worries, I’m definitely going to walk through it, and hopefully create more opportunities like it. I just, apparently, needed someone to light a fire under my ass. 😉

  3. Cindy on May 16, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Judy, I LOVE your doodles and the thoughts that you share…..xoxo Cindy

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Thank you, Cindy! After having spent the last few days working almost exclusively on admin-type stuff, it was a pleasure to doodle something for this post. Doodle Therapy.

  4. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on May 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

    “It’s a mistake to think you can limit and expand yourself at the same time.” You have no idea how much this hit home today, j. Beautiful post.

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Thank you, Annie. I LOVE that quote from Lisa Jacobs. One of those obvious-in-hindsight kind of truths.

  5. Casoly on May 16, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Smiles. (Actually caffeine driven race car of my life, just slammed on the brakes and jerked to a much needed stop) I needed J wisdom today, and this was on point for me. I wish I could do that for others, it’s a gift. Thank you Super J. xox

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Thank YOU, C. Knowing how crazy-busy-full your race car life is… this comment is the stamp of approval on my post. xo

  6. chloecook999 on May 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Someone very important to me uses the phrase “You feed what you focus on”. It’s such a useful reminder when I occasionally find myself focusing on all the things I don’t have. I switch to focusing on all the things I do have and guess what? I suddenly have more of all the things I want 🙂 Great post J, as always xx

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Awesome how that works. Similar to how being outrageously generous always winds up giving us more things to be utterly grateful for. Thank you, Chloe!

  7. Cynthia Patton on May 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Love the quote. And your reflection on it. I needed to hear that today, so thanks! Feeling very weighted down with my to do list of late.

    As for the business opportunity, I say go for it. Also wondering if you have ever heard of the Right-Brained Business Plan? No spreadsheets, but doodling is encouraged….

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      I have my RBBP posted all over the wall above my work table. I’m a fan. Still, when opportunity knocked, I needed to crunch some actual numbers to figure out what was possible.

      You know what made me do the RBBP? The encouraged doodling.

      • Cynthia Patton on May 16, 2013 at 9:52 pm

        I’m a fan too. I can’t doodle, but I loved the fact that I didn’t have to do spreadsheets or other icky stuff. (Until later, but then you have some motivation….)

        • j on May 17, 2013 at 8:12 am


  8. Amanda Lewan (@Amanda_Jenn) on May 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Love the quote and the speech. Top 3 grad speeches: neil gaimen, steve jobs, and david foster wallace.

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      No argument here. If you haven’t watched the video, you should. I’d read DFW’s speech, but seeing the video that was made from it… so cool.

  9. julia on May 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    And that doodle…oh my good-ness. J, I LOVE that & need to share it immediately.

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      I <3 you, woman!

  10. paoloterni on May 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Great post.
    Especially loved –> “I understand the value of focus, but it was that other word that caught me off guard. The idea of expansion. The idea that things expand and contract – not just in my mind, but in my life – according to how I think about them.

    That’s a powerful idea.”

    In Solution-Focused Therapy / Coaching, we have a saying: “Problem talk creates problems. Solutions talk creates solutions.”, attributed to Steve de Shazer.

    A powerful idea indeed 🙂

    • j on May 16, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Powerful and simple, right? I just got back from walking Lexi and while I was walking, my brain was spinning around a bit of yuckiness I’m dealing with, and I was getting all roller-coastery in my stomach, and then I remembered: focus=expansion. So I started thinking about the smart, big-hearted people in my orbit. You may or may not have been part of the mood-recovery thought train.

      Hint: You were.

      Thank you, partner.

  11. Naomi Wittlin on May 16, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    How amazing you are!!! I am curious how all that “business end” stuff works too and I have no idea. How do artists go about making prints of a canvas and sell those? I’m so impressed that you learned so much and are moving forward with your art. A yoga shop is a perfect place for these! EVERY yoga studio needs them! Remember when Julia said that if you focus on lack, your mood and attitude will turn negative? I have been thinking of that one for days now. It’s so powerful, yet very simple. It’s the turning your thoughts around part that’s tricky. 🙂

    • j on May 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

      I’ll share what I find out about the business-y stuff, Naomi.

      And yes, it’s turning the thoughts around that’s hard. But not impossible. I did it real-time yesterday. And it worked. (Well, on about the fourth or fifth try.)

      Trying to develop a new habit of consciously focusing on what I want to expand.

  12. Estrella Azul on May 22, 2013 at 8:39 am

    So, so what I needed to read today. Thank you for the reminder, honey, impediments prompt me to forget this sometimes…

    • j on May 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Me too, Estrella! xo

  13. Nina Badzin on May 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    This was such a beautifully written post. I sighed at the end as I imagine you did on reaching that last line. (It reads so smoothly as if it came out whole. Really.) And what an important message. So true. What we focus on, expands. I can’t tell you how much I love that point.

    • j on May 23, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Thank you, Nina. The second half of the post did come out whole. And I agree. This feels so obvious and yet the realization on a very personal level has been more than a little transformative. Yesterday, frustrated and listening to the endless story of “what makes you think you can do this” in my head, I thought, “Instead of listening to that broken record, I’m going to do yoga… focus my attention on holding crow pose for 10 breaths.”

      Which I totally did. 😉

  14. leah77 on June 16, 2013 at 9:27 am

    That’s what I’m talking about J. This has been a very big message in my life lately. With all the loss and heartache I have been through I am in need of balance and extra hope. I’m doing so much better.

    • j on June 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

      I know, Leah, for me too. It’s empowering (and a little daunting) to imagine the amount of control I can exercise over my world, simply by consciously choosing how to view it.

      And too, having the support of a creative, loving community always helps. <3

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