Joy: Personal Reflections by Sandy Carter

What is Joy in Work, Where has it gone, How can We bring it Back?

This is the third in a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This third blog gives some background on Sandy’s personal reflections about the nature of Joy.

Sandy Carter, Ph.D. works as a physician coach and consultant in Michigan. Sandy is a professional certified coach, holds a PhD in organizational management with a specialization in leadership, and Masters in Business Administration and Social Work. Her research is in the area of transformational leadership with physicians, and wellness and resiliency.


When did I first consciously feel joy as an adult?

When I reflect back on a childhood experience that feels joyful, roller-skating is my earliest memory of fully embodying joyfulness. I was in elementary school when my parents enrolled me in a roller skating class. Reflecting on this memory many decades later, I can relive sensations of joy and happiness as I go back in time to those early years when I was first learning how to skate. At the time, skating made sense to me in a way nothing else in my life did. It brought everything together and I was fully engaged and present. After mastering the basics, I would spend hours practicing at the Rolladium Skating Rink by our house, circling around the rink again and again. As I gained confidence, I took greater risks and brought my whole self into the experience. I think that’s why it felt so joyful – I was immersed in the present moment and felt a heightened sense of aliveness and as much as a child can – felt completely on purpose. Unfortunately, my skating opportunities diminished as my parents were forced to cut back on expenses. My parents felt terrible, and I know this must have been a terrible loss for me. Strangely, I don’t have a memory of the loss. Now, all that’s left is the memory and a felt experience of those joyous days when I let skating consume me. My parent’s promised to get my brother and I back into skating when times were better. However, those better times never came for my parents. At least, they didn’t come until my brother and I had left home and took responsibility for our own lives.

It would be many years later before I would feel the lightness of joy again in my life. I had disconnected from this earlier childhood experience and buried it very deep. I had no sense of what it even felt like to feel joyful by the time I completed grade school.

As I entered adulthood my life often felt heavy. All of my earlier role models were burdened as they struggled and suffered from life events. In fact, my first adult experience of deeply feeling joy didn’t happen until I was in my mid-forties. I had experienced happiness and excitement many times over the years, but not Joy. Of course, not having a point of reference – I didn’t even know what I was missing.

My first conscious experience with Joy in my adult life happened in an ordinary moment. I was driving my car on a winter day. I remember feeling how good it was to be alive for no particular reason. There wasn’t anything special about this day from any other day.

As I drove, I remember feeling fully present taking in and completely accepting everything around me. I wasn’t thinking about the past or the future. I was not judging nor wanting to change anything or even defining experiences as good or bad – I was just “being.” That’s when it happened – trying to describe what “it” is feels paradoxical. I felt myself EXPAND, connect to an energy source that was both ethereal (graceful, light and spacious) and resilient (substantial and grounded). Suddenly, I felt uplifted and a part of everything. I also remember having a sense that I had opened a channel, a place where energy moves through me and not a place where I push, pull or demand things to happen.

I intuitively knew this was a defining moment. A few nights previous to this experience I had been working in my home office until 3:00 in the morning. As my family slept, I got up from my desk and walked a file box down the stairs to the basement to place next to the 2-dozen other file boxes with taxes and other organizational papers, that had accumulated over the years. As I heard the box hit the floor, something shifted in me. The clunk got my attention in a way I had never experienced prior. I found myself taking stock and asking myself why was I allowing work to burden me? Why was I sacrificing my health and wellbeing and even my happiness to work so hard? I decided I did not like being driven – it was sucking me dry. I allowed myself to feel completely how unhappy I was in that early morning moment in my stark, cold basement amongst the piles of file boxes. I felt the meaning of this fully, shuttered, shook off the depressing feelings and went to bed.

It was only a few days later that I experienced (what I’ve come to realize) was Joy! I often think about that day. I know I opened a portal into creative space that allows my work to come through me. Somehow that night I set an intention to let go of the push/pull and drive and making things happen exclusively through my willpower. Instead, I found a new source of working/creating where I am in flow if I surrender control, ask for guidance and maintain presence. A by-product is a state of wellbeing and gratitude that supports me in my relationships and work. Sometimes I forget when I feel performance pressure or am outside of my comfort zone and I will start to engage in that heightened state of driven frenzy, but once I start to feel burdened – I know I am not working from my best self, and most often I can shift. I smile as I reflect on my childhood experience of roller-skating and recognize the portal I opened was in part, reclaiming that child who loved, loved, loved to roller-skate!

Tea Party

My sister, father, me, and my mother having a tea party!

I feel most fortunate to have reclaimed that little girl as now I have a grandson (Carter), and the child in me can really relate to this little guy. I can fully immerse into his joyous world of 2-year old play in a way I would not have been capable of earlier in my life. I would have “tried” very hard because I would have felt guilty (sad) by not playing with my grandson. I know now, that “exerting effort” restricts my capacity for joy, and that letting go of “trying” opens up space for freedom, discovery, and playfulness, rippling into JOYFULNESS!

Sandy with Carter

With Carter when he was born!

Carter Drunk on Bliss

Carter celebrating his first birthday – Drunk on Bliss!

Being out in nature really brings me back to that experience I mentioned earlier of being both light and spacious and feeling grounded. I love the peace and isolation of wilderness hiking. I instantly expand and connect deeply while in nature. In many ways, I am continually connecting to nature and don’t necessarily have to go into the wilderness, but in such settings I go deeper into self-reflection and experience profound peace. And, playfulness and adventure (in spite of the challenges) are very joyful experiences for me!

Sandy on Appalachian Trail

Backpacking the Appalachian Trail

Sandy hiking

Wilderness Hiking

How about you Dave? Has joy always been a part of your life? If not, when did you first experience it and what is your relationship with joy now? 

Answer – next week…

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