All posts by Ann Riley

Why Die Wondering?

GROWTH: What lessons did I learn during the past two years of the pandemic?

RISK: Maybe you took a risk and failed big, but found a silver lining? Maybe you took a risk and something wonderful came out of it? 

I just realized that the topics of GROWTH and RISK are totally embedded in my life right now. I’ve been feeling bad since I did not write a GROWTH post last week (Slacker). Now, I have the perfect opportunity to speak to both writing prompts in a meaningful, timely, soul-searching post. GROWTH and RISK.I am in the midst of intense personal growth because I took extreme personal risks. I’m sure the pandemic played a role in the timing of my fearful-yet-fearless, mid-life unraveling. Most of all, a simple question I read prompted some life-changing events in the past 6 months.

Why Die Wondering?

Another pandemic lesson…a profound one-liner: Jump, and the Net Will Appear

These two sentences hit me like a ton of bricks. Life after embracing this wake-up call has been both exhilarating and terrifying. I think two years of pandemic life pushed me to finally find my own voice and take a risk. Taking the risk- taking the leap – presented me with some long overdue opportunities for growth.

Jump and the net will appear.

I jumped. Finally. I faced huge personal issues I’ve been ignoring for over a decade. I jumped. And nets have appeared. But they are not Disney movie nets with a warm and fuzzy, happy ending. My decision to leap came with painful consequences for many people. They are not perfect nets. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Searching for perfect plans and 100% certainty will not lead to growth. Growth requires risk. Growth happens when I’m ready to be good enough, not perfect. Growth happens after I leap and land in a new, terrifying net of possibilities and challenges. In the past, I avoided both growth and risk. Now, I’m embracing them. Some days, I can’t believe I finally jumped from my life of self-inflicted inaction into the net of new possibilities. I never imagined the pandemic could provide clarity and courage. But here I am. In the last 6 months, I’ve learned to ask myself new questions, too.

What would a brave person do? What would a confident woman do?

Obviously, we all have been changed by the pandemic. Personally, I decided not to yearn for the way things have always been. I realized I did not want to return to the status quo. The universal upset caused by the pandemic provided me with a frightening, personal call-to-action. The pandemic revealed a life-changing question: Why die wondering?  


Atlas of the Heart

“So often, when we feel lost, adrift in our lives, our first instinct is to look out into the distance to find the nearest shore. But that shore, that solid ground, is within us. The anchor we are searching for is connection, and it is internal.”

Human connection defines the heart of my work in higher education. The GCC Library contains endless opportunities for meaningful connections, both with humans and books. Of course, our library offers more connections to information than just books on the shelf. But for me, a real book in my hands is the ultimate connection with ideas, content, and higher learning. Brene Brown is one of my favorite researchers. Check out her latest book, podcast, or TED Talks. Atlas of the Heart gives us an opportunity to learn a new language of deeper human connection.


Confessions of a people pleaser

Advice on how to deal with difficult conversations in the classroom or workplace? Here’s a tip: Don’t follow my lead. I could write a textbook about how to be a people-pleaser and a doormat. I could have been the poster child for how not to stand up for yourself. But, that’s changing…

In the past year, my rose-colored glasses started to crack and now they have pretty much shattered. Surprisingly, I am OK with this. It’s almost a relief. Maybe it was turning 55. Maybe it was a book I read. Whatever prompted the breakage, I’m not overthinking it. I’m just grateful for the epiphany.

Even without my pink lenses, my default reaction still looks for the warm and fuzzy side of any problem. But at least now I recognize my inclination and try to redirect. Difficult conversations?  I always had rosy ideas for those. My go-to attitude was always to make everyone else feel OK. Five decades of people-pleasing is a hard habit to shake. But I’m starting to adjust to my new non-rose-colored view. I guess most people just call it reality. I call it liberating. 

Now I realize that most of my life, I avoided difficult conversations with the intention of sparing others bad feelings or preventing an argument. I was a wimp. My rose-colored shades kept me weak and in pain. Today as I write this, I’m still in the beginning stages of recovery from my rose addiction, but I’m getting stronger. I like the view from where I am, without people-pleasing eyewear. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot less painful. 

Difficult conversations? Now I just call it communication…


You may say I’m a dreamer

For a few minutes, John Lennon was my brother. It all started when I bought a John Lennon t-shirt a few years back. When I looked in the mirror, I thought, “I look just like John Lennon!!! He could be my half-brother!”

I knew my dad had docked in Liverpool during World War II as a Merchant Marine. That fact alone was enough to fuel my claim to John as my sibling. Since became popular, I had been yearning for some drama in my boring family tree. And this was it. What an amazing story I created in a matter of moments. Never mind any known facts about John’s family history, my dreams of finding a long-lost sibling had come true. And no one actually involved in this fabricated paternity situation was still alive to prove me wrong. Who needs DNA?

Me and John. Imagine if we had known each other. My life would have been so different…Imagine. No wonder his lyrics spoke to my heart…he was my big brother!

Then I did the math. John was born in 1940. That was years before my dad’s ship tied up in Liverpool. My dream dissolved before my eyes. Reality can be so disappointing.  

Maybe that’s why we have dreams. Dreams remind us to imagine.

Liverpool docks. Thinking of you, Dad. Imagine. For a moment, you were the father of the Beatles.

A writer writes about writing

Writer’s block prompted me to search for an idea for this week’s post. I turned to the poetry of Alberto Rios, 2013 Arizona poet laureate. In his poem An Instruction to Myself, I found my inspiration. Rios defined the task of a writer in the first line. His instruction suggests we “Shepherd the things of the world to the page.”

I love his word choice. The verb shepherd communicates such a gentle guidance. Now I can visualize gently guiding my thoughts into words. Thanks Alberto.

I met Alberto Rios last semester when he spoke here at GCC. He read the following poem. Perhaps sharing is the ultimate gift of a writer.

When Giving Is All We Have

Alberto Ríos 

One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.



About 20 years ago, I experienced “Gymtimidation” as a member of a gym in Ohio. Buckeye Fitness, I believe was the name of the place. The owner was a professional body-builder. The equipment was top-of-the-line. My friend was a personal trainer and invited me to join so we could work out together.

In the beginning, I lacked any “Gymtimidation.” I was perfectly at home among the machines and mirrors. With my personal trainer friend, I felt part of the group. I didn’t realize I was in an exclusive environment for body builders. So I had to be told.

“You see those big guys over there? Stay out of their way. They’re friends of the owner. They’re professionals. And they’re on steroids. Which means they can be aggressive and they have no patience with non-professionals. Steroids can make you mean. And hungry. So just stay out of their way. Never hang around and wait for them to get done with a machine.”

So I learned. I learned that I needed to make myself small at the gym. I needed to be as invisible as possible. This place was not “all about me.” But at that time in my life, I was accustomed to being marginalized at home, at work, and now at the gym. I was used to being invisible, so all this was not a problem. I wasn’t offended. Inclusivity was not on my radar. I didn’t know any better.

Live and learn. Today, I do know better. I’m no longer OK with being invisible. And the attitude at my current gym is the total opposite of Gymtimidation.  Inclusivity is a core concept at the GCC Fitness Center. The GCC Fitness Center radiates inclusivity. The staff and members consist of a diverse mix of people. The employees welcome us, encourage us, and accept us regardless of our fitness level, natural ability, or campus status. I adore the diversity of our fitness center community. Individuals don’t need to yield to cliques. My workout is just as important as yours. Fitness opportunities are adapted to meet the needs of each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all fitness mentality. Check out the GCC Fitness Center and experience how it feels to stay fit without “Gymtimidation.”


The Big Picture

As another episode of 6 X 6 begins, it is appropriate that we start with the topic of inspiration. If given the opportunity, this idea can momentarily draw our focus away from today’s to-do list and inspire us to look at the Big Picture.

From the Circulation Desk in the GCC Library, I have an amazing view of the Big Picture. If I pay attention, I can watch a preview of the future parading in front of me. It usually begins when a student requests a textbook at the Circulation counter. This simple encounter inspires me to imagine how many people this student will help in the future. For a few seconds, I think about what career she might pursue. The positive effect of this individual’s efforts to study at GCC could someday benefit countless others.

If I expand this Big Picture idea, I realize I play an important role in the GCC cycle of student success. My college experience started at GCC and involved countless hours of homework here in the library. As a student, I was primarily focused on my daily to-do list of assignments. At the time, I did not realize the ideas and inspiration I was developing at GCC would eventually lead me back to work in this building. Now I am proud to be part of the GCC staff. Today on this side of the circulation desk, I have a different to-do list and a more expansive view of the Big Picture. From where I sit, there is no shortage of inspiration.


3 pounds of tofu between your ears

I love small books with big messages. Neuroscience, Buddhist thought, psychology, compassion, beauty, kindness…this book has it all. It’s organized in short, powerful chapters – each with a potent, instantly-usable message. Here are my random thoughts for today in random order…

Start with Chapter 2 and Chapter 17

Remember your GCC Library. We can get this book for you to check out.

Best Wishes to all the 6 x 6 writers. Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories and ideas.

 I believe: What is known must be shared, preferably for free…


Difficult daughters

On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I love this poem. It sums up a lot of what I’ve learned in my 24 years as a Mom. My daughter and I are totally opposite in most ways. Since she was small, she has never ceased to amaze me with her contrasting attitude and I’m sure she feels the same regarding my differing ideas. Before she was born, I could have never imagined how unmatched a mother and child could be regarding temperament. I had rose-colored dreams of us being warm and fuzzy best friends. Where I got that idea, I can’t imagine – since my mother and I were certainly opposites as well. Is there a pattern here???

So this poem seemed to provide some clarity to this mother-daughter mis-match. All this unlikeness is OK…Jennifer is allowed to be Jennifer… I am allowed to be me…and my mom was allowed to be mean… uh…I MEANT…was allowed to be her

Actually, I feel liberated by the lessons in this poem. I am so much more comfortable with our opposing attitudes and choices. I wish my mom could have read this poem too. But then, she would have hated it…and I guess that’s OK too…that was her style…

(We were supposed to write about difficult people, right?)

This post is for you Mom! I Love You and I miss you,

Your Difficult Daughter who is the mother of your difficult granddaughter…

Lesson for Today:

Difficult Daughters…Maybe it takes one to know one…


Countdown to Reality

Last evening, a chance of winning the Powerball lottery prompted my unrealistic of dream of “What would I do if…??? 45 minutes was all that stood between me and some unimaginable amount of cash. I told my husband, “Enjoy the next 45 minutes because our life is going to change at 8 o’clock.”

During those 45 minutes, I basked in the dreamy thoughts of my philanthropic calling…starting an organization to fund the charity work of others. I imagined myself sitting at a board room table listening to the enthusiastic ideas of concerned people who want to make the world a better place. Wow…just think of the ripple effect…this is going to be awesome…

45 minutes later, the reality buzzer rang as the winning lottery numbers failed to appear on my ticket. OK. Whatever. It’s fun to dream.

My take away: What we dream today can create our reality tomorrow. Maybe yesterday’s dream is moving me toward explicit action to make a positive difference today and in the future. Maybe the lottery dream was just a warm-up for my real philanthropic future.