Xavier Magazine

Life’s Playground

Monica Scalf was teaching a freshman composition class at Xavier when someone in the class had one of those ah-ha moments—those times of discovery when the light bulb of understanding suddenly pops on.

As it turns out, the ah-ha person was her.

She asked her students to perform a writing exercise to put them in touch with the things that made them happy—a joy map. To inspire them, she put her own joy map on the board. Around the word “joy” she drew circles, each representing something that she loved to do. Biking. Reading novels. Playing with her children. Date night with her husband.

When she turned to look at her joy map on the board, she stopped short. She realized she didn’t do any of those things anymore.

“My bike had a flat tire. There were no date nights. I didn’t read novels anymore,” she says. “I knew something had to change.” She decided to stop teaching at Xavier, where she worked as an adjunct faculty member from 2004-2007 after earning her master’s degree in English in 2003, and concentrate on writing. She would restore the balance in her life.

“The joy map was a big clue to me that I had let all the things that brought me joy be replaced by things that were stressful. I had let those good things go and was not giving them priority. I was just getting through the day.”

By reorganizing her life, Scalf regained the balance she lost, and she also discovered her newest line of work. She continued writing a humor column about motherhood for a weekly newspaper, expanded her blog The Ordinary Matters on the same topic, wrote a book, Live In The Little, became a certified stress management coach and began accepting public speaking gigs.

Then after her father died suddenly, Scalf realized she wanted to work at helping people decrease stress and increase the energy and joy in their lives. She formed a small business, the Playground Group, in 2009 that gives workshops to help people manage the stress in their lives by rediscovering the joy they felt as children.

Her first client was a group of women at Procter & Gamble. Since then she’s given talks or held workshops for about 24 local organizations including Lexis Nexis, North American Properties and Xavier.

Scalf makes her workshops fun to get her message across. Her favorite prop is a backpack into which she puts canned goods that represent the stresses in a person’s life. She advises people to manage the items in their backpacks by dealing with the biggest stressors first. She also recommends sleep, exercise and an expanded social life to help cope with the demands of work and home.

Now, Scalf is as busy as she wants to be. And she’s happier. “My life is definitely more balanced,” she says. “I have learned a lot about myself and I have to practice what I preach. I’m very honest with audiences to say these are things I have to practice, too.”

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