Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Making Anything Possible: My Dog, Journaling and the Gift of Perspective

Sarah's dog Coby. Sarah's dog Coby. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Agan)

On April 16, 2010 we got the call from Costa Rica. It was the call that I feared most and that I knew one day would come. My husband Robert’s mother Theresa was dead. The neighbor saw her through the kitchen window, on the floor, there was no question she was gone. You can imagine the utter sense of powerlessness to get a call like that, knowing there is no earthly way to get there immediately since we live in Washington, D.C. So we cried and held each other and booked the next flight – the following morning at 6 a.m.



So much happened in the week that followed it would require a book to recreate. What is relevant to this column is that in the midst of a week where we seemed to become super-human – dealing with heartbreak, loss, and the more tangible yet monumental tasks of figuring out how to handle the estate, we also needed to figure out what to do with Coby.

A Resucue Mission Is Born

Coby is the dog born to a stray Robert’s parents adopted when they first moved to Costa Rica in the fall of 1999. We’ve known him since he was a pup and he was Robert’s mother’s faithful companion after she lost Gunther, Robert’s father, in 2004. In April of 2010 Robert and I already had two older dogs. The LAST thing we needed was a third older dog who was not housebroken, who was used to roaming the dirt streets of the neighborhood where Robert’s parents lived and who we didn’t even know if we could get out of the country. Theresa always told us the vet loved Coby and would adopt him at a moment’s notice.

We talked with the vet, managing to cobble together a conversation with his little bit of English and our little bit of Spanish. We asked the vet if he would like to adopt Coby.

In broken English, he replied, “He is such a sweet dog. I have five now so I cannot take him. But you can leave him with me and I will try to find a home and if I cannot…morta.”

Wh, wait – morta means death!

“I think he said if he couldn’t find a home he would put him down,” I whispered to Robert. I know this man thought he was being generous, doing us a favor…but we weren’t going to let that happen.

We stiffened, smiled an exasperated smile, and let out a warm “no possible!” and went on our way. 

Wrestling with the Inevitable

Despite all the other things we had to handle, in that moment we resolved our new number one priority was getting Coby out of Costa Rica. And so ensued a major ordeal that, thankfully, eventually resulted in Coby coming to live with us. He is an extraordinary gift, somewhat not of this world, and we literally cannot imagine life without him. For Robert he is the last link to his parents – as you can see, this little guy is special beyond words.

And he is sick. He has end-stage kidney disease. We found out about this the first week in January. On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the loss of our beloved Gem we have been dealing with the reality of Coby’s health condition. For those of you who have loved an animal, you know there is no sugar-coating things; it’s just brutal. I’ve found myself focused on nothing other than making Coby’s quality of life the best it can possibly be, which has included trips to the butcher to buy venison – one of the only things he’ll eat – and giving him daily fluids under the skin using an IV bag, tube, and needles. For those of you wondering if our efforts are heroic and perhaps it’s time to let him go – we aren’t there. He still wags his tail, enjoys slow walks in the park, and relishes a nap on the deck in the sun.

All of this said, because of the stress of it all, I’ve been upset, quick to temper, distracted, and quite cranky. So three days ago I had to do something because I was just miserable with myself and really out of whack, so I resurrected one of my no-fail productivity habits: gratitude journaling.

Journaling: Gratitude, Intention and Possibility

While I first shared this practice here in December, I left out two important parts of the three-part habit: intention and possibility. Since resurrecting this habit four days ago, life is working a whole heck of a lot better. I know that in order to make Coby as healthy and happy as he can be, I have to do a better job making sure I am healthy and happy. So, here’s what I’m doing…

Before I get sucked into the day's tasks and busy-ness, I take a few minutes to write the following:

  1. For what and whom I am grateful. I just write until I'm done. It's extraordinary to see how the things and people I’m grateful for are contributing to an overall happiness in my life. We live in a world focused on fixing what's not working. When we pause to focus on what is working, what is good, and what we are grateful for, we invite more of that into our life.
  2. My intention for the day. As with taking the time to focus on being grateful, pushing the pause button before jumping into the doing and expressing an intention for the day helps create a sense of larger purpose and peace. 

  3. Inventing a possibility. I use the following structure: the possibility I am inventing today for myself and my life is the possibility of ___________________. There is a generative nature to inventing possibilities and I find it an absolutely critical aspect to living a life I love – and helping me have a good, productive day.

Remember, possibility could be anything and everything: finishing a long overdue task, making forward motion on a stalled initiative or simply having a great day. It's up to you.

The key to this three-step daily practice is just taking the time to do it and not over-thinking it. Sometimes I do it in five minutes and sometimes I spend more. What matters is less how much time I take to do it and more that I make an effort to do it. Making this part of my daily practice contributes to a sense of peace and connectedness – for myself and those around me; including little sweet Coby.

Remembering the support of who and what I'm grateful for coupled with beginning each day with intention allows for anything to be possible, if you choose to let it.

Give it a try.

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.