September 2011 - Stratejoy
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My job as a museum curator is a big part of who I am.

I know people say you should not let your job define you, but for me, I am doing for pay what I would be doing for fun anyway. I know it may not sound like fun to many, but for me, it’s exactly what I wanted for my life, though I didn’t know it for many years that this was what was meant to be.

When I was a kid, I had dreams of being so many different things at various stages in life :cash register clerk at the local discount store, writer, pediatrician, lawyer, documentary film maker.

Growing up, my parents never put any exceptions on what my brother or I could do in school, extracurriculars, or work. They stressed education and I am very blessed and fortunate to say that because of their support in various forms, I was able to focus on my studies and interests because of that support.

In addition to the amazing family relationship we have, I am so thankful to them for who they raised me to be. They never pushed anything on me, though when I wanted to quit the French horn after a few lessons, they did make a fuss for me to continue ( they had paid in full and no way were they losing their money!)

For example, both my father and brother are artists and graphic designers; my brother from a very early age had an amazing drawing ability, as well as could make anything or fix anything ( he fixed my VCR once with parts from his remote control car). He has an awesome imagination, can think quick on his feet, and loves doing artistic things. The artistic ability was all used up on him it seems.

We used to have ‘arts and crafts’ nights as kids when my dad would give us a project for the weekend to work on; I remember a Thanksgiving themed project where David made a fantastic turkey out of tissue paper; I had a sticky glue mess on construction paper ( and I’m guessing I had more glue on my hands and clothes than on the paper).

But my lack of artistic ability was OK. In fact, my penchant for books, history, and school became my strong suit very early on. I loved going to school- I asked for extra assignments ( yea I’m THAT girl), did my own research projects, anything to absorb more information.

I used to think for awhile that because I was not as artistically inclined as my brother, that it meant I wasn’t creative. It took me awhile to learn that the short stories I would write or the way that I arranged my porcelain dolls on the shelf was an expression of creativity as well. And those were things I loved.

That combined with learning and researching- those were things that made me excited. I went into college thinking that museum work might be a good fit for me because it was a way for me to combine my passion for history and learning with a discipline that I found interesting. I always loved going to museums- in fact, when we went on vacations, everyone in the family got to choose something to do. For me, it was always museum or historic sites.

Sophomore year of college I went to the career center to have the director help me with my resume for internships in museums. When I went into her office, the first thing I saw was a sign above her desk that said in big bold pink letters: DO WHAT MAKES YOUR HEART SING. So simple, but it hit me over the head. No one, not even my parents, who had supported any endeavor I ever went on, had told me that.
And since then I’ve been on the path to finding the thing that makes my heart sing.

It’s always been about history, art, research, writing. It has changed and evolved as I have tried out different types of jobs within the museum field. Working on exhibits, researching and interpreting collections are my favorite thing; the current job I have now, where I have been for three years this month, is doing exactly that- and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, of course, there are frustrating days dealing with people or situations, but most of those fall under the “other duties as assigned.” But I believe so strongly in the work I do- preserving, interpreting, educating about history, art, and culture- that it allows me to overcome those moments with some ease.

The work fulfills me, captivates me- and it makes my heart sing because it is meaningful work. Contributing to society- even if in a small way by preserving artifacts and history for generations to come- is important. What I do in comparison to the rest of the world who are solving real problems and dealing with disease, famine and poverty- that is amazing work. What I do is small, but rewarding, and important too.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about next steps in my career and what I want to do next. I love the idea of working with smaller museums and local historical societies to help them connect better to their communities and history. I want to do more research and a lot more writing too. I think a lot about going back to grad school for my PhD, but after being in school for eighteen straight years (!!), I very much enjoy reading and writing what I want on my own schedule.

As I’m figuring out life on my own, I’m very lucky to have the stability of a great job so I won’t be making any big changes in the career area any time soon. But I’m always thinking about ways to further fulfill my insatiable quest for learning and curiosity, and always, always doing what makes my heart sing.

Photo Credit: [ Women working during World War II, one of my interests via Wikimedia Commons]

 

I’ve been grappling with writing this stupid manifesto for months now. I’ve known it’s needed written since May. I’m really excited to write it and share it with the world! But somehow, it keeps getting pushed to the backburner. Why?

Well, honestly, a couple of reasons.

I don’t have a solid grasp on what it needs to say. I want this short piece to form the foundation of everything else I do from this point on. The holy grail of my blog. The big idea – the mission – that inspires everyone else to get onboard and go with me wherever this crazy train goes.

That’s pressure. Self-applied pressure, granted, but still. What if I decide to change course midstream? Will my people still be behind me? Will they still be interested in sharing a mission and taking it to new heights on different levels? Will they even like the idea I start with?

For any of you familiar with the StrengthsFinder test, my chief strength is input. That means I absorb information like a sponge. I’m great at synthesizing ideas, but I have issues standing behind an idea or way of thinking for long because I’m constantly analyzing and adding new information.

Okay, confession time.

I’m afraid of commitment. Not like I can’t hold down a relationship type of commitment. It’s more like I’m terrified of committing to an idea or belief system. And it’s starting to hold me back.

That’s why I’ve been holding off on writing this thing. It’s a statement of what I believe and what I’m looking for. And being in the midst of a QLC, these are the major things I’ve been struggling with. Most of August, I felt like I was stuck and had no idea which direction to go next.

That’s when I started the Joy Equation. Now, being a writer in the lifestyle design niche, I’ve seen a LOT of personal development guides like it. I’ve even started a few of them.

But, as I started to go through the exercises, I found that I wasn’t just engaged – I was smiling the entire time I was going through the guide. Even with the tough topics, I was so happy just to have it written and out of my system! What a relief. I did think something – something I could stand behind without any doubt.

Like my values! I thought I had them pretty well refined, but it turned out I had been operating under limiting beliefs of sorts. I’d never given myself room to explore what my values looked like in a larger context. The definitions helped, too. Defining something makes it easier to understand and implement.

Here’s what I came up with:

This was such a massive discovery for me. I knew freedom, adventure, and community were important to me, but romance was like finding a missing link.

It was everything I could never find the words to describe before. I knew I was passionate, but finding such a perfect word was empowering and revitalizing. It was like, “Holy crap! I can finally explain to my partner why little things are so important to me!” It was a revolution for my heart.

So here I am now. This is me presenting what I believe without question. The first words in my manifesto are…

“I believe you are beautiful, brilliant, and unique beyond any doubt. There is nothing you can’t do, and there is no situation you can’t overcome.”

Because it’s my truth. And I can commit to truth.

I dipped my toes in the Russian River this weekend. I traveled to Northern California to celebrate my friend’s upcoming nuptials, and it was set up to be the perfect weekend getaway. There was majestic wilderness. There was good wine and tasty brunches. There was a six-foot blow up penis and a hot tub (I realize this may sound dirty, but the penis was strictly for bachelorette-y purposes). There were twelve girls dishing about girly things. And there was relaxation.

Sort of.

That was the plan. On Friday, I would hand in all my writing assignments and have my life organized so that I could spend the weekend floating on a raft in the green valley of Guerneville, CA. THEN, I would be able to relax. That’s what I had told myself for weeks. “Just deal with this big project, Laurenne, and THEN you will be able to relax on the river.”

The idea that a cool river awaited pulled me through August and popped me into September. And then I was there. I finished every single thing I needed to finish, and I was there.

But I wasn’t relaxed. I was more anxious than ever. In fact, as I floated with my feet dangled into the green river, one of my many thoughts was, “Maybe I need some anxiety meds.”

And then I realized: THEN doesn’t exist. Yet, I keep waiting for it.

I tell myself that I need to color my hair. THEN, I can feel pretty.
Once I publish my book, THEN I can stop trying so hard.
Once I have more money, THEN I can relax.
Once I have a garden, THEN I will be happy with my living situation.
Once this project is over, THEN I will email my friends back.

But I’m perpetuating this agonizing wait. I’m torturing myself by actively NOT appreciating what I have NOW.

I’m always waiting. Waiting for the next. Waiting for more time. Waiting for something better. Waiting to finally be recognized. Waiting to feel successful. Waiting to believe I’m worth it. Waiting for THEN to come. But, as I sat in all that wilderness, wondering about my next projects and what will happen THEN, I realized that THEN will forever loom in front of me if I don’t figure out how to replace her with NOW. I want NOW.

This constant need for more, for THEN, has sparked my ambition. It has served me in the past and it has gotten me here, so THEN isn’t all bad. But NOW is nicer. Now says I am worthy right now, that I am successful now, that I am beautiful now, that I am happy now, that I am comfortable now, that I am in the wilderness surrounded by nature NOW.

I want that. I want NOW.

I’d like to say that it all hit me right there in the wilderness and that I’m suddenly only living in the NOW. But I have a trip to Ikea planned today because I feel like I won’t be comfortable in my apartment until I get new curtains and bedding. So, I’m not quite cured. But I am finally aware of my tendency, and that’s the best I can do.

I’ve always thought it was cheesy when people talked about how life is the journey and not the end result, but, dangit, it’s true. When I look at pictures of college, I think about how much I could have relaxed then, how little I had to worry about, how free I was. But I was worried about THEN too. I didn’t enjoy the fact that I was in college, a crazy time for learning and exploring. I know when I have kids and responsibilities and book signings to attend, I will also look back at this time and think about how free I was, how great life was, how young I looked. I need to enjoy this time for the struggle that it is, marvel at how much I’m doing, really feel the excitement of not having any idea what I’ll be doing in a month.

That’s what’s NOW, and if I let myself feel it, it’s actually pretty nice.

I hope I can also thank myself when I look back at pictures of NOW. I hope I can say “That was the time when I stopped thinking and starting looking around.” Yes, that’s what is going to happen.

After Ikea.


[Photo credit : my friend, Aryan. That’s me meditating down there!]

When I was a little girl and imagined myself in a happy relationship with my future boyfriend, it never occurred to me that we might not live in the same city. Or even the same country.

I was under the impression that I would meet my husband in college and we would get married after we both graduated. We would find steady jobs that we both enjoyed and then create a family together a few years later. Oh, little Ashley, you were so naive.

Obviously, that is not how things happened. Here I am, a fresh 27 years old, living in a one bedroom apartment in my hometown, while my boyfriend is over 2,600 miles away in freakin’ Canada. Not cool, universe. Not cool.

Our story begins back in early 2008 when I first began blogging. Somehow, he and I ended up reading the same blogs and “running in the same circle”. Occasionally we commented on each other’s blogs (PeterDeWolf.com and That Super Awesome Blog, if you’re interested). Once in a while there would be an email exchange back and forth. But it wasn’t until June 2010 that things began to move forward.

I remember reading his blog and thinking, “Geez, I wish I could find a guy who treated me like this! I totally deserve someone like him!”

Yeah, it might seem narcissistic, but in the relationship department I was completely aware of how awesome I am and wasn’t willing to settle for anything less. I believe that is called self-confidence and knowing your worth.

So, June 2010. We’re emailing, every day, constantly. This is a full-on, mind-consuming, butterfly-inducing crush.

Over the next few months we started talking on the phone and soon graduated to Skype.

Looking back, we probably should have discussed it sooner, but it wasn’t until late 2010 that we began seriously talking about the distance. I guess we wanted to be sure that this was for real and not just some internet romance.

We knew the distance was a huge obstacle (hello, 12-hour day of traveling and goodbye, huge chunk of a pay check), but we were determined.

The first time we saw each other June 2011. It was beautiful, awkward, so much fun, a learning experience, and it felt like home. Within the first two minutes, we knew this was only the “first” visit. Since then we spent five glorious days together in August, have another trip planned for October, and are hoping we will be able to spend New Years together for the first time.

It takes a lot of work, but I don’t always mind that most of our conversations are through video cameras and microphones. It makes us put in the effort as we build our foundation. We are actually talking, learning how to solve misunderstandings, and are continuously getting to know each other.

In case it’s not already blatantly obvious, let me put this out there: I love him. I love his kind heart, how he is always thinking of others, how he is the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met. I love that he is incredibly smart, that his interests include sports, astronomy, writing fiction, and his adorably cute niece. I love that he talks about our future and isn’t afraid to share his feelings. I love that he makes me feel like I’m part of the best team out there.

Naturally, my friends and family have concerns. They worry that we “met online” and that perhaps, “he isn’t really who he says he is”. I hope I put that fear to rest with the first visit, when he was, in fact, himself. They worry that I will decide to move to Canada and in the process will be giving up part of myself for a man.

And this is where it ties into my biggest battle of trusting myself and figuring out what I want MY life to be.

I don’t want to create a riff in my relationship with my family because I am trying to follow my heart. I don’t want to disappoint them, but I also have to remember that I am an intelligent, strong, independent woman and I don’t want to disappoint myself either. I don’t want them to think I am giving anything up because, honestly, I feel like I would be gaining so much more than anything I might lose.

I would be gaining closeness with the man I love. I would be pulling that trust, loyalty, humor, respect, and love so much closer.  And to me, that is what life is about.

Sure, the idea of moving to another country freaks me out a little bit (and of course there are visas, and jobs, and living situations, and other crap to figure out), but when the end result is him? It seems totally worth it.

 

[photo credit: beyondbeauty]

Warning: There is a boy on the blog.  Not just any boy, however… One of my favorite thinkers, down-to-earth philosophers, and upcoming co-teacher for our 2012 Reclaim Leadership Course.

Ladies, I’d like to introduce you to Dave Ursillo.

I met him while jumping out of an airplane in Portland in June and we quickly became fast friends.  I’d been reading his blog for months before that and we’d had a few Skype conversations about being young online entrepreneurs, but to get the chance to hang out and talk about our ideas on the leadership revolution was amazing.

So what’s he doing on Stratejoy?  Well, Dave is a brilliant writer and his book, Lead Without Followers, launches today.  And I feel compelled to make sure I’m doing my part in getting the word out because I believe so strongly in his message (And FYI: I’m not an affiliate and yes, I did buy my own copy!).

Dave was kind enough to take part in a goofy little interview with me (I’m sure most people who interviewed him for this launch were quoting his book and asking deep questions, but I’m always curious in the behind-the-scenes stuff as well…). Enjoy!

MM: Book in 20 words.  And how can we get a copy?

DU: Radically redefining what it means to be a leader based upon what we have within us, already, and right now. You can head over to DaveUrsillo.com, or easily visit the Lead Without Followers page there.

MM: Beverage, music, location of choice while writing.  Be specific!
DU: When I started writing my book, it was: large iced banana hazelnut coffee from favorite South Boston cafe, Explosions in the Sky on iTunes and sun pouring in through shimmering tree leaves outside our apartment kitchen window.  Now that it’s done? I want that to become: Home-brewed chocolate macadamia nut Kauai coffee, Red Hot Chili Peppers bumpin’ on the speakers, on a private beachfront property in Hawaii (alright, maybe just a vacation house?).
MM: How do you think leading without followers specifically applies to 20somethings?

DU: We were born into a world that told us the sky was the limit. As 20somethings, that culture is a part of our core. We dream. We yearn to fly- to soar. Lead Without Followers fuels that fire not with hyperbole, but with concrete evidence and strategies that remind us that…

Leadership comes from within, and not what we are “without.”

 

 

MM: I know you’d been dreaming about writing this book for a long time.  Why now?  How did you move yourself into action?

DU: You helped, Molly.  The more I discussed these ideas, the more it resonated so powerfully within me. Sometimes when I talk about Lead Without Followers I literally begin to shake- almost like my nerves are going haywire. It’s what I describe as a source of purpose, meaning, and passion literally resonating so strongly within me that it is making itself physically felt.

I moved myself into action by just starting. Somewhere. Anywhere. Wherever I was. The decision to commit is an important first step. Then you tell family, friends, the world, and they all help you to remain accountable to that decision.

MM: Biggest Oh Shit Moment?  Biggest OMG-this is amazing Moment?

DU: My biggest Oh Shit moment was the entire month of August. Every time I looked at the calendar, the clock, or my to-do list, I spun off into a poetic soliloquy of curses (It’s a family trait). I put myself “under the gun” to meet my deadlines, which I’m usually opposed to, but this book needed to be pressed to print. It’s been 3 years, after all.

My biggest OMG moment was one of my interviews this past week with my friend Lisa Robbin Young, a biz blogger who is brilliant and amazing. In her interview (she will make you feel like you’re getting interviewed on Meet the Press), she read an excerpt from the book, which I realized was the first time I had ever heard someone read something that I had written. It was a surreal experience. Luckily, it also sounded semi-smart.

MM: The book, person, and website that inspires you.

DU: As a writer: Anything by Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Danielle LaPorte’s White Hot Truth
As a 20something: The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, the Dalai Lama, TinyBuddha
As a regular guy: Tao te Ching, my little cousins, Steve Kamb’s NerdFitness

MM: I heard you’re launching a course with a really brilliant chick called Reclaim Leadership.  What can you tell us about that?

DU: Oh, you mean our paradigm-shifting, world-changing, status-quo-inverting leadership course? Reclaim leadership will teach you a personalized plan for maximizing your inner skills, talents and abilities to become a highly influential leader in your life. Molly and I lay out a step-by-step process through which you gain the tools and tips into naturally becoming “a powerhouse for good,” a radiant and magnetic conduit of the things that you want and need.   (MM note:  Hell yah!  Please ignore our totally out of date splash page, but sign up here if you want to know more about the launch in 2012!)

MM: Why do you love Stratejoy girls? And are you single?

Single? Yes. 😉  When I think Stratejoy girls, I think… Raw confidence. Unabashed openness. Determination. Self-reliance. Purely loving. That’s hot.

MM: What’s the biggest takeaway you want readers of your book to leave with?

A new and empowered perspective on leading in your everyday life, and the incredible impact that you already do have upon the lives of everyone around you.

When I first started my business I wasn’t sure where I wanted it to go or what I wanted to do with it.  I let it take on a life of its own through a series of “Yes, ma’am”s, taking every job that was offered to me from headshots to first birthday parties, newborns to weddings.

In the beginning, the vast majority of my shoots were of kids under the age of four.  If you’ve ever spent any time around a toddler, you know.  Those things are FAST.  I spent every two hour session literally chasing the kid around whatever park we were at and trying to get him to look anywhere near my lens.

It was fantastic for growth as far as technical ability, but the creativity was lacking, or rather it was required in a different area than I had intended when I started a photography business.  Trying out new shots is one thing.  Finding creative ways to tie down a toddler (duct tape?) is quite another.

This business I was creating was starting to look an awful lot like the nanny job I was trying to get out of.  It took a good year and a half of wearing myself way too thin, doing things I wasn’t loving (on my evenings and weekends no less)  before I had this revelation:

If I’m going to put everything I have into building my own business, I’d darn well better LOVE what I am doing!

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.  I like kids.  I like family shoots and yes, even two year old shoots.  I don’t like them as my only creative outlet.  Not to mention that walking away from a steady income to do the exact same thing I was doing as a nanny seems just silly.  So I’m trying some other things.  I’m toying with several ideas that all end in the same product: beautiful images of you and your _____ (fill in the blank: spouse, family, pet, best friend) being who you are.  Loving how you love.

Everyone loves differently, and that’s what I want to capture.  You don’t want a photo of you and your husband cheesing at my camera.  You want an image of how your husband touches your face or how his eyes squint up when he really laughs.  He wants to capture the way you look at him when you’re REALLY looking at him.  And that’s what I want to give you.  I’ve been diving deep into the concept of experiential photography.  Whether your shoot consists of playing games and working through verbal prompts as a couple, or doing an activity (think baking cookies or exploring the pumpkin patch) as a family.  My goal is to bring out the real you, to show your genuine emotions and expressions, to capture who you really are.

The problem?  My brand.  My website is bland and lacks personality.  What I expect of my clients is that they’re willing to show their personalities.  My business cards are cute, but don’t evoke any emotion.  My clients have to be more than cute.  They have to be real.  My internet presence: spotty.  My expectation of my clients: completely present.  My brand needs a booty load of work, and it’s time to get started.  The message I want my business to portray is that I am genuine, creative and detail-oriented.

Actually, the message I want myself to portray is that I am genuine, creative, and detail-oriented.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  When you find something you love to do it resonates with who you are.  Once again, my core values come in: autonomy, authenticity, connection, exploration, family, creativity, play/whimsy.  Each one is so me, that it is something I’ve intuitively incorporated into my business.  This is a concept that’s been weighing heavy on my mind.

My business needs to reflect who I am.  Not who I’ve, in my laziness, let myself become.  So here I go.  The daunting words,

“Goal Setting”.

Autonomy:

  1.  Making my own schedule requires MAKING my own schedule. Go figure.  Map out when I’m doing what (approximately) each week and when I’m OFF work.  Follow it.
  2. Create systems that work for my business (and in my small space) and use them. (Financial, work flow, client communications.)

Authenticity/Connection: You can’t have connection without authenticity, so I’ll stick these two together.

  1.  Flesh out a plan for rebranding and making my business reflect me.  Write out exactly what I want it to look like and how I intend to get there including a timeframe, smaller goals, and action items.
  2.  Make a list (Yay, a list!) of the types of jobs I will accept and those I will not.  At all cost avoid selling my soul to pay the mortgage.  Book clients who get what I’m doing and we can both be authentic.

Exploration/creativity:

  1.  Avoid getting stuck in a rut.  Once a month ask a friend or stranger to model and do a shoot that’s just for me with no consideration of client expectations
  2.  Create two new “experiences” a quarter for family shoots (i.e. pumpkin patch, baking cookies).  Create 2 new prompts a month for couple shoots.  Keep mixing it up!

Family:

  1.  Find balance.  Use my off time to spend quality time with my family and friends.  Plan a date with a girlfriend once a week and a date with Mister once a week (or make him plan half of them!)
  2.  Talk seriously to Mister about our plan to move closer to family.  Figure out our timeline. Figure out how I will keep my business going in both places.

Play/Whimsy:

  1.  Don’t take my shoots too seriously.  Help the client relax, have fun,  and play.  Suck up my nerves and be open with my clients no matter what they might or might not think of me.  Make a point to put myself out there, knowing that if I do my clients are more likely to do the same.  Give myself permission to relax and play too.
  2.  Don’t take myself too seriously.  Life is meant to be fun.  Change the way I talk to myself when I’m getting caught up in something little.  If it isn’t serious, don’t make it that way.  Give myself permission to relax and play.

When I first started my business I wasn’t sure where I wanted it to go or what I wanted to do with it.  Now I know.  The only thing I can tell about what it feels like to attempt to line up who you are with your career is that it is completely invigorating.  Now if only I can get there.  Those of you who have taken this leap, any tips for those of us who are just diving in?  I’m ready to go!

[Photo credit: Hannah D Photography]

 

Moving sucks.

There, I said it.

I’ve sold my furniture; donated clothing, books, and other random items; and trashed mountains of paperwork that have been secretly breeding on my shelves and in my file box. (Honestly, all of my possessions must have been reproducing in my closets and drawers, because there’s no way I ever owned that much stuff.)

My apartment stopped feeling like home two weeks ago, when I repainted the walls. Before that, it was bright, cheery, and oh so me. When my ex and I decided to take this apartment, I agreed as long as I could paint some of the rooms: Kermit-the-Frog-green accent wall in the living room, pale blue bedroom, yellow accent wall in the guest room. The walls are back to being Navajo White now, and I’m closing this chapter on my life–the NYC chapter and the chapter with my ex.

I’m no stranger to big moves: I’ve shifted my life cross-country twice, both times leaving behind dear friends and comfortable cities. This feels different somehow, perhaps because Australia isn’t exactly in easy/affordable flight range for most people. Although the prevalence of twitter, blogging, and facebook in my life means I’ll be able to keep in touch with my New York friends (you know, the same way I keep in touch with my Seattle and DC friends now), I still feel flooded with sadness when I think about the moments I’ll miss here.

My heart breaks when I think about the fact that I’ll no longer be able to walk up to my friends’ apartment upstairs when I’m feeling stressed or sad, to sit on their futon and have their dogs and two-year-old daughter shower me with unconditional love. I start crying when I think about leaving behind the knitting group with whom I’ve spent nearly every Tuesday night for the past four years; they have been my strongest support through both the best and toughest times that I’ve experienced in this city. I start to wonder, What was I thinking? Connection is one of my core values, after all…

Like I said, moving sucks.

Fortunately, there are things that can help. Throughout this whole awful process of letting go of everything familiar–including possessions that had moved cross-country with me both times–the yogi in me has been reiterating that it’s good to practice non-attachment. All of this stuff doesn’t make me who I am. I’ve learned through my last two big moves that the people who matter stick around and stay in touch, and you find ways to maintain friendships across the miles. Asking for assistance is important; good friends are willing to do everything from assisting with painting or packing, to sitting with you while you cry and stare at your freshly-painted while walls. And of course, there’s been travel planning, which is pretty exciting when you’re meeting up with friends all over Europe. If I were only focusing on what I’m leaving behind, I’d never get anywhere. Connection may be one of my core values, but so is adventure. I want to find that balance.

With two days left in New York and barely anything in my apartment, I’m trying to soak up as much of my friends and the city as I can. I’ve been writing and taking photos, and also thinking about what I want from the next five months. After a few weeks of thinking about goals, I’ve finally settled on three:

Though I consider myself successful for quitting my job and taking this trip in the first place, I’m pretty certain that I don’t want to go back to sitting at a desk every day working for other people. I want to use the next five months–and the next year, really–to do everything in my power to create a life that won’t involve that.

This is it.

Two more days.

[photo credit: me!]

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both…”

I think the biggest contributing factor to my Quarter Life Crisis may be my inability to really latch on to one specific passion and follow it.  Life has always been extremely interesting to me, and when I learn about new things and new adventures, I sometimes veer off the current path and follow this new, shiny thing.  It is NEW! And INTERESTING! Thus a procession of interesting activities, hobbies and possible careers have paraded by me, sometimes me ditching one for another or just piling them on. My mentor in high school suggested if I kept up this current pace, I would be a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”, but I’ve just never been able to make anything really stick.

I went through a variety of majors in college that included anthropology, theater production and design, general English and finally, settled on high school English education. I always saw myself as a teacher when I was little girl, so why not? I had a lot of incredible teachers during my younger years in school and was excited at the thought of making an impact on them the way they made an impact on me. My teaching program was filled with amazing peers and some really great professors. I was achieving at high levels, and there was no denying I was good at teaching English. The great flaw in the program at the time, however, was that we weren’t in an actual classroom until senior year. Even then, our main student teaching experience didn’t occur until post-graduation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into until after I had completed my degree.

I lost a lot of myself during student teaching. I did everything correctly and received a lot of praise from my mentors, but it just didn’t feel right to me. My passion for the language arts classroom was quickly slipping away. I finally accepted that my life as a school teacher was not going to make me fulfilled and joyful. Instead, it was currently making me feel angry and empty.

After my student teaching experience was over in December of 2009, I was at a complete and total loss what to do next. I had extensive student loan debt, was facing an on-going battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder and anxiety, and for lack of a better word, felt dumb that I didn’t know the next step. All of my friends were moving on in life. They were getting married, finding 9 to 5 jobs, having happy hour cocktails and buying houses.  None of those things interested me (except the cocktails, of course), but what was the alternative? What was wrong with me that I didn’t want those things, too? I never felt comfortable being normal but didn’t know how to be an un-normal, authentic me.

Finding Stratejoy was an accident that became something like fate. I was moved by the struggles of other 20-somethings and found comfort and meaning in the message Molly was sharing.  When Molly offered a discount on the Joy Equation, I jumped at the chance to focus on myself rather than worrying about what others thought I should be. For the first time in a long time, I felt brave enough (or perhaps just desperate enough…) to try things I never imagined I would do. I’m a lot more accepting of the journey I’m on and living in the present.

Those changes in my attitude and my current position at the zoo are definitely a start, but I know I’m a long way from finding my way. I peer into the future and see nothing but haze. Doing writing exercises that ask me to write about my ideal day make me squirm because I feel so lost, I don’t even know what type of jam would be on my toast in the morning. I’m so afraid that I’ll miss out or choose the wrong thing that I haven’t chosen anything. If there was a goal I would want to meet through this Stratejoy blogging experience, it would be to gain some insight into my future. Even if it means being brave enough to just pick a path.

 

{Poem Credit: Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken”}

{Photo Credit: Ryan B Schultz}

I remember reading Little Women and going to see the Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon movie with my mother when it came out. There is the scene (as in the book) when Laurie goes to Jo to tell her of his love and his desire for her to be his wife. When she said no- choosing the independent lifestyle and her writing career over him, I remember so distinctly coming out of the film and saying to my mother, “Why would she say no to such an offer and a cute boy?” She told me one day I would understand. After sticking up for myself and choosing to live an authentic life over staying married, I finally understand what my mother (and Jo March) were telling me.

I definitely was boy crazy- maybe it was too much TV, too many teen romance books, or perhaps just a whimsical vision of what life was, but I always had being married in my sights. But I know understand, looking back, that it was the man, the idea that I always wanted. I never once thought about what being married meant, what I wanted out of a relationship.

I was more concerned with finding a guy who dressed well and said sweet things to me than thinking about the type of person and characteristics I’d want to spend forever with. Or even what forever meant.

When you are ending a marriage on fairly decent terms and trying to be amicable, it can be emotional torture. There is the gray area of- What are we? Do we still go out together for dinner? Do I need to know your after work schedule and who you are with? Do we split the bills? But the toughest part is the emotional mind field that it is.

Seriously, the doubt, the moments of uncertainty are often overwhelming. Since we’re sort on this slow roll out plan of telling people, there have been moments when we are pretending really well that life is cheery between the two of us. This sucks– it’s like the slow rip off of the band aid.

But my eye is on the prize ( happy single life and resolution of QLC). My resolve to listen to my gut– it is too loud to ignore, especially after years of shooing it away like an annoying fly. It was also exhausting being strong and successful at work, but a lump on a log at home. In the midst of the Quarter Life Crisis, I never felt comfortable enough with myself outside of work to speak up for what I wanted or to do anything without worrying what people would think.

I need to begin moving forward. I’ve spent considerable time thinking and planning about life after– ripping old wallpaper in my house, buying luxurious bed linens.  These things may seem trivial- but these are tiny examples of things that bother me or I desire that have been put aside for a while. These are the outward examples of ways I have denied my essential self.  I need to start doing.

I’ve realized I put many decisions and happiness factors in the hands of other people- parents, husband, and friends. It can’t be that way anymore. I have to make my own decisions. Having this house all to myself will be a huge action item of this goal to be decisive and assertive.

The other aspect of realizing my worth will come every day as I realize that just because my marriage failed, I am not a failure. Yes, there is a lot that I did wrong or did not try hard enough- we could be here all day if I told you how bad I was in this relationship. But that just means it was this relationship, it doesn’t mean I am not lovable or cannot be married again. It means I have to work on myself and what I want for my life. A failed marriage, paper, test, etc. are all opportunities for learning, for growing, and for finding greater purpose.

So like Jo March, I’m doing what’s best for me and not denying my instincts any longer. I also like to think that this ending in my life is going to bring a lot of new beginnings. This blog is a perfect example of that. I want to finally go to those local tourist spots I keep saying I’ll visit, go to museums that have been on my list, and finally get around to refinishing the desk I pulled out of the neighbor’s trash in 2009. I want to be a motivated, productive person who loves life and goes after it- who tries and experiences and lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Internet Move Database]

The universe is trying to tell me something. I’m convinced.

After a summer of stressing over getting someone to rent to me, I applied to a random Craigslist housing ad. I found a nice two bedroom within my budget. It was a little further out than I wanted, but there was no application fee – which *fingers crossed* meant no credit/rental check.

It’s like the universe wrapped its arms around me and gave me a hug. She rented based on character, not background. And she was one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met! You just don’t meet people like that anymore.

Then came the cherry on top – the best writing gig EVER lands in my inbox. Cue me dancing a jig! I can’t give details yet, but it’s with a company I would sell my left boob to work with long term.

A place to live and steady income. Did I just achieve some stability? Why, yes, I think I did. Count this as me exiting fight or flight mode. Unless I’m crazy, that should mean I make better decisions for a while.

At the end of this five months, I’ll be ready to pop. As in, the brand new baby boy will be making his arrival like a soda can exploding in the freezer. I’m so excited for him, but I’m afraid for me. My doctor said I have a high likelihood of getting extreme PPD again.

Last time, it destroyed my life. This time, I have a much better support network. I have a wonderful doula, and I’m not in a relationship with someone I can’t stand – progress, right? (In fact, he makes me quite happy. And makes trips out when I get cravings. Yep – he’s a keeper.)

The next several months are going to be jam-packed full of goodness. But, it’s also just jam-packed – you know, crappy airline style where the seats are too close together kind of packed. I’m not crazy enough to hope for balance, but I am dreaming of joy. Even when things go bonkers, I want to feel the deep joy of knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be doing what I’m meant to be doing. To commit to joy, I’m making three goals for my time here at Stratejoy.

My three goals for the next five months are:

To prepare as much as I can for the new baby. Mentally, this means making sure I have a network of wonderful women to connect with. I think Stratejoy is going to help with that a TON. Physically, it means yoga and setting up the nursery. (Because you KNOW it’s fun.)

To write my manifesto. Because I can’t write it until I understand all of the in’s and out’s of what I think. This is me committing to self exploration in away I haven’t before.

To open as many doorways as I can for my writing career. This means getting coaching, applying to grad school, working with amazing clients, and doing whatever I can to propel my writing to the next level.

It’s a good thing I like challenges, because this one is going to be one tough mother.

 

I feel very fortunate to be able to set my goals here where this amazing tribe can keep me on track. In the most gentle way possible, of course. Gentleness. That’s a big one for me.

Two weeks ago, when the first Stratejoy post was revealed, I read my first entry from a cubicle in an ad agency. There had been an emergency, and a friend had called me in for a ten-day job. I didn’t want to go back to that environment (16-hour days and people hating on your work for most of those hours), but I did because I freaked out about money.

And I felt like such a hypocrite! Here I was on Stratejoy proclaiming that all I want to do with my life is write meaningful things. And on the very day that post was published, a creative director was asking me to write scripts about how going to a popular fast food restaurant is now a beautiful experience that can change your life. It made me feel gross.

I was mad at myself. I felt stupid. And like a failure. Like I had taken a step back. Yeah, everyone does a job they hate when it comes down to the end of their savings, but in my mind this was the worst. I was pissed at myself and everybody. I stayed for fourteen hours that day. Thankfully, some (perhaps Stratejoy) angels changed the budget, and they couldn’t afford me another day. I got fired after just a day. Phew!

But the lesson I learned is that I must be more gentle with myself. My new writer life won’t appear RIGHT NOW like I want it to. And it’s okay if I admit to needing money. It’s okay if I go back to my old ways once in a while. I am now using that job when I need it. It is not owning me like it did five years ago.

Aaaand that is the long winded way in which I will get into my goals for these five long months:

Go easy on myself I have built up this belief that tells me I’m 31 and therefore I need to be at a certain point in my life. I need to have proven myself. I need to have ‘made it.’ And every time I find myself veering off that track, I’m not so nice to myself.  I would like to treat myself like I would a friend or family member– with compassion and love. Which brings me to…

Trust When I actually sit down and listen to my thoughts, I feel calm. Every failure I’ve ever experienced has taught me something, so I know deep inside that everything always works out. I want to remember that. I would like to always trust that I am right where I am supposed to be.

Feel pretty I would like spend more time on my appearance. I know it sounds like the opposite of what I’m supposed to say, but I just want to feel pretty. I spent this whole year rolling out of bed, putting on whatever clothes were on the floor, and going to write in a cafe. I’m sending the wrong message, and I don’t feel good about myself. I just want to make more of an effort to eat better and maybe wash my hair once a week. I owe it to myself to take care of my body.

Connection My computer knows me better than anyone, and I’d like to change that. I want to make it a point to ask more questions and have more lunches and simply be in the presence of my friends and family more often. I want to cultivate more of a community in my town and through phone calls with my family. I want to be a better friend.

Get Romantical I want to make dating a priority. I don’t want to make it a goal to ‘have a boyfriend.’ My goal is to simply enjoy the dating experience, meet people, say yes to new things, revel in heels, flirt, and have dinners. I have been seeing dating as a chore, and I want to change that.

Time Today I pressed snooze a few times, got on my computer in bed, started working, and forgot to eat until 1pm. No more! I owe it to myself to make time to meditate, to be grateful for what I have, to listen to my thoughts, to see the beach, to go outside, to LIVE!

Open I am the opposite of spontaneous. I always have a plan and a full calendar. I am so jealous when people invite me to a last-minute weekend camping trip. I never say ‘yes’ because I always have plans. I’d like to keep my schedule more open. Even if I have to PLAN to be spontaneous, I’ll do it!

Step into my path This is less a meaningful personal goal and more of a real life success goal. But I want to put it out there. I spent this last year writing a book that means so much to me. I know it will help everyone who reads it to know more about suicide and family and only children and love and lots of good things. I TRUST it. So… at the end of these five months, I would like to have a publishing house behind me, a printed hardback in the works! Eeeee! I said it. It’s out here. Oh my gosh. It’s GOING to happen! Right?

If it doesn’t, I will be gentle.

[Photo credit : my friend, Ramu. This is the last time I wore heels!]

There is no other point to this post except to say that “Glee Season 3 starts tonight!”   Yaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!  I wish I was obsessed with something that more hip, but alas, it’s Glee all the way for me…

To celebrate — I’m offering the Joy Juice Journaling Prompts at 50% off.  Instead of $38 they are just $19! For ONE DAY ONLY!  This gleeful offer is good starting *NOW* until 8 am PST on Wednesday September 21st. After that, it all goes back to normal. Why?  Honestly- it just feels like such a joyous day!  I wanted to share that with YOU!  Glitterbombs!  Slushies! Quinn with Pink Hair!

Click Here to Purchase the Joy Juice

I’m so excited. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but there is nothing like a good episode of underdogs singing and dancing to light me up.  I will admit — I’m a total Gleek.  I even saw the 3D movie!  And watched the Glee Project!

Enjoy the Juice!  And the premier of Glee Season 3!

XOXO

Molly

p.s  I definitely feel like I’m defying gravity today!  I do not have cable, so I will faithfully avoid Twitter and Facebook tonight, because I’ll need to watch in on Hulu tomorrow.

p.p.s. Don’t stop believing in yourself, babe.  You can share your true colors with me anytime.  And if you’re a loser like me, we’ve got this amazing freedom to light up the world on our own terms.

p.p.p.s.  I promise to reign in my exclamation points after today… (!)

p.p.p.s.  There are 4 spots left in Monday’s Fierce Love and Inner Confidence Training Group.  Registration closes tomorrow, so if you want in, now is the time.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting at my desk with my laptop in front of me, iced mocha to the left, journal and pen to the right. I look out the window and see the sun shining brightly, a light wind rustling the leaves in the trees. It’s going to be hot today, over 100 degrees again. I feel calm, rested, and excited for what the day might bring.

These peaceful moments leave me with a sense of clarity, with a view of how vast the future is, and I recognize the endless possibilities. Sometimes, though, it seems too endless and I scramble for answers. Some clue as to how my life will turn out. I know it’s silly and I should accept the unpredictability, but I’m one of those people who feels anxious without at least the backbone of a plan.

So, let’s start making one.

Professionally, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. I’m at this point where I’m two years into my job as a counselor with a non-profit agency and I’m beginning to feel the monotony of the daily 9-5 routine, but I’m not completely burnt out. I still feel inspired and look forward to going to the office most mornings, but I know this can’t last forever, so I’m beginning to consider the big question: What’s next?

I’m certain that I can’t stay in the non-profit sector forever because my student loans won’t allow it. Or really, I won’t allow it. Currently, almost half of my monthly paycheck goes toward paying off my student loans. It’s all I can afford, but at this rate I won’t be out of debt until I’m almost 40 years old. And that’s just not going to fly.

I have at least seven months before I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas, so I have at least seven months before I can officially open my own private practice. I’m confident that this is what I want, to provide therapy to families and adolescents, but also to be able to set my own hours and be my own boss. I will be able to charge my own rates which means that I will be able to increase my salary and hopefully increase my loan payments. It’s a win-win.

And just because I like to keep things interesting, I don’t know where I will be living in a year. It has never been my plan to stay in Austin forever, and now that I’m in a long distance relationship, the geography of it all plays an even bigger role. When I think about leaving Austin, I’m thrown back to my struggle and my desire to make people happy. I know my family and friends would be sad to see me leave. There would be difficult, heart-wrenching conversations and probably a few hurt feelings. But it’s my decision and if I choose to move for this relationship, I have to trust myself.

It’s obvious to me that the biggest struggle of this journey I’m sharing with y’all is going to be the personal aspect. Solidifying my values and learning to live them. Putting faith in my dreams and making them come true. Honing in on my self-confidence and owning my decisions.

I’ve set some goals for the next five months that I hope will help guide me toward a more authentic and joy-filled life. Of course, the over-arching goal is to BE BRAVE, but here are the specifics:

1. Personal– create an authentic life full of joy!

I know this one sounds vague, but I think the brainstorming sessions will help create a clearer picture of how I want my life to be. Without that, I could be spinning circles and that won’t get me anywhere. I’ve heard several glowing reviews for Molly’s coaching sessions and I think that would be surefire way to strengthen my self-confidence as I begin taking steps forward. As for the yoga, it’s my time for me. When I am practicing yoga, I feel empowered and completely myself. I want more of that.

2. Professional– be a grounded, curious, and empathic counselor!

If I’m planning to be successful in my career, I need to start acting like it. Finding a mentor who can provide some guidance and experience is a starting point. I love learning and continuing to read and stretch that learning muscle can only bring good things, right?

3. Financial– finally get out of debt!

My biggest struggle with money is that I’m never quite sure how much of it I have at any given moment. Creating a budget will help me answer that ever nagging question in the back of my head. Once the budget is set, my anxiety and stress levels will decrease and I can focus my energy on more productive areas of my life. And yes, it’s true. I don’t have a savings account. Since I’m constantly worried about spending more than I have, I never really save, which is awful. Over the next five months, I’m hoping to open a savings account and begin to build a financial safety net for myself.

These are the goals I’m setting as a map for the next few months. Some of them are big and some of them are scary. They may change and they may grow, but that’s okay. In fact, I think that’s perfect because this is just a base to jump off of toward an even better, super awesome life filled with countless peaceful Saturday mornings.

Last month my friend and I cashed in a Groupon for a trapeze class at the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA).  A step towards Eleanor Roosevelt’s  “Do one thing every day that scares you” philosophy, I suppose.  I’m not really afraid of heights…okay, maybe a little, but nothing debilitating or anything.  But let me tell you, this scared the crap out of me.  It was MUCH more terrifying than I expected.

We started with “ground training” which lasted all of 5 minutes, were put in harnesses, and sent straight up the ladder.  This ladder felt like it was one little wiggle away from laying itself right down flat on the ground, and taking my 5’10” body up it gave it more than just a little wiggle.  I was positive it was going to come crashing down and me with it.  (For the record and SANCA’s credibility, it was well stabilized and definitely wouldn’t have fallen.)

Once I got to the top there was my spotter.  She’s the one who hooks you into your ropes, tells you to hang your toes over the edge of a very high platform, helps you catch the bar and tells you “Ready, hup!” (Hup = do something absolutely terrifying like leap off a giant tower).  It’s scary enough by itself, but my spotter could not have been more than 5 feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet.

She grabbed the back of my harness (about the equivalent of grabbing onto the back of your pants), pulled the bar up to me and told me to lean forward and hold onto it with one hand.  You really don’t expect it, but those bars are HEAVY!  They pull you forward.  She holds you back.  No offense to this chick at all, but I did NOT trust her to keep me from landing face first in the net (“At least there’s a net. At least there’s a net.  At least there’s a net.”) My heart was pounding in my ears.  I could barely hear anything.  My hands were shaking and clammy.  I seriously doubted that my grasp on this bar was actually going to hold especially if I had my entire body weight tugging on it.  Letting go with my other hand to get a good grip on that bar was one of the scariest things I can remember doing.  “Ready? Hup!” (“Holycrapholycrapholycrap!”) And then, I was FLYING (through the air with the greatest of ease…Or something like that.) And let me tell you…What a feeling.

So here’s the big question: If I can let go with both hands, trust a total stranger, and leap off a 23 foot platform, why can’t I trust myself?

I know I have the knowledge, drive, ability, and passion to make a creative business for myself.  Even better, I’m well on the way to doing so…so what’s holding me back?  Why am I right on the edge of something awesome and holding back? Why am I still working 30 hours a week as a nanny and attempting to run my business in my “spare” time?  “Paralyzing fear,” I think would be the right phrase. Fear of making the jump, maybe. How can I move through the sheer terror that would be quitting my job (i.e. reliable income) and come out the other side in one piece?  I’m lucky to have an amazingly supportive husband, family, and group of friends who encourage me in every step I take towards the life I want to be living.  So what’s the hang up?  What am I waiting for?  What exactly is it that I’m afraid of?  Besides falling face first in the net (“At least there’s a net.”).

With the trapeze it’s all about timing.  You have to make your big moves in just the right part of the swing or your trick won’t work, but at some point, toes dangling off the edge…

…you just have to leap.  And fly.

[photo credit: my friend Leigh]

The relationship that I ended last summer left me in a fragile state. It had been unhealthy for me for a long time; when I look back at things honestly, there were warning signs that I ignored from the very beginning. Because I’d spent a lot of that relationship quashing my dreams and trying to make myself something that he would love, I hadn’t noticed how it was destroying my self-esteem little by little. By the time he delivered some soul-crushing blows during our breakup—I think it’s the only time anyone’s ever called me boring and no fun, and those were far from the worst of it—I believed some of the awful things he said about me.

It probably goes without saying that I wasn’t doing particularly well last August. I recall telling friends that I wasn’t sure how I got out of bed every day, that I did it because it seemed like the only thing to do. I feel pretty confident stating that it was the worst month of my (then) 29 years. I’d realized that I needed to end the relationship, I’d told him to move out, and after that, I had no idea how to pick up the pieces of my life. I wasn’t sure who I was and how to feel like that person again.

Right around that time, I saw someone post on twitter about The Joy Equation, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wanted a way to start connecting with myself again. I think the most telling thing for me was completing the section about my values; it finally clicked that I hadn’t been happy for so long because the life I’d been leading for the previous two years wasn’t in line with any of my values. No wonder I’d been feeling so awful, frustrated, and angry! I stayed in a relationship at first because I hadn’t wanted to be alone, and later because I’d been so torn down by my ex that I didn’t have the confidence to leave. How could that possibly have made me feel anything other than terrible?

I’d love to say that things magically transformed then. Though they didn’t, I slowly began to heal. Things started feeling normal again; I did some traveling. By December, I was ready to make a decision that would dramatically change my life for the better: I enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training.

It’s funny, because I think a lot of people expect yoga teacher training to be about learning to teach yoga. It is, of course, but there’s so much more than that. The teaching part is easier: you need to know the poses, how to adjustment them, and how to sequence them. The biggest—and hardest—part is knowing yourself. How can you hold space for others in a class if you aren’t taking care of you? I had to face some of the scary things that I’d been hiding deep within me for months and even years. There were nights when we’d be practicing together and suddenly, I couldn’t stop crying. I had to learn to let go.

Halfway through teacher training, someone I knew commented that it seemed like I was discovering a lot of things about myself. I replied that I wasn’t finding them—I was remembering. That’s the moment that things started coming together for me; it all started to make sense, and I knew I was ready to make some big changes and work toward living in line with my values.

It’s hard to look back at the past year and see the things that I’ve learned, because I wish I hadn’t needed to conquer those lessons. I’m able to see a lot more clearly now how staying and justifying that relationship was unhealthy for me. I have a much better idea of what is important to me in a relationship; I’ll never again stand for someone who judges my tattoos, someone who wants to stop me from doing things that I love, or someone who wants to change integral parts of my personality. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve remembered how to be alone, and the good that can come of being present with myself.

And in case you’re wondering about those core values that were a wakeup call last summer, they are: connection, bliss, abundance, trust, adventure, courage, magic, and strength. I expect I’ll be exploring those a lot more in this space over the next five months. Though I’ve begun to realign my life to reflect what matters most to me, I’ve got more to learn—and remember.

[photo credit:  me!]

One of my fiercest foes is The Goal. Every few months (or at least on January 1st), I set my jaw and wag my finger at The Goal. “I will SET you, and unlike the Showtime Rotisserie, I will NOT forget you.”  Alas, The Goal gets the best of me and distracts me with TV shows, bouts of laziness and more shiny things.

We were challenged to set some goals for our time writing for Stratejoy Season 5, and I cringed, knowing what a terrible goal-setter I am. Before, my goals always sort of wrote themselves because it was expected of me: good grades, graduate from high school, more good grades, graduate from college. Now that I’m on my own and can pretty much do whatever I want, my goals are about as ambitious as willing myself not to eat cake for breakfast. I attribute my dislike of goal-setting to my inability to settle on a path and my fear of making life-changing decisions. If I set goals, I change my mind or simply give up and then I feel like a quitter or a failure. I’ve been rewarded in the few times I’ve sort of just lived my life without any real direction by stumbling upon something great, but this can’t always be the case. I know that in my head. Perhaps Stratejoy Goal #1 is simply sticking with a goal?

I read a great quote in a post by Molly. In “Starting Over and Over and Over” , she says (regarding goal-setting:) “If you’re feeling paralyzed or overwhelmed, stop preparing. Start doing. Begin being.”

What a powerful thought. What a powerful, swift kick in my ass, actually.  Goals don’t have to be scary and if I fail, I fail. If I change my mind, I change my mind. There is no reason I need to keep preparing to make some goals because I’m putting my life on hold if I don’t make some decisions right now. Here are some goals straight from my gut:

#1 Stick with ONE of these goals.

#2 Further explore the concept of minimalism. (What is minimalism? Joshua and Ryan do a great job of explaining this concept here.)

#3 Get moving. This might involve FINALLY taking those yoga classes or just taking a walk every night. I’m lazy. I like the couch. What can I say?

#4 Continue the quest for healthy eating. I’ve cut out most processed foods and eat meat only on occasion. I want to keep getting better at this.

#5 Fully embrace my Americorps experience. (What this means may come only with time spent in Americorps.)

#6 Create a financial plan that works towards eliminating all of my credit card debt

#7 Begin learning to play the guitar

Seven goals. They are probably not all the most easily measured or well thought out, but I knew if I didn’t just DO it, I’d never write anything down. I promise to be honest about them. I also promise to continue thinking about them. Perhaps I’ll set more goals or get more specific as time goes on. Bring it on, Goals. Bring it on.

Update a few hours later – Remember when a few lines ago I promised to be honest about my goals?  A few hours after writing this post, I was catching up on some blogs I read and came across Leo Babauta from Zen Habits‘s post about having NO goals. In full disclosure, I started immediately fretting over the goals I had just written up for this site and what people would think of me if I ever claimed to have no goals.  Leo’s post really resonated with me but another part of me said it was BS and goals were completely necessary to accomplish things in life.  I really would love to hear what people think about this. Goals or living life without them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{Photo Credit: angietorres}

It’s easy to look back at my life and see what went wrong and all the times I should have stood up for me and said what was on my mind, but in the thick of it, it was hard to figure out what was going on in my head.

When I finished graduate school in 2007, I was headstrong and inspired to make a difference in the museum world. I landed a job right away and was so excited that it came with benefits and was close to home, I didn’t think about what I wanted and if it was a good fit for me.

It ended up being that it was nowhere near what I expected and I entered into a sad place and the beginning of the QLC- though I didn’t know it at the time. Living at home, with few friends (most had moved away), I leaned on the boyfriend (now husband) to provide my happiness and excitement, to plan weekends, and took a back seat to my life.

Before this, I wanted to move out of my parents’ house as soon as I was done with grad school and could get on my financial feet. Somehow I ended up staying with them until I bought a house with husband. I went from living under their roof as a daughter to living under one as a wife, never having my independent living as I wanted. In fact, I bought the house in 2009, I did not live in the house until I was a married woman a year later. To see it now with a clearer vision, it makes me crazy that I didn’t see how I was letting other people make decisions for me.  

After getting a new job which I LOVE and discovering the Stratejoy site and blog, I applied for the Stratejoy scholarship in 2011. It didn’t matter to me if I earned the prize or not (though I was crossing fingers and toes in hope); for me, the process of telling another person what was going on in my head was a huge step. Telling Molly all the thoughts that I was afraid to say out loud was incredibly scary—but absolutely essential. It was the first step in reclaiming my life and an act of love for myself. This website and Molly’s commitment to helping fabulous females find their path- helped pull me from the darkness I was in.

It’s very important for me to share this journey of divorce and finding myself with all of you not just because it’s incredibly cathartic to be able to work through it in this format (as well as holding me accountable and giving me discipline), but because it is so important for women to know that they are not alone. Even before discovering Stratejoy, I firmly believed that the Quarter Life Crisis and women in their 20s was sort of like being 16 again– minus the raging hormones and parents.

We’re all in a time of uncertainty and figuring out what life looks like for us- having a community of ladies together to work through life’s speed bumps is crucial. I can say that I spent so much time, money, and years focusing on achieving my successful career that I neglected my essential self and what I wanted outside of the museum. I  wanted things in a certain way and at a certain time that I never stopped to think of what I wanted and who I wanted- or to listen to what that other person in my life might have to say about any of those things either.

I know that I am working towards my best self and living an authentic, joyful life because as I have told people in my world about my changing marital status, I have heard nothing but positivity. Yes, of course, people feel badly about the ending of a marriage, but on more than one occasion, with people I know well and those who I work with casually, people have said how I seem to have a glitter in my eye that was not there, that a peaceful happiness has returned. The best came from a college friend who I had not seen in months. He dates one of my closest friends (also from college). We met up for lunch and it was like no time had gone by for the three of us. After we said our goodbyes, my friend sent me a text. It said: “James just said- ‘That was Kristen. She’s Kristen again.” 

 

[Photo Credit: Creer Blog Remunere]

 

I love lists. Like religiously. Lists for shopping, lists for goals, lists to keep track of everything. I’m not OCD, but I do like to track progress. Checking off each little box makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Last year, on January 3rd, 2010, I started a list that would change my life. It was called 101 in 1001. The idea is you choose 101 things of varying difficulty and complete them in 1001 days. That’s not so long it’s impossible to see the end of, but it also gives you more leeway than New Year’s Resolutions. Count me in.

One of my more outlandish tasks on the list was “Use a productivity system for 30 days.” (So much for not appearing OCD.) A productivity system would help me get my crap in order, and hopefully, my life would follow suit.

Enter GTD (Getting Things Done). I bought files and a box and got to work. But soon, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. (Too many files and far too many rules.) I began to look again for a new system to try. That’s when I found ZTD (Zen to Done).

 

That’s when Leo Babauta and Zen Habits entered my life. I started diving through the archives. He wasn’t just talking productivity. He was bringing simplicity into every aspect of life. That’s when I entered the blogosphere, first as a reader, then soon as a fellow contributor.

One of the movements Leo was advocating was minimalism. I started reading about other people trying similar life experiments, and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe there were other people like me so dissatisfied with the the consumer culture that appeared the only option. But they were doing something about it. Many of them were living with 100 things or less!

That was insane to me. It reminded me of a few years back when I had moved to Texas with what would fit in a suitcase. And I had loved it! So I made the decision to do it. I started going through my things, making Goodwill trips, and downsizing.

Then, it was my daughter’s turn. Everyone thought (read: still thinks) I was crazy for doing it, but what do babies really need? Clothes and toys. Who needs more than 100? (She seems to be just fine, thank you.)

While I was doing this downsizing, I had also started blogging about it. The fact was nobody was writing about what radical minimalism looked like with kids, and I felt like I had something really worthwhile to talk about. It turned out other people felt that way, too. Within two weeks of starting my blog, I’d guest posted on my favorite blogger’s site (when she wasn’t taking guest posts) and taken my niche by storm.

I was in love. After feeling so isolated since I had my daughter, here were all of these people who understood what I was going through. Here was this wonderful community willing to share and discuss and be vulnerable. Out of the blue, I found friends, mentors, and more than a few adventures. And how could I forget the passion I felt for writing? The words flowed like water. It was beautiful. My calling stumbled into my life when I was just looking for new things to keep me from remembering my QLC.

Since then, it’s been a wild ride. I’ve released several ebooks, turned my blog into a business platform, and now I’m here pouring my heart out at Stratejoy. I found Stratejoy in an unconventional way these days – I met Molly in person! We found each other at a karaoke bar during the World Domination Summit this summer, and after hearing Molly’s story, it wasn’t long before I was diving in and out of her archives.

When I saw apps were being taken for new Stratejoy writers, it was fate. With my blog being so business-like, there’s a lot a I want to share that no longer fits that audience. I am so ready to share the stories that make us who we are. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to connect with such an amazing group of women. Here’s to another year of beautiful words, broken stories, and creating incredibly rich lives.

 

“Why do you blog?”

Sometimes people ask that with a condescending smirk. A blogger: hmpf. We sort of have bad reputations. We spend hours writing about our lives, sprinkling pictures of ourselves all over the internet and basking in the glory of our comments. It seems pretty narcissistic to some people, and sometimes it is.

I’m the first to admit to feeling really cool when I come back to my blog, Humans are Funny, and see that people have read it (I promise I wont’ be plugging my blog in every post!).

So, when I heard about the call for Stratejoy bloggers, I had to really sit down and think about why I felt such an urge to apply. Molly was asking us to spend lots of time per week writing about the intimate details of our lives. I was applying to be a double blogger, which could stamp me with the label ‘double narcissist!’

But I couldn’t NOT share my story with such a unique community of people.

The need to share my life’s events goes waaaaay back to junior high. Back then, my life’s goal was to fit in. I would have been happy to be completely unrecognizable among my peers. That’s because I felt nothing like my peers.  I was the only girl within my friends who had divorced parents and a working mom. Divorce is all the rage now,  but it wasn’t well accepted in my very Catholic town back then. To make it worse, my mom didn’t know how to french braid my hair, and she didn’t have the money to buy me cool LA Gear fashions like the other girls had. This was horrifying to the 12-year-old me. As an adult, I’d like to slap that 12-year-old me, but at the time, I felt like an absolute misfit.

Then, when I was sixteen, my dad killed himself. Besides the whole devastating loss of a father thing, I thought this meant I was definitely a freak. I didn’t think I’d ever find anyone like me. While my friends worked on their cheerleading moves and talked about ponytails, I was dealing with guilt and shame and a whole bunch of feelings I didn’t understand. And I felt like I could never bring them up. Why would a friend want to talk to me about my feelings when they could talk about the most recent Boyz II Men song? I felt like I should just shut up about my story, remain alone, and never show anyone my true feelings.

This was before the internet. Sure, we had a computer and some random chat rooms to infiltrate, but this was a time when people still looked forward to those AOL CDs that arrived in the mail. There were no blogs or search engines. I had no idea that other people like me existed. I assumed everyone was perfect except me and my stained life.

And that’s because people don’t talk about their stories. I was comparing myself to people I knew nothing about. If I had delved deeper into the families of my friends, I would have seen that some had money problems and some had infidelity issues and some parents didn’t even sleep in the same beds. But we all keep these “unacceptable” parts to ourselves. We all hold them in and lock them to our insides with shame.

After researching the average childhood later on (read: getting drunk with college friends and divulging all the goods), I realized that most people felt different and weird growing up. Most people felt somewhat alone. Most people grew up feeling that they had to hide some part of them. If we had only just talked about it, we wouldn’t have felt alone!

I decided that telling my story and being completely honest about my life would help others feel less alone and help them to see that nobody is perfect, that we’re all oddly imperfect together. I feel like the more we talk about what is REALLY going on in our lives, the less alone we feel. The more we admit to our taboos, the less they feel taboo. The more we all are honest with each other, the more normal we all feel.

That’s why I’m here and that’s why I respect Stratejoy. Instead of going through this strange, uncertain part of life alone, Molly has created a space where we can feel like we’re in it together. Because we are. There are so many of us and nobody has to feel alone EVER.

If sharing my QLC angst with you helps you to feel less alone, I’m doing it. If telling you about my strange patch of grey pubic hairs makes you feel less weird, I’m in. If admitting to you that I have serious conversations with myself out loud every night makes you feel more normal, okay!

Because really we’re all similar humans dressed in beautifully unique packages. And none of us are alone. I’d love for some of my words to help others realize that. And that, I think, is the opposite of narcissism. (Hoping that you’ll like me after you read this, though, is not. Please like me!).

Plus, for selfish reasons, I don’t want to be alone! I need a strong community of women to push me back up to the ledge I’ve been reaching for for years. I am so excited to give and receive encouragement, love, validation and respect. I’ve spent so much time trying to make others feel less alone, and this experience is my own chance to feel less alone. It will be a lesson in receiving. I get teary-eyed just thinking about these next five months. Thank you to this fabulous community in advance.


[Photo credit : istock]

 If I’m going to be completely honest (and isn’t that the point of this?), I must tell you that when I moved to France after college, it wasn’t all sparkly lights and hot chocolate.

The truth is, I was terrified.

I was terrified to leave Texas, my family, my friends, and my boyfriend at the time. I was scared of moving to a new country without knowing a soul and living on my own for nine months. I was scared of the new culture, the distance from home, and all of the other million unknowns.

But I packed my bags and went to France anyway.

Thankfully, the residents of my new charming French town were kind, welcoming, and provided me with an apartment, rent free. My French speaking skills improved almost overnight. Once my teaching assistantship began, I built friendships with a few of the teachers and was invited to their homes for dinner parties with authentic French cuisine- mussels, baguettes, cheeses, wines, and crepes. On the weekends I traveled. That was my favorite part of the entire experience. Spain, England, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal. Teaching wasn’t so bad either. I grew to love my students and enjoyed being part of their learning each day. Before I knew it, my time was up and I was sad to return home.

This all sounds like a great accomplishment because I conquered my fears and now I have this amazing experience to look back on, but the outcome didn’t have the same intense satisfaction you normally associate with conquering your fears. Not at all.

Instead of feeling proud of myself, I feel ashamed. I’m ashamed that the only reason I boarded the plane was because I knew it would make other people happy. I didn’t trust myself to consider how I felt or what I wanted. I was scared and the only thing that pushed me forward was knowing I wasn’t disappointing my parents and my friends.

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the past few years. It makes me sad to realize that I let so many moments pass without making a strong, important decision for myself. I was letting fear control me and passing the responsibility off so that I wouldn’t have to own it.

This is part of the reason I chose BRAVE as my word for 2011.

I want my life to be built on my own terms. I want to follow my dreams, not my mom’s, my sister’s, or my best friend’s.

Mine.

I want to uncover my sense of self, my courage, and learn to trust my heart.

I’m hoping that at the end of these next five months I will have a firmer grasp on exactly what my dreams are and what my best life looks like. I’m hoping that, with the help of this amazing tribe of women, I will strengthen my confidence and feel a bit more sturdy when I make a decision that isn’t fully supported by those whose opinions matter most. I’m hoping that I will have embraced the idea that is my life and I need to live it boldly.

Since this is still a bit new to me, I’m starting small. Treating myself to warm baths and a good book after a long day at work. Journaling. Daydreaming. Brainstorming.

Maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I’ll write a book, or finally commit to those yoga teacher training classes that seem so intimidating, but full of great possibility. Maybe I’ll look into owning my own business since the goal of a private practice has been floating around my head since graduate school.

I see glimpses of how I want my future to be, filled with authentic joy and happiness. Now I just have to figure out how all of the pieces fit together.

[photo credit: SweetOnVeg]

 

“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver

I’ve always been restless.  Occasionally even agitated.  Wherever I was, and whatever I was doing, it wasn’t right and I wanted a change.  In high school I couldn’t wait to graduate because I wanted to join the Peace Corps.  As a junior in college I took a nanny job in Philadelphia and moved there for three months just to get away.   The next year I got it in my head that I wanted to go somewhere crazy for the summer.  I managed to find a teaching program in Belize that matched up with my major just enough that I could get credit for it…truth be told, I think I would’ve gone either way.

I hopped on a plane and flew there by myself.  I’d never even been out of the country for more than a day or two.  Twice I’ve gotten the bug again and tried to talk Mister into a long (like, a year long) vacation.  I’ve always wanted to wander, and it is an amazing experience to do so, but I’m starting to realize that the old adage is true.  “No matter where you go, there you are.”  It isn’t where I am that isn’t right.  It’s who.  It’s how.  It’s why.  I’m not restless because I live in Seattle.  I’m restless because I’m not living.  Not MY life anyway.

Several months ago, in an especially large fit of restlessness, I dove head first into the Joy Equation (If you haven’t done it, I HIGHLY recommend it.  And no, Molly doesn’t pay us to say that.).  There is an exercise that asks you to find your core values and match them up with your daily life.  The reality of this hit me. Hard.  Like, knocked me on my ass.  I knew I wasn’t necessarily giving time and energy to the things I love, but I didn’t realize how bad it really was.  I don’t know about you, but none of my top eight core values include stuffing my face, gossiping, complaining about my job, having one too many and spending the whole next day hungover, knowing every last detail about the Bachelor’s life, or pushing refresh on Facebook 20 times an hour.  What they do include are:

So in the spirit of the revelation that I was basically completely ignoring almost all of my core values, I decided to start making some changes:

  1. I reduced my work schedule so that I could have Mondays and Fridays to work on my business and weekends would be my own again.  This was a huge step for me, and a vote of confidence from Mister when he said, “Do it.”
  2. I turned off the tv during my break at work (nap time) and during my work days at home to focus on my values.  “I don’t have time” would no longer be an excuse, and neither would Dr. Phil.
  3. I did a month of daily gratitudes.  During nap time every day I would list (you’ll learn quickly that I LOVE lists) five things I was grateful for and not repeat from any previous day.  Some things were obvious (coffee, cozy blankets, Mister), some things not so much (7-layer bean dip, tutus, and biting my tongue).
  4. I did something creative every day for a month, whether writing, taking photographs, or even just doodling .  I realized this wasn’t as easy as I had expected and that I actually had to make an effort and practice.
  5. I said yes to things I might normally say no to and said no to things I knew I really didn’t want to do (but probably normally would’ve done).
  6. I made a point to have one on one time with some of my girlfriends, and made a deal with Mister to each plan a date once a month and go out and do something together.
  7. I made a list of 30 things I’d like to do while I’m 30.  Things that inspire me.  Nothing mandatory.  Nothing “productive”.  Thirty things that are just “me”.  Thirty things that make me smile just thinking about them.

I was into it.  I was excited.  Life was perking up.  But it’s all written in the past tense for a reason.  I lost focus.  I wanted to make some changes in my life to direct myself towards my values and goals, but hardly any of these changes stuck.   And that’s part of why I’m here writing for Stratejoy.  I need a little accountability when it comes to “being me”.  Before I had no one to keep me from drifting back to my old ways, wasting time on things that I don’t value. So I guess this is me asking you, as you read this, to help me keep the restlessness away.  I’m starting over.  I am confident that if I can build a life that feels good and resonates as “me”, I won’t feel like I need to escape it all the time.   I don’t want to breathe just a little and call it a life.  I want to take full, deep breaths and cultivate habits that are authentic and maybe even a few that make me giddy.  And if I can do that, I will finally be living my life.

What makes you feel like you’re really living??

[Photo Credit: the bus driver in Belize]

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCING: KAT

“I can admit now that I was afraid to be alone.”

 collage of kat

Five years ago: My AmeriCorps year with Habitat for Humanity was ending, and I had no idea what I wanted to do for work. I loved that job—the manual labor, the opportunity to teach, the people—and I didn’t know what type of job I could find to capture those things. I fell into my current non-profit desk job because that was familiar (it was how I made my living before AmeriCorps), I needed an income, and I wasn’t sure how to find something else. I considered moving back to Seattle; however, I decided to stick with New York City and the more traditional type of job that my parents wanted for me.

Three years ago: I was still thinking about leaving New York, still wanting to be somewhere else. This time, I was considering Australia. I could get a work visa, and I’d been interested in living there since I first visited in 1997. My job was boring me, I couldn’t get the promotion I wanted—and believe me, I’d been trying—and I was feeling very stuck career-wise. Then I met a guy and fell—hard—and I chose to stay to see where things that went, even though it didn’t feel quite right. I can admit now that I was afraid to be alone.

One year ago: I’d moved in with my boyfriend and finally gotten promoted at work. Saying that sounds like life was great, except I felt like a shell of myself. Every little thing had me on edge; I would literally cry over spilt milk. It was awful, and it got even worse when just before my 29th birthday, my boyfriend started saying completely horrible things to me. I cried, sobbed, and screamed, and finally, I told him to move out. I was left with the overwhelming desire to get rid of everything I owned and leave New York for good, except I knew that at that point, I couldn’t be happy anywhere. I needed time to rebuild myself first. I breathed. I stayed. I proclaimed on my 29th birthday that the upcoming year would be my year of courage.

Let me tell you: when you make a declaration like that, you’d better be prepared for what’s coming.

Six months ago: Three important events:
1. a management training for work, which led to the realization that I didn’t want my boss’ job;
2. the beginning of my yoga teacher training, which helped me find myself again; and
3. finding a (fortunately benign) lump in my breast, which reminded me that I want to be living life on my terms.

Those three things finally propelled me to acknowledge my quarterlife crisis, to make the type of change that had been on my mind for the past few years. When my boss asked me in a meeting if I was happy at
my job, I simply replied, “No.” That startled both of us, and I knew then that I needed to go for it. I realized that there would never be a perfect time; this was the moment to say yes to myself and figure out the details later.

One month ago: I turned 30, and declared it my year of flourishing. I don’t know what’s coming; all I know is that the traditional path—the desk job, living longer-term in one city, settling into a relationship—hasn’t worked for me. In five days, I’ll no longer be employed. In two weeks, I’ll leave my apartment in Brooklyn one final
time. I’ll head to Seattle and then Europe, traveling for several months, and eventually making my way to Sydney—or maybe Melbourne—to be a photograph-taking, gluten-free pie baking, knitting, tattooed
yoga teacher and blogger.

Watch out, world. I’m coming for you!

INTRODUCING: ELYSE

I realized at some point not knowing what to do meant I could really do anything

 

As I was standing over the plastic tub getting ready to pluck an alligator out of the water, the thought that crossed my mind was “what have I gotten myself into?” I mean, I had a language arts teaching degree and nowhere in the plan I had originally laid out for myself did “alligator-wrangling” factor in. Yet, I found myself at animal handling training at my local zoo; my new co-workers’ eyes staring expectantly at me as I hesitated, hovering over the shallow water. That gator knew I was coming, too. He stared at me with a cool expression, daring me to put my hand in that tub. I reached, hesitated, and drew back. Reached again…and nothing.  I shook my head as tears leaked out of my eyes. I just couldn’t do it.

That was me just over a year ago. I barely recognize that girl now and have to laugh because I handle the alligators in the collection quite frequently. Going back even farther than one year, I was leaking tears for entirely different reasons. After confidently pursuing a teaching degree in language arts for 5 1/2 years, I realized at the end of college how much I had an aversion to teaching in a public school classroom. I was un-employed, broke and in the middle of a deep and stormy depression. The couch and the mindless, daytime TV were my companions and each cold day led into sleepless nights. I was in the throes of a painful and desperate quarter-life crisis.  I desperately craved clarity.

While I spent many days wallowing in self-pity and resentment, there were a few moments of clarity that broke through. I realized at some point not knowing what to do meant I could really do anything. That was somewhat helpful, but how in the world does one start at the beginning again at age 25? I am constantly questioned by my family and friends about when I’ll know what I want to do with my life and when I’ll pick my long-term career aspiration. It is hard to face the explanation that, for myself at least, this may never happen.

I did know two things: I wanted my life to be bold and meaningful, and while I don’t support traditional schooling, I firmly believe in the power of education. I began searching and applying for every “non-traditional” education job I could find just praying for a lead. I even applied for an internship in the education department of a zoo which was pretty laughable. I disliked bugs, being dirty, sweating and was never very good at science. I merely squeaked by in the subject and took classes like “Age of the Dinosaur 101” to fulfill those pesky gen ed credits in college. The application felt like a far stretch from my current abilities, but I was willing to try anything.

In what can only be described as a sonic blur, the zoo called, and I was asked to join the intern team for the summer of 2010 teaching summer camp to the public. I don’t throw around this phrase lightly, but that summer at the zoo? It changed my life. I was teaching kids about animals (even bugs!), getting sweaty and getting dirty, and it didn’t matter at the end of the day because I loved it. I found something that made it worth getting up in the morning. Even after the internship was over, I found ways to stick around. I wanted to learn more, grow more and be more.

In September, I start a two-year stint as an Americorps volunteer at the zoo. I made this decision knowing the risks I faced: the Americorps program could be de-funded, I could be wasting two years of my life when I don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life, finances would be tight for a long time. All of these things were pointed out to me by members of an older generation that didn’t seem to understand how much I needed to take a chance and do ANYTHING to begin defining a path for myself and finding the clarity that I so longed for. Despite all those lingering doubts and fears, I finally made the decision. Standing on the brink of this new experience, I am terrified. But, if life is an alligator…I guess I have to take a deep breath and stick my hand in that damn bucket.

INTRODUCING: KRISTEN

“In May I witnessed a transformative moment… It rocked me to the core and I knew from then on, to honor my true self, I would have to leave my husband.”

I’m Kristen– a museum curator, lover of all things food, reading, and research– and on the beginning of the path to divorce. I’ve been married for one year and four months and it will probably be over before what would have been our second anniversary.

If you google ‘divorce under 30,’ there is a lack of resources that are helpful or inspiring, which seems strange because since making this decision, I’ve talked with and met both men and women who divorced after the first year or so of marriage. I’d like to think I’m sort of a cautionary tale of sorts:

‘girl ignores her gut instincts and core values to stay with boy who loves her and has sparkling blue eyes; girl feels like she is slowly going mad; girl decides to end relationship.’

If not for my career that I love and fulfills me, I’m fairly certain I would have had a nervous breakdown. Circa 2008-2009, I began a very slow decline in losing Kristen.

It started with a series of bad incidents with my now husband, things that I internalized so much that it literally made me so anxious and out of control that I sought out therapy and medication. The decline was only made worse by the stress of purchasing a house with him, followed by a quick proposal and falling down the rabbit hole that is wedding planning.

By May 2010- I was married to a man I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with and looked in the mirror at someone who looked like a person I once knew.

Kristen pre-2010 was full of life– strong, independent, and confident. Most importantly- old Kristen trusted her instincts, was decisive, and was able to be thoughtful and introspective.  Somewhere between down payments and seating charts, I became a shadow of myself. Yes, I looked all around me and saw everything I had ever wanted- and it all fell right into order—grad school, boyfriend, job, house, fiancé, wedding.  Except it was not anything like it should have been.

After a horrendous first year of marriage that included lies, sobbing, and arguments galore, I sought out Molly’s personal coaching scholarship (and couples counseling with the husband). While I was not the lucky winner, Molly reached out to a small group of females for “Finding Your North Star”—a guide to listening to your inner voice and getting back to fabulous.

I cannot overemphasize this enough—it changed my life. After a few illuminating moments with the group, in May I witnessed a transformative moment at the Mark Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas when my North Star literally yelled in my ear “He’s not right for you.” It rocked me to the core and I knew from then on, to honor my true self, I would have to leave my husband.

And that brings me to now. We’re in a bit of a gray area while he looks for a new job and place to live. We have started the slow process of telling people we are divorcing, which in itself has been an exercise in strength, humility, and honesty. I realize I have a lot to learn about myself in terms of how I value who I am and my life. I am so thankful that I have my career to ground me because I have felt so out of control with everything else.

The uncertainty of dividing assets, figuring out living situations, and all the logistics of ending a marriage, even though short and childless, has me wanting to go live on an island for a few months and come back when it’s all over. But I’m taking it head on, being honest with myself and everyone in my life, not allowing myself to be lessened again and knowing that I will come out the other side more filled with a mission to live authentically more than ever before.

INTRODUCING: DUSTI

“So much going on and so many dreams… But the reality of where I am in this moment is painful..”

I might be 23, but most of the time, I feel like I’m 30.

That deserves an explanation. The gist? All through my childhood I was living for the future, because my situation was so bad. I was the 12 year old learning the finer points of what it would take to get emancipated and into law school. Motivated was my middle name. That would have been fine, except that I thought that meant I needed to live my whole life stuck on fast forward.

That meant hitting big life milestones one right after the other for awhile. I married the first boy (emphasis on “boy“) who ever paid any attention to me. That was a bad idea, as you can imagine. When I moved across the country with the intention of leaving him, I found out I was pregnant. So I tried to make things work.

Feel free to point and laugh, because you already know how this story is going to go. I had a baby girl, Gwenyver, and divorced the boy when I started listening to my heart a few months after she was born. And realized I was in love with my best friend. It was chick flick worthy. That was about two and half years ago.

Things have gone from amazing to awful and back over and over again since then. Fast forward to today, I’ve got a beautiful little girl, a loving partner, a fledgling business, a bachelor’s degree to finish, an impending grad school application, and an ambitious bucket list. How time flies, right?

Rediscovering my love for writing has freed me this year. It was like the passion I kept forgetting about. God forbid I notice there was a place in my life where talent and happiness meshed. This was how oblivious I was; a few years ago, I wrote a grant – with no previous experience – for my college in three days flat.

And I got it. Leave it to me to brush it off as a day’s work.

Reading is another love. Books are like friends with no expectations. My favorite is Chocolat – it’s like my heartsong. Passionate, dark like chocolate, slightly occult, and brazen in its wanderlust. I don’t watch many movies, but I’d have to say Waitress is my favorite there. Deep down, I’ve got an inner foodie waiting to emerge. Maybe embracing it will teach me patience, but that will have to wait. (Pun intended.)

So much going on and so many dreams… But the reality of where I am in this moment is painful.

Right now, I am living on my mom’s couch, awaiting a lucky break from a forgiving landlord or for a place in student housing to miraculously open up. A roommate stole our rent check a few years back, so we have a nice, big eviction on our credit. (Between a student and a minimum wage job, there was no way to avoid it.)

Things don’t look so great right now. A baby on the way and no place to live? Great. Nesting instincts, take a backseat. Good god, where’s my martini? Oh right.

But, I still have hope. I want to be more so desperately. I refuse to just live and let life happen to me. I want to be more than my background or who I’m with. And I will.

This is the year I learn to channel my energy and learn to live in the moment.

Because if you can’t live for the moment, what can you live for?

INTRODUCING: LAURENNE

“Each day, I wonder when my six-year Quarter Life Crisis will end.”

The old QLC tapped me on the shoulder the day I started my dream job at 25. From my very own cubicle, I was to write witty TV commercials and make people laugh. Ever since acting out ads for every item in our bathroom as a kid, it’s what I’d always wanted to do. I spent four years in undergrad and then an extra two years spending LOTS of borrowed money at an artsy school just to break into the ad field.

But just a few days into the dream job, I felt something was wrong. I’m a vegetarian, and they wanted me to make up reasons why people just HAD to try a new fast food burger. I was lying, and I felt like a smarmy saleswoman making people feel like they *should* like a certain brand or *should* feel a certain way. What did I know? I couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t pay my student loans on time, and had a bad case of adult acne. Who was I to tell anyone what they *should* do? Plus it wasn’t the healthiest environment. The boss expected sixteen-hour days and would throw our scripts across the room if he didn’t like them. I felt it was in the best interest of my self-esteem that I change careers.

After five years wondering how I could take the leap away from my ad job, I had enough money saved to go traveling. I didn’t know why I wanted to travel, but I felt like seeing the world would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I started in Australia and took myself around the world for all of 2009. I stayed in huts in Papua New Guinea. I ate spices in India. I didn’t touch alcohol. I studied Buddhism. I made a million friends from all over. I listened to all my thoughts. And I figured out what I wanted to do with my life: write.

I was already writing commercials, but as I wrote about my travels on my blog, Humans are Funny, I realized I much preferred writing about meaningful things. My goal was to tell the world about the world. I came home itching to make every American interested in  Cambodia and world politics and culture. I figured I’d try to get a job writing for NPR.

But as I listened to my thoughts even more, I realized I had a bigger story to tell. My father committed suicide when I was sixteen, and I spent that traveling year really finding peace with it. Why not write about things that would help other people find that same peace? Okay, not everyone had a suicidal dad, but surely most people are wrestling with something that could use some detachment or love.  I’d much rather write about my journey than write copy about burgers or cars.

I spent 2010 working on ads until I’d saved enough money to take 2011 off and become a writer! With computer in hand, I’ve been taking the cafe circuit by storm. I’ve pitched my stories to every magazine in existence. I’ve taken dialog workshops and ‘finding your inner voice’ workshops and freelance writing seminars. I have enough logo folders now for the rest of my life and yours. I’ve spent every other waking moment writing a book about my father and how I learned how to choose a different path than his. I started Taboo Tales, a comedy storytelling show in LA that encourages writers to talk about things they wouldn’t usually want to admit to anybody. I’ve woken up every morning this year so grateful I’m doing what I truly want to do with my life.

But I still have no job. No offers. Lots of people are telling me I’m on the right track. But none of those people have stacks of money in their hands. I don’t even want a huge stack of money. I just want to pay my rent sometimes.

I’m beginning to feel more homeless than freelance.

Not only that, my ego, Lawrence, is pissed and defensive. He thought we would be famous writers by now, flying off to Cannes and cashing in advance checks for the millions of projects that would be lined up.

Mostly, I’m still just spinning out hope at cafes. And as my savings account has dwindled, I’m forced to go with a regular coffee instead of a cappuccino. THE HORROR.

Worst of all, I’ve made this non-existent career such a priority that I’ve pushed everything else away.

2009 – traveling

2010- working like crazy to save

2011 – working like crazy to start over

My relationships have suffered. I haven’t looked up from my screen long enough to pay attention to the people who really count. I’d like to take more of an interest in my wonderful, beautiful friends. I’d like to wear heels and go on dates. I’d like to figure out how to be able to do all that and still learn how to earn a living doing what I absolutely love. I’d like to find balance.

Is it crisis? Yes, I would call it a definite crisis. Is it a quarter life? Sure. I’m 31, so that would mean I’ll live until 124. Yes! I like that. That gives me plenty of time to figure out how to pay my rent.


[photo credit: Roy Dunn]

INTRODUCING: ASHLEY

 “I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that. “

An over-sized mug warmed one hand while the other gently tucked a stubborn strand of hair behind my ear, fighting the persistent breeze. I slid a foot out of my well-worn shoe and tapped it against the cool sidewalk, as if slowly counting the undeniable stars in the sky.

My 22nd birthday was spent sipping hot chocolate in front of the Eiffel Tower. That evening I realized how alive I was. An unforgettable moment accented by the twinkling lights around and above. That moment.

Somewhere over the past two years, I lost sight of my dreams, my moments, and began to settle into a “normal” routine.

And that is not okay with me.

The first 18 years of my life were relatively uneventful and the definition of by-the-book. I graduated at the top of my high school class and attended a medium-size, private university because I thought that’s what you did. Four years later I was left with a fancy piece of paper, but no set plan for the future.

So, on a whim I accepted a teaching assistantship in France. The experience was full of culture, self-exploration, and travel. I wandered through tiny European towns and I ate gelato like it was my job. I learned that I adore red wine, that I’m happier with friends close by, and that I can push myself further than I ever thought possible. Through all of this soul-searching, I also discovered my passion for counseling children. You know that feeling when fireworks are exploding inside you and you can’t wait to share that energy with everyone around you? That’s how I felt about this discovery. I applied to graduate school feeling confident that I had my life perfectly mapped out.

That fall I packed up three suitcases and moved to New York City to begin working on my master’s degree in Psychological Counseling. I felt like I was stretching myself, in a good way. I traveled through Europe, was on the right track professionally, living in the most vibrant city, and my relationship with my then-boyfriend of five years was becoming more serious. It seemed like the pieces were falling into place.

And then all of the sudden my life began to crumble.

In 2008 my dad passed away. Four months later, my boyfriend and I broke up. When I graduated in May 2009 and could not find a job, I moved back home and into my childhood bedroom, unemployed.

Now, I’m no expert, but I believe this is what they call your Quarter Life Crisis.

NOT PART OF THE PLAN!

Slowly I began picking up the pieces and putting together a life that wasn’t part luck, part shame, and part embarrassment. I wasn’t creating a life I was in love with, but one I could live with.

For now.

I found a job in my field that barely pays the bills and have settled into that unfulfilled routine over the past two years. Last July I began dating an amazing guy who makes my heart smile, but with over 2,600 miles between us, it can be challenging. A few months ago I signed a lease on my very first solo apartment and am learning that I’m pretty good at cleaning the bathroom, but will do anything to avoid taking out the trash.

Considering where I was two years ago, my life doesn’t seem so bad today. It’s perfectly fine by many standards, but it’s still not full of that audacious joy I’ve heard so much about.

I have big goals, things I want to accomplish and memories I want to leave a mark on my life, but I realize I can’t keep waiting for these next steps to just happen. I’ve had some curve balls thrown my way, and I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that.

This is MY life.

I need to be brave, take ownership, and start living on my own terms.

This is the year I create my own happiness and make my own dreams come true.

I think I’ll start by making some hot chocolate.

 

INTRODUCING: HANNAH

” I want to do ALL the things that light me up and make me feel drunk with joy.”

hannah-collage

 

The first thing I did at work this morning was change a poopy diaper.  Tell me that anyone wants to deal with literal crap first thing in the morning (or at all).

I also do boogers, accidents, owies, and “Oh, oops, the markers slipped and I drew all over my friend’s face”s.

“I cook mac ‘n cheese and chicken nuggets and try to convince myself not to eat them.  I watch Toy Story…again…and again…and again.  I get “the look” from mommies when they realize I’m only a nanny.  I deal with kid drama, parent drama, other nanny drama, and my own I-love-this-kid-but-I-hate-this-job drama.  I very often say things along the lines of, “Sadie, we do NOT sit on our friends’ heads!” and “Emma, it is NOT okay to rub your turkey on your foot and then eat it!” 

And I’m not afraid to admit, I’m a damn good nanny.

But on the weekends…oh, the weekends…On the weekends I get to exercise my creative muscles.  On the weekends I am a photographer.

Rewind 16 years.  I’m 14 and have borrowed my dad’s “fancy” camera to take pictures of the boys I have crushes on at the school basketball games.  I’m using black and white film, have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m loving every second of it.

I take my attention from the cute boys and start shooting other random things instead: the contents of my (messy) bedroom, hands (of anyone I can get to stand still), the dog.  I tell my parents that I want to be a photographer when I grow up.  They chuckle, not unsupportive…realistic would be the right word.  And I go do my homework.

I started nannying just out of college.  “This is temporary.  Just until I find something better,” I’d tell myself daily.  I wanted to go back to school for social work or join the Peace Corps or be a writer or an artist.

Eight years later, I’m still a nanny.

I can tell you what is in every nook and cranny of the Children’s Museum (you don’t want to know). I know who Rosetta and Silvermist are (They’re Tinkerbell’s friends, in case you were wondering).  I can tell you exactly how many zoo exhibits you can make it to before a potty break and a snack are in order.  I know what Butt Paste is.  I know which silence means the kids are napping, and which one means they’re doing something they shouldn’t be.  I know this job in and out.  It isn’t challenging.  I am not learning.  And I am BORED!!!

I picked up my camera again on a whim during an “in-between nanny jobs” period.  It wasn’t long before kids’ parents started asking if they could buy photos, or book me to shoot a birthday party or a holiday card.  And suddenly, I had a business where before there was none.  But the bills keep coming, and before I realized what was happening I had another nanny gig.

My weekends light me up.  And I want more.  I want more ME.  I want to do ALL the things that light me up and make me feel drunk with joy.  I want to be a photographer and a writer, a world traveler, and an event designer.  I want to be creative every single day.  I want to wake up so stoked for what is to come that I don’t even wait for the coffeemaker to beep before I get out of bed.

So what do I do?  How do I force out all the crap (literal and otherwise) from my life, and embrace the stuff that makes me giddy?  How do I take the leap into the unknown? How do I give myself permission to be the most amazing, happy, authentic self I can ever imagine being?  And how do I become that person?  I’m working on it.  But hold that thought.  It’s the “we’re getting into trouble” kind of silent in there!