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How-Fighting-For-Your-Dreams-Actually-Makes-Then-Come-True

Let me paint you a picture of the beginning…

I was at a networking event in Seattle back in 2009, nervously peddling my “Lifestyle Design” workshop and my “Conquering your Quarterlife Crisis”  blog.

Pretty damn broke, working for my boyfriend’s email marketing business part-time, and going through some bumpy times in my relationship —

I was feeling a bit like an impostor.

Luckily, I had done a lot of work visioning my life in the future and that vision was driving me through the discomfort of putting myself out there.

The dreams were there.  The visions were clear.

And my job was to allow/fight for/manifest them into reality.

Though I didn’t know it as I sipped my red wine and nervously shifted from heel to heel that night,

I was about to get a lesson in protecting my dreams from skeptics.


The Vision.

I visioned myself doing my good work in the world with women just like you — teaching, inspiring, and challenging you to make your life and career joyful expressions on your own terms.  To embrace happiness as a priority, to be courageous with your choices, to release expectations and definitions of success that were not yours, to be honest about what was and wasn’t working in your life.  To honor your strengths and practice self-compassion. To be here. Do good. Choose joy.

I knew I would be changing lives.

I visioned a family that played together, that created imaginary worlds in the woods at their cabin, that spent a summer sailing around the Mediterranean, that jammed in a family band, that had projector movie nights in the backyard and invited all the neighbors.  I imagined a loving and connected relationship with my husband —  still traveling and adventuring, still desiring each other, still taking time for tiny moments of kindness.

I knew I would be a mama and a wife.

I visioned 250K profit through a sustainable and energizing business model with freedom to live and travel where we wanted, when we wanted.  I imagined a modern green home in a beautiful place, with a little cottage out back with enough space for an employee or two.  I imagined leading retreats with awesome women around the world, having a talk show one day, and founding a soulful summer camp for girls.

I knew I would be a successful entrepreneur. 

In my dreams, my family, my marriage and my connection to myself would be thriving because I had made deliberate decisions about the life I was creating, understood the sacrifices I was willing to make and followed through with my vision.

I would be working sane hours and available for midnight shooting star spying and weekend camping trips on the coast and soccer game cheering. I would be practicing self-care and continuing to explore my self-expression.  I wouldn’t be commuting, stressed by asshole bosses, or obsessed with keeping up with the Jones.  I would be setting an example of doing work that you loved on your own terms, work that made a positive impact in the lives of others.

That would be my version of balance — one centered around connection with myself, connection with my legacy work and connection with my loved ones.


Back to the networking event…

In the midst of waxing on about my vision for Stratejoy and my life to a very successful business owner, she interrupted me with cackle of disbelief.

“Kids?  You want to run your business and have kids?  Hahaha!  Good luck with that!  God, achieving any sort of success requires so much god damn time and work that I can’t even imagine having kids.  I barely see my husband some weeks… There are so many nights I stay up until 2 or 3 am working my ass off in order to make something happen and I still feel like I’m not doing enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but there’s honestly not room in my life for anything else.  Work/life balance is the biggest joke of all time.”

This rude but honest outburst could have gone two ways for me.

Thought Option One

My imaginary life bubble could have been popped by her cynicism.  Honestly, who was I to know what the reality of my dreams meant?

My business was nothing more than a blog and wish at that point. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, and I wasn’t making any money, nor any real difference.

She was a success in Seattle.  She seemed to have it together in her life and her business.  If someone I admired was telling me it wouldn’t be possible, maybe I should pay attention to her skepticism and adjust my expectations.

Maybe I was completely off base with my imaginary world.

Maybe she was right.

Thought Option Two

(Good thing I’m a stubborn, rose-colored-glasses-wearing idealist, who has enough confidence to consider myself a rebel ’cause Option One didn’t happen.)

As I wanly smiled at her, I distinctly remember thinking,

“Holy shit. I definitely don’t want the kind of business she’s running. And her life doesn’t sound fun at all. Mother fucker! That sounds horrible! Seriously. There has got to be another way. I’m not signing up for that.”

I’m sure I mumbled something polite and went to get another drink as I pondered her response to my dream.


Call it faith or naive optimism, but there is a solid core in me that has always believed my vision, that still believes in my vision.

As it slowly starts becoming my truth — a growing family, a thriving business, a beautiful life — I understand that I’m unfurling into my dreams.

I know it’s not going to be easy and that doubt and melancholy will visit from time to time, but I also know that a life full of joy and impact and love is possible for me.

I know that it will continue to require hard work and sacrifice. That life will get messy.  That things won’t always go as planned.

And I know that there will always be critics and naysayers and realists who will scoff at my fanciful dreams.

But here’s the thing.

My visions are mine to dream, mine to build, mine to protect.

(click to tweet!)

Just as your visions are yours to dream, yours to build, yours to protect.

Skeptics have no chance against us.

Let’s keep it that way, eh?

XOXO

 

Molly-Sig3

 

p.s.  I’m opening a new small group later this month for 8 of you! As I’ve been totally wrapped up in the experience of being a mama, wife, business owner, and a (separate, yet interconnected) Molly these last 15 months — I realize it’s time to launch the “New Mamas” Group.

I’m really excited/scared/fucking thrilled to have some honest discussions (whether you’re pregnant or a newish mom) with other women who are “doing it all.” Or at least trying, right?  Can’t wait to gather together for two months for some lively and soulful connecting. Email me at molly @ stratejoy . com  if you want to be on the short list for this one – I imagine it will sell out fast!

And yes, I’ll be doing another round of Find Your Passion Work and Get it Off the Ground too!

How-Courage-Can-Help-You-Face-Your-Fears-

Dear Courageous One,

I know you have a secret dream, something bigger and bolder, something more precious, than you are attempting in your life right now.

Maybe it means making a huge change — a move, a relationship transition, a journey, an exodus from your social circle.  Maybe it means allowing your creative soul — the writer, painter, chef, photographer, teacher — to blossom, to share her take on the world with those desperate for a slice of beauty. Maybe it means sticking up for yourself, forgiving yourself, loving yourself on such unconditional terms that the idea scares you off before you even begin.

What are you afraid of, my love?

Are you scared that you will fail?

Scared that you’ll make a public declaration and then come up short?  That you’ll trip at the very top of those bright golden stairs you’ve climbed towards your dream and land back at the bottom, beaten up and beaten down?

Are you scared that you will succeed?  

Scared that you will transform your life in such a tectonic-plate-shifting jolt that those who love you won’t recognize you?  That you’ll outgrow the very people who have allowed you to take the leap?  That your inner values won’t align with the new, bigger, brighter self you’ve created?

Are you scared that you’ll make the wrong choice?  

Scared that years worth of effort and change and risk-taking will lead you in a circle, back to this same state of boredom or frustration, still chasing that elusive north star of fulfillment?  That the instant you choose — make the big move, embark on the hard conversation, leave the job, ditch the partner — you’ll suddenly regret it?  That you’ll long for the old you with your old life, the gentle discontent that may be numbing, but is at least familiar?

I wish I could promise you that your fears will never come to light.

I wish I could promise that you are safe from discomfort, that your journey will be easy and fruitful, that your loved ones will support you every step of that way, that your choices will not hurt anyone and that you’ll experience the perfect level of success for you in each moment.

I really wish I could, sweet pea.

But this is life.

Real life.

And I’m going to venture a guess that at least one of your fears will probably come true.

Will your fear realized be as earth shattering as you imagine?  

No. Your fears like to puff themselves up to hold you back.

Will your fear realized mean that you’ll regret making the move on your secret and sacred dream?

No. Even tiny whispers of ideas crave actualization for one precious moment, no matter the eventual outcome.  You are more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did.

Will your fear realized throw you into a never-ending tailspin, unable to move on?

Hell no.

You are a capable woman and can handle what life throws at you. I say this without a doubt.

Understanding that your fears will not slay you is the motivation of forward movement.

(Click to Tweet that Gem!)

I know you want to be that woman who listened to her heart and took the chance.

You are that woman.

I know you want to be that woman who makes choices that allow her to be proud, choices that honor her strength, that allow for vulnerability, that set an aligned example for the other women in her life.

Listen to me — you are that woman.

You are that woman.

We are all scared.  We are all fearful.  The moment of choice is when you let your fear — your nervous edge, your butterflies, your sweating palms — help you.  Help you take the leap.  Help you put in the work.  Help you have the scary conversation, make the call, write the story, leave the situation, draw the line.

Don’t let those fears paralyze you. They are common. They are normal. They are part of the experience. Each and everyone your heroes — the superstars, the gurus, the awarded, the multimillion dollar successes, the driven — know exactly how you’re feeling.

Live boldly, honey.

Own your courage in the face of your fear.

I’m with you every step of the way.

XOXO,

Molly-Sig5

nicolegoodbye

And now the time has come to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes – like really hate them. I’ve been known to stay friends with people or stay in relationships far too long because I have such an aversion to goodbyes.

And As my Elevate loves can tell you, I’m a goodbye crier.

I will try my best not to have a tearstained keyboard while I type this, but I’m not making any promises.

When I sat down to write this last post, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I’ve told Molly so many times how incredibly thankful I am for the opportunity, and I definitely mean it. I just can’t believe we’re at the end already.

For anyone who has been following my posts and entertaining the idea in the back of your mind – please apply when Molly opens the next season up. It really is a fantastic experience. You won’t regret it!

To my Season 7 girls – I adore you! We are all in different points in our lives, but we have these common threads that allow us to relate to one another. My life is infinitely better for having “met” all of you and shared this experience. I hope that we will stay in touch and continue to watch each other reap the benefits of taking this time for ourselves to learn and grow.

To Miss Katie – I adore you as well! You sweet, sweet woman who gives so much of herself to others even when she is unsure of where her own life is headed. You were the perfect blogger momma for us and I’m so happy to know you. And if I ever meet you in person, I will so hug you into infinity. You better learn to like hugs, lady! 😉

Lovely Molly – You know how I feel about you, but I can’t say it enough. You are an amazing person. You have changed the lives of many in the tribe for the better. You have bared your beautiful soul to us and created this space where we can be open and vulnerable and support one another. I really believe you are filled with magic. I’m beyond thankful that you’ve shared the magic with me! Thank you for this amazing opportunity.

When I think about where I am today compared with five months ago, I really am astounded. I went back to my goal post to see if I accomplished any of those goals I set for myself. Some of them I have done more than others, but what struck me was just the tone of my writing and the numerous comments I made about feeling out of touch with myself.

I still don’t have everything figured out, but I’m infinitely more in tune with my own desires and what I want out of life. At the time I wrote the goal post, I could only focus on a few small things because I wasn’t confident enough in anything to actually declare a goal.

I now have a gorgeous goal sheet that is bursting with ideas and hopes and dreams that I want to tackle this year. All of that is because I’ve been given this gift of weekly reflection and writing for all of you.

Thank you all so much for reading and commenting, supporting me during the weeks that weren’t so positive, and making me feel like a NORMAL person. 

Since I really love to write and talk about myself, I’ll be using my writing energy to blog more often on my personal blog, Nicole Loves. You can find me there or follow me on twitter to see how I use all this newfound positive energy to shape my life into the life I’ve always dreamed of.

And now I’ll leave you with a line from one of my favorite movies EVER – Pretty Woman. Ms. Kit De Luca says…

“I gotta split ’cause goodbyes me me crazy – so take care of you.”

Goodbye loves! xoxo

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Flickr

 

A Note From Katie: I’ve been a hot mess all week. Although life is jam packed with uncertainty, I always knew I’d hear from you every single week and we’d chat it out, talk about our hate for technology. It’s that routine that became so incredible for me throughout this entire season. But YOU have been a bright, cheery addition to this Season, Miss Nicole. I can see how far you’ve come. As I went back and read everyone’s posts from all season long, I noticed too that your tone had changed. You’re still as beautiful a writer, but you’re a bit more clear on what you’re looking for. And that growth is what this experience is all about. I will absolutely be following you around like crazy, making sure you’re doing fine, staying up to date on ALL THE THINGS, and planning + plotting the moment I can tackle hug you. I’d do it for you.  <Insert obnoxious, teary karaoke version of “That’s What Friends Are For” here!> . So many X’s and so many O’s!

240731542552026114_Yb4YysjJAhhh! Interview week!

It’s totally bittersweet for me, but I think this was my most favorite week of the whole season! It was so much fun to see the questions my fellow Season 7 rockstars came up with and I had a blast answering them.

You may learn a few things about me that you didn’t want to know and for that I don’t really apologize…I’m quirky and I’m told its a pretty lovable trait. ENJOY!

Where do you see your self (or hope to be) 6 months from now? A year from now? 

In 6 months, I’m hoping to have a new job as a wellness coach {preferably working from home}. I will have the Elevate retreat, BiSC and a trip to the NC beaches under my belt and be reveling in all the magical memories I’ve made in 2013. I’ll be feeling connected to my authentic self and be fine-tuning my life to reflect that.

In a year, I hope to be feeling settled in my new career, and fresh off of another successful Holiday Council. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be feeling ready for a year filled with peace and enjoyment following all the changes I’m making in 2013. I imagine that participating in Elevate this year will push me well beyond my comfort zone and into that sacred zone of authenticity I’m seeking. So anything I do in 2014 and beyond will just be that much more awesome because it’ll be coming from a place of authenticity and fierce self-love.

What’s the best book you read this year? 

Well since I’m completely addicted to erotica – I’d have to say that Bared to You and Reflected in You by Silvia Day were my favorites. But the Fifty Shades trilogy was a close second. Try as you might, you will not get me to admit how many times I’ve read each of these books, but it’s a shameful amount! {Maybe these should be listed for the guilty pleasure question too!}

Do you feel like blogging about your life made you look at it differently?

Absolutely! I think I benefitted immensely from having to actually articulate my thoughts. While I’m not as good at it as some of my fellow bloggers, I did manage to stumble upon some realizations that I would never have made if I hadn’t been writing for an audience. Knowing that people were reading and possibly identifying with my transition made me dig a little deeper than I might otherwise have done.

Which current living celebrity do you think you’d be best friends with in real life?

I mean, I’m pretty amazing so I think they would all love me. But I have a thing for adorable southern girls. I’m just so fascinated by them and completely enthralled. So I think a spunky southern girl like Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler or Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland would be my ideal celeb bestie.

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you? 

Several people that I know in real life contacted me mid-season to say they had been following my posts and really identified with them. I hadn’t expected that! At all.  If I’m being honest, I was surprised when you lovely internet friends commented or tweeted me because I half expected most people to not relate to my self-perceived problems. So surprises all around!

What quote best summarizes what you’ve learned during the season?

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” – Asha Tyson

What is your guilty pleasure? What is it that totally lights you up that you’re afraid to admit to? 

Well I’m not sure some of you can handle anymore guilty pleasure admissions from me…BUT since you asked – I have a thing for really juvenile romantic comedies. Movies like A Cinderella Story, Freaky Friday, What a Girl Wants, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants {1 & 2!}, 13 Going on 30, The Prince & Me, The Princess Diaries, Son in Law, Uptown Girls – all in my DVD library. I’m not sure whether this or my smut addiction should be more shameful. But you can bet I’m not losing any sleep trying to decide!

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we started blogging for Stratejoy?

I’m happier. I’ve relaxed my expectations of myself a bit and tried like hell to lose the guilt. I’m enjoying what I have in the present and not pinning all of my happiness on some future date or accomplishment. It’s fabulously liberating!

How did you fit blogging into your life? – Did you have a routine? Did it add joy or stress? Did you think about it over the week or just sit down and write? Etc.

I have a really random writing process to begin with and I knew it would be a bit of a challenge going into this adventure. I found that some weeks I was really inspired to write and others I was letting all the shit in my head get in my way. All those voices that say I’m not a great writer, no one will identify, my problems aren’t big enough for anyone else to care – they can all overwhelm me and leave me with the worst writer’s block. Add in the health problems I had in the fall and the plague that my little one and I both had twice and you can see why some weeks were more of a challenge. Thankfully, the completely adorable and wonderful Katie is a loving blogger momma and she put up with my incessant tardiness. {Love you sweet Katie!}.

I’d say overall the experience added joy to my life though. While I did struggle at times, the need to write something that seemed worthy of sharing was a great motivator to look more closely at myself and inspired some awesome discoveries! I am forever grateful to Molly for allowing me to be a part of Season 7! For the small amount of stress it caused – it added 10 times that much joy. So I’m pretty sure that’s what winning looks like.

How did people you know react? – did you share it openly, were family and friends supportive, did you censor yourself, etc.

I’m the kind of person who worries what other people think about me and I wasn’t sure how anyone would react – so I didn’t tell everyone I know in real life. As the season progressed, I found myself sharing with more people than I originally did. I didn’t have a single person judge me negatively – everyone had a positive reaction. I was honestly amazed that so many people could relate to my issues – which seems ridiculous to write because the whole premise of Stratejoy is that we all have these things that we struggle with and it brings us together to love and support each other and then realize we are all NORMAL. Why I didn’t think this same premise applied to the people I know in real life seems a little silly now.

Did you dig as deep as you could and open up as much as you could?

The simple answer is no. There just isn’t enough space for me to share all the chaos in my head when I’m limited to 500-1000 words per week. But I shared openly and honestly about the transition I’m going through. I share even more about myself on my personal blog so feel free to visit if you just can’t get enough of me!

When you’re curled up on the couch reading with a mug of something warm, what’s the book and what’s in the mug?

I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee {though I’m strictly drinking decaf now} so I’m sure I’d have coffee in my mug. I’m either reading some of the smut I mentioned in a previous question or some story about a group of girls that travels and has fabulous experiences. Because apparently my life is fueled by coffee, sex and wanderlust! Win!

What’s on your bedside table?

A hair tie, one earring, an iphone dock, a picture of me and the little person when she was a baby and a water bottle. Clearly I need some lessons in styling!

What were you like in high school?  What parts of you have remained the same?

Hmmm…high school. This is a tough one. I feel like high school was a bit of a blur. I went to a really, really small school {like 40 people in my class small} and we were all obsessed with having long-term boyfriends. Mine was older so I spent the vast majority of my time from sophomore year on with people who had already graduated. I didn’t partake in all the fun high school things. I rode a Harley with my boyfriend and watched his band play gigs in bars and whatnot. I was waaay too cool for high school. Of course, looking back I can see I was just a lost girl looking for somewhere to belong.

I didn’t really share my innermost thoughts with my peers. I was nice and had plenty of friends – I was even voted Miss Senior and was on the prom court junior and senior years. But I was more concerned about graduating so I could get married and have babies. I’ll go ahead and insert all the lyrics of “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks here because THANK GOD those prayers were not answered! I’m not sure I can say that I’m anything like my high school self, but then I’m an old lady. 2013 marks 15 years since I graduated. Wowza, where has the time gone?!?!

Who are the top 5 people on your “list”?  (You know, the list…  Those 5 people you could sleep with if you magically met them and your partner would have to be okay with it, because damn! You just slept with Johnny Depp!) 

Oooh, such a naughty question! I love it. And maybe I’m just boy crazy, but I hardly think 5 covers it!  So…

Sam Seaborn – {West Wing-ers tell me you agree!} He’s pretty much my ideal man. Be still my heart!

Chace Crawford – I don’t even care that he smokes pot. He’s beautiful.

Channing Tatum – Hi, did you see Magic Mike? Gah!

Bradley Cooper – Back off ladies! I get him first!

Ian Somerhalder – Those eyes, that jaw, the smile, OH MY!

And honorable mentions for Patrick Dempsey, Josh Lucas and Gerard Butler. I mean, I’m not going to turn them down or anything.

If you could give yourself 5 months ago one piece of advice, what would it be? How about you 5 months from now?

Worry less. Don’t lose sleep or sanity about things you can’t change. And stop caring what other people think. Make yourself happy and let the rest go.

In the movie of your life, which actress/celeb would play you? 

If I get to choose, then I totally pick Blake Lively. I mean, could she BE any more gorgeous? And that hair. We’ll pretend like the slight resemblances we have {i.e. long blondish hair and blue eyes} make her the perfect choice. Great, it’s settled. Nice to have you on board!

There you have it. If you have a great answer to one of the questions, I totally want to hear it in the comments below!

Guilty pleasures or “list” candidates anyone???

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Pinterest!

 

p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

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Here we are just past the middle of January. It’s a new year and so many people have new goals they are trying to tackle.

Many of you reading this likely have a theme for your year too. {If you do, share with me! I love to hear them!}

I’ve never been through the process of setting a theme and values for the year. I’ve set many resolutions, but I had no idea of the why behind them. Not surprisingly, they rarely stuck past the first couple of weeks of the year.

This year feels different.

Maybe it’s because I’ve declared the things I value this year and gave myself a powerful {to me} theme. Maybe it’s because I’ve let desires lead my goals.

I’ve chosen these things not because they are arbitrary goals, but because I expect they will make me feel the way I want to feel.

Even with all of the work I’ve done in preparation for the year, and all the excitement I have for the promise that 2013 holds for me, I’m worried about what will happen when the newness of the year starts wearing off.

I’m worried my old mindset will start creeping back in. 

It would be so easy to go back to what is comfortable. Pretty much all of my goals this year are pushing me outside of that comfort zone.

But this year, I want to grow. I want to improve my quality of life.

I want to be someone I can count on to get things done that are important to ME.

So I definitely don’t want to take the road that’s comfortable.

I’m so beyond thankful that just when I’m starting to worry about all the new goals and the draw of the comfort zone, I have Elevate coming.

I have 13 amazing women to inspire me, kick my ass into gear, and the lovely Molly to guide and support me – and to call me out on my bullshit when I need it. {Cue happy dance!}

I’m not at an official review point, but I stepped back this week to look at everything I’ve already accomplished. I’m still getting myself set up for the year, but I’m pretty impressed with everything I’ve done so far.

Because I’m obnoxiously Type A, I made myself a list of all the steps I’ve already taken towards those big, sexy goals on my list.

I’m sure there are more things I have done, but these are the big ones that came to mind right away. I’m pretty excited that I’ve accomplished this much in 2 or 3 weeks.

I can only imagine all the amazing things I can make happen this year with all the support and motivation I have.

I honestly believe this will be my best year yet!

Bring it on 2013!

NicoleBioBadge

 

Image credit: Flickr

p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

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Well I’ve mostly recovered from being sick, and the Elevate retreat is inching closer {ohhellyes!!}. I’ve started working on some of my goals I set for the year and I’ve continued working on my 26 Acts project.

It really is amazing how good it can make you feel to do something nice for someone else – even if you don’t get any credit or even know the person you’ve helped.

So while I’ve been feeling incredibly happy and peaceful about everything I have planned for 2013, I have this other side of me that isn’t even close to happy and peaceful.

It is the strangest feeling to have these conflicting emotions running through me. 

This week my little one started back to school after her winter break. She was home most of the week before break with the plague that we’ve been fighting off so I was pretty used to her being here again.

She’s only been going to 3/4 day kindergarten up til this point because she just wasn’t ready for the full day. We chose Christmas as the deadline and have been psyching her up for starting full days after winter break.

I knew it would be hard on both of us, but I want her to be ready for first grade next year.

I wrote before about how the events in Connecticut affected me, and I’m definitely still feeling the effects. To add insult to injury, our school district has had two situations now where ammunition found in the school or on the property has caused the schools to lockdown for all or part of the day.

If you have never experienced this with your child, let me tell you it is pure hell.

You are not allowed to pick up your child until the “all clear” is given so you sit helpless and worried that something terrible is happening or that your baby is scared and confused and wants her mommy.

Either way it consumes your time and thoughts until you can see that sweet face at the end of the day.

After the Sandy Hook event, I gave some serious consideration to homeschooling, but I’m just not sure if I’m cut out for homeschooling all on my own. I have spent five years at home with my daughter and I feel like she needs to have time away from me to experience the world through the eyes of her friends and teachers.

She needs to develop the ability to problem solve without me there to fix things, she needs to make friends and frenemies and play schoolyard games. She would miss out on so many experiences if I chose homeschool her.

But is that choice at the cost of her safety? I can’t answer that with any certainty.

There are no guarantees in life.

There are always risks.

But it seems that more and more places we once believed carried an acceptable level of risk are now outright danger zones. Of course, this is concerning for every person who frequents public places, but it is magnified times a million when you are a parent.

If someone had warned me that having a child was so anxiety-provoking, I may have chosen to be a crazy cat lady. Seriously.

Of course, I would never take it back now because I absolutely adore my little person. But it’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to have any more children.

Some of you who read this may think I’m off my rocker {and trust me, I wonder that sometimes too!} but this is an honest struggle for me. I’m scared and confused and worried that I’ll make the wrong decision.

Since I’ve been sitting down and writing about my life on a weekly basis, I’ve learned so much about myself.

I’ve seen little bits of my authentic self shining out amidst the guilt and confusion.

I really am proud of my journey to this point. I feel like I’ve come so far.

But that other side of me feels like I’m still stuck in the same place. I’m still a mom who feels like she has to choose between pursuing her own dreams and being the best mom she can.

I don’t really know how to reconcile these two sides of me.

Maybe I need to go to therapy.

Maybe Molly and my wonderful Elevate girls {who I also adore!!} can help me find better balance in my life.

I guess we’ll see as the year unfolds.

For now I’m taking it one day at a time and hoping I have more days where I feel happy and peaceful than days where I feel fearful and guilty.

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Flickr

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Well Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s Eve and all the hype have passed. All the buildup for family time, presents, Santa, and the promise of the new year have all waned in importance. Most people are back to business as usual.

Here at my house, we have another day of winter break before school starts back up on Tuesday. My little person is missing her friends and can’t wait to get back to school.

I’m less enthusiastic than she is, but I know it is important for her to get back to her normal routine.

Even though we’re settling back into normalcy after the hustle of the holidays, I can already tell this year is different.

Since the Holiday Council started last month, it hasn’t been far from my mind. I tried hard to keep up with all the calls and worksheets, and was mostly successful for the first two weeks. When I got to the third week, I had some problems.

I’d let go of the things from 2012 that were no longer serving me. I thought hard about what kind of year I want to have in 2013 and came up with a theme and a vision board. I had values and was working on priorities and then it felt like I hit a roadblock.

When I tried to fit my goals for the year with my declared theme and values – it just didn’t work.

I felt overwhelmed and so much like the lost girl I was when I started writing for all of you.

Some of my problem was likely related to the virus I’ve been fighting off for the past month, but I really wanted to get my goals and action plans set before the new year actually started.

I took a short break for the holidays, then found some inspiration and support from my Elevate girls, and took another shot at the worksheets from week three. I wrote down all of the things I had in my head that I wanted to tackle in the new year {which turned out to be an insanely large list!}.

What I kept getting hung up on was the priorities vs values in the worksheets. I felt like choosing 20 things to do this year was too limiting for me. Not because I want to be a major over-achiever or something, but I have a number of smaller changes I want to make, in addition to a few larger changes. And I have more than 5 categories that I want to address.

The Holiday Council was tremendously helpful for me, but I was pressuring myself to fit my goals and aspirations into the exact system Molly has developed.

Once I allowed myself to do what worked best for me, things fell into place much more naturally.

When I looked over my list of goals for the year, it was pretty obvious what my theme for 2013 should be.

2012 was a year of awakening for me. I feel like I woke up and realized that I wasn’t living an authentic life. I’ve been saying that I want things to change, and I’ve written and analyzed my situation to death.

Now is the time for action.

I’ve said time and again that I want 2013 to be the year that I take action on all these things I’ve been dreaming up. And so my 2013 theme was born.

Take Action as a theme works for me because I can use it to keep myself on track, and push myself to accomplish my {seemingly} massive list of goals. I can’t think of a better time to tackle all of this than the year when I have Elevate to keep me accountable and empower me to take on the world.

Since I settled on my new theme for the year, I’ve felt peaceful. I’ve felt sure of myself and what I’m going to accomplish instead of feeling uncertain.

I’ve never started a year like this – I’m almost giddy from the excitement and anticipation. But also from the calmness that comes with having a plan and knowing my life is going to change for the better.

Maybe I won’t accomplish everything on my list in one year, but I plan to take full advantage of all the support I have. This is my year, and I’m going to rock it!

Happy New Year, soul sisters!

NicoleBioBadgeImage via: ME! {compiled from the wonderful goodness that is pinterest}

The last few weeks I’ve experienced quite a range of emotions – from soul-aching sadness to heart-melting happiness. It has been quite a ride, but I’ve never felt more alive than I do right now.

I would imagine some of you watched Danielle LaPorte’s Goals with Soul video this week {if you haven’t, please DO IT!}. I couldn’t watch live, but I watched the recording the next day.

I cried through much of it. It spoke to my soul. It moved me. It inspired me.

This video she plays of women from all over the world sharing how they want to feel is powerful. Pure, raw emotion. So many beautiful, strong women who just want to feel good. Whatever their version of “good” is. And so many of us aren’t feeling these things that we crave on the most basic level.

I’m so incredibly grateful that we have such beautiful souls in Danielle LaPorte and Molly Mahar to share this gift they have with the world – I honestly believe they are changing the world, one woman at a time. I know my life is forever changed because of them and I’m willing to bet many of you reading can say the same.

Last week I was listening to Molly’s first Holiday Council call and she was talking about releasing the bad things from 2012. We did a visualization where we let the list of bad things go. I had tears streaming down my face. I was so overcome by the pain and sadness I felt in that moment.

But also, I could almost taste the freedom as I was watching the tiny pieces of paper soar down over the edge of the cliff in my mind.

I cried the next day too – some because the pain and hurt from this year were still lingering with me. And some because thinking about my year brought up those raw feelings from losing my sweet puppy, Emma. I laid in my bed and sobbed and sobbed until I had no tears left. I honestly lost track of time.

Instead of feeling weak or silly for crying, I let myself off the hook. I felt my feelings and they made my soul ache.

Since that day I’ve been feeling happy. Unshakably happy. I can’t explain why exactly, but I just feel more confident, more secure in the knowledge that I’m going to get there. Wherever I’m meant to be.

Of course, this was Molly’s intent in having us do such a visualization – we released the bad to make space for the good. I just didn’t expect it to affect me this much.

I was still feeling that happiness and sense of peace as I sat down to watch Danielle’s recording. Then my world was rocked in a major way.

After I finished watching, I jumped in the shower, my mind definitely still reeling. I put Boyce Avenue’s version of Just the Way You Are on repeat because it has been inspiring me this week – I thought it was because I’m a hopeless romantic and it speaks to that kind of overwhelming love I‘m enamored with.

But as I was standing in the shower thinking about my life, my desires, how I’ve gotten to this point in my life –  I began to weep {again!}. I had tears streaming down my face in this deep soul-cleansing crying. I vaguely remember hearing Alejandro Manzano’s voice  amping up – saying:

“Girl you’re amazing. Just the way you are. The way you are. The way you are. ‘Cause girl you’re amazing. Just the way you are.”

In that moment it came to me – I finally believed it. I am amazing. Not because someone loves me so much. Not because I’m beautiful and my hair is perfect. Not because my laugh is sexy, but because I’m me.

I’m amazing. Just the way I am. 

This is one of those life-changing revelations. I’ve been hearing Molly say this for months – on the Fierce Love recordings, the Holiday Council recordings and several other videos I’ve watched. She always says some version of “You aren’t broken. Nothing is wrong with you. You are enough.”

Each time it moves me {usually to tears}. It’s like she’s speaking right to my soul. I’ve tried like hell to believe it. I’ve hoped and prayed that it would sink in. It just hadn’t yet.

But today it did. I stood there in the shower, crying and smiling and dreaming about all the ways I could make this amazing light I have inside of me shine out into the world.

Much like the women in Danielle’s video, I have these cravings for my life.  When I imagine my ideal life or my ideal self – I want to be self-assured. Comfortable in my own skin.

I want to feel beautiful and feminine and sexy no matter what my pant size is or whether I straightened my hair or put on mascara.

I want to delight in the little things. I want to be present in the moments of my life. Connect deeply with my friends and family and truly enjoy the few precious moments we all have on this earth.

I want to feel vibrant and alive and like a life force that can’t be extinguished.

I want to feel powerful. Competent. Courageous. Like I can do anything I want to do.

I want to be spiritual – and not the way I grew up. I need fresh spirituality. A kind that fits into my life and the person that I am now.

I want to take adventures. Stand at the foot of mountains and marvel at the beauty and the massive size of them. I want to experience things that are bigger than myself.

I want to visit places, partake in experiences, engage in spiritual practices that make me realize I’m but a small part of the greater world around me. I want to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the world.

I want to be inspired and then inspire others.

I want to be a force for good. For health. For balance. 

I want to help my daughter grow into a confident, passionate woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. The best chance she has at living that life is if I model it for her.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Image via: derekskey

Well my “ah ha” moment has come and gone. My life hasn’t suddenly turned into a magical wonderland, and I’m still feeling lost much of the time.

I take some comfort in the fact that I have a general idea of where I’m headed because that is way more than I had when I started this journey.

But I want more.

I’m facing some major changes in my life and I don’t like feeling this uncertain.

I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t fear change. I wish I didn’t have a massive fear of failure. I wish I was at the point where I trusted myself enough to make the right decisions. I’m really trying to be that person, I’m just not there yet.

I’m terrified that I’m going to make the wrong decision. I’ve already wasted time and money pursuing a career that turned out to be wrong for me. Then I did it again. What if I’m destined to be the girl who constantly changes her mind? What if I change my whole life to pursue yet another goal and then discover I got it wrong – again? I’m not sure how I would even handle that.

On one hand, I feel like I know myself better now than I ever have. I’m more in touch with my desires, my hopes and dreams, my strengths and even my weaknesses. But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m just so desperate to find myself that I’m inflating my interests into passions?

All of these questions have been rattling around in my head since my public declaration a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to work through them, but I just haven’t reconciled all of it yet.

What I have done is explore a few options that could lead me to a career with a wellness focus. I applied to a graduate program in kinesiology, and was accepted for the Spring semester. I’ve researched a couple of certificates that I could obtain if I decide that graduate school isn’t my best option.

If I do decide to pursue another degree, there are still some hurdles to jump over. While the program is a great fit for my goals, isn’t exactly perfect for my life. My previous program was completely online so it was easy to fit into my schedule.

The new program would require me to attend class a couple of nights a week – and the campus is a little over an hour from my house. As much as I like the program, that is a big deal {and potentially a deal-breaker} for me.

I don’t mind driving to the campus, but it is far more complicated when I have a little person at home. I don’t know how she would cope with me being gone a couple of nights a week. Also, I don’t want to continue to work on the weekends and miss even more time with her so I’d have to find a part-time job during daytime hours that would work around my school schedule.

There are just so many details that need to be worked out that it starts to feel a little overwhelming. Somehow my “ah ha” moment has turned into a continual spiral of questions that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

The further I delve into my psyche, the looser my grasp on that ever elusive balance is. Instead of clarity I have confusion and fear.

I know I can’t let fear rule my life. At some point I have to choose to jump into the unknown or remain in the same stagnant place I’ve been. I’m trying hard to work up the courage to jump because I really don’t want to be in the same place when November 2013 rolls around.

Image via: Flickr

I have some great news. Like life-changing news. I’m kind of surprised and giddy – and definitely ecstatic as I’m writing this.

You know how we’ve all been searching for purpose – spending our time journaling, blogging, reading and thinking about these big transitions in our lives?

Some of us have put it into words and others have just implied it, but we’re all searching for an “ah-ha” moment – the kind where we see a light shining through the fog of uncertainty. Where choirs of angels sing hallelujah and we suddenly have a whole life plan planted in our brains by some divine intervention.

Well that may be a tad dramatic, but hey if you didn’t already know this about me – I kind of have a flair for the dramatic. {Don’t judge me!}

Anywho, I’ve very recently had one of those coveted “ah-ha” moments. And now that I’m past it, I can’t even believe I didn’t see this sooner.

I’m not sure I would have gotten here if it weren’t for doing all the wrong things leading up to it. So now I can celebrate those things instead of regretting mistakes and missteps in my path thus far. I can’t tell you what that does for my sanity.

I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel a little less lost in the big world with no idea where to go.

I’d been feeling like I was on the verge of this since I’d started blogging here at Stratejoy – I even told Molly so when we were discussing Elevate. It was so close I could almost taste it, but then it simultaneously seemed like I was never going to get there.

And then I did. And no choirs sang or lights shone. No secret life plan magically appeared. But with this clarity came peace.

Leading up to this, I’d spent a ton of time thinking about things that make me light up. The things I really enjoy doing that I could possibly turn into a career. It ended up being a decent sized list, but many of them aren’t things I actually want to pursue for one reason or another.

Next I made a list of the things I want out of life – I know I want to travel, have flexible work hours, possibly work for myself at some point, and I want to feel like I’m helping others. I want to empower someone else to improve their own life, especially women and young girls.

I feel really strongly about this particular demographic because I grew up with low self-esteem. I know what it feels like to feel bad about yourself, how hard it is to change when you don’t have a positive female role model who you really relate to.

Even into adulthood I’ve struggled with knowing who I am, what I want and how to love myself even when I don’t know the answers to these things.

I’ve longed to be a woman who felt she belonged in the world and had some positive contribution to the world. I want to change lives – and not because I want some glory or admiration for myself. This isn’t about me.

I want to show young girls and other women that their lives matter. That being comfortable in their own skin and taking good care of themselves is far better than chasing the latest trend and trying to be someone else.

I want to be a model of a woman who loves herself, who finds joy in ordinary places, who celebrates her individuality – and I want to pay it forward.

So what exactly was this “ah-ha” moment, you ask? Because I know I’ve been leading you on a little bit. And that is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. I’m not holding back for dramatic effect, but rather I’m indulging my natural tendency for storytelling.

I never realized this about myself until I was writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m not usually someone who can write informally and just pour out my thoughts. I’m a storyteller. I can see it when I look back over my posts thus far on Stratejoy, and on my personal blog. So this post will be no different.

I remember being in nursing school and absolutely hating it. I am completely enthralled with the human body and all that it is capable of. I could read for hours about the intricacies of each system and how they are all so interconnected. The problem, for me, arises when the focus turns to treating disease in the human body.

After I finished my bachelor’s in nursing, I thought that public health would be a good fit for me. It was less focused on the patient lying in the bed and more on the population as a whole. Public health focuses on preventing disease or restoring health after disease, but again it is on a broad scale – focusing on improving the health of the population.

This was better than nursing for me, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

After all this soul searching, talking to close friends, sharing with all of you and journaling my little rear end off – it clicked.

I’m passionate about wellness. I want to help individuals prevent diseases caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and high stress levels. I want to help young girls make health a priority and develop habits that will carry into adulthood.

I’m never more impassioned that when I’m discussing my latest workout regimen, sharing how to eat a cleaner diet, or thinking up ways to alleviate stress.

I haven’t settled on a specific job yet, but I have a ton of ideas.

Maybe I’ll work in corporate wellness – designing programs to encourage wellness behaviors and working with individual employees to achieve them. Maybe I’ll open my own gym or wellness center in the future. Maybe I’ll start a running group in my city. Maybe I’ll found a non-profit that focuses on the health of younger girls and gets them moving.

Who knows. But I’m excited to explore all these options, set some goals and get started.

Cue the angels, please!

Image via: Flickr

I was so excited to be chosen for Season 7 here at Stratejoy. I was surprised and could barely form a coherent sentence when Molly called me because I was so giddy.

As soon as I got the email with information about our first few posts, I got to work. I was excited to be writing, and had so many ideas and thoughts pouring out of me. Sometimes more ideas than I could fit into 500-1000 words.

As luck would have it, the universe decided to throw me a curveball after I wrote my third post. I’d just outlined my focus for the next few months and I was ready to get started on the things I’d challenged myself to do.

Then my sweet little boxer, Emma, got sick. Really sick. I’ve been dreading the day for many years because I knew it would be overwhelmingly painful for me. She has been my companion for eight precious years. But I couldn’t let her suffer so I sent her off to doggie heaven {as I told the little person}.

Naturally I was very emotional for the next few days. I didn’t venture out of the house. I ignored everyone’s calls and just let myself be sad.

I went to work that weekend and tried to get on with life. In the back of my mind, I was starting to get nervous. I’d been avoiding journaling because I wasn’t ready to write the story yet. I was avoiding writing my next post because everything I could come up with seemed trivial and uninspired. I was getting behind on my posts and it was stressing me out.

I started my usual spiral of negative self-talk. I told myself that I was going to fail at this. That I said all I have to say in the first few posts. That I was fooling myself by thinking I could write anything of value.

Sometimes it’s really ugly in my head. I don’t know how any of us can get to the point where we treat ourselves so horribly. I would never talk to one of my friends the way I talk to myself. Yet I continue to treat myself this way.

As the days slipped by and I still couldn’t write anything, I turned to my journal for inspriation. Maybe I’d find something in there that I could expand on. I reread a few entries and stumbled on one talking about my inner critic.

And there was Molly’s voice in my head telling me not to blindly believe the critic. To voice the bad thoughts so I would understand they aren’t the truth – and then move forward with the actual truth.

The truth is my inner critic was twisting my fears into factual statements. I am afraid to fail at this, but I don’t believe I have yet. I believe I’ll continue to rise to the challenge. I believe continuing to learn and grow is the purpose of blogging here – and I’m doing just that. One baby step at a time.

I watched a video recently of the lovely Nicole Antoinette speaking at WDS 2012. Her overall topic was running, but she discussed how big sexy goals are accomplished one tiny unsexy step at a time. {Obviously this applies to areas outside of running, as well}. Talk about the perfect time to stumble upon the video!

I didn’t take any giant leaps this week on my journey, but I did take one tiny unsexy step. I was able to recognize the negativity running rampant in my head and stop the cycle.

I know, life isn’t always going to go perfectly. In fact, it will likely be filled with many unexpected challenges. My hope is that I can get to a point where those challenges don’t set off a negative mental spiral. A point where I can treat myself with the love and forgiveness that I would show to others.

I definitely have a ways to go before I accomplish that goal, but I plan to continue on with all the baby steps. One foot in front of the other until one day I realize I’m living the life I’ve been striving for.

Photo credit: ME

 

I’m going to reveal my quinoa-eating, kombucha-drinking, yoga-breathing inner hippie and talk about manifesting today. Break out the incense, people.

Fifty percent of me is actually a healthy skeptic. I mean, wishing things into existence? Really? If it were as simple as that, where’s my winning lottery ticket or someone offering me a job as a professional puppy cuddler, complete with a six-figure salary and mandatory afternoon naptime? There’s gotta be more to creating the life we imagine than merely thinking happy thoughts and having them appear like I Dream of Jeannie— likely involving at least a few buckets of blood, sweat and tears.

But the other fifty percent of me has experienced quite a few situations– many of them quite recently– that make me unable to fully brush off manifesting as new age bullcrap.

1. In early January, I collaged a new vision board for 2012. I spent an evening tearing through magazines for words and images, trying to evoke the feelings I’d like to make central in my life over the next several months. For me, vision boards had never been about the manifestation of specific things, but rather a visual reminder to keep my goals and values central to my everyday life.

In one corner of the poster board I placed the cover of a creative arts magazine as a reminder to keep creating and experimenting… and, yes, part of me hoped to be published in said magazine someday.

Less than 48 hours after finishing my vision board, I received a message from the managing editor of that very magazine asking me to submit my artwork for publishing consideration after she’d seen some of my work online. I had only a few days to pull together the materials for submission, but I did it, and the editor ended up asking me to write an article for the magazine. The issue will be out this summer (yay!).

My inner manifestation skeptic gave this scenario the side-eye while wrinkling up her nose. Well, that’s quite a coincidence, she thought. Pretty AWESOME, but still, just a coincidence.

2. Also in January, I made a list of a few main goals I wanted to achieve in each of my nine “slices of life” areas. In the “Adventure” category, my number one goal was to take an international trip or an extensive road trip across the USA.

Later that month, my husband’s employer discussed the possibility of needing an engineer for a project in Ireland. Two weeks later, Mark was on a plane overseas and I followed shortly behind him, while all of our arrangements were taken care of by the company. Today, we are squeezing in amazing weekend trips around Ireland and to Scotland, with some travel planned after Mark’s work assignment ends.

The manifestation skeptic slowly unfurled her brow and tried to mask the curiosity building in her eyes.

3. Most recently– after sitting with the overwhelm I expressed in a previous Stratejoy post– I decided to finish up the final week of Stratejoy’s Create Your Magical Year program (yes, it’s now May. Is it obvious I’m a procrastinator?). I figured it would do me some good to clarify my goals for each of my various interest areas, since I clearly have too much going on. One of my revised goals for my “Creativity” slice of life was to sell a photography print or piece of artwork.

The morning immediately after I scribbled my artsy goals on my Magical Year worksheets, a lovely Twitter/blog friend contacted me randomly about buying a print of some of my artwork she’d seen in a picture on Instagram.

The manifestation skeptic couldn’t help but crack a little smile.

If these aren’t examples of manifesting, I don’t know what is. So how does the practical, over-thinking doubter find resolution with my flowy, hippie side to make sense of this all?

I’ve considered these situations from a variety of angles and I’ve determined that positive thinking is only part of the equation when it comes to manifesting.

I think that getting clear about my goals and values helped me recognize what kind of opportunities I wanted to arise. When I’ve been vague, overwhelmed, and confused mentally (such as during my period of bad jobs), I find the situations that arise for me are equally confusing. Every time I’ve gotten clear and specific, I’ve moved towards my goals or been presented with opportunities that align with them. And sometimes these moments of clarity happen long before they make sense– long before I ever met Mark, I knew it was important that my partner be an explorer and interested in other cultures. Maybe holding that value was one piece of the puzzle that brought Mark and me to Ireland.

I also practice being in a mindset of gratitude. I am incredibly grateful for the abundance in my life, the people that love me, and the opportunities I’m given– and I think that helps me continue to be open to experiencing good things (even if I’m not sure whether I’m “attracting” good things, or just teaching myself to be more mindful of what may already be available to me).

I’m working towards cleaning up my own mental junk. For me, this primarily has to do with my self-confidence and showing up authentically. This seems to be an important piece to the manifesting process so we don’t self-sabotage our efforts towards achieving our dreams. Because I’ve been working on authenticity and confidence (albeit slowly), I’ve become more comfortable with putting my work into the world, which allows this extension of me to be seen and opportunities like the magazine article and selling my artwork to arise. I’m learning to trust that when I put myself out there with authentic intentions, I will find my way to the people that matter.

I try not to get attached to the outcome. This is a constant work in progress, but I don’t want to inadvertently miss out on something because I had a different idea of how it would look. (Note to self: This is quite applicable to our fertility journey— our family might end up manifesting in a number of different ways.)

To me, the entire manifesting process is like training yourself to see doors where you may have only seen solid walls before. You don’t always know what’s on the other side of them, but you trust that it’ll be good– you wouldn’t create a home in a bad neighborhood, after all. Recognizing these doors allows you to walk towards them and through them– not to some magical land where puppy cuddling is a real job, but to a place where more and more doors are presented to you that all lead you closer to your dream life.

I don’t think my inner skeptic can argue with the beauty of that.

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

Here’s a bit of Life Math:
• I’m 29 years old, and my husband is 30.
• We have stable finances and we own a condo.
• We have been married for almost four years now, cohabitating for six, and annoying lovebirds for eight and a half.

Love + marriage… Yet there is something missing from the equation, per the infamous playground rhyme.

Baby.

And as if I hadn’t noticed this fact, we have had many a well-meaning relative or overly-nosy acquaintance (tomato, tomahto) inquire when we’re having kids. We’ve been told that a grandchild would make the perfect birthday/Christmas present, and one particularly prolific cousin suggested we take over the childbearing duties so she could take a rest. A few more even predicted that we will be coming home from Ireland with quite a bit more than new passport stamps.

But what people don’t see are the hidden parts of the equation. The vast majority don’t know that I have an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which comes with a host of fun symptoms including hormonal imbalances, difficulty losing weight, acne, hair growth issues, and it possibly puts me at a greater risk for heart disease, uterine cancer, and diabetes later in life. PCOS also happens to be a very common cause of infertility.

Last year, I sat in a flimsy paper gown in a cold examination room, staring at my feet while a doctor told me that my 40-50 day cycles and irregular blood panel most likely mean that I will not be able to get pregnant without medical intervention. I think you could probably hear the sound of my sinking heart in that moment. All those years I was on birth control pills? Those pills did a better job hiding my PCOS symptoms than actually preventing me from getting pregnant. And now the doctor just wanted to put me on a different pill to try and make it happen.

We don’t have enough evidence to label ourselves “infertile” yet. We’re not actively trying to have a baby right now in that ovulation-testing/temperature-taking/legs-up-the-wall-post-sex kind of way, but we’re not NOT trying. So I’ve found myself in this odd land of limbo, where I feel too much and know too little.

At this stage of life, I seem to know more people who are pregnant or have kids than that are childless/child-free. The internet only amplifies this; it seems like everyday I see a new “We’re expecting!” Facebook status or blog post. While I smile and congratulate with genuine joy and love, I do start to long for what they have. They make it seem so… easy.

It sucks to feel frustrated by your own body. I mean, we’re talking about one of life’s most basic biological functions. And I feel sort of broken. The best I can do right now is adjust my diet and exercise (or turn to hormone drugs, but I’m personally not ready to go there yet, if at all) and then wait and see if that takes care of the symptoms to give me at least a glimmer of hope. But hope is scary in itself, because it makes me vulnerable to the disappointment that might come after it.

It’s taken me a LONG time to reach this point where I know I want a family someday. I fought through baby ambivalence a few years ago, and it almost brought Mark and me to an impasse. With a little space and some serious self-exploration, I discovered that my apprehension was actually insecurity and a fear of parenting stemming from my experiences as a child of divorce and a tenuous relationship with my father.

Now, with a wonderful man beside me as we stand on the secure foundation of our partnership, I do dream of a family. Mark does as well. Every now and again, he’ll utter the most heartfelt sentiments, like when he told me that he hopes we have a daughter someday so that he can be the kind of dad to her that so many of the women in his life didn’t have. I want us to have that. I want to be able to give him that.

Deep down, I know we will have a family one day. Even if it means a less traditional route to parenting such as adoption, which is a no less worthy path to creating a family. But if we choose adoption, I know I will still go through my own grieving process for our inability to create life and experience pregnancy and childbirth firsthand.

Until very recently, I’ve been very tight-lipped about my health condition and our potential struggles– after all, it seems so personal and intimate. At first, I shrugged off our family’s prodding about babies. But the more I learn about my condition, the more their casual comments hurt me (but of course they had no idea, since I wasn’t talking about it). It’s often too easy to take pregnancy and childbirth for granted and assume that everyone wants to or is able to have a child. Once you hear a couple is expecting, you don’t think about what may have preceded that point– and for some couples (probably more than we realize), it may have meant tears, confusion, treatments, heartbreak, and pain.

I’d like to be a part of the dialog of people who opens up about the fertility struggle as we face it– and I don’t just mean anonymously on PCOS or infertility message boards. If this is going to be a part of my life journey, then I don’t want to hide it. I don’t plan on over-sharing, but I think there would be a lot of value in saying, “I’m going through this hard thing, and I could use your support.” I’ve been so inspired by the openness of other women in similar positions (even some that are a part of the Stratejoy community), and I hope that my own honesty will help make others feel less alone and help with awareness of fertility issues among those who haven’t experienced it.

I suppose it’s appropriate that I’m thinking about this issue as we approach Mother’s Day. I not only think about all the wonderful mothers out there in the world, but also acknowledge and honor all the women who dream of having a child someday. I think about all the ways we nurture each other as women, regardless of offspring.

So I say, Happy Mother’s Day to ALL the women who have mothered, mentored, nurtured, consoled, and supported another person, regardless of whether they themselves are mamas or not. You all inspire me to remain open and loving as I face the journey ahead.

{Images via joshfassbind.com and DazT}

Multicolored telephone wire woven into baskets, 18-inch eagles crafted from recycled newspaper,  old steel drums cut and shaped into beautiful mermaids. I adore how simple materials, odds and ends that some people deem garbage can  be morphed into beautiful forms of art.

When I was living in Hartford, CT as an AmeriCorps member I was certainly lacking in what most people deem necessities. I didn’t have a real bed, nor a table or chair, but I did have books, and I did have art. I had small masks from Santo Domingo by my windows, paintings and giant collages created by my half-blind grandfather decorating my walls, and a tiled-metal-work mirror from Mexico adorning my “night table”.

Thinking about it, both of my parents place a high value on art. They took my siblings and me to museums in nearly every place we went, bought paintings from local artists, and we always had a plethora of sketchbooks, colored pencils, paint, beads, and other craft supplies to entertain our minds’ latest creative endeavor. There is so much I appreciate about this. Without a doubt it’s a value that I would like to pass on to Geoffrey’s and my future children and it is unquestionably part of why I want to go to graduate school to study…folk art. That’s right, I want to go on in school to get a PhD for doing research on 1) the use of recycled materials in folk art and 2) the way women’s art cooperatives create financial opportunities and may help prevent issues of violence against women.

Deep breath. Yep. Oh folk art how you make me swoon.

Last May, I went to visit my amazing, go-getter of a friend who was working at a health clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I knew I would be spending some time with her but I also knew I had to visit some artisans in Haiti. Since I was still an AmeriCorps member and knew I’d have a while  before returning to school I figured I might as well get a head start and conduct some independent research while there and see if this was indeed what I wanted to dedicate several years of my life to doing.

That solidified it.

One afternoon, my friend and I journeyed to Croix-de-Bouquets, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince of metal-workers. Walking through the dusty streets, men worked outside pounding out steel to shape into gorgeous wall-pieces. As we walked by, artisans beckoned us to enter their homes, to see what they had created. I was in love and perfectly content having my eyes scan the walls looking at tree-of-life after tree-of-life, roosters, elephants, people carrying baskets of fruit, profiles of women with hair spiraling out into the wind. Gasp, this was exactly what I wanted to do! What was preventing me from choosing this as a career path, especially when it was something that I loved?

Another day I rode with my new friend on his moto-taxi to visit a women’s cooperative that created flip-flops, wallets, and bags from old chip bags and the woven plastic from bags of oranges. That was an interesting visit as most of what I learned, do to my inability to speak Kreyol, came through hand motions and observation.

A third trip out into the city took me to The Apparent Project, a compound where men and women rolled strips of boxes and paper into spherical beads to thread into gorgeous jewelry.

The innovation of ideas birthing art, the impact of art cooperatives on an individual’s or a family’s financial sustainability, the way that something can be created from nothing- all of these fascinate me and are precisely the reasons that of all the graduate programs I could choose, this is what I need to study.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was researching schools in Portland, Oregon where my fiance and I are moving after our wedding. For a long time, I didn’t know if I should look into sociology, anthropology, or women’s studies. They’ve all been programs I’ve been considering but I never knew exactly which one I should pick.  I mean, each one has it’s pros and cons. Then I found it. An hour away in Eugene, if I apply, and I’m accepted, I can go for a Masters and a Doctorate in Folk Lore. What could be more perfect then that?!? Then of course there’s the question of what countries would I want to focus on? What questions would I want to ask? How could I go back to school and also be a doula/midwife? And of course, there’s the question that keeps popping up and I keep pushing aside… the question of what would I do next? Would I become a professor? Would I start or work for an NGO? I don’t even know. Perhaps that’s just another question for another time.

The past five months have gone by entirely too quickly! It’s still a little mind-blowing to me that I’ve been on the road for nearly four of those five. A lot has happened during that time, and while the big things are obvious, I think the smaller changes are going to take another five months to process. And that’s okay! I want to keep growing and transforming as I continue working through my QLC and settling into my new life. I’m still so honored that I’ve been able to share this journey with all of you!

What are you obsessed with at this exact moment?

Zotter chocolate, yoga, mochas, getting my etsy shop up and running, visiting my OddDaughter in England, my impending gluten detox. (I’m gluten-intolerant, and I have not been careful during my travels.)

You can time travel but only to the past! What time period/ historical event do you go and experience?

This is an easy one! Every time I talk about Coney Island, I tell people that I want to go there during the early 1900s, when it was “America’s Playground”. Coney Island is literally one of my favorite places on the entire planet, and I’d love the opportunity to experience Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland in their heyday.

If you could be any animal, which animal would you be and why?

A tiger. I find them mesmerizing; they’re so strong, and yet still graceful.

Any person dead or alive, who would you have dinner with?

David Lynch. I think he’d be an utterly fascinating dinner companion, and boy, do I have some questions for him!

What is on your life’s soundtrack?

I planned my final yoga class at my old studio around the theme of overcoming fear. This was the playlist for the class, and I think it’s a pretty accurate soundtrack for my life as well:

In addition to that playlist, I’d add these songs that I can’t live without:

I’ve linked to as many of the songs as I could, so hopefully you’ll go forth and enjoy some new music – and if you like it, support the artists!

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

If I could clone myself and simultaneously be with my friends in NYC, Seattle, Minneapolis, Raleigh, St. Augustine, San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, Oxford, Graz, Vienna, Rabat, Melbourne, Sydney, and Okinawa – well, I’d do that. Since that’s not going to happen, I think I’ll stick with wanting to be where I as I’m writing this: Barcelona!

Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your QLC?

My yoga kula (community): the ladies who completed teacher training with me and several other friends/mentors. They inspire me every day with their passion, bravery, and love.

If money, education, time, or location were not an issue, what would you be doing for work in life?

It feels pretty awesome to say this: I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now/about to be doing (teaching yoga, writing, taking photographs, traveling)! I just wouldn’t need to worry about my bank account so much in the process. 🙂

What was the biggest mental shift you’ve made from 5 months ago to now?

Over the course of my last few weeks in New York, I was seriously doubting my decision to leave and my ability to keep myself afloat financially and emotionally without a 9-to-5 job. Now I feel certain that I did the right thing, and that I can make this all work.

What’s changed? List 10 little sweet things.

  1. I gave up my cozy Brooklyn apartment for a transient lifestyle.
  2. I don’t really mind wearing the same clothes four months in a row.
  3. I’ve developed and renewed so many amazing friendships.
  4. I miss good tacos and bbq.
  5. I’ve learned, once and for all, that my yoga practice – the reading, the āsana, the meditation – is crucial to my well-being.
  6. I drink coffee!
  7. I’ve visited 13 countries (six new ones and seven return trips).
  8. I’m learning to be less afraid of making mistakes.
  9. I’m a pro at navigating new European cities where I don’t speak the language.
  10. I don’t think I ever want to go back to the 9-5 world.

What’s one thing that you’ve learned – in general or about yourself – over the past five months?

I’ve (re)learned just how important it is for me to have a community. I am fortunate to have amazing friends scattered around the globe, but what makes a place feel like home for me is having some of my people nearby.

What would you have done differently on your Stratejoy journey if you were starting today?

I wish I’d put more time into soul-searching (writing morning pages, completing The Joy Equation, etc.) at the beginning. I feel like I’m only now beginning to tackle some of the really big, deep stuff! At the same time, I think that I needed space to get there, so maybe it’s all worked out for the best.

What song(s) will remind you of the past five months?

What is your favorite thing about YOU?

I am so proud of myself for doing things – from minor items to major life changes – even when they absolutely terrify me.

Name 3 things you absolutely love about yourself.

  1. I love that I’m my quirky self; I rock diverse interests that range from the badass to the absurd, and everything in between.
  2. I love that I’m not afraid to cry.
  3. I love that I don’t need a lot of stuff to survive and thrive.

How are you living life on your own terms?

I quit a steady job to travel the world and move to a new country to start a less traditional career path. Despite the concerns of my family and my slowly dwindling bank account – which will be pleased when I arrive in Sydney and also begin selling my photos – I am overall the happiest I’ve been in my life. Even when I get scared (and it definitely happens), I feel like I made exactly the right choice for me, and I love that I’m listening deeply and following my heart.

[photo credit: me!]

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” – Julia Cameron

Money hasn’t been an easy subject for me for a long time. When I was a kid, I was a saver. But my mom would “borrow” my money, so I learned to spend it when I had it.

Now, I owe $30,000 in student loan debt, due to start being paid back in June. And a baby due February 29th. As you can imagine, “I got my mind on the money, and the money on my mind.”

I even had this (stupid, stupid) idea that would have allowed me to spend the year justifying making a limited amount of income. If that isn’t self-sabotage, I don’t know what is.

Earlier this year, I was talking to a couple of friends who had already broken the 6-figure boundary the year before. It was crazy to thin they were doing things not so different than what I was doing – they were just doing them on a bigger, more frequent scale. They were pursuing their dreams – but they knew their dreams had dollar amounts attached to them. But it all seemed so far out of reach. I couldn’t imagine $30K a year, let alone adding an extra zero.

As a would-be entrepreneur, I knew I had to do better if I wanted to make a living doing what I loved. But how? Where the heck do you even start when your perception of money is so warped? A friend said it best – “Your people like you. They want to see you succeed.”

Talking with Molly cemented it. She recommended Overcoming Underearning and I Will Teach You To Be Rich – and I pass that recommendation on to you! Ramit’s tips are solid gold. (Heh.) And Barbara’s are great, too – especially if your problems with money stems from a fear of failure (or success).

My financial goals for next year are ambitious and exciting. Now, I know I deserve to earn more than minimum wage. I’ve got skills! Even more than that, I have the confidence to know I’m worth more.

Danielle LaPorte talks about your money shoes – you can only earn what you’re comfortable with. And $50,000 is a very comfortable starting point for me these days. My goal for my business next year: Breaking the big $100K.

One hundred thousand dollars. $100,000. A hundred G’s.

When I imagine my life, I think about how exciting it will be to pay off my student loans. Zero debt. Automating my bills and savings. Having savings. Starting a retirement fund. Donating to causes I believe in! Visiting France. Ooh la la!

When I close my eyes, I can picture myself doing each one of these things with elegance and joy.

This past year, my business made more than I’ve ever made in a year before. And I’ve only been in business – really – since June. That feels sooo good. To know that I can do what I love, make an amount of money I’m comfortable with, and not be afraid of wealth anymore – those are some pretty sexy money shoes.

What about you? How is your perception of money treating you?

Money’s been on my mind a lot lately. Long-term travel plans will do that to you, I suppose. I’ve got a variety of fears related to this trip, but the one that’s most consistently present is the fear of running out of cash. I touched on that in my post about my travel/moving plans, but I think it’s worth a closer look. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, and I suspect this fear is what stops some people from following their dreams of traveling, opening a business, and more.

My parents raised me to make very practical choices about money. My family is solidly middle class–perhaps even upper middle class in the economically-depressed area where I grew up–and they taught me from a young age to save. I’ve never been the type of person to accumulate a large sum of credit card debt, and while I was employed, I was putting money into a retirement account. I decided to leave my job in Seattle to do AmeriCorps partly because the paychecks were sometimes uncertain. Even though I wasn’t going to earn a lot of money during my AmeriCorps year, at least I was able to plan for that.

Point being: my nature is to make reasonably intelligent financial decisions and save money.

What the fuck was I thinking when I quit my job?!

I was thinking that I’d spent a few years automatically transferring 20-30% of my earnings into a savings account every month. I knew that someday I’d use that money to do something awesome, and that time had come. When it wasn’t in my checking account, I didn’t spend it. It was like magic when I looked at the savings balance later!

I was thinking that I was tired of earning my keep in a way that drained me. I was doing so many things on the side that I enjoyed–teaching yoga, blogging, taking photographs–and I wanted more time to explore those options as a potential sources of income.

I was thinking that life is short, and that I’ve never really bought into the idea that we should wait until we retire to follow our dreams. A former coworker once said to me: “It’s hard to dance when you have a walker, but it’s easy to sit at a desk and type.” I don’t want to wait my whole life to do something that I’m excited about now. I don’t want to spend my whole life saving for something that might never happen.

I’m not advocating racking up debt to fund crazy plans and diving into things with reckless abandon. That’s not my style. I am suggesting that if we want to do awesome things, we need to make those a priority. I was able to save the money for this trip by living what some people saw as a spartan lifestyle. I spent money on the things that mattered most–travel and food, including eating out with friends–and I was cautious about the rest. There were certainly times that I missed living alone, but I saved hundreds of dollars each month by having a roommate. I rarely bought things like clothes, books, and other random items because those weren’t in my budget.

My dad said to me a few years ago that he and my mom had a hard time understanding me because they saw my brother buying things (new tv, car stereo, etc.), and I wasn’t like that. I like to spend my money on experiences. That’s how I choose to live my life, and that includes the financial side of it.

All of that doesn’t take away the fear of running out of cash. You know what’s scarier to me, though? Planning around a someday that might never arrive and living a life that isn’t authentic.

Of course, I’ve still got a semi-meticulous travel budget. It’s not like I can get away from my upbringing that easily.

[photo credit: me!]

 

I never had any intentions of being an entrepreneur. Really I didn’t.

I thought I was just starting blog. Harmless, really. Then, it was a month-long course on blogging. No biggie. Then, I made my first affiliate sale. Oooh, that was pretty exciting. Then, I was writing and marketing an ebook.

Okay, so it was a slippery slope.

Who am I kidding? I showed all of the telltale signs of the would-be entrepreneur.

The inability to stay at a job I couldn’t stand and couldn’t change. (Seriously, I’ve had 36 jobs.) I had to stop participating in student council, because I blew a fuse or ten when I realized all they did was fundraise for parties and dances. So much for wanting to get the curriculum updated and get the school more active in the community. That may have also been why I was voted most likely to be a politician… in 8th grade.

I joke about it, but honestly, stepping into this new role has changed my life in ways I struggle to describe.

Let’s jump back to the summer of 2010. I was working at a Starbucks, slinging coffee out a window to people more or less unhappy with their lives. (The only notable exception to this was Phil Knight and his wife, two of our regulars.) Life was okay. Except that I knew I was handing a false answer to their problems out the window.

When I wasn’t making coffee, I was online. I’d started blogging in my spare time, downsizing my life, and doing more of what I loved. And what did I love? Writing. Sharing. Even when only an hour of my day could be devoted to this secret passion, it lit me up like the 4th of July.

When I first got started, I did it all for the love of writing. All of these thoughts and ideas had been building up with nowhere to go, and when I started blogging, it was like the floodgates opened. My heart soared every time I penned something. Little pieces of me scattered online and throughout the world.

Now it’s October 2011, and I have built myself a job and the makings of a business. In the past year, I’ve written about half a million words. No exaggeration. Between college, writing for pleasure, and writing for business, the flow of words has been more akin to tsunami force than that of the steady river metaphor I had considered using there.

With no qualifications, I wrote ebooks that real people bought. I offered my services as a branding coach and a copywriter – and real people paid me with real money. Danielle LaPorte says the universe speaks in cashflow, and it certainly did to me. The whole thing still blows my mind.

It’s amazing on so many levels, but entrepreneurship is not easy, especially if you’ve got workaholic tendencies. It feels like your work is never done. There’s always this inner conflict going on. How should I be spending my time? How much time with my daughter is enough? How many hours a week should I work? How many would I like to work? How many do I actually have to work to pay my rent?

We take the structure a workplace provides for granted. The thing with being the one calling shots is just that – you’re the one calling the shots. There’s no one else to blame. It’s all on you. Every decision you make about your schedule, your rates, everything. I’m a fan of bootstrapping, but now I dream of the day I can hire my very own virtual assistant. (I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the heavens will open up and angels will sing.)

Have you considered starting your own business? I’d love to hear about your ideas, and if you have any questions about how I made the transition, I’m happy to answer them! (Molly and Hannah, I want some input here from you guys, too!)

I’ve come to expect any or all of the following questions when I tell people that I’m moving to Australia:

It’s not that I mind answering them; I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re going to come up, and clearly, I like talking about myself. The catch is that I don’t really have answers to any of those questions…

…and I like it that way.

People don’t seem to know how to react to that. It’s not that I blame them; after all, I’ve had six months or so to come to terms with my decision and how I’ve (not) planned things. At first, their responses made me uncomfortable. I stopped wanting to talk about my travel plans for a while, because I didn’t want to deal with the shift in tone of voice or odd look when I didn’t have concrete answers. I’ve been learning to come to terms with the fact that I’m not crazy for doing this, and I’m making a valid choice and can have faith in my decision.

Here’s the thing: with the exception of my AmeriCorps year, I’ve spent the past eleven (!) years working in event planning in some way, shape, or form. I can research options, create schedules, manage logistics, and coordinate people with the best of them. I love a good to-do list, and for the most part, I don’t shy away from spreadsheets. (In fact, I’ve got quite a few of them to assist with some unavoidable moving and travel logistics.)

After planning out all of those details for so long, I just don’t want to do it anymore. After living by a relatively rigid schedule–elementary school, high school, college, 9-to-5 jobs–I want to step away from that for a while. I want to reclaim my time, explore, and see if there’s a better way to structure my life. I’ve created the opportunity for myself to do just that, and I’m going to run with it as best I can.

Since I’m really excited about my globetrotting and my move, though, I can tell you what I do know. I’m spending about three months traveling, with the intention of arriving in Australia shortly before Christmas. When I initially started planning this trip, I was going to take a week in Seattle and a week in England (or maybe a week in England and a week in Austria–who can keep track at this point?) before heading down under, and then somehow, the trip kept growing. Not that I’m complaining!

The next three months will be filled with new adventures, friends old and new, good food, and quality time with myself. I’m in Seattle now with one of my dearest friends, and then heading to Europe for a mix of solo travel and journeying with friends. I’ll volunteer on farms in Iceland and Italy and celebrate my OddDaughter’s first birthday at her home in England. I’ll take a solo train ride through France and Spain en route to meet up with friends from my knitting circles in Morocco. I’ll gather with another group of kamarádky for Thanksgiving in Prague; my heart starts to beat faster when I think about walking those familiar streets that captured my heart during my study abroad. I’ll head to Austria with some of my Prague travel companions to spend time visiting with them in their home. I’ve got a very loose schedule for the solo parts of the journey, and a little more structure when other people are involved.

It’s going to be awesome.

And then: Australia. That’s where I really don’t have answers. I’m planning on teaching yoga, yes. I have some job leads, yes. I have friends and family who are willing to house me, at least for a little while, so I won’t be homeless when I arrive. (And realistically, I could always stay in a hostel if I needed. I wouldn’t be without shelter.) And I’m okay with this.

I was going to say that I’m completely, 100% okay with this. That would be a lie. Of course there’s a part of me that’s terrified. I’m moving to a country halfway around the world, with a dream of teaching yoga full-time and a vague idea of where I’m going to live. Who wouldn’t feel some fear? In the end, though, I’m more afraid of being stuck where I’ve been.

These days, when people ask those questions, I give my nebulous answers. And every time, I remind myself of two things:

1. My dream has been to travel and move to Australia. I’m doing that. No matter what happens once I get there–even if I end up working odd jobs to pay the bills, or coming home after a few months–I’ve succeeded. I left my job to follow my dream, and it’s happening.

2. I have many homes, and I’m choosing not to live in them right now. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up running out of money with no place to live. That will never happen, because I have friends who will always, no matter what, let me spend weeks–or even months–on their couches or air mattresses or spare beds until I figure things out. I will always have a home–many homes–to return to.

Even though the answers aren’t always complete enough for most people, they’re perfect for me.

[photo credit: me!]

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!

Somehow over the last six months, I learned to connect the dots.  Somewhere between the Czech Republic and Australia, I learned to fix the broken pieces and repair the damage.

It’s hard to believe that this is the last time I will write for Stratejoy.  What an incredible journey its been.

Six Months Ago…

I was broken, damaged, depressed, and spiraling into a scary black hole.  I had just lost my comfortable Corporate job and didn’t know what the next step was because no one prepared me for a devastating job loss.  I decided that the only way I could save myself from an unhappy lifestyle was to leave it.  So I packed my bags, said goodbye to friends and family, and moved to Prague to get certified to teach English as a second language.

There, I met 23 wonderful people from all over the world and discovered a new passion for education and for life.  I struggled with language barriers, culture shock, and the stress of lesson planning, but I created some priceless memories in Prague that outweigh any negative feelings of the experience.

Of course, little did I know that that certificate would open so many doors for me and lead me on a journey of a lifetime.

Now…

I’m living in a 4-bedroom flat in Sydney, Australia that I share with three other men.  I’m teaching private lessons and taking on more freelance writing projects.  I’ve created a good friend-base in Sydney, connected with a blogger from back home who has been living here for over a year, and reconnected with some friends from America whom I haven’t seen in a few years.

I went sky diving, discovered forgiveness, and uncovered loneliness in the Land Down Under.  I learned to cover the scars and open wounds with new adventures and experiences full of love, passion, and gratitude.  I gained confidence in traveling solo.  I shattered comfort zones and crossed boundaries.  I struggled with language barriers and culture shock.  But most importantly, I found happiness in Australia.

What’s Next…

I’m going bungee jumping in New Zealand in a few weeks and celebrating my 28th birthday in September in my new home with my new friends (and some old ones).  I’m going to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef and this summer (or winter for all of you folk in America), I’m going to learn how to surf.

I’m planning trips to South Africa and South America in 2012 and I added “build a language school in Africa” to my life list.

I’m taking life by the balls and running with it.  Wherever it takes me and whatever it throws at me, I’m going to face it all with courage and grace.  I’m going to open my heart up to extraordinary possibilities and never look back. 

Some Advice:

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to, but that’s no reason to stop living for the moment.  I know it’s hard, I know it can become overwhelming, depressing, and stagnant at times, but you have to keep pushing through it, figure out what you want to do with your life, and then go do it.

I won’t lie, it’s fucking scary as hell to leave everything you know and start over, but it’s even scarier to know that you never tried to make a change, chase your dream, quit your job, or travel the world.  Stop settling for a mediocre life.  Stop making excuses.  Stop complaining about not being able to do certain things with your life.  You can do whatever you want, but you have to have the will to try.

Start living with passion and intention.  Start making a list of all of the things you want to do with your life and then go do them. Tomorrow is promised to no one.  We only have today and we only have one life to be happy, live passionately, and smile intently.  So, go out there and live your best life.

Thank you to all of my readers for supporting me through this amazing experience.  Thank you to my Season 4 Sisters for letting me share this experience with you.  Thank you to Katie for all of the brainstorming g-chat sessions and ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that you do for Stratejoy.  Thank you to Molly for creating Stratejoy, letting me be a part of Season 4, and empowering women to fight the QLC and take control of their lives.

Sending you all mad love from the wonderful world of Oz!

 

Each day is a chance to start over.

Each moment is an opportunity to bring yourself into the present moment, releasing the anger about the past or the anxiety about the future.  Each new sunrise gives you the openness of a new day, a day you can deliberately choose to live in support of your dreams or not.

You have a choice.  Today is offering itself up to YOU.

That thing you keep talking about doing or being… It doesn’t have to be big.  It doesn’t have to be world changing. It doesn’t have to matter to anyone but you.

But you do need to do it.

Now.

It doesn’t matter to me if you didn’t start yesterday.  I don’t care if you’ve been thinking about it for years without doing anything about it.  Those choices to put it off?  They are in the past.

You can make a different choice today.  It’s completely within your power, gorgeous.

Maybe it feels like you’ve already started?  You’ve read a dozen books, talked to several experts, and immersed yourself in the peripheral culture.   All that preparation is not the same as action.  Gathering inspiration and knowledge is vital, but when you’re using it to procrastinate or as a protective shield, it’s not helping you one bit.

If you’re feeling paralyzed or overwhelmed, stop preparing.  Start doing.  Begin being.

Action can arm you with just as much clarity as thought.

Want to meditate?  Awesome.  Get your butt on a cushion with an egg timer.  Like now.

Want to be kinder towards your family?  Great.  Think of one action you can do immediately and do it.  Write a letter of forgiveness?  Skip cleaning the kitchen and have a special date with one of your kids this morning?  Send your mom a goofy present in the mail?

Want to start an Etsy shop?  Rockin’.  Take the first step. Whether that’s opening your account, photographing your art, or coming up with an name for your crafty genius- take one small action now.

Start over today.  And then start over again tomorrow.

Once you create a little momentum, you can plot and develop and set some juicy goals and recruit accountability. I’m still a big fan of all those supportive methods of sustaining a big dream.

I also realize that we can get overwhelmed by all that planning and never actually START.

(Insert me giving you a huge bear hug, looking you straight in the eyes, and asking you, “Honey- what do you want to do TODAY?  Let’s do it.  Let’s blow off some plans or work or cleaning the closet and start something.  I’m so, so in.”)

I’m feeling intimately familiar with this concept of starting over, as I’ve landed in a new city, with a new apartment, new schedule (hello early mornings!), and new family responsibilities.  I’m trying my best to craft supportive days for my business, my sanity, my art, my playfulness.

Some days I’ve failed.  Some days I’ve rocked it.

It’s this beginner mindset–this realization that each day is brand new–that is really helping me.

So what if I threw myself a little pity party yesterday because I miss my familiar city and my pals?  Today, I can embrace the adventure of a new neighborhood by hopping on my bike and meeting my banker.   So what if I haven’t actually gone swimming in that huge pool two blocks away?  Today,  I can break out my goggles and dive in.

Literally.

What are you going to dive into today? What are you going to start?  I’d love to hear.

A Joy Juice prompt arrived in my inbox this morning. It asked what I really deep down desire for my life right now.

Aside from my core values, my answers are this: Autonomy. Expression. Individuality. Variety. Validation. Profit.

But then, the second part of the prompt challenged whether the things I’m spending my time on relate to those desires. In many ways, the answer is yes. But if I were to be brutally honest with myself (and now, with anyone in the entire world who lands here), I would admit there are a few things I’ve been fantasizing about lately that I’m not proactively working towards.

There are these fleeting thoughts that come in and out of my mind, sometimes daily, and they often look / sound the same. But I haven’t really done anything to capture them or to help them gain any traction. Until now, they’ve been unexpressed wonders, rather than legitimate possibilities for my life. But I’m changing that today, by sharing them with you and shifting them into intentions.

I intend to transcend the boundary between creative writing and business writing. That’s a mouthful. What I mean is, I want my writer’s soul to guide the way, as it does when one writes creatively, but I want show others the value that powerful and interesting word-smithing can have in a business setting.

As part of this transcendance, I intend to raise the bar on the amount of character and personality in the services I offer for money. I intend to have more conviction in my mad skills.

And as part of doing that, I envision a business website that is rich with sharing clarity, lessons learned and rules broken. Like, a website so groovy and thought provoking that lots of people bookmark it!

And so, I intend to be more disciplined in creating such a website. I intend to stop talking and thinking about how to do things differently and JUST DO THAT SHIT.

By the end of the year, I intend to create a place on the Internet that is a visual representation of my brain. Somewhere for people who appreciate clarity and self-care to gather, if only for a few moments a week. Why? Because I know I have insight and ideas to share with the world. Even if that world is only 20 people, it’s a start. I want a space where I can share my best thinking and my soul stirring moments, without the pressure of relating them to the brand of my business, at least for now.

I intend to create art. And more importantly, I want to do-away with feeling like I should first become a master. It’s not that I’m averse to learning and improving, I’m not. But I am frustrated by the self-imposed notion that I need to educate myself in a craft before I can try it. So what if I don’t have a Master’s degree in creative writing or a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts? The reality is I’ll probably never have one, and that’s not even really what I’m after.

What if I just have some creative talent waiting to burst out? In fact, I know I do, I just haven’t figured out how to express it.

Also? I see a book. I know, I’ve talked about this before. But this time, I can see it. It’s a combination of short-form writing, nuggets of clarity and love letters, all directed at the reader to help them gain clarity about a specific subject of their lives.

There. Sharing that wasn’t so bad.

But the real test lies ahead. In order to reach these intentions, I really need to push. I need to extend out of my comfort zone, beg for help, experiment, do things I’ve never, ever done before.

They’re intentions that my former success-oriented, output-driven self would have buried, because I couldn’t be guaranteed to assertively tackle them, with confidence and efficiency. I suppose it’s a big step to even let them bubble up to the surface. But now that they’re here – staring all of us in the face – I figure I should endeavour to make some progress. Except, I’m not sure how and I’m afraid of what might happen if I do. Whether my efforts are wildly successful or miserable failures, they’re likely to lead me into totally unfamiliar territory.

The fact that I’m even considering going there means I have you – yes, you, Molly and the Stratejoy tribe – to thank. So Thank You, team, for being good listeners and cheerleaders, and allowing my heart to confess to you.

But now that you’ve got us into this mess, do you have any suggestions for where the hell I should start?

{Photo credit}

Ahhh, vacation. The decadent, scarce concept of taking a break. Being off the grid. Living, for the most part, without deadlines, demands on your time and attention, or the pressure to perform. It’s damn good, isn’t it?

I spent the last week in Mexico; doing a whole lot of nothing. Drinking, eating, tanning, and celebrating the nuptials of two of my favorite people.

For me, one of the best parts about vacation is that I barely have to use my brain. Thinking, analyzing, trying, doing; it all gets put on hold. I don’t question the meaning of life or grapple with how to be more fulfilled. Oh no. I flick an internal switch, turn it all off, and it feels downright delicious.

They say all good things come to an end. And in the case of vacation, that’s always true. That’s partly what makes it so sweet – returning home, to your own comforts and your own bed – but also so…unnerving. Because it gets me thinking: why must vacation feel SO MUCH BETTER than real life? I mean, there’s a difference between “Yay! That was so much fun!” and “Oh God. When I wake up tomorrow, real life resumes. Damn.”

No matter where I go or what I do, I always have one very specific, sinking feeling. I don’t want to go back to work. In my former life, when my workplace felt like hell on earth, this sinking feeling was more like an aching chasm of despair. Vacation was a frightening reminder of how much I hated my job. Now, being my own boss, it’s not so bad. But the return from vacation is still no peach.

Case in point? Last night, I had a restless sleep. The kind where I wanted a good night’s sleep, because I knew performance expectations would rise with the sun. I would have to accomplish something; serve somebody. But I kept waking to check the time, wondering how many more hours of vacation-induced peace I had left. You ever have those nights? (Please say yes.)

Well this time, I’m challenging that cloud of dread. I will not sit back and accept it. Instead, I will question it. I will push back. I will ask: What would make my life feel a little more vacation-like? A little more at ease. A little more exploratory. A little more casual. A little more like late breakfasts, poolside reading and pina coladas.

For starters, I wouldn’t feel hemmed in, controlled or uber accountable to anyone. I like being accountable to one person: me. Selfish? Perhaps. But it’s also peaceful, comfortable, kind, and flexible; just the way I like it.

I would enjoy at least one Internet-free day a week. That means no emails, no social media, no online news consumption or distractions.

I would spend more time in situations that allow me to work independently, to interact with people who are confidantes and equals, and to explore possibilities as openly and creatively as I want.

I would honor my values more. I have seven pages in my Stratejoy notebook, outlining ideas for ways I can nurture creativity, authenticity, momentum, bigness, kindness, money, and fun. But I don’t pay attention to them. Figuring out how to do that would be a total treat.

I’d focus on making enough money – living comfortably – but not on making as much money as I possibly can. I’d way rather direct that extra effort and clarity of mind to other things. Like creative expression, learning and exploration of some of my big ideas; even if they don’t yield any cash flow, profile or further opportunities.

You know what else would be scrumptious and vacation-like? Doing nothing but creating content. Writing magazine articles, a book, scripts, or motivational speeches for a living. Creating my own schedule and maybe, someday, not serving clients at all. Unless you count magazines, publishers, blog readers; that sort of thing.

The more I think about it, the more a little voice inside gets louder. It tells me that I’m pretty good at seeing the big picture, being positive, staying grounded, and having faith. It tells me that I’m passionate about keeping things in perspective and that I love sharing that perspective with others.

It tells me that I would love it if the only way I was accountable to other people was to inspire them. Then, life might feel a little more like vacation. A little more at ease. A little more exploratory. A little more casual. A little more like late breakfasts, poolside reading and pina coladas.

There are two kinds of people – those who learn the hard way and those who learn the easy way by taking someone’s advice.  I learn the hard way.  I’ve always learned the hard way because frankly, I’m too stubborn to learn the easy way.  I mean, how fun would that really be anyway?  If you tell me not to do something, chances are, I’m going to do it just to try to prove you wrong.

I waited for the perfect moment.  To change careers, move out of Philadelphia, and travel the world.  I had every excuse in the book not to quit my job and move to California or Chicago.

I can’t quit without having another job lined up.

I can’t leave my friends and family behind.

I can’t…

I can’t…

I can’t…

I learned the hard way that in life, there are no perfect moments.

It took losing my job, failing at entrepreneurship, and fighting a Quarterlife Crisis for me to learn that the ‘perfect moment’ is right now.  If I ever wanted to travel around the world and pursue my passion of opening up my own Bed & Breakfast, it was time to stop making excuses and start taking action.  Dreams don’t become reality unless you get off your ass and do something about it.

By the time you read this, I will have landed at Ruzyne International Airport jet-lagged, tired, hungry, and overwhelmed.

The hardest part is over: getting on that plane to London, enduring a 4 hour layover at Heathrow International, and then boarding my plane to Prague.

I had to travel halfway around the world to learn to stop making excuses for myself.  I had to let go of a foundation I spent years building to learn to stop settling for what feels comfortable and work harder toward achieving authentic happiness.  I had to fail at running a nonprofit organization to learn how to be an effective leader and a successful entrepreneur.  I had to sacrifice certain friendships and relationships – and just hope they survive the distance – to learn how to put myself first.  I had to lose my parents to learn the importance of family.   I had to lose my well-paying, comfortable job to learn that I don’t want the 9-5 Corporate lifestyle.  I had to walk away from everything I knew and loved, at a time when maybe I should have fought harder, to learn how important this truth-seeking journey is going to be.

Truth be told, I cannot believe I did this.  I mean, who packs their bags and moves halfway around the world to a city yet to be seen and a career yet to be tested?  It’s crazy, right?  But as crazy as it is to venture into the unknown with my heart wide open and my arms flailing, it feels effing awesome.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely terrified right now, and you have no idea how many anxiety attacks I had as I boarded that plane to London, but there’s just something so… exhilarating… about a clean slate.  Especially when that clean slate takes place in a city where no one knows your name.  It’s like a second chance at life.  A fresh start.  A chance to do things right.

I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to let go of everything in order to reclaim your life.

{photo credit: chesterfan1230}

As I write this, I’m in the midst of a post-birthday hangover. From food and good times, mostly. (The booze hangover was yesterday, the day I turned 28.)

I worked until almost midnight on Friday so that I could put my laptop away and not touch it for a full 48 hours. The Saturday and Sunday of my birthday weekend was jam packed. I painted pottery with girl friends, tried on wedding dresses (and I think, found The One, gasp!), drank too much beer, ate too much pizza and cake, delighted in some surprises and presents, enjoyed a family dinner with my parents, and in the dying hours of my first day as a 28-year-old, crashed over some guilty pleasure TV with my Hunny.

Yes, that’s right. The one time of year I definitely know how to show myself a good time is on my birthday.

Now, as I sit here sugar crashing and trying not to feel guilty for ditching my runs, yoga classes, to do lists, and food consciousness, I wonder what life at 28 is going to be like. And perhaps more importantly, I wonder what it would be like if I showed myself a good time all year this year.

Not by being a glutton, I’ll reserve that for special occasions. But by being focused on the right things, enjoying the right amount of fun and rest, spending time with the right people. And one of my favourite wish list items? Creating the right balance between input and output. (Molly gets credit for opening my eyes to that little gem of a self-care concept.)

The trouble is, right now that all seems a little far fetched.

The rest part I’ve been working on and am getting better at. Listening to my body, and making time for cooking, exercising and sleeping – I slip every now and then, but I’m working on it.

Starting my own business has done a lot for the people part, because I get to make more decisions about who I work with and when I socialize. For me, it’s a huge relief to not have to make nice with people at an office. For me, making small talk with people out of circumstance was an exhausting output, as was working for someone else. It left me feeling pretty imbalanced.

But figuring out what type of inputs truly recharge me, while focusing my energy on the right things? Yeah, that’s a little bit of an enigma.

I’m not sure how to get from a current reality to a potential reality I fantasize about; it feels like a figment of my imagination. Because sometimes, it feels like some things can’t be solved with an action plan and good time management. Sometimes, creating to do lists for how to be more fulfilled and at peace feels a little, much.

That’s still output. And boy oh boy, I’ve got the output part down. Almost every inch of my life feels like an output. Even the fun stuff. Because I haven’t figured out how to shift my mindset.

I haven’t figured out how to think of time with good friends as a recharge, not a calendar booking. Or my daily run as a mental health break, not a training commitment. Or client work as a growth opportunity worth getting excited about, not a deadline that’s looming. Or a conference call as an energizing connect with people, not another to do. Or sex as an investment in one of the most important things I have, not as an energy drain. Or watching TV as a reward, not as giving in to exhaustion.

See? Output, output, output. See why making a to do list for inputs feel straight up crazy?

Don’t you want contentment to feel effortless? I do. At least a little.

So tell me, what do YOU do to balance inputs and outputs? Is anyone else out there as mentally imbalanced about the whole thing as I am? What are your tips, tricks and tools? Give it to me, people, I’m ready! Because this year, my 28th, I want to show myself a damn good time!

Photo credit

Ahoy, mateys!

(I’ve always wanted to say that.)

By the time you read this, I will be finishing up a week  on the Cayamo Cruise. I’ve been wanting to go on Cayamo since I first heard of it three years ago, and I’m finally getting the chance! It’s basically a music festival on a boat, and it’s how I’m celebrating the end of my “Day Job”.

One of my New Year’s Resoloosetions* was to see more live music this year.  As a performer, sometimes the only live music I get to see is when I peek in on the set of someone I’m sharing a bill with, or get to stay and watch someone I’m opening for.  Many of my fellow musician buddies have shows the same nights I do, and it’s hard for me to stay out late to see a band in Atlanta when I live an hour away (and let’s face it, I am not 22 anymore.  All-nighters hurt!)

The downside of this is that my own music suffers.  In the same way that people who read more tend to have an easier time writing, I think musicians who actually go out and listen to music have an easier time making new music.   Also, I LOVE music. And it sucks not regularly experiencing something you love, right?

So, the cruise.  A friend of mine gave me this cruise as a gift (say it with me now, “Holy Crap!” I know. She is awesome.) and I cannot think of a better way to kick off the next six months of my life.

Several of my favorite songwriters will be on the boat this year, including Shawn Mullins, the Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, and John Prine. If my intentions are to be more active, play more music, meet more musicians and travel more — well, I’m pretty much setting the tone right off the bat!   There will be dozens of shows, impromptu jam sessions, open mics, in addition to all the partying that most people go on a cruise for.

The day this post goes live, I’ll be returning to port, probably completely blissed out.  I’ll also be returning to, well, real life.  It will be the first time that I’ll be facing the fact that I don’t have a job…at least not an office job.   I’ll be coming down from a vacation and realizing that it wasn’t a vacation – there’s no desk to go back to. I’ve entertained the thought, tried to imagine how it will feel, a bunch of times, but I don’t think I will fully grasp the enormity of my decision until I get back home.

And actually, that’s probably for the best.  If I think too much about it now, the chance of me backing out increases.  If I think too much, I start to hear all the voices of concerned authority figures, parents, relatives and friends, telling me how impossible it is to live a creative life full-time.  These people want to keep me safe, to make sure I have it as easy as possible, that I don’t have to worry about things… but I can’t let fear take over at this point. Just because those voices are repeating the same messages over and over again, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is true.

The truth is, I would rather be just a little bit worried about where my next paycheck is coming from if the real payoff is that I am spending time making my dreams come true.   The truth is, I have a husband who is more than supportive of me going after it, and many friends who rally behind me like awesome, loud cheerleaders — and their voices rise over the worried muttering of all the others.

Here’s to jumping ship, and boarding a new one.

* Note: A resoLOOSEtion is not the same as a resolution.  The latter implies that you’re gonna be a big fat failure if you don’t stick to it, whereas the former is a fun guideline that’s OK to stray from.  I made resoloosetions to take the pressure off of myself and it seems to be working!

[photo credit: bluespf42]

I remember the moment like it happened yesterday.

It was a Tuesday morning in March and I was laying on my bathroom floor in the fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably.  My entire body felt numb, I couldn’t stop crying, and all I thought was, “I just want to stop feeling this way.” I had spiraled into my second bout of depression, this one much uglier than the first.  I knew why I was crying, why I felt numb, and why – for a split second – I was contemplating suicide, but I didn’t want to admit it.  Because when you admit something and put it out there, it becomes real.

It’s scary admitting I have contemplated suicide once in my life, but I know I would never go through with it.  My father killed himself when I was 12 years old and I was the one who found him.  At the time, I didn’t understand suicide or the kind of impact it would have on a child.

Even at 27 I still don’t understand it, but I know how emotionally damaging and soul-crushing it is to lose a father at such a young age.  The image has scarred me permanently.

I’ve been fighting depression on and off for the last eight years.  My first battle occurred in June 2003.  I was a Sophomore in college, trying to get out of an abusive relationship, and my mother had just passed away.  My world shattered instantly. I lost my mother, I had no father, I left my boyfriend, and I nearly failed school because I was too depressed to get out of bed, let alone go to class.

As I was laying on the bathroom floor that morning in March, images of my parents flashed through my head.  Moments of happiness.  Scenes from my childhood.  Memories of us laughing together.  Seven years of not grieving properly for my mother, and 15 years of not properly grieving for my father had finally caught up to me.

It takes courage to seek professional help.

“I need help,” I whispered.  I had finally said it out loud.  Even if I was the only one who heard it, I put it out there and it became real. I knew right then and there that it was time for me to work through my pain of loneliness and depression.

Two days later, I had an appointment with a therapist.

I wasn’t going to apply for a Season 4 Blogger position because I thought I had already conquered my Quarterlife Crisis. At the age of 25, I beat my battle with cervical cancer and was in remission, my nonprofit organization was successful and making strong profits, and I had survived the loss of both of my parents.  I had my life on track, a solid career path, and I knew what I wanted.

Looking back on all of it, and seeing where I am right now, I realize that I wasn’t dealing with a Quarterlife Crisis; I was dealing with a series of unfortunate life events.  Losing my parents.  Getting cancer.  It can happen to anyone, at any point in their lives.

Why did it happen to me at such a young age?  I’m still trying to figure that out.

I thought my run of bad luck was over, but then my law firm announced dissolution in December.  Two weeks before Christmas, the Managing Partner took me into his office and told me not to come back after the holiday.  I was devastated.  I took for granted the comfort and security that comes with having a full-time job that provides health insurance, a retirement fund, and free coffee every day (hey, it’s the little things).

If that wasn’t enough, my nonprofit was suffering from the terrible economy, clients decided they weren’t going to support us for 2011 because they didn’t have the funds, and my volunteers resigned.  When it rains, it pours.  Once again, my world shattered instantly and I felt like a complete failure.

Winston Churchill said:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I joke with my friends about how I feel like I’m 45 trapped in a 27 year old body.  I feel like I’ve been through hell and back, and you know what?  It sucks.  I’m in the midst of my Quarterlife Crisis, but I’m determined to come out on top.

For the first time in my life, I have no commitments, no deadlines, and nothing holding me back from living life on my own terms. So, I’m going to make the most of this tragic situation and turn it into an incredible opportunity. Im going to spend as much time as I want teaching English and traveling the world, and the most exciting thing is that I get to share this journey with you over the next six months.

New experiences, fresh opportunities, beautiful sights, amazing discoveries, and lots of soul-searching.

My goals for these six months:

1. Get certified to teach English. The 4-week program is going to be very intense and rigorous, and from what alums have said, it’s very bootcamp-like.

2. Embrace my fears, doubts, and insecurities as I spend the next six months living abroad on my own. I don’t like emotions and I’m very good at pushing negative feelings away, so I really want to work on this.

So, here I am, calling on you – my readers, my friends, my Season 4 ‘sisters,’ and Molly – to keep me accountable.  With a huge life-changing event such as this one, comes tons of emotions, insecurities, fear, and doubt. I’m trying to brace myself for what comes next, but I’m hoping you can support and push me as I work to complete these goals by the end of my Stratejoy adventure.

It’s going to be one hell of a journey, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

[Note from Coach Molly: Damn, Kate.  I knew all of this, but to watch it come out in one big massive post, tears me up and my heart wells at what a rough go it’s been for you.  But I know you are strong, and even more importantly, you are open to hope.  And new opportunity.  And grace.  You are facing your life and this next adventure with courage I can only hope to have.  I will so be here beside you (or across the ocean from you!) to support you through your goals.  Especially that lovely embrace of your hard stuff.  We are all going to be here for you.]

[photo credit: Leonard John Matthews]

INTRODUCING KATHARINE:

Just when I thought I had it all, I suddenly had nothing.

I wanted to go to culinary school.  I had a childhood dream of opening up my own Bed & Breakfast near a ski resort in Colorado or Utah, serving up the world’s best pancakes, French toast, and eggs benedict.  Food was my passion and creativity, and growing up I loved to cook.

But when it was time to grow up, I had to make a choice – culinary school and one year in Paris on my own dime, or four years of college on the University of Pittsburgh’s dime.  It was a no-brainer – I went to college.  My mother worked for the University, which meant free tuition, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

I transplanted myself in Philadelphia in 2005 and had successfully climbed the Legal ladder working at a small, prestigious law firm in Center City.  I co-founded a grassroots nonprofit organization to increase awareness for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, making valuable strides in my community to prevent, protect, and educate women on the devastating disease.  I joined a co-ed street hockey league (I never played the sport before), traveled around the country to compete in National tournaments and have won five championships and an MVP trophy.  In five years, I have built a strong foundation for myself through careers in law and nonprofit, sustaining valuable friendships, actively participating in sports leagues, and establishing a freelance writing presence.

Professors and teachers can prepare you academically for the real world, but no one can prepare you for real life – those unexpected moments that either make you or break you.

I had a plan for 2011: re-brand my nonprofit organization, celebrate the purchase of my first house, and start graduate school.  Two weeks before Christmas, my plan suddenly shattered and that foundation I spent years building crumbled beneath me.  Volunteers resigned from my nonprofit organization and my law firm dissolved.  Just when I thought I had it all, I suddenly had nothing.  My nonprofit was failing miserably, I lost my job, and I spiraled into a third bout of depression.

No one prepared me for entrepreneurial failures or a job loss.  No one told me how terrifying it is to watch your plan shatter right in front of you.  No one told me how emotionally draining it is to pick yourself up after all the hardships.  You can’t teach these things, you can only learn from them.

I don’t know what happens next.  I thought at age 25, I had already conquered my quarterlife crisis (more on that next week), but after suffering a devastating job loss and entrepreneurial failures, maybe I’m right in the thick of it.  I thought I wanted the Corporate 9-5 lifestyle, but after spending nearly a decade in the legal field, I realize it’s just not me.  I want adventures, creativity, passion, and to live life on my own terms. Except now I don’t know what that involves.

I’m moving to Prague, Czech Republic on March 17th to pursue a TEFL Certification and look at culinary programs.  I’m absolutely terrified.  It’s scary when you realize your dreams could be come reality. What if I fail at this?  What if I hate being abroad for so long?  What if I’m not cut out for teaching English or culinary school?

Rocky Balboa said:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

I’ve been hit with too many devastating events in my life, and each time seems to beat me harder than the last.  It’s time to move forward.  It’s time to take my life abroad and test my limits.  It’s time to create my own happiness and discover what it means to live life on my own terms.  Eventually, you reach a point in life when you stop questioning your decisions, your abilities and yourself, and just do it.

Make your dreams come true.


I can NOT believe this is my last Stratejoy post.  I seriously might cry, y’all.

The adventure I’ve been on these last six months with Marian, Lindsey, Alisha, Renee, Doniree, Molly, and all of you has been indescribably life-changing.  I didn’t know I had it in me to write like this, to be so honest and transparent with strangers (a lot of you aren’t really strangers anymore!); I didn’t know I was capable of inspiring other people.  I was a girl who felt lost and misunderstood, even to herself.

You, by reading and through your comments, have shown me I’m not alone, crazy, or lame.  You have made me buzz with joy, knowing I’ve helped you see your QLC differently and knowing you relate to what I’m going through.  Your comments have made me laugh, cheer, think and cry, and your friendship and love has given me the strength to be honest and strive for better.

YOU are Stratejoy.

This community has been an incredibly important part of my life these last six months and, though I’m SO sad to not be writing here anymore, I know I’m not leaving.  I can’t wait to see what brilliant wisdom the Season 4 bloggers have to impart, and I’m sure I’ll be continually inspired, by them and by you, for a long time to come.

Since my first post went up in August, I’ve grown from having no idea what I want to having clear vision of my future.  I’ve become more confident and balanced, more self-aware and honest, more excited and proactive.  I’ve faced my fears, learned to love being single, and proclaimed “Quarterlife Fuck Yeah!!!”  It’s been a terrifyingly awesome journey.

Thank you for sticking with me through it all; thank you for helping me grow into the woman I now am.

Because Stratejoy inspired me to make this next step, I have an announcement to make here.  Y’all are hearing it first.  Today – right this minute – I’m launching my new website, The Grateful Sparrow (if you were following me before, it’s different!) and I want to invite all of you to be a part of it.

I’m committing to talk about joy.  Your experience of it, lack of it, the process of finding it, growing with it, keeping aware of it.  I want to inspire you to live a life you love and love the life you live, every day.  I want it to be your go-to source for a jolt of inspiration and to jump-start your daily gratitude.  It’s the anti-kumbayah; your happiness is serious business, and it’s totally within your control.

Molly & I agreed Stratejoy and The Grateful Sparrow are totally BFFs; let’s keep building this community of amazing, inspiring people and keep the love flowing!

CHEERS to everything you’ve taught me and everything we’ve shared, t0 changing the way we look at the QLC, to being fucking amazing strong women, and to who we are and who we’ll become…

All my love,

Nikki

[Note from the Coach:  Nikki- Damn straight! The Grateful Sparrow and Stratejoy are totally BFF’s!  I know these last 6 months have been full of twists and turns and challenges and surprises, but through it all- you have remained utterly open and present.  To life.  To the possibility of joy in the moment.  And it’s been a gorgeous, gorgeous thing to witness.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing it with us.  Your authentic voice and soul sister stories will be missed.

But… As we all know- you’ve got a new “home” from which to keep inspiring us.  And a big wide world to explore.   And bunches to love to share and receive.  From one joy-embracer to another– all my wishes for success in any path you choose to skip down, Nikki.  It’s yours for the taking.  And yes, we still have an outstanding date to play on lawns, drink wine together, and dissolve into multiple bouts of laughter. Soon, I promise.  Nothing but love, Molly]

This week, we all came up with questions for each other; here are my answers:

1.    What do you miss most about being a child?

The freedom of long summer days, running barefoot in the grass, creating universes out of my backyard, jumping and splashing and tumbling and swimming, un-selfconciously, entertaining myself easily and, when the stars came out, collapsing into an unworried sleep in the comforting arms of my mom or dad.  Simple, loved, joyful.

2.   What’s on your bedside table?

A glass of water (always), my phone, a holiday scented candle, a cute tile coaster from a set my cousin bought me, and two books: “The Highly Sensitive Person” and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” – yes I’m reading both.  Also, sometimes my keys, deoderant & purfume live there for a bit when I’m too lazy to put them away.

3.    When was the last time you were giddy with happiness, lost in one of those can’t-hold-back-a-smile kinda moments?

A cute guy I met sought me out & showed up unexpectedly a week later to ask for my number.  I couldn’t stop smiling for at least an hour.

4.    What are you most looking forward to in the next 6 months? (Besides reading awesome Season IV Bloggers!)

My movie coming out, my new & improved website launching, and whatever awesome adventures come my way this year!

5.       What’s your hell like?

Hell is sitting in creeeeeeeping traffic on the 405 freeway, on a 100+ degree summer day, behind a stinky, brakes-squealing semi, no A/C, no water or food, the only radio stations I get are smooth jazz elevator music and Mexican mariachi bands, I’m dressed up for a big audition, which I’m seriously late for, I’m sweating like a whore in church, my phone’s dead, and I have to pee – bad.   (Anyone else been there?)

6.       What’s your heaven like?

Heaven is waking up to the person I most love in the world, laying in bed laughing for what feels like hours (but no time has passed),  then wandering like a backpacker, with the wonder and in-the-moment awareness I feel most often when traveling, all the while constantly running into people I love & sitting and talking with them over unimaginably good food and drink.  There’s a soundtrack of Jon Brion/Sigur Ros/Animal Collective -inspired-type music, it’s a sunny 80 degrees with no humidity, I’m 20s/30s young in a sundress, and I feel light and happy.

7.    What’s the biggest lesson you’re taking away from the past 6 months with Stratejoy / how has the experience changed you?

I learned that there’s a community of women out there, incredible, strong, intelligent women, who I inspire as much as they inspire me.  It’s given me confidence in my writing & made me feel like I really DO have things to say, and ways of saying them, that are important and relatable and that people besides my parents actually read!

8.    What song lyrics fit your life, right now, at the beginning of this brand new year?

“The dog days are over / the dog days are done”  – Florence and the Machine.  Because things are only getting better from here on out.

9.     If you had a time machine, what place and time would you travel to and why?

Assuming this machine was mine & I could use it as much as I wanted, I would go all over the place – the Original Woodstock, the Old Wild West, 1800s London, ancient Greece; I’d watch Stonehedge and the Pyramids get built.  There are so many times in history I’d love to be a part of, or at least a fly on the wall, to see how life was really lived.

10.  What is something that not a lot of people know about you that you wish more people could know?

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this for 2 days & can’t think of anything.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, y’all; if I need you to know it, I’ll tell you.  🙂

11. What surprised you the most about 2010?

Getting cast in a movie.  It was completely out of the blue and a-freaking-mazing.  As were all of the big adventures of 2010, and there were lots!

12. What’s the best present you’ve ever received?

This is tough… I guess my last computer (my first Mac & first laptop); not a very exciting answer but the truth.  🙂

13. Dream Job?  Dream Home?  Dream Vacation?

Dream job:  Actor/Writer – steadily acting in interesting films and writing not only articles, but novels.  Making a living creating, but still feeling balanced in every aspect of my life.

Dream home:  A little old craftsman-style bungalow with a thriving garden in a residential area of a city.  It’s within walking distance to a main street with shops & restaurants, in a safe area.  I’ve updated it to use solar energy & be green; it’s small enough to feel cozy but large enough to have lots of parties.  I have a studio in the backyard behind an old tree.  There’s lavender planted in front of most of the windows so on a warm day with windows and doors open, the whole house smells amazing.

Dream vacation:  Around the world.  I want to go everywhere & see everything; it’d be so amazing to travel for a year or two & city, country, continent hop.  If I have to choose one place, for right now, I’ll say Bali/Thailand; I want to expore the jungles & sit on the beach & see monkeys like stray cats everywhere.

14.  Imagine your life was being made into a movie. What would the title be? Who would you pick to play you? What would the theme song be? How about the little trailer blurb for the advertisement?

Voiceover:  “Just when she thought she had it all figured out, life stepped in with a plan of its own…”  Montage set to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” by Frightened Rabbit:  Nikki Klecha (wait, what? I can’t play myself?  Oh, ok.) Rachel McAdams bored at a desk, hiking a mountain, crying on a plane, laughing with friends, freaking out in anxiety, freaking out in joy, on a film set, grieving, celebrating, unsure, ending with a romantic moment cliffhanger then… fade to black and on the screen:  Learning to Float.

[photo sources: book, Me on the red carpet in ’09, dream house]

I have a really good friend who went through a typical Quarter Life Crisis and yet still maintains the QLC doesn’t exist.  He was in grad school for and making money in his chosen profession when he realized it just wasn’t for him, quit school, quit his job, moved across the country and started over.  He’s now a professional musician and lives one of the most enviable, inspiring lives of anyone I know.

I remember when he was going through his QLC, partially because I was on the cusp of my own.  We used to call each other, frustrated and unsure, comparing the messes of our love lives, the unfulfillment of our career lives, and the fears that were plauging us.  We bonded over a shared ickiness.  Classic QLC, right?

The difference between him and most people I know who’ve gone through a QLC (including myself) is that he refuses to call it a crisis.  Even when he felt icky and frustrated and was not making enough money to live on, he saw his life as an adventure and this unknown stage of it as just one somewhat frightening, giant decision between many thrilling options.

To quote him (thanks, Facebook!):

We have this amazing opportunity (unlike previous generations) to do whatever we want with our lives but we tend to spend so much time and energy talking about how hard it is and getting angsty because we “don’t know what to do with our lives.”  …These are opportunities! Amazing, wonderful opportunities!  …I wish more people our age perceived it in such a manner.

Wise words, no?  It makes me want to take action, any action, try and fail and try again.  It’s all ok.  It’s all part of really living life.  So inspiring!

I get it, though, we all know logically that this is a time of exciting possibilities, but it’s hard to keep that in mind in the middle of it, while it feels like the life you know is crumbling around you and everyone you look up to is looking down on you disapprovingly.

We have so many more options and comforts and safety nets than the generations before us, and the freedom they give us is both exhilarating and overwhelming.  But add to that the fact that we’re bucking the norm in a society that has always expected people our age to put our nose to the grindstone, get a job, start a family, stop “goofing off” and grow up already, makes it a lot harder to see that freedom as a good thing.  We’re swimming against the current, and that can be exhausting.

I think that’s really where the “crisis” comes in.  It’s a crisis of understanding and communication.  It’s the difference between generations, and it’s always existed, ever since the first teenager argued with the first parent.  With each generation we’re evolving as a race, and we have the luxury to find our happiness, which our grandparents, and parents, didn’t have to the same extent.

It can be difficult feeling like you’re not living up to expectations, you’re letting the people you respect down, you’re “behind” on the timeline of normal life.  It can be frightening feeling like you have no role models and you’re forging your own path through the uncharted wilderness of creating the life you want, a life you’re scared to think is even possible.  I used to feel that way ALL. THE. TIME.  …until Stratejoy.

You ladies are my role models.  Molly especially.  All my fellow writers and all the commenters and all the blogs I’ve found of women making it happen on their own terms show me that I may be forging my own path, but I’m doing it right alongside other amazing people, and it’s not so scary.

It’s time for a paradigm shift.  Forget what other people think, forget societal “norms” (we’re changing them this very minute anyway!), forget what you thought you wanted or where you thought you’d be; take stock of the incredible freedom you have right now, and all the opportunities you can take advantage of in your life.  This is no crisis!!  This is the BEST THING EVER!!

So I’m with Lindsey, I think we need to come up with a new name for the QLC.  Quarter Life Celebration, Quarter Life Exploration, Quarter Life Speedbump, Quarter Life Fuck Yeah!

What do y’all think?

Meanwhile, I’m going to follow the example of my inspiring friend and take action.  I’m just gonna go for it and drink up what life has to offer, say yes to all opportunities, and find exuberant joy in the unknown.  Life isn’t a race to the finish line of “adult benchmark goals,” life is meant to be explored and enjoyed.  This time of my life is amazing, not a crisis.  And if I make a few mistakes, well, that still won’t make it a crisis.

We’re strong, we’re smart, we’re free, we’re young — let’s do this shit.

[photo credit]

Dear Marian,

You’re a funny one, aren’t you? I know high school is being a bitch and a half right now and your boyfriend is a crazy person and you pretty much hate everyone, but I promise: College classes are better than high school classes, you will not be with that boyfriend forever and, trust me, it isn’t you; the people in Greenwich actually do suck.

You may attend a certain college for the wrong reasons, but it will end up being the right place for you. There, you will find a group of friends who adore you more than life, you will find out who you are without your high school sweetheart AND you will end up traveling to 13 countries in the span of a year. You will switch your major from Spanish to Gender Studies, just because it’s more fun. And that’s one thing I crazy admire about you, Past Marian, you don’t stress about what you should be doing. You just do what feels right.

And so far? It’s played out pretty well. There will be a period after graduation where you’ll feel 100% stressed and frustrated about what you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll make a huge effort to get a “real” job and you’ll end up quitting it anyway to go solo. It’s not particularly scary, but don’t stress when you end up having to leave New York. There are bigger and better things to come. Also remember that you kind of always knew you weren’t supposed to be at a desk so when everyone starts congratulating you about your “new life” and how exciting it must be, don’t freak out when you just smile and nod and don’t actually feel any passion towards your cubicle and phone extension. It’s not you and I hope you celebrate that.

While I’d like to give you some grand advice to help plot your way through breakups and travels and horrible grades and great grades, everything you do leads to where you are now. Which is in sunny New Zealand with the greatest person on earth. And while you still may be floundering with the whole “What the hell am I doing” part of your life, you are with the right person and you have the amazing flexibility to do and go whatever and wherever you want. You never succumbed to what was popular; you never pretended to be something you weren’t; you never listened to anything but your heart.

Make sure you never lose that quality. Make sure you don’t let other people’s failures and bad advice get in your way. Writing this now, though, I know I have nothing to worry about. While life doesn’t get any less stressful in the next ten years,  you’ve managed to kick so much ass. For this, I am completely and brilliantly proud of you.

Love,

Marian

Last week I finally realized that I am worthy of good things in my life.  In light of  this new realization I have dreamed up some goals for 2011.  I hesistate to use the word “resolution.”  Resolutions sound so absolute and are hard to keep-in fact I think they almost set you up for failure.  But goals, goals are measurable.  I can do goals.  Goals motivate and inspire me.  Here is what I am working on in 2011:

Real Life

Work It

Lovers and Friends

With Sprinkles on Top

So bring it on, 2011.  I have a feeling this is going to be my year.

It’s about to be a new year, y’all, and I’m ready.  I have loved this last year, loved every frightening thrilling minute of it and I haven’t forgotten the lessons it taught me: trust, be patient, plans may change & get busted up & that’s ok.  But I feel a calmness & an energy that I haven’t felt in a long time; I know some of the major things I want in life, and I’m ready to take steps toward them.  Some may be missteps; I might fumble; I might fail.  I’m ok with that.  I’m taking action this year.

I am a superhero in 2011.  I am action-girl, Nikki of new ideas, make-it-happen-momma.

I am going to put myself out there & trust that good things come of it.  I am going to tell people what I want, even if I have no idea how to get it or what form it will take.  So here goes:  I want a creative job; it might be a career, it might just be a job, but I want to make money doing something I enjoy.  I want a serious relationship; it’s been a long time & I’m ready.  I want a home that feels like mine; it’ll be a while before I can own one, but I want a place that feels like my own.  I want financial stability; I want adventures and a savings account to be equal priorities.  These may sound like little things, but they’re big things to me.  After a long time wandering & wondering, I’m feeling clarity.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of an explosion of awesomeness in my life.  Bring it, baby.

I’ve already told you my intentions for 2011, now here are some of the seemingly-innocent-but-totally-superhero actions I’m gonna take:

I’m making it a habit to write every day.  POW!

I’m launching and developing my new, improved personal website, The Grateful Sparrow (follow me!).  ZOOM!

I’m paying off all my credit card debt by my 30th birthday (May).  BLAM!

I’m learning to edit video on my computer.  SMACK!

I’m honest in all my relationships and not letting fear of vulnerability get to me.  BOOM!

I’m finding a living situation that better suits me.  ZIP!

I’m saying yes to opportunities for new adventures that come my way.  CRUNCH!

I’m expressing my authentic self, everyday, and following my joy.  BAM!

I’m making a profit from my art & creativity – writing, acting, blogging, sculpture, design, etc.  ZAP!

I’m taking time for myself, treating myself with respect, but NOT accepting excuses.  I’m better than laziness & ambivalence.  CRASH!

I’m living to the full extent of my fabulousness this year, and I’m not letting fear get in my way; in 2011, I’m trying.  I’m giving myself a fighting chance.  It can’t be harder than what I’ve already been through, in fact, I know things are only getting better.  2011 is going to be amazing; a year from now, I’ll hardly be able to believe how far I’ve come.

Cheers to a new year.  Let’s do this.

[WonderWoman photo source]

Dear Renee, age 16,

You realize how lucky you are to be living a storybook life right now. You’re in honors courses. You’re dating your best friend who plays in a pretty sweet band. You’ve got all the solos in choir and you make all the plays you audition for. Your teachers love you, your friends love you, and some of your classmates have told you that they admire you. Shit, you’re doing something right.

But know this is not as good as it gets. You are simply learning what greatness feels like, but it’s not all the greatness you’ll feel in your life. Know that your boyfriend will cheat on you with a taller, prettier version of yourself. Even though that will put you in a tailspin and on anxiety meds, know that this experience will help you realize how good of a catch you really are. This experience will teach you the lessons of heartbreak and it will teach you that putting giant chewed up jelly beans on that girl’s car is actually really funny and healing. Just not the second time. But most of all, this experience will give you a taste of how resilient you truly are. You’re only scratching the surface of your strength.

When someone all but promises you the lead in your senior musical, know that you still have to work for that audition. In the offchance that you blow it, you’ll learn that even those things that you take for granted require effort. You blow your audition and you get cast as a guy. Seriously. I wish I could make that part up. It’s the cherry on the sundae that makes you resent high school. That, coupled with all your friends graduating early, and all the drama that surrounded your break-up with aforementioned boyfriend, makes you look forward to college. And I’m telling you now, college is a bajillion times better than high school. You don’t even need anxiety meds in college (or post-college).

Listen, I know you’re on top of the world right now. You feel like everything is going in the right direction. You think you’re going to marry that boy and settle down in northern Indiana and pop out babies and go to church every weekend… but a little thing called politics and feminism will soon creep into your life. You’ll take some new media classes. You’re a smart cookie, but you’ll find a hunger for knowledge soon enough. You’ll meet a young man who listens and appreciates you for who you are and won’t try to change you. You’ll graduate high school. You’ll win awards in college. You’ll get A’s in grad school. You’re going to succeed far beyond your current dreams.

Dream bigger, lovely.

So stop passing notes in World History. Stop drinking the nights before choir competitions. Stop making out in the driver’s seat of your tiny car. You’re so much better than that. It gets so much better than that.

And when you get caught cheating on your Biology exam? You’d better feel DAMN lucky he let you retake it. Also, you’ll get a lead in Hello Dolly, so stop whining about Annie Get Your Gun.

Love,

Renee, age 24

{photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt}

2010.  It sounds like the future, doesn’t it?  Twenty-ten.  It doesn’t sound like a real year to me, and yet, it is, and very soon, it will be a real year in my past.  Unbelievable.

The holidays are here and with them comes the end of the year and inevietably, self-reflection.  Preparing ourselves for our winkingly optimisitc new year’s resolution, we look back on our year to see where we went wrong, what we want to do better, what we want to change in the clean slate of next year.  While I’m all for that, and a big fan of positive, purposeful change, I think part of why we all break our resolutions (and SO soon – most years, I don’t even get through January!!) is that we’re forming them from a negative place.  We resolve to eat healthier because we feel fat.  We resolve to work harder because we feel unsuccessful.

What if, instead of focusing on what we didn’t do in the last year, we focused on what we did do, what made us feel happy and alive, and resolved to bring more experiences like that into our lives, so that our ultimate resolutions were to have more of those good feelings, spurred on by happy memories instead of guilt and disappointment?

I’m gonna try it.  2010 has been a freaking ridiculous, cry-until-my-eyes-won’t-open, laugh-until-I-can’t-breathe, terrifyingly joyful year.  There are a lot of things I could resolve to change in my life and be more healthy, more productive, more stable.  But when I think about those things, I feel bad; noticing the lack of them invalidates the amazing year I’ve had.  So, instead, here’s a reflection on my past year and some truly positive intentions/resolutions for 2011.

I intend to trust with an open mind & open heart.

The biggest thing 2010 has taught me is to let go of control.  My whole life, I’ve always had a plan and tried to control how that plan unfolds.  I held on too tightly to the things I thought I wanted and I pushed the things I didn’t think I wanted away too forcefully.  It led to confusion, frustration, and, interestingly, left me feeling powerless.  2010 demolished all the plans I’d made for myself.  It swooped in under the fireworks at Airlie Beach, Australia, picked me up & started running, like I was a football under the arm of the quaterback, and that dude is way too burly to fight.  2010 gave me what I wanted when I didn’t want it; it gave me a job when I was about to leave, an apartment when I was furniture-less, an adventure when I was getting settled.  But, as terrifying as it was to be plowing along headfirst down the football field, it was reassuring to remember I’ve got the QB on my side, and the less I resisted, the more fun it became.

I couldn’t have predicted even a third of this year; it knocked me off my feet & onto my ass more than a few times, but I’m so glad I went along for the ride.  It brought more amazing things than I ever could’ve planned for.  Being open to the unexpected things that pop up in life makes life less of a struggle and more fun, and makes me a hell of a lot happier.

I intend to seek out new experiences.

I started the year across the world from home, living with a family that took me in the first week they met me, taking a road trip with a boy I’d known less than a month.  It continued with a planned move across the country, a road trip to see  the US, which, in the blink of an eye, changed to 10 days roadtripping California with my momma and a month of crashing on friends couches.  I acted in a major feature film.  I moved in with strangers.  I took 6 weeks to fly around the country & see cities I’d never been to and friends I’d been dying to visit.  I started a new job, and got thrown right into the thick of it immediately.  I started writing for Escape Hatcher and Stratejoy, and found this amazing community of people on the internet.

Not every year will be as full of major adventures as 2010 has been, I realize.  If they all were, I’d probably end up having a mental breakdown just from pure exhaustion!  But I want to keep in mind that experiencing new things on a fairly regular basis keeps me from getting bored & feeling stagnant.  Even if it’s just taking a Saturday to explore an LA neighborhood I haven’t been to, or learning something new just for fun, I need to create adventures for myself to keep myself feeling fulfilled & creatively challenged.

I intend to be patient & remember that my path is specific to me.

Most of the anxiety in my life comes from me comparing myself to other people.  I look at my friends lives, especially those that are married with career-type jobs, and I feel like I’m not where I “should” be.  But when I was traveling this year and really in the moment, I felt so happy, and really felt a clarity that I am exactly where I need to be and everything is unfolding in its own time.  If I’d forced myself to have the life I thought I was supposed to have, I wouldn’t have been able to take most, if any of the opportunities that came my way this year.  Not to mention, I’d probably be miserable!

It can be hard to hold onto sometimes, but I will keep reminding myself of how it felt to scuba dive the reef, to cruise down the CA coast, to kayak Austin, the thrill of having no idea what’s next or who I’ll meet – to combat those days of low-down-dirty shoulds.  I’ve never dreamed of a normal white-picket-fence life, and even when I do have a career & a family, it will be my way, because it’s my unique life.  I’m exactly where I need to be, right here, right now, and it’s incredible.

2010 has been what I needed it to be and I trust 2011 will be too.  It’s been a year of feet on the dashboard, toothy smiles and too-loud laughs, sing-alongs, hammocks, looking down on the clouds, long hugs, dreams fulfilled, anxiety and excitement, new friends, old friends, take-offs and landings, Skype calls, ridiculous parties, nesting instincts, nomadic whims, writing and writing and writing.  It’s been a year for me to wander and a year for me to sit still.  2010 has made me grow and made me think; it’s prepared me for the hailstorm of joy & productivity that 2011 will bring.  And I can’t wait.

[photo: new years 2010 in Australia – I’m far right]

Dear Nikki aka Lauren aka Nikki-Lauren aka Lauren-Nikki aka Niklecha,

Happy sweet 16!  It’s a milestone birthday and you did it up right; you’ll never forget that party.  Remember when Amanda & Victor chugged those sodas, and the cake fight?  You slow-danced to “your song” with your first real boyfriend.  You feel like life is just beginning, and it is.

I’m writing to you from the edge of another milestone birthday – your 30th.  I know!!  You got old!! Those 14 years are an unfathomable gap to you, but they’ve given me a lot of insight that I’d like to share with you.

I know you feel like you don’t fit in with the cool kids and your best friend does, and it makes you feel self-conscious and dorky.  Bad news, love, you’ll never fit in with the cool kids.  You’re a dork.  Own it.  You being yourself, in all your crazy clothes, artsy-fartsy tendencies, and cheesy jokes, is going to get you some of the very best friends you could ever hope for. Don’t underestimate these friendships, don’t discount yourself by saying you don’t know why they like you – these people love you for you.  Know it, believe it, and hold onto it.  They will give you strength when you need it.

There will come a day when you think it’s time to “grow up” and get “adult clothes” and take things seriously, because you think someone you love expects it of you – he doesn’t.  Twenty-three is not old, and trust me, you’re going to regret giving away that vintage gingham dress.  And yes, I said “he” and “love” in the same sentence; we’ll get back to that.

Don’t hate your body, and don’t feel guilty about hating your body.  You are beautiful; stop standing in front of the mirror criticising.  It’s a waste of energy.  No one is perfect, even if they seem like they are.  In a few years, a guy will tell you you’re “stunning” every day for two months; believe it when it happens & believe it now.  Treat your body with respect, it deserves it.

You either just went to Austria or are about to go…?  Oops, spoiler alert.  🙂  Either way, it instills in you a love of travel that feels desperate sometimes.  Don’t worry, you’ll travel again.  A lot.  Don’t let people tell you you’re being selfish or wasteful by traveling; it’s going to teach you invaluable lessons about yourself.  And don’t be scared; you’ll learn you’re a lot stronger than you’ve ever been given credit for.  Even if it seems like no one else sees this, know it yourself: you are strong.  You can get through whatever is put in front of you.  You’re going to need that knowledge later, big time.  Oh, and in Rome, I know the “resort” with a pool seems nice but trust me, it’s an Italian trailer park in the middle of nowhere.  Spring for a hostel.

Be nice to your brother.  He’s going through a tough time & I know you’re busy with classes and friends and theatre, but try to show him that you love him more often.  I know he annoys you right now, but he grows into a really great person that you’re proud to call your brother; get started on that early.  Your family’s going to go through some rocky times; remember that they all love you and let yourself feel what you need to feel.  Don’t worry about this now, but just know, it’s ok to be sad and angry and to need to talk to someone about it.

When you get to college, call Sara Ruffner.  She needs a friend.  It won’t change anything, but just do it.  It will make you feel better.

You want to fall in love, so badly.  You think unrequited love is the most romantic thing ever – why??? – and you’re about to find out how very not true that is.  Over and over.  Do yourself a favor & stop thinking about it; daydream about a real relationship instead.  You have a bumpy road ahead of you, where love is concerned; your first love letter comes in a really sad form, but don’t let that inform all your relationships.  It’s not your fault, it’s not your responsibility, and he’s fine now, honestly, so let it go.

You will fall in love, hard.  It will feel just as wonderful as you imagine and more terrible than you ever thought.  It will be like at first sight, and yes, he likes you back, it just takes him a while to let you know.  You won’t say “I love you” until you mean it, and you’ll take things at your own pace; I’m proud of you for that.   You will make a lot of sacrifices for him, and most of them will feel worth it, but listen to your gut and tell him what you need from him.  I know it’s really hard; you’ve never had to talk about emotional stuff before, but learn how to be honest, and be honest with yourself, too.  There will come a time when you pray and pray about what to do; don’t ignore what your gut is telling you just because it’s not what you want to hear.  This is the time to be strong and do what’s best for you, even if it feels like your heart is breaking – and will be breaking – you will be better for it.  Oh, and when the apartment becomes an issue, just break the lease; don’t play martyr.  You’ll understand when it happens.

You are allowed to change your mind.  It is ok to not do what everyone expects of you.  Drama is temporary, always; don’t get caught up in it.  There will come a time when you feel like your whole world is falling down around you, and it is, but remember it’s only making way for a new, better life.  Trust how you feel and give yourself a break.  You’re going to get a lot of grief about decisions you make; remember it’s your life, and just keep in mind it all brings you here, where I am, which is pretty good.

Remember that time you watched that show where the girl was like, “I hated who I was at 16; I wish I could just erase her” and you said to mom that you hoped you’d never feel that way & that you like the person you are & you think you’d want to be friends with her?  I still like the person you are, and I like the person you become.  Love yourself on this crazy journey, and be patient with yourself.  Don’t worry when it doesn’t look how you thought it would; believe me, you have an incredible life.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

nikki

[photo: me on my 16th birthday]

The date:  November 24, 2015

The Scene: In studio for KCRW (CA local NPR station)’s live radio show “The Treatment” – interviews in Arts and Entertainment.

Welcome to The Treatment; I’m Elvis Mitchell.  Since her debut in the cult classic trilogy “Atlas Shrugged,” based on the controversial Ayn Rand book, my guest Nikki Klecha has caught the attention of audiences with memorable supporting roles in some of the last five years most notable indie films.  She’s here with us today to discuss her most recent project, the award-winning film “The Hum,” her inspirational website, and her first novel, due out early next year.  Welcome, Nikki; we’re glad to have you here.

I’m so incredibly happy to be here; thanks for having me.

Now, Nikki, your LA story is an interesting one; tell us a little bit about your journey.

Well, about six years ago, I was done with Los Angeles.  I was a burned out actor; I’d been working hard & feeling like I was getting nowhere.  I took some time out, traveled for a while —

Australia, right?

Yes, four months in Australia, which changed my perspective.  I realized, I don’t have to be miserable (laughing) I don’t need this career that frustrates me and I’m not tied to LA, there are many other things I can do to be happy; it was a revelation.  So I planned to move, sold all my furniture, and the day I sold my bed was the day I got the call that I was cast in “Atlas.”

If you love something let it go and if it comes back to you… right?

I guess so!

So, you stayed  in LA, obviously, and “Atlas Shrugged Part I” was the first time we, the movie going masses, heard of you.

Right.  The film came out in 2011 to great reviews, and the next thing I knew, doors were opening!  Things still moved relatively slowly, of course, I’m not a household name, by any means, but I just managed to ride the wave of that movie.  I was in the right place at the right time.  And with the subsequent success of Parts 2 and 3, I was able to pay off my credit cards (something every LA-actor dreams of!) and really focus on my writing, acting and building my website.

After the Atlas trilogy, you filmed “The Writers,” which gained a strong underground horror-fan following.

Yes.  That and my most recent film, “The Hum” were labors of love; all the cast and crew were friends, and I’ve known most of them since college.  They were so much fun to make.  And I must be the easiest actress to work for in the horror genre; I was honestly terrified half the time!  (laughing)

Tell us a little about the film you just mentioned, “The Hum;” it just premiered at Sundance and took home some awards, correct?

It did, yes!  That was a dream come true, going to Sundance with a film, especially one that was such a collaborative effort between friends.  I think we all feel like, finally, finally we’re hitting our stride and doing what we came here to do, after 10 years of struggle.

You also run a successful blog called The Grateful Sparrow, which I must admit, I’m a little addicted to.

Are you?  Thanks!  Yes, it’s my baby; I think of it as a daily jolt of inspiration.  I believe that we each have the power to change our lives for the better, whether it be through a large change, like quitting a job or moving, or a small change in mindset.  I hope the site helps people see that and gives them the courage and inspiration to take their next step toward a happier life.

And you’ve written a novel; have you always wanted to write, or is this a new endeavor?

Oh no, I’ve always loved writing; ever since I could read, I’ve been writing.  I just love stories.  For years now, I’ve been freelance writing – in fact, 2011 was the landmark year where I was able to not have a “day job” for the first time ever! – for various online & print publications.  I’ve always had “write a novel” on my bucket list, and now, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the attention I’ve received from the films and the blog, I have a publisher lined up and I’m finally doing it!  It will be available early next year.

And I understand we can look forward to seeing you in the next Michel Gondry film?  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes!  And I am kid-on-Christmas-Eve excited!  He’s my favorite director; I love the imagination that goes into his work.  We had our first table read the other day and the storyboards are just incredible.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s going to be a dreamy, lovely story of friendship and the absurdities of love.  I can’t wait to start shooting.

And, as if all that isn’t enough, what’s on the horizon for you personally?

Well, I just got married and got back from a two month honeymoon; we bought around the world tickets and continent-hopped.  It was amazing.  We just bought our first house, and I’m ready to settle in, be in one place for a while, and nest.  I think I’ve earned a little down time.

Well, don’t take too long off, we’ll miss you.

(laughing) Ok I won’t.

You can catch Nikki Klecha in the award-winning film, “The Hum” in limited release nationwide, on her blog TheGratefulSparrow.com, and keep an eye out for her book next year.  Thank you so much for coming in, Nikki.

It’s been my pleasure.

[Photo: me doing a Sirius radio interview for a film I was in, “Family”]

I have big dreams.   Gulliver-sized dreams.  I have dreams that are so big that they scare me (literally and existentially).  Sometimes my dreams scare me into action; sometimes into the land of Stuck.  There is this lyric from a John Mayer song that sits in the back of my mind.  (I quote ol’ John quite often; his song lyrics are the stories of my life.) “See I refuse to believe that my life’s gonna be just some string of incompletes…” Right on, John.  Right. On.  So I keep dreaming.  Because dreams keep me from getting sucked into the eddies of depression.  Dreams keep me sane.

Right now I’m dreaming of:

Being fluent in all three romance languages.
Napping on a sun-lit field in Tuscany.
Living abroad with my family, preferably the French or Italian countryside.
Learning how to make artisan bread.
Is it too late to be a ballerina?
Publishing a novel/collection of short stories/book of poetry.
Owning a coffeeshop and bookstore.
Designing my own line of jewelry.
Having a vacation home in Maine.
Taking a honeymoon.
Riding a motorcycle.
Inventing and patenting teleportation so I can spend time with my favorite people across the country.
Sky-diving.
Dedicating a room in my home as a library, complete with rich mahogany shelving and a fire place.
Co-hosting Monday Night Football with Michelle Tafoya.
Singing in a band.
Learning how to read sheet music again so that I can play the piano.
Running in–and winning–a 5k.
Wearing a pair of really bad-ass leather pants.
Meeting Danielle LaPorte.
Working for Rachel Zoe.
Being DEBT-FREE.
Growing my own produce.
Learning how to play guitar again.

Honestly, I would be just fine if nothing on that list happened.  Okay.  Well, I take that back.  I really would like to own a coffee shop–overstuffed chairs, exposed beams and poetry slams, yes, please.  And music is just dying to come out of me so I need to find that band ASAP.  Oh, and my family will live abroad.  I don’t think I would ever be happy if we did not spend at least a month in Italy.  I know the book will come out of me sooner rather than later–NaNoWriMo, anyone?   I’ve already met Michelle Tafoya, now I just need to convince ESPN to let me stand with her on the sidelines. (Universe, are you listening?)

But really, my biggest of big dreams is to be able to help support my family, financially, doing work that inspires me.  That’s all I really want. Really.

I have spent my life watching both of my parents work very, very hard to provide my brother and me a comfortable life.  I was–and continue to be–blessed through their efforts.  Yet, I also saw them leave for work each day, commuting for hours, working over-time to answer to someone, or some company, that didn’t give two shits about them.  That will not be me.  Maybe that’s unrealistic.  Maybe working like that is just part of being an “adult” in the “real” world.  That is what my parents and husband would say, anyway.  But I believe that there’s got to be a better way. I believe my dreams will become realities. And I’ll keep dreaming.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of aging is watching your loved ones die.  Five years ago I lost my maternal grandmother; two years after that, my paternal grandmother died.  Last year my father-in-law lost his battle with cancer.  Then two weeks ago my grandfather passed away from the same evil disease.  It’s just the circle of life, I know, but it still scares me.  I am scared of a lot of things (snakes, the paranormal, having a wardrobe malfunction in Target while baby-wearing) but what scares me the most: dying before feeling like I ever really lived.

I have already had a little piece of myself die.  I think of the years around the onset of my bipolar as a slow, painful death.  Whatever was “Alisha” then, withered away and was buried.  Now I am on this seemingly endless journey of re-birth.  I am rediscovering my passions, redefining my values, renewing my confidence and strength.  Foolish me thought these tasks would be easy, but it is hard work.  It is so hard that I worry I will not finish all of it in time to live my dream life.

I honestly and truly believe that I have the potential to be and do anything.  While this is an amazing belief (in which my confidence always wavers), it is also overwhelming.  I have so many passions and interests, notebooks full of ideas and theories, a running lists of careers I want to pursue.  (And I want to pursue them perfectly.  I’m also working on that perfectionism stuff.)  Yet, I feel bound by many constraints.    At 2.5 and 1 year old, my children require constant attention.  From tickles and kisses (my favorite) to poopy diapers and crumbled crackers, my energy is always focused on them.  I love my family (really, I do) but let’s face it: kids are a huge time suck.  Until I can start generating a substantial amount of money–to justify a babysitter and housekeeper–the last little bits of sand in my hour glass are devoted to sleep.

I do realize that I use my talents and potential to raise my children.  They wouldn’t be such happy, awesome kids if I were not consistently trying to give them my best. It just does not feel the same as creating and developing community, healing the sick or enriching the poor.  I want to be an awesome mother, an awesome wife, and an awesome “everything.”

Yet, as I realized when I went up into the mountains, I cannot be “everything.”  There is not enough time in the day–at least not right now.  Does it mean that I will not be able to live my dream life?  No.  Not at all.  I can live my dream life every day.  What I need to get better at is acceptance.  I can no longer spend so much of my time and mental energy focusing on the future.  Planning is great, but as we all know, even “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  The concept of letting go is a difficult one for a controlling and perfectionistic person such as myself.  But if I want to enjoy the rest of this life–if I want to live a life of no regrets that is full of abundance, authenticity, connection, family and freedom–it means letting go.

I will never live the life I dream of if I can not learn to accept the moments as they come.  When I learn to bring my best to each experience that comes my way.  When I learn to savor each bite of food, each sip of coffee.  When I learn to bask in the golden rays of the sun and dig my toes in the sand.  When I learn to look for the silver lining of all those clouds.  When I learn to cherish each day as though it will be my last–that is when I will live.

(Photo: me with one of my favorite people in the whole world living and having one of the best times I can remember.)

One of the unfortunate side-effects of aging is watching your loved ones die.  Five years ago I lost my maternal grandmother; two years after that, my paternal grandmother died.  Last year my father-in-law lost his battle with cancer.  Then two weeks ago my grandfather passed away from the same evil disease.  It’s just the circle of life, I know, but it still scares me.  I am scared of a lot of things (snakes, the paranormal, having a wardrobe malfunction in Target while baby-wearing) but what scares me the most: dying before feeling like I ever really lived.

I have already had a little piece of myself die.  I think of the years around the onset of my bipolar as a slow, painful death.  Whatever was “Alisha” then, withered away and was buried.  Now I am on this seemingly endless journey of re-birth.  I am rediscovering my passions, redefining my values, renewing my confidence and strength.  Foolish me thought these tasks would be easy, but it is hard work.  It is so hard that I worry I will not finish all of it in time to live my dream life.

I honestly and truly believe that I have the potential to be and do anything.  While this is an amazing belief (in which my confidence always wavers), it is also overwhelming.  I have so many passions and interests, notebooks full of ideas and theories, a running lists of careers I want to pursue.  (And I want to pursue them perfectly.  I’m also working on that perfectionism stuff.)  Yet, I feel bound by many constraints.    At 2.5 and 1 year old, my children require constant attention.  From tickles and kisses (my favorite) to poopy diapers and crumbled crackers, my energy is always focused on them.  I love my family (really, I do) but let’s face it: kids are a huge time suck.  Until I can start generating a substantial amount of money–to justify a babysitter and housekeeper–the last little bits of sand in my hour glass are devoted to sleep.

I do realize that I use my talents and potential to raise my children.  They wouldn’t be such happy, awesome kids if I were not consistently trying to give them my best. It just does not feel the same as creating and developing community, healing the sick or enriching the poor.  I want to be an awesome mother, an awesome wife, and an awesome “everything.”

Yet, as I realized when I went up into the mountains, I cannot be “everything.”  There is not enough time in the day–at least not right now.  Does it mean that I will not be able to live my dream life?  No.  Not at all.  I can live my dream life every day.  What I need to get better at is acceptance.  I can no longer spend so much of my time and mental energy focusing on the future.  Planning is great, but as we all know, even “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  The concept of letting go is a difficult one for a controlling and perfectionistic person such as myself.  But if I want to enjoy the rest of this life–if I want to live a life of no regrets that is full of abundance, authenticity, connection, family and freedom–it means letting go.

I will never live the life I dream of if I can not learn to accept the moments as they come.  When I learn to bring my best to each experience that comes my way.  When I learn to savor each bite of food, each sip of coffee.  When I learn to bask in the golden rays of the sun and dig my toes in the sand.  When I learn to look for the silver lining of all those clouds.  When I learn to cherish each day as though it will be my last–that is when I will live.

(Photo: me with one of my favorite people in the whole world living and having one of the best times I can remember.)

It’s a crisp morning somewhere in the Midwest. I wake up to a little dew on the grass in my backyard. I put on a sweater and enjoy my coffee on the back deck. I listen to the birds greet the new day and watch the squirrels quarrel in the branches. My cat sits beside me. I take a moment to myself.

My husband rouses and kisses me good morning. We go about our routine: eating cereal on the couch, packing our bags for the day, catching up on email and news. I blow dry my hair and apply my makeup. I slip on my shoes and climb on my bike.

I’m ready to ride to campus.

I pass a few of my students on the way to class. I start my mornings teaching Feminist Community Building in the Blogosphere. It’s a graduate-level course and I’ve been mentoring some of these students since their freshmen year. I feel connected to them, I see myself in them. I want to open the academic world to them and tell them everything is going to work out just right as long as you believe in yourself. Class goes by quickly. It always does when your students are as excited about the material as you are.

I pack up my bag and grab a cup of tea with a colleague. We were in the same Masters program together. It’s nice to catch up with someone who knew you way-back-when. She tells me about her kids, how they’ve grown into fine young men and are now playing hockey at a Big 10 school. I like to watch them on the weekends. It’s nice to have someone to cheer on. I invite her and her husband over for a fondue night this weekend. She agrees to bring wine and I request Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck. I remember when I introduced her to it and I’m in the mood for nostalgia.

I have to head back to my office for my scheduled office hours. I know at least one student mentioned she would stop by. I climb the stairs to my office. It’s a small space; books occupy three of the four walls. I settle into my chair and flip on the lamp. It’s one of the first lamps my husband and I bought when we moved in together. I make a mental note to visit IKEA soon.

My student never stops by, but I spend my free time ignoring the book I’m working on. That next chapter can wait just one more day. Instead, I book our hotel in Rome. We’ve been planning to celebrate our 10th anniversary in Italy for some time now. We bought our plane tickets last weekend. I choose a cute boutique just outside the historical center, but close enough to all the right bus routes. I can’t wait to show my husband the city that shaped who I am so many years ago. I catch myself daydreaming about Sant’Eustachio cappucini and frutti di bosco cornetti fresh-baked and still warm. I grateful we can afford to take this trip for our anniversary and that we’ve budgeted wisely.

After my last class of the day, I ride home. Tonight is stir-fry night but it’s still too early to start cooking. Instead, I start a pot for tea, put my slippers on, and settle into our rich burgundy couch. I should probably proofread a section of my book before I send this part of it off to my editor. My cat hops up and starts to purr. I’m grateful for our comfortable, albeit small home, for our friends, and for our comfortable salaries.

I reflect on my day. Cozy. Comfortable. Productive. Progressive. I feel like I’m making a difference in my students’ academic lives. I’m writing for me. I still adore my husband. I feel complete. I feel validated. I feel loved.

These are my big dreams. What are yours?

[image via mhobl]

I gotta be honest with y’all, I’m having a really hard time writing this post.  Even though I’ve been incredibly open in my last three posts, this, somehow, makes me feel more naked.  I have to tell you my dreams – dreams I’ve wanted since I knew how to dream, dreams I’d thought were dead and then were rekindled, dreams I’ve recently discovered I have.  I find myself gauging your reactions – will you think my dreams silly?  Stupid?  Selfish?  Boring?  Generic?  I’m showing you a little hidden piece of my heart, so please, be kind.  Here goes…

I dream of being onstage, with an audience’s adoration roaring in my ears and lights glinting off my eyelashes.  Of standing ovations and acceptance speeches.  I dream of sitting in a dark theatre and forgetting it’s my face onscreen, sharing a cathartic moment with a  group of strangers.  I dream of collaboration; long, long days on set or in the wings, knowing we’re making something amazing and working through that giddy sense of exhaustion to an explosion of creativity.

I dream of creating everyday.  Of the freedom and discipline in sitting down and writing, every day.  I dream of the perfect words to describe a feeling or a place, and the perfect reading of a line.  I dream of a book jacket with my name on it.  I dream of a paycheck earned in ways that make me feel more alive instead of less than human.

I dream of a home that is mine in a city I love.  A home that is cozy and colorful and full of sunshine.  One that welcomes laughter, music, and comfortable silence.  I dream of an ever-blooming garden with twinkly lights in the trees and cocktail parties in the grass.  Of soft puppies and snuggly blankets.

I dream of a big big love.  A man who thrills me beyond reason but has all the reasons to justify that thrill.  My partner in every sense; balanced in respect, love, trust, and passion.  I dream of knowing it’s right beyond all my doubts and fears and stubborn independence.  I dream of an ability to communicate honestly and a shared view of life as much more than the white picket fence.  Of a marriage where we choose to be together while both retaining our sense of self.  I dream of a loving healthy little family that explores together and is not limited by money, location, or outside expectations.  I dream of best friends and family being much closer than a plane ride away.

I dream of adventure.  Of traveling the world and stepping foot on every continent, in every ocean.  I dream of eating with locals and learning languages, of getting lost and proving to myself I can find my way again.  I dream of scuba diving caves and wrecks, of stomping grapes and exploring pyramids, of total immersion bringing me totally present in the moment.

I dream of the self-awareness, clarity and balance to pull me through whatever lies ahead, and keep me grateful for the joys in my life.  Of self-confidence and complete comfort in my own skin.  I dream of eliminating “should” and “settle” from my vocabulary.  Of re-cultivating my inner 5-year-old and her imagination.  I dream of costume parties and cartwheels through sprinklers on hot days.  I dream of goofy grins and laughing till my sides hurt, and then laughing more.  I dream of sweet tea and hammocks and watching for shooting stars.  I want bubbling, tear-inducing, uncontainable joy.

“Nothing happens unless first we dream.”  -Carl Sandburg

[photo source]

INTRODUCING ALISHA

I wasn’t just absent from school; I was absent from my life.

I remember how I made sure to say “good-bye” to Ryan before I left.  The sun was shining, but it was that orangey-yellow color—the color of late afternoon.  I gave him a hug.  I did not think I would ever see him again and so I had to make sure that I thanked him for being my friend.

That spring semester was crazy for me—I was going crazy—and he let me watch basketball with him.  He let me eat BLTs from Subway with him.  I trekked across campus in ankle-deep snow to hang out with him.  I had made a few other close friends there, but I never felt as though he judged me.  I liked that.  And so I had to say “good-bye”. I think the tears started to fall as soon as I took my first step out the door.  They didn’t stop until we were hours away from Winston-Salem, past the Blue Ridge Mountains, and into Kentucky.

Leaving Wake Forest was rather embarrassing for me–it crushed my soul, bruised my ego.  I think that was the first time I ever really, truly felt like a failure.

Perfectionists like me, we try to avoid that feeling at all costs.  Up until then I always succeeded.  I was a pretty straight kid: a great student; captain of my basketball team; I never went to a party but I had a lot of friends.  I was a babysitter and during the summers I worked two jobs.  So getting into my dream school just seemed like the next logical step.

I chose to leave the Midwest in favor of North Carolina.  I really loved the South: its friendliness, its propriety, the southern drawls, barbeque and sweet tea. I loved those giant magnolia trees, the creamy white columns of the chapel, and how the sun hit the red brick and made everything feel so warm.  It was that kind of place where everyone knew everyone—a community that at times felt like a family.  One night I went to dinner with a sorority sister, my dean was also there.  He stopped me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and introduced me to his wife.

Yeah, it was that kind of place.

But what started out as a dream quickly became a nightmare.  During that last semester, if I was not visiting Ryan, I was in the campus convenience store—usually at night—buying cereal, chips and Lean Cuisine which I would eat and then throw up upon returning to my room.  I stopped making eye contact.  With a little bit of charm and smarts I made my teachers pity me enough so that I was able to miss most of my classes and just email my work.  Then eventually I stopped going to class altogether.

I was not just absent from class, though.  I was absent from life; a shell of my former self.

The thought of walking around in daylight gave me so much anxiety that I would call my psychiatrist weekly, desperate for a tweak in my medications to make it all better.  But it did not get better.  So I had to leave.

I am quite certain I made my dad extremely uncomfortable and extremely sad when I started crying—no, sobbing—in the car.  I cannot remember what hurt more: the heartache of a broken dream or the dull ache in my ribs from all the heaving.  But I do remember that as we made that final exit through the iron gates, all I could think was, “Oh my God.  What do I do now?”

I suppose that is when my Quarterlife Crisis really began.

People often ask me about my big dream, and I tell them that my big dream is to write. I tell them that my big dream is to write because it’s the short answer, the easily digestible 10 second response. The long version though? The long version of my big dream is that I want to live a life that’s worth writing about.

Sometimes, I wish I had a clearer picture of what that life actually looked like, a crystal ball whose visions I could point to and say, “Yes! That! Want that!”

I don’t know the clear picture, but here’s what I do know:

In my big dream life, my bra and panties always match. And they’re always either impossibly cute or threateningly sexy. I practice yoga. I travel to all of the 50 states and all of the seven continents, and I make a real friend in each place.

I write about what happens to me and people not only read it, but laugh and laugh until they almost get kicked out of the bookstore. I spend an afternoon drinking vodka with Chelsea Handler, the only writer who has ever made me laugh hard enough to almost get kicked out of a bookstore.

I remember the important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, miscellaneous holidays – and I send people real in-the-actual-mail cards. I make homemade jam. And homemade bread. And I invite my girlfriends over for tea with homemade jam and bread.

I climb a volcano in Hawaii, go ziplining in Costa Rica, and visit the Great Wall of China. I walk on a glacier, go on safari in Africa, and snorkel The Great Barrier Reef. I stare out over the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, when the salt flats are wet enough to reflect the sky, and I realize that I’m one tiny person and that this is one damn large world, but that it’s not so scary once you walk far enough away from your own front door to experience it all.

In my big dream life, I love, and I love hard. I love someone hard enough that even the smell of their skin lights me on fire. I have sex on a train, get naked on a nude beach, and teach my kids that physical pleasure and fleeting, momentary joy can (and should!) live side by side with weightier pursuits.

I spend a holiday season working in a cupcake shop, get my picture in a major newspaper, visit a tea plantation, and own the perfect little black dress. I buy something for each of my parents that they couldn’t afford on their own.

In my big dream life, I always have a never ending list of things to accomplish in my big dream life, because I’m always cartwheeling past my limitations and reaching for more.

photo credit: funkz

People often ask me about my big dream, and I tell them that my big dream is to write. I tell them that my big dream is to write because it’s the short answer, the easily digestible 10 second response. The long version though? The long version of my big dream is that I want to live a life that’s worth writing about.

Sometimes, I wish I had a clearer picture of what that life actually looked like, a crystal ball whose visions I could point to and say, “Yes! That! Want that!”

I don’t know the clear picture, but here’s what I do know:

In my big dream life, my bra and panties always match. And they’re always either impossibly cute or threateningly sexy. I practice yoga. I travel to all of the 50 states and all of the seven continents, and I make a real friend in each place.

I write about what happens to me and people not only read it, but laugh and laugh until they almost get kicked out of the bookstore. I spend an afternoon drinking vodka with Chelsea Handler, the only writer who has ever made me laugh hard enough to almost get kicked out of a bookstore.

I remember the important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, miscellaneous holidays – and I send people real in-the-actual-mail cards. I make homemade jam. And homemade bread. And I invite my girlfriends over for tea with homemade jam and bread.

I climb a volcano in Hawaii, go ziplining in Costa Rica, and visit the Great Wall of China. I walk on a glacier, go on safari in Africa, and snorkel The Great Barrier Reef. I stare out over the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, when the salt flats are wet enough to reflect the sky, and I realize that I’m one tiny person and that this is one damn large world, but that it’s not so scary once you walk far enough away from your own front door to experience it all.

In my big dream life, I love, and I love hard. I love someone hard enough that even the smell of their skin lights me on fire. I have sex on a train, get naked on a nude beach, and teach my kids that physical pleasure and fleeting, momentary joy can (and should!) live side by side with weightier pursuits.

I spend a holiday season working in a cupcake shop, get my picture in a major newspaper, visit a tea plantation, and own the perfect little black dress. I buy something for each of my parents that they couldn’t afford on their own.

In my big dream life, I always have a never ending list of things to accomplish in my big dream life, because I’m always cartwheeling past my limitations and reaching for more.

photo credit: funkz

[Welcome to a 4 part Blog Post on the philosophy behind Stratejoy.  We’ll hit Inspiration, Clarity, Accountability & Camaraderie over the next 2 weeks. Stay tuned & if you like–share with a friend or two!]

First a nod, a salute & whooping cheer for the inspirational speech delivered today.

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”  -President Barack Obama

Are you ready to be that risk-taker?  That doer? To earn your greatness in the world?

First step:  Get Inspired

Before you can start any new task, especially one as grand as designing and living an authentic life, you’ll need a whole suitcase full of inspiration & motivation to carry you through.  These emotions are what give you the kick in the butt to get started, keep you going when the going gets tough & remind you why you’re striving.

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